As the wedding unfolded, under a quintessentially English May sky, and the monarchy attempted to redefine itself to the sound of Ben E King, one woman quietly became the star of the show – and it wasn’t Meghan.
Instead, it was 62-year-old Doria Ragland, the bride’s mother, who was the unassuming hero on Saturday. Dressed in a simple pale green Oscar de la Renta dress and jacket, wearing a nose ring and dreadlocks, she was mesmerising.
The camera zoomed in and the world watched. Here was the mother of the bride, proudly holding back tears. Here was the mother of a duchess, a woman of colour wearing locks in St George’s Chapel. Here was the mother of the bride, a single mother – the only member of Markle’s family to attend – and a yoga teacher, sitting opposite the Queen of the UK and the Commonwealth. What is so commonly depicted as a comical, interfering, hysterical figure, Ragland reinvented the mother of the bride into a cool, calm and elegant spectator.
As millions saw Ragland sat on her own, I’m pretty sure Markle saw her whole world
And, in the heart of an archaic English ceremony, in the huge atrium of the chapel, the enormous expanse of space and pomp and ritual and tradition, with a congregation of hundreds and a TV audience of millions, Ragland sat alone.
And that’s the thing about single parents: they turn up alone. They do the hard stuff, the fun stuff, the stuff they never dreamed they'd do, alone. They turn up to parents’ evening, where there are always two chairs, alone. They come to school plays alone. They fight with you alone. They try to guide you alone. They spend evenings at home alone, when you’ve grown up. They will be on their own on a Sunday morning or a Friday night. And, yes, they have friends and careers and full, busy lives – but they know how to be alone. Even when they’re sat facing the world’s media and the Queen.
And that’s not to say they are lonely. It’s to say they have learnt to be by themselves. That’s why there shouldn't be any pity for Ragland. The quiet power of Ragland spoke for itself; she radiated an elegance and confidence that seemed to come from her core – of who she truly is. And pity for Ragland is kind of missing the point. Women know how to carry on; just like Markle walked down the aisle (in part) alone. To pity Ragland or Markle for the absence of a man is to woefully underestimate the resilience of one-parent families.
It's bloody hard being a single parent and it’s not always easy being the child of a single parent, either. Even in 2018, single-parent families face all sorts of discrimination and you are routinely reminded that there is something “missing”. Society defines you as much by one parent’s absence than by the tsunami of love and care of the parent who stayed. It is peculiar and boring. The endless debates before the wedding of who should walk a woman down an aisle made me wince because it suggested to me that we still assume that men will play traditional roles in our lives, even when we know that, for millions of families, that simply isn’t true.
And even for families that marry into the British monarchy. There were lots of things in that wedding that felt like a departure from the old, that felt like progress. The world recognising the dignity, strength and elegance of a single mother was definitely one of them.