Embarrassing story behind wedding photo
The biggest, most significant gift that the Queen gave Prince William for his 2011 wedding had nothing to do with a spiffy new Dukedom or her willingness to foot the bill for the hundreds of bottles of Pol Roger champagne quaffed at the Buckingham Palace 'disco' reception. (They are a naff lot aren't they?)
Rather, in the lead up to the big day Her Majesty sat William down and gave him permission to tear up the 777-person guest list of the great and good, none one of which he or Kate actually knew. Instead she told him: "Get rid of it. Start from your friends and then we'll add those we need to in due course. It's your day."
This is the inherent tension when it comes to royal weddings: They are both lovey dovey unions of photogenic people and simultaneously diplomatic events. The Queen might have given William and Kate carte blanche but they still ended with 20 Governor-Generals, dozens of military bigwigs and representatives of every major religion at their wedding.
When it was Prince Harry's turn to go a hitchin' in 2018 things were a tad simpler: As the 'spare' and thus never likely to be anyone's head of state, there was less geopolitical necessity and there was not a head of state in sight.
Still, like the Cambridges, they ended up with guests who, according to reports, did not really know the happy couple, the only difference being that in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's case, we're talking about a gaggle of celebrities.
The sun shone bright over Windsor on May 19 in 2018 as 100,000 royal-philes packed into Windsor to witness Harry wed the woman he had fallen head-over-heels for. As the guests began rolling in, there was the expected smattering of the extended Windsor clan, all morning suits and chummy smiles, and then … came Oprah. And George and Amal Clooney. And James Corden, Idris Elba, David and Victoria Beckham, Tom Hardy, Carey Mulligan and whichever one of the Mumford & Sons who Carey Mulligan is married to.
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What's curious about all of this is that while the bride hailed from the world of entertainment, the calibre of the stars that filed into St George's Chapel was a galaxy apart from the one she had inhabited.
Now, a new, kinda embarrassing, story has emerged about just how certain A-listers ended up there. Writing in Air Mail, former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter's insider-y society website, Rachel Johnson (sister of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson) has revealed a not particularly flattering story about the Sussexes' big day.
Johnson writes: "There's a story doing the rounds that while Carolyn Bartholomew, Diana's former flatmate, was waiting for the wedding service to start, she turned to the couple alongside her and asked how they knew Harry or Meghan. "We don't," the Clooneys answered brightly."
The possible unspoken meaning here being that it was not years of devoted friendship that had won them a coveted invite, but their very, very famous surname.
Then there's Idris Elba who in 2019 explained how he ended up attending the 'do and then later DJing at the reception.
"So Harry and I have hung out a couple of times through his dad's (Prince Charles) charity - The Prince's Trust," Elba told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. "And Harry came to a couple of parties that I DJ'd, and he was like, 'Hey, man, what are you doing on the date?' And I was like, 'Nothing.' He goes, 'Hmm, would you DJ at my wedding?'"
All of which is quite charming but would you invite someone to your 'I dos' if you had only "hung out" with them "a couple times"?
And what of Oprah, bona fide TV royalty? Prior to the wedding her only established connection to the couple was that she had once invited Meghan's mother Doria Ragland to her Santa Barbara home. The talk show queen's arrival at the chapel stumped many on social media on the day with one report simply headlined, "Oprah Winfrey has arrived at the royal wedding - but people aren't sure why".
While in 2019 it was announced that Winfrey and Harry have teamed up on a TV series about mental health, it is not known if either of the couple had met the entertainment mogul prior to their big day. Let's just chalk that one up as a bit of a mystery.
Looking at the Duke and Duchess' wedding, what was marked was not just who was there but who ended up on the guest list chopping block.
One person who would have no idea how good Elba's set might have been (though let us just pause for a moment and imagine Camilla shimmying onto the dancefloor when he started playing some deadset bangers) is Tom Inskip.
Inskip (or Skippy to mates) has known Harry since childhood and was with Harry for his 2012 Las Vegas trip that involved a game of strip pool that shall long live on in tabloid infamy. (He was also with the Prince during his 2011 trip to Croatia when the royal exuberantly danced into a nightclub pool.)
However, decades of friendship did not mean that Inskip and his wife Lara scored an invitation to Harry and Meghan's glamorous reception. Rather, according to the recent Sussex biography Finding Freedom, the royal's longtime mate was "notably absent," and was left off the list after expressing his concern about the speed that the duo's romance had progressed.
Per Freedom, the Inskips "didn't make the cut for the evening bash. At a brunch the day after the wedding, Skippy told friends, 'Meghan had changed Harry too much.' His Eton pal said the Prince was awed by the likes of the Clooneys and Oprah. 'We've lost him,' Skippy concluded. Many of Harry's old friends said that the evening guest list was the Prince and his bride's way of saying, 'These are the people we want in our lives moving forward.'"
A story published in British society bible Tatler earlier this year, reported: "Skippy was invited to the couple's wedding, alongside many of Harry's old friends he was edged out of the reception at Frogmore House in favour of big celebrities."
Look, in all fairness, who wouldn't prefer having Idris Elba and George 'Casamigos Tequila' Clooney at their wedding than a bunch of blue bloods who know the right way to pass the after dinner port and the correct way to address a Marchioness? But the optics of choosing celebrities over old mates are not great.
Last year I spoke to Andrew Morton who wrote 1992's Diana: Her True Story, the most consequential royal biography in history, and his view was that the selection of the luminaries that were invited was something of a strategic power play by the Duchess.
"(She) populated the wedding with A-list Hollywood celebrities who … have proved their worth to her by speaking out in public about the criticisms of her," Morton said. "I don't think she (had) even met Oprah Winfrey (before the wedding). I don't know whether Harry had. But she invited these people along and now she has her own court.
"She's a new player and she's been quick out (of) the starting box. Unlike Prince Harry's friends who keep quiet, Megan's A-list celebrity friends, the court of Meghan, is a very voluble court and they're very powerful."
No matter how a gaggle of Academy Awards regulars ended up in same the chapel as the Queen, there have been numerous others reports which have claimed that Harry's friendship group has shifted since meeting Meghan, with the royal going from palling around with the shootin', huntin' and fishin' blue bloods he grew up with to embracing a private jet-flying power clique.
The same Tatler story reported: "Harry is now less in with his old Gloucestershire set than he used to be."
It also pointed out that Harry and Meghan had opted to attend the opening of the Amsterdam outpost of private members club Soho House rather than go to the wedding of Sophie Carter, one of their wedding guests, in Norfolk. (William and Kate were there though.)
"Soho House was definitely 'new Harry' - fan of the stars and aromatherapy devotee," Tatler reported.
This "new Harry" also reportedly "let … down" his old pals, according to royal biographer Ingrid Seward, during a weekend away. In her recently published book Prince Philip Revealed, she writes about an alleged incident that took place during a country house shoot and which she says was recounted to her by a source close to the Prince.
"At exactly 9am all the guns were waiting at the door to move off, but no sign of Harry," Seward writes. "They didn't quite know what to do so they waited and waited until Harry eventually appeared at the door in his dressing gown looking very sheepish. His embarrassed explanation was that Meghan did not want him to go out with the guns, which was extremely awkward as he was guest of honour.'"
"This is exactly the sort of behaviour that led to Harry becoming more estranged from his oldest friends," Seward has told Vanity Fair. "This wasn't the Harry they knew; he would never have let them down. Harry knows how expensive it is and how much time goes into organising a shoot. It was very rude and the general feeling was one of disbelief, because it was so out of character."
Ditching grouse shoots is hardly something that Harry has to worry about these days now that he and Meghan are living in Santa Barbara in the same area where Oprah lives. (What would the West Coast corollary be? Skipping out on a silent meditation retreat to go wakeboarding with Elon Musk?)
Still what is undeniable is that the man who stood at the top of the aisle on that May Saturday waiting for Meghan seems to be a very different person than he once was. It's hard to know where exactly the line is between healthy, adult evolution and growth and a blunter rejection of his old life.
Here's hoping that the Harry of 2020 has found the happiness he has long craved and given his wide smiles in recent video interviews, I think he just might have. After all, these days he can get Idris to pop over and spin a few tracks whenever he fancies.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Embarrassing story behind wedding photo