Time is ticking down until the Prince Harry-Meghan Markle nuptials. The wedding of the one-time party prince and the beautiful American actress is going to be the social event of the year, if not the decade. It’s expected to cost at least $45 million – and yet the occasion isn’t going to be quite as lavish as people might have thought. Indeed, the happy couple have made some bold decisions regarding their wedding gifts.
What do you buy for the bride and groom when you’re invited to a royal wedding? Well, history has some quite amusing answers to that question. When Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, for instance, she was gifted an enormous cheddar cheese wheel from the people of Cheddar in Somerset, England.
And when the current Queen married Prince Philip, her subjects went all out to lavish her with gifts, even though post-war rationing was still in place in Britain. She was sent spoons, silver and even clothing coupons from women all over the country. However, Elizabeth then had to return every coupon, as it was illegal for her to keep them. Nonetheless, she was at least allowed to retain the diplomatic gifts that she’s received from other countries.
But is it any surprise that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle might do things differently? Their royal romance has been refreshingly modern, after all. Although Meghan fits perfectly well into the royal family, she’s bent the rules every now and again to show that she’s her own woman. The former actress even wore – gasp! – a sheer dress in her engagement photos with Harry.
And the couple aren’t planning the ceremony entirely in accordance with royal protocol, either. Meghan opted to have a maid of honor instead of the traditional chief bridesmaid, for example. And the wedding cake, instead of being the fruitcake that generations of royals before them have chosen, is set to be a lemon and elderflower concoction. Moreover, there are even rumors that Meghan might ask her mother to walk her down the aisle rather than her father.
Perhaps the royal couple even hope to start some new traditions. And with their choice regarding wedding gifts, they just might do so. Rather than accepting presents for themselves, Meghan and Harry have requested that guests donate money to charity instead. They’ve also selected seven organizations that people can give to.
“The couple have chosen charities [that] represent a range of issues they are passionate about, including sport for social change, women’s empowerment, conservation, the environment, homelessness, HIV and the armed forces,” a spokesperson for Kensington Palace announced on April 9, 2018. “The couple are pleased to be able to amplify and shine a light on their work.”
All but one of the chosen charities are British. The exception is an organization called the Myna Mahila Foundation, which assists poor women in Mumbai, India. Meghan has a history with the foundation, in fact. She met the founder, Suhani Jalota, at an awards ceremony in 2016 and later travelled to India to learn more about the group’s work.
“Meghan was intrigued by our work and had said then that she wanted to make a trip to India, as this was an area she wanted to lend her support to,” Jalota told the Mumbai Mirror in April 2018. “After she visited us in January last year, she said she wanted to position the organization well so as to maximize the impact, and she’s been a great guide.”
Meghan was doing humanitarian work before she even met Harry, although he has done plenty of his share, too. He’s the founder of the Invictus Games, a sporting event for injured service personnel, and has often undertaken work with military charities. And he is, of course, an ex-soldier himself. Between the years of 2008 and 2013, he served twice in Afghanistan.
It’s not surprising, then, that among the chosen charities is one that supports bereaved children of service men and women. This is Scotty’s Little Soldiers, an organization created by widow Nikki Scott after her husband died while serving in the British army. The charity arranges fun events and holidays for the children and provides them with access to therapists.
“To have been personally chosen by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle is an incredible honor for Scotty’s Little Soldiers, and we are extremely grateful for the opportunity,” Nikki Scott told Reuters in April 2018.
Another cause close to Harry’s heart is HIV awareness and support. His mother, the late Princess Diana, was one of the highest-profile figures to fight against the stigma of HIV in the 1980s. Indeed, she even shook the hand of an AIDS sufferer in front of cameras in order to prove that the disease wasn’t transmitted by touch – a huge deal at the time.
In fact, Harry’s debut joint engagement with Meghan was at a World Aids Day charity event in Nottingham, England. There, they met people who had been treated for HIV, viewed memorials created for those who’d died of the condition and learned about HIV-prevention programs. Thanks to people such as Diana, the stigma surrounding the disease has faded over the past two decades.
Harry and Meghan decided, then, to support an HIV charity as well – CHIVA, the Children’s HIV Association. The chair of the organization, Dr. Amanda Williams, released a statement on April 9, 2018. “We are delighted and honored that Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle have chosen to recognize our work supporting the health and wellbeing of children and young people living with HIV in the U.K. and Ireland,” it read.
“We are a very small charity, and through our work we support over 1,000 young people living with HIV,” Dr. Williams added. “All donations will make a significant difference to our programs of work and lead to direct improvements in the lives of these young people.” In fact, most of the charities that Harry and Meghan have chosen are relatively small organizations that could perhaps use more support.
Also included on the wedding list is a U.K. homelessness charity, Crisis; marine conservation group Surfers Against Sewage; The Wilderness Foundation U.K.; and the young people’s charity StreetGames. The latter is an organization that Harry has supported before, and it works to make sports available for communities that might not otherwise get to participate in them. Harry seems very passionate about that kind of work, as demonstrated by his foundation of Invictus.
Representatives of all of the charities that Harry and Meghan have chosen subsequently expressed their surprise and delight about being singled out in such a way. But the new royal couple aren’t actually the first ones to create a charity donation list rather than a wedding gift list. When Kate Middleton and Prince William married in 2011, they too asked that guests give money to charity.
The charities selected by William and Kate – 26 of them in total – benefited hugely from the move. By the time June 2011 rolled around, in fact, over $1.7 million had been raised for them. “Their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are delighted that these charities are able to benefit so positively from their special day,” St. James’s Palace said in a statement at the time.
There’s no doubt that many people are looking very forward to this royal wedding. And not only will charities be benefiting, but it was also announced on April 30 that Brits wouldn’t have to pay to screen the wedding at celebratory street parties, as they thought they would have to. Everything from the wedding music – a gospel choir – to the novel cake indicates that Harry and Meghan want to have a wedding party for the people. Hopefully, this will set some new traditions in stone!