By Agence France-Presse
Meghan Markle will begin her walk down the aisle on her own when she marries Prince Harry before being joined by his father Prince Charles, officials said Friday after a last-minute upset when her own dad pulled out.
Despite sadness at her father Thomas Markle’s absence, the US former actress said she felt “wonderful” as she and her mother Doria Ragland arrived at the plush Cliveden House Hotel to spend the night before the wedding.
Meanwhile Harry and his best man, brother Prince William, went to greet the crowds outside Windsor Castle, where many will spend the night to secure a good spot for Saturday’s events.
Thomas Markle will not be escorting his daughter at St. George’s Chapel as planned, after he underwent a heart operation and became mired in a row over staged press photos.
Despite speculation that Ragland could step in, the palace said the bride had asked her future father-in-law to do so.
“The Prince of Wales is pleased to be able to welcome Ms Markle to the royal family in this way,” a spokesman for Kensington Palace added.
It later emerged that Markle will start walking down the aisle on her own, followed by six bridesmaids and four pageboys, before being joined by Charles, the heir to the throne.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who will marry the couple, said Friday they were “very sensible” and “self-possessed”.
“There’s profound affection between them which is wonderful and a deep understanding and mutual support,” he said.
“You see (it) in the way they respond to each other, caring for each other.”
Father ‘honoured and grateful’
In the wedding build-up, Kensington Palace appears to have been caught off guard by the chaos surrounding the Markle family.
Thomas Markle complained about paparazzi hounding at his home in Mexico before staging his own photos. The apparent bid to control his own image backfired badly.
Two of his children — Meghan’s half-siblings, who have not been invited — have also caused a stir by repeatedly speaking out about her in the media, and not always in the most flattering terms.
“Kensington Palace has missed a trick with the whole family,” royal biographer Penny Junor told AFP, saying it might have been prudent to invite them.
“They are very ordinary people, the Markles, leading very ordinary lives — and totally ill-prepared for what has hit them.”
A recovering Thomas Markle told US celebrity news website TMZ that he was “honoured and grateful” that Charles would give his daughter away.
He said he would “proudly” watch the wedding on television “in a secluded place with friends”.
The 73-year-old said he had spoken with his daughter and Harry and hoped to visit them soon.
The bride and groom went to Windsor Castle on Friday to join Queen Elizabeth II for tea with Ragland.
Harry and William later delighted crowds of well-wishers outside the castle.
The brothers walked along a line of flag-waving spectators, shaking hands and chatting.
When asked how he was feeling, Harry, sixth in line to the throne, replied: “Great.”
The 33-year-old told a woman who had travelled from Toronto: “Thank you so much for coming all this way.”
Harry sported a neatly-trimmed beard, triggering suggestions that he would not be wearing army uniform for his wedding.
Meanwhile Markle, wearing a black dress, said she was feeling “wonderful”, as she arrived at her overnight hotel.
Harry and William are staying at the Coworth Park hotel.
Harry’s close friend Prince Seeiso of Lesotho, with whom he established a charity helping the country’s AIDS orphans, said the African kingdom wanted the newlyweds to visit.
“Harry’s Harry. He doesn’t fit any mould,” he told ITV television.
“That inner child in him is visible.
“For us, Harry is one of us. His taking a person who has African roots again cements our love for Harry and his respect for the African continent.”
In east London, the Violet Bakery was on Friday applying finishing touches to the wedding cake, an “ethereal” lemon and elderflower creation.
Security measures in Windsor, meanwhile, have transformed the picturesque town into a fortress, with snipers posted on building roofs. Around 100,000 spectators are expected to turn out.
Diehard royalists have been camping out along the carriage route to secure the best viewing spots.
“I came here on Wednesday with all my friends,” Sam Perez, 50, from New York, told AFP outside the castle gates where he had set up camp.
“We’re going to party tonight,” he added.
“The people from the town, they’re really, really good, they bring coffee, cookies, hot tea.”