When Bishop Michael Curry, the African American head of the American Episcopal Church, went off script at the wedding of Meghan and Harry and launched into a riveting and chaotic monologue about love, he turned a Royal Wedding into the greatest theatrical moment on live TV so far this century.
All those lefty republicans who studiously avoided the television on Saturday night in outrage at the cost, or what it might infer about their politics or progressiveness, missed a stupendous live-action entertainment that rivalled a great sporting finale or interplanetary rocket launch, but with the additional gravitas of profound cultural change.
Initial shock gradually segued into the thrill of being at the mercy of the moment, relevant protocols and schedules hijacked and made irrelevant.
Royalty, with its precise protocol, has always been done best by the Brits. The horses, the carriages, the military, the extraordinary ecclesiastical architecture and music, the choirs and command of the spoken word, the stately vocal rhythms of the English tongue refusing to embellish the exquisite language of literature or the Bible which need no embellishment. British Royal events have always mastered a perfect balance between extravagance and restraint, each advertising the magnificence of the other.
And then along came an African American preacher invoking Martin Luther King, his booming voice riding the rhythmic waves of evangelism and soul, filling the parapets of St Georges Chapel in Windsor with a vocabulary that included fire, slavery and Instagram, and a slow-combustion momentum that harnessed a rousing and charismatic repetition:
“Someone once said that Jesus began most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of god for the world. And a movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself. I’m talking about some power, real power, power to change the world.”
It was mind-blowing, extraordinary and moving. From a stage-managerial point of view, it was hard to know if the rave was a response to stage-fright or opportunism. Initial shock gradually segued into the thrill of being at the mercy of the moment, relevant protocols and schedules hijacked and made irrelevant, and then into hilarity as the pompous Royals (and sour, ageing court-jester Elton John) tittered, rolled their eyes or sat with expressions of stunned disbelief.
The Bishop was either not concerned by the chill, or was understandably so high on his own vibe that he did not feel it. And his stoicism in the face of his audience – almost entirely dressed in hideous confections of synthetic peach or violet– turned the address into a conquest.
Ms Markle elegantly exploited the architecture of love to make her mark rather than the traditional enraged weapons of ideological change.
He was not giving up, backing off or shying away from the moment, or his role in defining it. His mesmeric use of the word love – “the energy of love”, “the mighty hands of love”, “the dynamic power of love”, came to persuade us that Hallelejuh! – love is indeed “the only way” and this young couple, despite being saddled by love’s nemeses –privilege and celebrity – were indeed its exemplars.
There sat Harry, the red-headed misfit, the little boy who lost his mother, the charmer, the scamp and his fabulous twinkly-eyed biracial lover, a feisty beauty who clearly insisted on making the ceremony (and presumably the marriage) a genuine merging of two souls and their collective cultural history. A gospel choir sang an exquisite Stand By Me and brilliant black musicians shared the soaring acoustical heights of the church.
This was a one-time heretical hit parade finding a thoroughly modern benediction: American, divorced, Black, fearless and non-traditional embraced within the cocoon of British nobility. In having her own heritage so clearly embedded in the service, Ms Markle was elegantly exploiting the architecture of love to make her mark rather than the traditional enraged weapons of ideological change. The self-declared feminist was wearing her white gown and borrowed tiara, curtseying to the monarch, while all around her centuries of racism, tradition and anachronism trembled. How modern and how joyful.
Curry’s flouting of technical etiquette was the moment that history will note as the unlikely rescue of the Windsors from death by irrelevance.
The Queen, unlike the lesser Royals, did not reveal any scepticism with regards Curry’s oration. She is too well-mannered and too wise, wise enough to understand that women like Markle are the future of the survival of the Royals. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Queen understood very well that the silly tag-alongs like Beatrice and Eugenie and Zara Phillips are the irrelevant, pedestrian gate-crashers who somehow lucked out despite no discernible purpose, while the biracial Suits actress and one-time game-show hostess was bringing audacity, conviction, compassion and relevance to the crown.
Curry’s flouting of technical etiquette – his lack of concern regarding time allowances, or mimicking the controlled cadences of the British clergy – were cause enough for surprise and perhaps displeasure (we can only speculate). But the intemperate lyrical poetry of his oration was, more than the kiss on the steps between a white British soldier and prince and a divorced Black American actress, the moment that history will note as the unlikely rescue of the Windsors from death by irrelevance.
Image: Meghan Markle and her mother pictured last year, well before the weekend’s season finale