“He will always be the love of my life.” They could so easily be words from Meghan’s wedding speech and yet, as it happens, they’re from a rather sadder moment in national life. They were written by Flora Neda to describe her husband, Mohamed, who died in the Grenfell fire, and read out this Monday as the public inquiry into the tragedy finally opened; for it’s starting not with legal arguments, but with a reminder that, as survivor Natasha Elcock put it, the victims are “not just names, they were people”. One by one, family and friends of all the 72 people killed will describe the lives that were lost. It’s not just about making sure they’re remembered but evoking something like last summer’s moment of shared humanity, when people who wouldn’t normally set foot inside a council estate were shocked into solidarity with others who lived and died in one. Weddings and funerals, love and grief; some things are universal.
But emotion can’t bridge every gap or heal every divide. Harry and Meghan pulled out all the stops at the weekend to bring not just their own very different families but the rest of the nation together, mixing up black American culture with stuffy royal tradition to create a wedding that briefly lifted Britain out of its post-Brexit grumpiness. For the space of an afternoon at least, we became the sort of country that’s thrilled to see a black preacher invoking Martin Luther King Jr in front of the Queen and a feminist princess walking herself down the aisle (well, halfway down it at least). It was like a flashback to the summer of 2012, when we were all about the London Olympics opening ceremony and the Spice Girls cavorting on top of black cabs and Mo Farah draped in a Union Jack.
Weddings and funerals, love and grief; some things are universal. But emotion can’t bridge every gap or heal every divide
It’s one thing pulling off a relaxed, inclusive vibe at a party, however, and quite another getting an entire country to work that way. So, the Labour MP David Lammy was probably wise this week to caution against reading too much into the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s big moment, even as he talked movingly about the impact it had on mixed-race families like his – about how his little girl had twirled around in front of the TV, thrilled to be “genuinely seeing herself” in the fairytale. There will be sad and angry days ahead, as the Grenfell inquiry starts digging through the evidence, looking for chances missed and corners cut and ways that history could have turned out differently; Lammy, who lost a family friend in the fire, knows that as well as anyone. One millennial-friendly wedding doesn’t wipe the slate clean and nor does it mean that the Windrush scandal never happened, or that the “hostile environment” still officially in place for illegal immigrants (which invariably also leads to hassle for perfectly legal ones) will magically melt away, or even that some viewers at home weren’t pursing their lips at the gospel choir and muttering that Meghan seems too political by half.
Meanwhile, attitudes to wealth and privilege seem, if anything, to be hardening. There was more public irritation at the £32m cost of this wedding than over previous royal nuptials, although by Windsor standards this was practically a budget affair. You could build a lot of social housing for that kind of cash and it will take more than Prince Harry’s old prep-school chums sharing a chapel with ordinary people he’s met through his charity work to convince some that the royals are value for money.
But, for all its shortcomings, the royal wedding told us a love story and it worked, because it wasn't just about Harry and Meghan – it was about two very different families coming together, tolerating each other's differences, treating each other with sensitivity and respect. And maybe that's a fairytale, rather than reality. But it's heartening, all the same, to see how many of us wanted to believe in it.