A week out from the May 19 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, if you are interested in casually perusing some news from the event, you have a wealth of media options, equivalent to browsing in the world’s best-stocked news supermarket. And good luck escaping it, unless you are willing to unplug your TV and throw your smartphone into a lake.
Lifetime has rushed out an original movie dedicated to the couple’s romance, on top of multiple network specials. At least five podcasts dedicated to matters royal have launched since Harry and Meghan went public. There are two Harry and Meghan paper doll books, as well as a coloring book. And thousands upon thousands of journalists from around the world will descend upon Windsor for the main event. The royal wedding has birthed a global media bonanza, and the hoopla is rapidly building to a crescendo. If you talk to somebody involved, you get the impression of nothing so much as a 1990s movie montage, like they can faintly hear the Flashdance music coming from somewhere.
Even the outlets that haven’t launched some royal wedding specific offering are working the marketing angle that fate has generously offered. For instance, I received an email from Netflix PR touting their options in the royal wedding vein; the marketing geniuses at Hallmark have packaged their two original Meghan Markle movies with a third property—Royal Hearts—in a special DVD package, available on Amazon for $9.96. The publisher of Rachel Hawkins’s YA novel Royals, which is about a fictional Scottish royal wedding, sent me a galley packaged with a very cute faux tabloid called “Crown Town” that naturally included Harry and Meghan’s engagement photo.
Those are just instances of an opportunity having been seized upon, however. There’s also an entire universe of content created specifically for the royal wedding—but you have to be willing to start early and work fast.
“I knew this was going to be newsworthy,” said Leslie Carroll, author of American Princess: The Love Story of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry, who began crafting her book proposal not long after the pair confirmed their relationship. But selling to publishers was tricky, because without an engagement, there was no story, and even with an engagement, it would be almost impossible to get the book out fast enough. Hence: “I was given a month,” she said. Given the go-ahead November 29th, with a New Year’s Day deadline—they ultimately pushed it back to January 5th—“I didn’t sleep, and I was living on black iced coffee,” she said. “There were no holidays, and obviously no weekends.”
“It got to the point where my editor was like, you know you’re going to have to stop feeding me stuff, right? Because this does have to go to a printer.”
Parisa Fitz-Henley, who plays the bride in Lifetime’s original movie Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance, which premieres this Sunday, told me that the script was written in two weeks. She watched the couple’s engagement interview and came off “genuinely impressed” with Markle, she explained, and so told her manager she’d love to audition if they ever did a movie, and “really didn’t think about anything beyond that and completely didn’t think that they would have a movie ready in like a month—and that’s what happened.”
But it’s really showtime for journalists on every platform imaginable. Every outlet in the world is trying to get a piece of the pie, and for reporters who cover the royals, the last of Diana’s children getting married is like a total solar eclipse or some unfathomably rare plant that blooms once a century. There’s a limited window and everybody in the business is trying to climb their way through at once.
“It almost feels like a marathon that I’ve been training for,” said Melanie Bromley, E! Chief News Correspondent, who was getting ready for her flight to London Saturday, making one last effort to memorize the faces of all Harry’s friends for the channel’s broadcast live from outside the ceremony. “It is in some ways the wedding of a generation, in the sense that we’re not going to have another royal wedding for probably 25 years,” until one of Will and Kate’s kids decides to get married. “It’s a really big deal.”
In keeping with the podcast boom, five have launched since this whole media storyline kicked off. TMZ has “Spilling Royal Tea.” “Pod Save the Queen” is the one I’ve been listening to while doing dishes, because it’s produced by The Mirror and therefore offers a little insight into the red-top tabloid process. Royal correspondents Emily Andrews and Omid Scobie have “On Heir,” and there’s “When Meghan Met Harry,” featuring a Brit and an American and frequent expert guests. I briefly resolved to listen to all of them; I quickly gave up.
American TV networks are taking enthusiastic advantage of the rare and precious American princess story having fallen directly into their laps. Fox has “Meghan Markle: An American Princess.” NBC has “Inside the Royal Wedding: Harry and Meghan.” CBS already ran “Meghan Markle: American Princess,” but you can still stream it. Even PBS will be doing “Royal Wedding Watch,” a nightly show featuring Meredith Vieira. ABC is waiting until August, when they’ll roll “The Story of the Royals,” but in the meantime they’ve released an “augmented reality experience” via the ABC News app, which allows you to “take a photo with your very own 3D royal carriage or pose with a 3D queen’s guard.”
All that’s without even getting into the stuff like the Today show’s exclusive with Prince Albert of Monaco, which presumably exists because of renewed royal interest and not because people were banging down his door.
Reporters have already descended upon Windsor in droves to deliver dispatches directly from the scene, and their ranks will only swell as we get closer to the big day. A local restaurant tweeted they’d already had “local, regional, UK national AND International (Canadian and Italian) press” stop by to ask about the event. “It’s this teeny, tiny town with very small streets,” said Bromley, who used to be a local radio newsreader in the area. “I don’t know if Windsor has seen anything quite like that for a long time.”
Despite the fact this wedding starts at the ass-crack of dawn American time, the live presence from outlets will be particularly intense. All the networks will be there. E! News will be doing “E! Live From the Royal Wedding.” HBO will participate, after a fashion, with “The Royal Wedding Live With Cord and Tish!” featuring Will Ferrell and Molly Shannon commentating in character. The BBC reported that if you’re lucky enough to have a precious patch of real estate overlooking the path of the carriage procession, whether a window or a tiny garden, you’ve practically got a blank check from an American news outlet.
And I include myself in all this, by the way! I’ve covered this event so much that by Sunday, May 20, I’m not going to want to hear the word “Windsor” for at least a month. I managed to talk my bosses into sending me to England to cover the week of the wedding; I will be one of the reporters roaming around town on May 19, pestering the locals and snapping every photo I can.
Why, though? Why are we crawling all over this story like ants on a dropped potato chip?
Realistically, if you weren’t already on the royal beat with years of work invested in developing sources, you’re not going to get much of anything exclusive. But live broadcast events like this are the last great bulwark of traditional media, and if you’re an American TV producer, for instance, you can’t just let your competition get over there and secure a dramatically better shot. That’s how morning show ratings wars are lost. Whether or not the public actually demands live shots, providing them is table stakes.
This is more than your average royal wedding, though. Princess Diana was one of the biggest media phenomenons of the 1980s and 1990s—bigger than the Windsors themselves—and this is the last of her children to marry. There’s also a clear desire to see Harry as a modernized version of the reformed rake, folding the fuckups of his early years into a story about a troubled young man who just needed help, finally got it, and then received his happy ending. It’s the oldest trope in the book, with the gravitational force of a dying star.
Even so, if he’d married one of the aristocrat blondes he’d dated previously, there’s no way the interest would be the same. What can you say about Cressida Bonas, really, besides the scrunchies? Instead, he’s marrying a biracial American woman who used to be on freaking Suits, that USA Network drama that your one friend swears is really awesome. It is indeed the stuff of movies: “While most of us are not going to be marrying a prince in our near future, we do most of us understand relationships, and love, and have grown up on rom com movies,” said Bromley. “Watching this real-life situation is almost a reminder of all those fairy tales and all those love stories that we’ve been spoon-fed our whole life.”
More than a reminder, really—it’s almost impossible not to see their storyline through that particular lens. He’s validating an entire generation of women who daydreamed idly over the course of their teenage years about somehow meeting cute either Harry or his brother. Markle was a successful working actress, but not so stratospherically as to render her remote.
Markle is perfect for the job—polished and poised but relatable—but she’s also truly somebody new in the history of the family, a professional woman of color from outside the universe of the aristocracy. “This is history-making. It really is,” said Carroll. “The British monarchy has been steadily going since 1066, and there has never been a biracial American divorcee, who was educated at a Catholic school, who was three years older than the grandson of the Queen of England, who has a double profession and a double college degree, marrying into the royal family.”
Then there’s the fact that so many people—including those in the media—are burnt out and miserable from an endless flood of bad news. If the Windsors want to provide a diversionary fairy tale, it’s hard to turn it down. “I think right now in our place in history, there are a lot of us who feel as far apart as you could feel,” suggested Fitz-Henley. “There’s a lot of despair in the world, there’s a lot of frustration, there’s a lot of division. Seeing two people who are perceived to be very different coming together in such a grateful way with such an obvious friendship, I think it’s encouraging and heartwarming for people.”
A royal wedding has been a mass media obsession as long as there has been a mass media; according to Arianne Chernock, an American editor had a breakdown trying to get confirmation whether Queen Victoria’s bridal slippers were velvet or satin. But this particular union pulls on a lot of cultural strings, speaking to a broad array of dreams and fantasies. Everybody watching the festivities will see something different—and they’ll have plenty of options for how.
Originally this post misstated Melanie Bromley’s title and the specific name of the E! broadcast from Windsor; it has been corrected.