At t-minus five days before the royal wedding, it looks like Meghan Markle’s father - who was due to walk her down the aisle - has pulled out of the proceedings entirely. Citing health reasons, plus a desire not to “embarrass” his daughter or the royal family following the news that he’d been staging press photographs, 73-year-old Thomas Markle has confirmed that he doesn’t plan to attend the wedding at all.
There’s not a lot I can claim to share with Meghan Markle. After all, when I got married in 2014 it was on a small wooded hill overlooking London, not Windsor Castle; it was to a slightly sarcastic newspaper journalist, and not a prince; and, instead of a hotly anticipated designer gown, I got married in a discounted maternity dress that kept threatening to pop one of my boobs out into the registrar’s eye.
However, I think I might know how Meghan Markle feels a little at this moment - because I know what it’s like when your parents don’t come to your wedding.
In my case, it was my mother, and not my father, who proved problematic during wedding season. It’s been reported that Meghan Markle enjoys a “fractured” relationship with her father, and that in recent years he’s become increasingly reclusive. My mother is the same way. My father died when I was young and my mother, who’s always been a bit off-kilter, has just become more erratic as she’s aged. At the time she lived alone and was very insular, but had agreed to walk me down the aisle. I was thrilled. In the months before the wedding she had suffered some health problems, but was on the mend and actually seemed excited about my nuptials.
The wedding was going to be a small, low-effort affair; the ceremony would take place in a bandstand in a beautiful garden. On a crisp autumn morning, my mother would lead me through the flowers, and I would marry the love of my life.
Except that, just a few weeks before the wedding, my mother pulled out.
She found out I was pregnant, so she decided to skip the whole thing. Of course it was a blow but, if I’m honest, not that much of a shock. It’s a sad truth, but when you have an unstable parent you’re constantly walking on eggshells, you’re ready for tempers to turn on a hair-trigger and blame to be flung around like confetti and, most importantly, you come to learn that no plans are solid plans.
Somehow worse was the fact that I had to tell people, “my mother’s not coming because she doesn’t want to” then let that news hang in the air while everyone tried not to judge me. It’s uncomfortable enough when you’re sharing this sort of thing with people who love you; I can’t imagine the crushing weight of scrutiny that Meghan Markle is feeling with the eyes of the world on her.
But beyond that Meghan needn’t worry too much because, as I can happily testify, getting married without your parents present has its upsides. Yes, it is slightly embarrassing to ask your friends to occupy the seats normally reserved for the “bride’s family”. But, then again, a layer of complexity is utterly removed. As most brides-to-be know, wedding prep is just an opportunity for the parents of the happy couple to lock horns over issues as tiny but explosive as buttonhole colours and vol-au-vent fillings. However, with one parental figure out of the picture, life suddenly becomes a lot less stressful. Mother-in-law wants the napkins folded into swans, not orchids? Bingo-bango. Father-in-law wants to perform a karaoke rendition of your mother’s least favourite army wives’ song in lieu of a speech? Not a problem. She’s not here.
Personally, I heard my mother’s critical voice several times in my head during the day - my hair was too curly; my heels too chunky; and I think I may have dropped a T during my vows.
But, as much as I missed my mother at my wedding, it really drove home the fact that it was my wedding. And my husband’s, of course. But sometimes a wedding can feel like a train that’s running away with you, rather than one you set into motion and are driving. Parents and plans can, too often, take over and make the entire endeavour feel like someone else’s party. When my mother refused to walk me down the aisle, my father-in-law-to-be stepped in and did so, instead, making my wedding something bespoke and unique. And I’m sure that, on the day, Meghan Markle’s wedding will be about so much more than her dad not being there.