The royal wedding is always about strict rules, subordination, and traditional rituals. Plenty of people dream about being a prince or princess, but is it really so cool when you almost don’t have a say in how your wedding ceremony goes, what you got to wear, and whom you invite to your big day? Let’s see how a traditional British royal wedding is planned and performed. For ordinary people in The United Kingdom, it is the greatest excuse to celebrate, drink, and have fun. What about the royals and the bride and groom?
Step 1. Get engaged
5 months to “I will”
Like most other weddings in history, all British royal weddings begin with the engagement. But unlike regular weddings, these ones involve an elaborately choreographed event that will be watched by an audience of millions.
Step 2. Find a location
4.5 months to “I will”
One of the first decisions a couple makes is deciding where to actually do the thing. If they're really into history and tradition, there's really only one choice – the Westminster Abbey. But not this time.
“The big change is this wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. We didn’t have all the ambassadors from all the different countries, we didn’t have heads of state coming to this wedding. One reason is because the chapel in Windsor [St. George’s Chapel, Windsor castle] can only take 600 people and, therefore, the city isn't spaced. But it's also, clearly, the desire of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to have a more informal wedding”, says Jonny Dymond, royal correspondent, BBC News.
Step 3. Send invitations
2 months to “I will”
Around 2 months before the big day, the Lord Chamberlain's Office sends out individually handcrafted invitations.
Step 4. Prepare the city
3 weeks to “I will”
There are flowers and fittings and the entirety of the city to prepare.
Step 5. Claim your spot
1 day to “I will”
While the bride and groom had to sleep in different homes, spectators who want a decent view of the public processions will be sleeping outside. And just a few hours later, the ceremony begins.
Step 6. Guests arrive
3 hours to “I will”
The general rule of royal weddings is, the less important you are, the earlier you arrive and the farther back you sit. If you're a member of the Armed Forces or a celebrity, you're relegated to the nave of the church, which means you might not even get to see the actual ceremony.
Step 7. Close friends arrive
1 hour to “I will”
Close friends of the bride and groom and other guests will head in at least 1.5 hours before.
Step 8. Groom and royal procession arrive
40 minutes to “I will”
Most of the time, it is the groom up at the front. The royal procession comes in order to precedence, which means that the junior royals come first.
Step 9. Queen arrives
15 minutes to “I will”
And last comes the Queen and her husband Prince Philip.
Step 10. Bride arrives
And then the bride turns up. When the bride arrives, the details of the dress are finally revealed after months of top secrecy. Regardless of who the designer is, she'll be wearing white and will carry a sprig of myrtle in her bouquet (which symbolizes love and marriage) – both of which are trends started by Queen Victoria.
The bride’s tiara is almost always the Something Borrowed, likely from one of the family's collections of jewels.
Since 1923, the ring placed on the bride's finger is always made from Welsh gold. Elizabeth and Diana's rings even came from the same nugget.
Step 11. The ceremony
The ceremony is performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and only takes about an hour.
Towards the end, the bride, groom, and their two witnesses go into a private room to sign the register.
Officially married, the bride and groom exit, closely followed by the procession of the Queen.
There's a good chance you'll hear Pomp and Circumstance around this time. Although Americans associate it with high school graduations, it was originally written for the coronation of King Edward VII.
The bride and groom will likely make their way into the open 1902 State Laid Out for the official carriage procession around the city. That's when the crowds who have been waiting for hours or possibly days will get their first look at the royal couple. This usually concludes with the iconic appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony, on which Diana and Charles were the first to kiss.
“The kiss is a critical moment in the entire royal wedding ceremony. You don't just throw it away in the middle of a church – it has to be seen live by hundreds of thousands of people”, says Jonny Dymond, royal correspondent, BBC News.
Because Meghan and Harry's wedding is 20 miles outside of London, their first public kiss as a married couple will have to happen somewhere else.
Step 12. The wedding party
After the ceremony
Afterwards, the wedding party takes official photos and ceremony guests gather for the wedding breakfast, complete with a traditional fruit cake.
Though in the past, the bride and groom would change clothes and depart to their honeymoon directly afterwards, current royals have gone for a more modern approach with a real party. And they won’t be the only ones celebrating.
It is generally seen as an excuse to have a good time and the buttoned-up Brits, who don't really have a good time in public that much, let their hair down and enjoy themselves in the middle of the street.
At that point, it's a pretty normal wedding reception. Although, normal ones don't generally include rumored performances by Elton John and the Spice Girls.
The royal couple will head off for the honeymoon (which is almost certainly within the British Commonwealth). While the rest of the country nurses a hangover.