American princess-in-waiting Meghan Markle is having a bad week in the run-up to her Saturday wedding to Prince Harry thanks to her obstreperous family. It won't be of much comfort but she is not alone in this, as zillions of ordinary brides can attest.
Alas, drama is routine at weddings. But few people have to see it play out before the world via a ravenous media mob gobbling up every detail about the royal wedding at Windsor Castle this weekend of Prince Harry, 33, and his American actress fiancée, 36.
Only days to go and Kensington Palace is in crisis mode now that Markle's father, retired Hollywood lighting director Thomas Markle, 73, will not walk his daughter down the aisle in St. George's Chapel due to illness.
It's possible Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, split from Thomas Markle since Meghan was 2, will walk their daughter down the aisle. It wouldn't be unprecedented: Queen Victoria walked two of her daughters down the aisle because her husband, Prince Albert, had died before all but one of their children married.
The final word on what's going to happen is still up in the air and Kensington Palace isn't commenting.
So....yes, lots of drama. So what else is new?
Esther Lee, senior editor at The Knot wedding-planning website, says weddings are "a high-stakes stressful time" for most couples, whether it's worrying about feuding relatives, a soggy sponge cake or the band that failed to show.
"There will be drama," she says. "This is what happens when you're planning a wedding. Family dynamics are in play no matter what the situation is, or there are friends you have to keep apart because things are messy."
But she thinks Meghan Markle is a "thoughtful and incredibly graceful person" who will be able to handle her family's drama in a "gracious" way.
"Whatever happens, everything will be fine, everything will be OK, everything will be smoothed out before the wedding," Lee says. "She just needs to focus on (the fact) that weddings are about love and two people coming together."
And forget everything else. But one thing she should remember: There is precedent for disarray in the run-up to recent royal weddings, even among American "royals":
The wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles at Windsor in 2005:
This wedding was always going to be controversial given that Charles was marrying his longtime mistress, the woman his first wife, the late Princess Diana, blamed for breaking up their marriage. But if you perused the British tabloids in the weeks before, you would have concluded the planning was one farcical nightmare after another.
Charles "has had a rough ride over the last two months. Everything that could have gone wrong seems to have gone wrong," said Richard Kay, Diana partisan and royal correspondent for The Daily Mail at the time (and still a columnist for the London tabloid).
The civil ceremony was supposed to be at Windsor Castle, then it had to be moved to the Windsor town hall for legal reasons. Questions were raised, and had to be answered in Parliament, about whether it was legal for royals to be married in a civil ceremony. His parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, did not attend the civil ceremony, and the palace had to deny it was a "snub." At the Anglican "blessing service" in St. George's Chapel that followed, the pair had to publicly declare their regret for their past sins — unspecified but everyone knew what they were.
And at the last minute, the April 8 date of the nuptials had to be postponed for a day because Pope John Paul II died and Charles had to go to Rome to represent the queen at the funeral. Consequently, all the wedding souvenirs for sale in shops — the tea towels, tea cups and other knickknacks — had the wrong date.
In the end, the actual day went off without a hitch and it was lovely, achieving a measure of moving grace and dignity under unprecedented circumstances.
The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981:
Although few knew it at the time, this was a catastrophically mismatched couple who barely knew each other after scarcely more than a dozen dates and whose many differences (she was 20, he was 32) were too gaping to bridge.
It all came to tears years later, as everyone knows, but in the run-up to the wedding, both of them grappled with second thoughts. She was under tremendous pressure from the media at the time and from her own insecurities as it began to dawn on her that Charles was still in love with Camilla Parker Bowles.
Diana confided to her Spencer sisters, Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, that she wanted to call off the wedding, according to Diana biographer Andrew Morton. “I had lunch with my sisters who were there and said: ‘I can’t marry him, I can’t do this, this is absolutely unbelievable.’ They were wonderful and said: ‘Well, bad luck, Duch, your face is on the tea towels so you’re too late to chicken out.’ So we made light of it.”
Meanwhile, Charles wondered if he was rushing into marriage with a girl he barely knew. On the eve of the wedding, he told an aide in despair, "I can't go through with it, I can't do it," according to recent biographies.
The wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier to Sen. John F. Kennedy in 1953:
According to accounts at the time, she wanted a small wedding. Instead, there were 700 people at the church in Newport, R.I., and 1,200 at the reception. She didn't get to pick her engagement ring (her future father-in-law did that) and she didn't like her dress (made her look like a lampshade, she said later).
Most of all, she wanted her father, dashing and philandering John "Black Jack" Bouvier, to walk her down the aisle. But her imperious mother, Janet Auchincloss, banned her ex-husband from the pre-wedding parties and reception, then arranged to get Bouvier drunk (he had an alcohol problem) before the wedding so he couldn't attend. Instead, Jackie walked down the aisle with her stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss.
The wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip in 1947:
This wedding almost didn't happen: The family of the princess (later the queen) was not too keen on this penniless exiled Greek prince, who was gorgeous but considered too "fast" for shy Lilibet, as she was known in her family. But she insisted and she got her way.
But his older sisters were left off the guest list: They had all married German princes who became Nazis and this was only two years after the end of WWII.
Also left off the Windsors' guest list: The princess' favorite Uncle David, aka Edward VIII, who quit his throne and country in 1936 to marry "the woman I love," American two-time divorcée Wallis Simpson. After a brief flirtation with the Nazis, the couple ended up exiled and embittered, shunned by his family and his countrymen.
As the Duke of Windsor, he returned to the family fold only in death, in 1972, when he was buried at the royal burial ground near Windsor Castle. The Duchess of Windsor joined him there when she died in 1986.