The Royal Tour: The UK Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Harry and Meghan’s Wedding
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are cozied up in a second story window, holding hands and smiling as they gaze toward Windsor Castle. Passers-by in the street do a double-take when they spot the marvelous Ms. Markle and her dishy ginger biscuit, and a few even hazard a tentative, finger-fluttering wave. But the celebrity lovebirds don’t move a muscle.
The purportedly down-to-earth prince and his American actress fiancé aren’t being snooty. They simply can’t help their stiff demeanor and cardboard smiles, because, well, they are cardboard. The life-sized cutout, available on Amazon, is a fitting symbol of the larger-than-life wedding mania sweeping up royal watchers around the world.
Nowhere is that feeling more apparent than in Windsor, where Harry and Meghan will tie the knot on May 19 at St. George’s Chapel, located within the walled compound of Windsor Castle. Afterwards, the newlyweds will take a carriage ride through Windsor’s streets, which are expected to be flanked by more than 100,000 well-wishers on the day.
If your wedding invitation was lost in the mail, don’t fret. Spring is a fabulous time to visit Britain regardless, and we’ve got the lowdown on how to rock it like a royal at three of the best British blue-blood destinations. Tap it like it’s hot to read about each city below:
GET GEARED UP
Windsor, whose pint-sized population of 30,000 belies its royal roots, is eager to roll out the red carpet for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s marriage on May 19. “It’s a celebration, and we’re keen to make sure that we put on a show for the people who are visiting,” says Rory Shanks, one of the owners of Heidi Bakery, which has developed three-tier wedding cupcakes in Harry and Meghan’s honor.
Heidi sells its sugary confections at their café in Daniel, a century-old department store that holds the Queen’s Royal Warrant (basically, her stamp of approval) for supplying gifts. So presumably, given Daniel’s current range of wedding-related novelties, this is where the Queen would go to snag herself a Harry and Meghan fridge magnet and a Harry and Meghan dishcloth to dry her Harry and Meghan mug after enjoying a nice cuppa Harry and Meghan tea.
Then again, Liz could just pop into the Windsor Castle gift shop, which is hawking commemorative items emblazoned with the initials “H&M,” which should not, under any circumstances, be mistaken for representing the clothing shop H&M, purveyor of “distressed” (mauled by lions) denim short-shorts and other High Street fashions.
TOAST THE HAPPY COUPLE
Tie one on with a Windsor Knot. The Windsor and Eton Brewery originally produced this pale ale for Will and Kate’s wedding in 2011 and has rebranded their bottles for Harry and Meghan.
Alternatively, opt for a tot of Gin&’er, a ginger-infused gin that The Queen Charlotte pub in Windsor commissioned to celebrate redheaded (aka “ginger”) Harry getting hitched. The pub sent the first of 250 limited edition bottles to the prince himself, so if you wake up with a royal hangover, passed out in front of the “throne,” you’re probably in good company.
Keep it classy by popping the cork on a bottle of Chapel Down English Sparkling Wine, available at Marks & Spencer locations around the UK. The winery’s Brut Rose featured at Will and Kate’s reception, and it’s strongly rumored that their British bubbly will by quaffed by Harry and Meghan’s guests this May. (Might we suggest they call it the “The Markle Sparkler?”)
TOUR THE CASTLE
Walk in the footsteps of a millennia of monarchs at Windsor Castle, where the oldest bits date back nearly 1,000 years. Don’t expect the full Goldilocks experience, bouncing on Her Majesty’s bed and nosing around her medicine cabinet in the “throne room.” But you can tour St. George’s Chapel, where Harry and Meghan will wed, and gasp over the Liberace-style splendor of the castle’s State Rooms, where they will hold a reception.
For an entertaining, customized tour of the castle and town, book a Blue Badge Guide like Amanda Bryett through Windsor Tourist Guides.
Aside from a royal wedding, there are few occasions on the British social calendar more sartorially daunting than Royal Ascot, held seven miles from Windsor. The Queen herself is in the habit of attending this legendary racing meet, scheduled for June 19-23 this year.
While it’s fun to watch the thoroughbreds run, it’s even more entertaining to watch the people, decked out in top hats, tailcoats, and OTT women’s headwear, ranging from feathered headbands and hats to gravity-defying “fascinators” that Lady Gaga might shudder to wear on a dare. (For more absolutely fabulous Ascot fashion ideas, click here).
WHERE TO SLEEP LIKE A KING NEAR WINDSOR
Coworth Park is a luxurious country house hotel from The Dorchester Collection, set on 240 acres in Ascot near Windsor. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were spotted here in the spring of 2017. Temptations range from a sunlit spa with an indoor swimming pool to horseback riding, polo fields, and several dining venues, including afternoon tea in the drawing room and the Michelin-starred Restaurant Coworth Park.
STERLING SHOPPING SPREE
Whether you’re after an outfit for Ascot, an audience with the Queen, or a rather high-profile wedding (ahem), ladies can’t set a foot wrong with British fashion house Catherine Walker. Founded in 1977 by Said Cyrus and his wife, the late Catherine Walker, the label’s famous fans have included Princess Diana, Kate Middleton and her mother, Carole. Visit the showroom in Chelsea for made-to-measure creations, or check out their new “e-couture” service, which enables Catherine Walker to collaborate with your local tailor.
For gentlemen, there’s Gieves & Hawkes, offering ready-to-wear and bespoke luxury menswear. For centuries, it has also produced military regalia, including uniforms for the monarch’s bodyguard, and holds several royal warrants. A custom suit will set you back around £5,000 ($7,000), but you’ll be joining a brotherhood that includes Sean Connery, Winston Churchill, David Beckham and Michael Jackson. A replica of the gold-embroidered tailcoat Jackson wore on his “Bad” tour occupies a glass case in the tailor’s headquarters at 1 Saville Row.
For scent-sational style, follow your nose to Floris, the only perfumer to hold a Royal Warrant from the Queen. Floris has wafted from the wrists of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Ian Fleming, and they’ve created fragrances for royal weddings dating back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. The exact recipe for Harry and Meghan’s special scent is secret, but word is, the bride will come up smelling like roses.
Peruse a collection of Princess Diana’s most glamorous outfits, including several by Catherine Walker, at “Diana: Her Fashion Story,” on display through the end of the year at Kensington Palace. A separate exhibition, “Victoria Revealed,” offers insight into the life of Queen Victoria and features stunning jewels commissioned for her by Prince Albert.
Kensington Palace is just as relevant to the monarchy today. It was here, in the sunken garden, that Harry and Meghan announced their engagement last November. The location was certainly convenient for Harry, as he, William and Kate all call the palace home—as will Meghan after her marriage. One wonders if the young royals ever pile onto a palace couch and dial up Domino’s delivery while binge-watching “The Crown” on Netflix.
Speaking of “The Crown,” London is rife with film locations for the series. Dewi Evans, a guide for BritMovieTours, offers a two-hour walking tour, beginning at Temple tube station and ending near Buckingham Palace. Evans dishes out the insider scoop as you take in highlights like Middle and Inner Temple, Trafalgar Square, and Admiralty Arch.
“The writer doesn’t really like the royals,” Evans reveals in a conspiratorial tone, “so he’s able to make them much more human.” The series should not, however, be viewed as a documentary. “Did Prince Philip really shag anything that moved?” he asks coyly. “My personal opinion is, probably not. But some things we’ll never know.”
WHERE TO SLEEP LIKE A KING IN LONDON
The Dorchester, with its proximity to Buckingham Palace in London, has hosted Prince Philip, who held his bachelor party here, and Hollywood royalty like Liz Taylor. Legendary dining options include the three-Michelin starred Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, The Promenade (famous for afternoon tea), and The Grill, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with clever mirrored panels that pivot to (literally) reflect a different mood from day to night.
For a taste of the Far East, check out the Cantonese cuisine at The Dorchester’s China Tang. The bar is as legendary for celeb-spotting as cocktail quaffing. Recover the next morning with a pampering session at The Dorchester’s soothing spa.
GO THE EXTRA MILE
The Royal Mile, which is actually 1.12 miles (based on the old “Scots’ mile”), is about as royal as miles come. The sloping backbone of the Scottish capital is bookended by Edinburgh Castle, crowning the imposing Castle Rock at the top of the road, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Edinburgh) at the bottom.
The street in between is lined with higgledy piggledy, charming old stone buildings, most with shopfronts displaying cashmere, kilts, whisky, wine, Harris tweed and wee gifts. “Thistle Do Nicely” definitely wins for worst pun / best shop name.
CREATE YOUR OWN BESPOKE TIPPLE
Liz’s late mum, The Queen Mother, was known for knocking back her fair share of gin and tonic. The classic cocktail was actually invented by the British army in India as a tasty way to ward off malaria, thanks to the quinine in tonic water. Given that the Queen Mother lived to 101, there might be at least a little truth in G&T’s reputation as a healthy(ish) elixir.
However, you wouldn’t expect a royal to slip just any old hooch past their stiff upper lip. Surely, one would wish to create one’s own bespoke knee-wobbly, swiggly-giggly happy sauce, would one not?
Thanks to Edinburgh Gin‘s “Gin Making Tour,” you can, too. The class, which typically lasts about three hours, includes a visit to the still room (where the magic happens in what looks like two giant copper tea kettles), an all-important tasting of the distillery’s most popular gins and liqueurs, and the opportunity to craft and bottle your own gin from a wide range of botanicals.
Even if you’ve no time for the full-on juniper juice tutorial, stop by Edinburgh Gin’s visitor centre on Rutland Place and pick up a bottle of their 57% ABV “Navy strength” Cannonball Gin. A few swigs of this, and you’ll be three sheets to the wind, swaying like a sailor yourself.
WHATEVER FLOATS YOUR BOAT
Speaking of sailing, head to the Royal Yacht Britannia to see how modern monarchs actually prefer to live. The 20th century ship is a far cry from the drafty chambers of Edinburgh Castle and the stiff grandeur of Holyroodhouse. It’s so modern, in fact, that visitors enter through…a shopping center.
While it’s fun to picture the Queen popping into Poundworld for a pair of pantyhose, the mall isn’t actually part of the relatively modest, 412-foot yacht. The Queen’s floating palace was simply moored out the back after it was decommissioned in 1997, after 43 years of service.
As the ship was built shortly after the end of World War II in an era of “make do and mend,” Queen Elizabeth was keen to steer clear of majestic excess. In fact, she famously rejected initial designs by Patrick McBride as being too lavish and asked Sir Hugh Casson to collaborate on a more casual, comfortable style. Ship guide Roger Moran relates an anecdote he heard from Casson’s daughters, who said their father drew McBride aside and assured him, “I’m going to treat your design like a lawn—and just take the whole thing down about half an inch.”
So instead of silk and tapestries, the State Drawing Room is kitted out with floral chintz sofas and a practical electric fireplace, as well as a grand piano whose ivories have been tinkled by the likes of Noel Coward, Princess Diana, and Nancy Reagan. While the dining room is large, with a 32-seater mahogany table, it also did double duty as the ship’s chapel and cinema. “James Bond and Disney were particular favorites,” Moran reveals with a smile.
The coziest rooms, however, are Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth’s adjoining bedrooms. Both are sparsely furnished, with a writing desk, precious little in the way of clothes storage, and a twin bed each. Seriously. You’d have thought Liz would spring for a Queen-sized bed, at least.
In fact, the only double bed onboard is in the “Honeymoon Suite,” where newlyweds Prince Charles and Diana spent 16 days sailing around the Med.
Unfortunately for Harry and Meghan, this yacht’s sailing days are over. But hey, there’s always Royal Caribbean.
WHERE TO SLEEP LIKE A KING IN EDINBURGH
The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh once counted the Queen Mother as a regular for lunch, and it’s still a heralded dining destination. Alain Roux and his father Michel have announced plans to open a new brasserie here, complementing the existing hotel offering of the Michelin-starred Number One, afternoon tea in the Palm Court, and Scotch Bar. Guests staying three nights or more in the Scone & Crombie Suite can book the “Royal Experience” (£14,500, or $20,425) with a helicopter transfer to The Queen’s Balmoral Estate for a tour of the grounds, private tours of Holyroodhouse and the Royal Yacht Britannia, and more exclusive perks.
The Glasshouse, also in Edinburgh, is tucked into a converted church, with a two-acre rooftop garden and chic, contemporary decor. It’s part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
IF YOU GO
More information: www.visitbritain.com,www.windsor.gov.uk, www.visitlondon.com, www.visitscotland.com