Belfast Telegraph

Why Harry and Meghan getting engaged is good news for Royal family... and for matrimony itself

The Prince's late mother must be having one of her shy smiles as he settles down with the love of his life, writes Gail Walker

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle

The media frenzy surrounding the announcement of the engagement between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle has blinded us to one simple fact. That the engagement represents a small, but significant victory for the institution of marriage.

Prince Harry had a certain persona, a very defined role, in the life of the nation. He was the Clown Prince - sometimes reprehensible and incredibly dim-witted (that Nazi uniform), or hilariously gauche, like a Bertie Wooster for the 21st century (those Las Vegas photographs of a nude prince playing strip billiards with six young women).

He was the lads' lad. Always up for it. Always ready to party. And why not? He was young(ish), single and didn't harbour any pretensions to be part of the moral discussions of the nation. His behaviour - especially since the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte - carried few constitutional implications. At fifth in line (for now), he is unlikely ever to play a role in the government of the country.

He was Harry. A young gadabout who did his duty in the Army. Not especially bright, but essentially a "sound" bloke with all his late mother's charm when meeting the public. It may have been a caricature, but like all caricatures it contained more than an element of truth.

It must have been tempting to the Prince to emulate many a previous minor royal and spend the next couple of decades visiting the glitzy watering-holes of the rich and famous having a jolly good time, with the odd patch of public duties to keep the red tops off his back.

Perhaps there'd have been the odd jibe about Prince Harry, the ageing rogue, the occasional "thought piece" about how sad to see a life given over totally to senseless pleasure. But with his older brother and George Clooney snapped up, Harry could have cut a dash as the world's most eligible bachelor - and got away with it. Who would have cared? No one, really.

So it is to Prince Harry's credit that he has turned away from a life of simple hedonism towards a life of calmer domesticity and increasing public duty and sober (in every sense of the word) responsibility.

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Who knows why Harry decided to get married? But let's hazard a guess - judging by his besotted gaze in that engagement photocall and interview, that it's down to that old devil called love (one suspects that Harry would never have the callow sophistication of his father's now infamous "whatever that is" rejoinder).

As the son of a broken marriage, it's especially touching that he has elected to wed - a re-affirmation of faith in the dream, the idea of a man and a woman in total union, an attempt to somehow complete the circle where his own parents failed. Given the toxicity of the Charles and Diana break-up, who'd have been surprised if he'd been put off matrimony for life?

But no. Possibly, his decision was also influenced by that straightforward belief that, come a certain time in life, one marries the "gel" that one is in love with.

And then there's the fact that he has spent the past couple of years watching the connubial bliss shared by William and Kate and hankered after some of the same happy domesticity himself.

While settling down, Harry has also shown himself to be his own man. And, in a manner surprisingly similar to that of Prince William, he has shown that he is also his mother's son in his choice of bride, not afraid to throw a matrimonial cat among the staid royal pigeons.

William married a commoner, breaking with long-established royal tradition. Harry has been even more iconoclastic - Meghan Markle is not only a divorced American, she is of mixed race and educated at a Catholic high school. She is also - as uptight traditionalists might observe in their best Lady Bracknell voice - "an actress ... in showbusiness".

Not for Harry some committee-approved, off-the-shelf blueblood. Somewhere, Princess Diana must be having one of her shy smiles. Commoners, glitzy actresses, divorcees. Good. About time the Windsors got more in touch with the modern world. It may not exactly be your world, or my world, but bits of it sound familiar.

It could be that Meghan Markle is exactly what the Royal family needs at this moment in time. A glamorous, tough, independently minded young woman, who had the resource to build her own career.

There has been no wobbling over becoming a British subject, no talk of having transatlantic bases. She will also be baptised and confirmed into the Church of England.

She has made all the right noises about taking her new public duties seriously. She reads books by Noam Chomsky. While being aware of her forthcoming position, she is her own woman. Of course, some will say these qualities could just as well set alarm bells ringing, but let's be positive.

It's early days, of course, but Meghan seems to be quietly impressing the people. Opinion polls say that only 14% have a totally negative view of her. Compare that to 43% for Charles and a staggering 52% for Camilla.

As always in these things, many profess studied indifference, but I think we can rest assured that Meghan will always be news.

Like any couple embarking on such a venture, the way ahead for Harry and Meghan lurches into an unseen future. Along with all the great hopes and dreams, there will be as yet unseen challenges, pitfalls, trials, disappointments and a myriad of irritations, minor and not so minor.

Let's hope they can always glimpse the sunny uplands and keep their compass trained upon them.

For all the royal razzmatazz, spotlight and adulation, in essence we are talking about two human beings who are deeply in love and who believe their lives will be immeasurably better and more fulfilling for being spent together.

It is the mark of the wise man that he knows where his true interest lies. And if that is with a lovely, intelligent woman who seems level-headed, why shy away from saying that profound truth in the most public way possible? With a marriage.

Harry may not be able to articulate that particular sentiment, but I suspect, deep down, he knows what is good for him.

And for that he - and his soon-to-be-bride - deserve all our good wishes.

Belfast Telegraph


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