Over time, Harry’s love life became a matter of national obsession. He was always seen with a beautiful — normally blonde — society girl with a cut-glass accent and from a family steeped in wealth and status.
Harry didn’t end up with the sort of person everyone thought he would — a wife born and bred in the upper echelons of British society. Instead, he fell head over heels with someone who has already done more to shake up the royal family since his mother, Princess Diana, did in the 1980s.
The first thing to put unequivocally on the record is that this, clearly, is a union based on love. It’s not a statement about race relations or an attempt to recreate a Benetton ad. Here are two people who are crazy about each other.
However, Meghan Markle marrying into the royal family is a seminal moment in the evolution of British society precisely because she is not from the traditional background that one expects a British royal to mix with.
Meghan is from a modest background compared to Harry’s previous partners: she was married before and is a divorcee; her parents split when she was young; she was effectively raised by a single parent; and most interesting of all, as well as being a celebrity, she is a woman of color.
This is a big deal. Britain likes to pride itself on being a tolerant, inclusive and multicultural society. Yet it still clings to rigid class structure and at the very top is the royal family — the pinnacle and global symbol of elitism.
Of course, people of color would be invited to big royal events, but often in an official capacity rather than as a personal friend of the family. High society is still very closed on class and race.
Meghan Markle is, of course, having a very different experience. While Markle is unlikely to be our Queen, she is the first person of color in modern history to enter the hallowed, magic circle that is the royal family. And this means something particularly in terms of where politics, culture and social issues are right now.
Cupid’s bow has gifted the royal family a unique opportunity to open itself up and show the country and the world that it can more than just tolerate diversity and modernity — it can live it.
But it’s this that makes Meghan so interesting. We will have in our royal family, for the first time, someone who has experienced racism and prejudice. She will have an empathy that will mean a lot to people of color — not just in Britain, but around the world. That ability to be a role model who can connect and walk in someone else’s shoes will be a rare and vital quality. And Harry knows that better than anyone.
Programming note: No royal wedding invitation? Not to worry. You can stream every moment on your mobile phone, laptop, or wherever you get CNN, starting at 5 a.m. ET on Saturday, May 19.