The Cinderella syndrome

It was hard to avoid the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan (Rachel from Suits) on Saturday. It was broadcast live and repeated all day on the British Sky network, on CNN and even on Israel’s Channel 11. All right, maybe it could have been avoided, but once I started watching it was hard to tear myself away.

It unfolded like a fairytale and the media collaborated to turn it into one. The walls and turrets of Windsor Castle and its surroundings unfolded like a pop-up Victorian storybook. The celebrities, the jubilant crowds and especially the couple – beautiful bride, princely groom – were broadcast again and again in a never ending loop.

I zapped between channels, gratified to spot people I knew among the invited guests. There’s George Clooney! Look, cheery David Beckam and his sulky wife! Elton – sing us a song! That one looks familiar, oh, it’s Jessica from Suits!

All the networks sent their senior commentators to cover the event. They all kept laughing and making jokes, to make it clear they’re usually assigned to top international or White House affairs, not trivial gossip like this. We’re not really taking it seriously, they implied, but we know this is what you want to know, the bride’s dress, who’s who among the guests, and of course the lovely weather, as though we couldn’t see for ourselves that it was a nice day. Most annoyingly, they kept deferring humbly to the British “royal” correspondents and fashion designers – glorified gossip reporters. These they interviewed as experts and analysts for inside information about the mystery wedding-dress designer (Stella McCartney, one asserted knowingly, and was wrong); the prince’s state of mind (calm but obviously delighted. Seriously? On his wedding day?); and the queen’s attitude (she approved; phew, what a relief!).

But everyone, even the fashion designers, spoke mainly of Rachel Meghan, extolling her virtues that would drag the staid royal family into modern times. They listed her attributes – independent, confident, a human rights activist, an animal lover, a woman with her own career and money. They noted repeatedly how she and her mother had inspected the chapel before the ceremony and decreed there weren’t enough flowers. See? She really did have a mind of her own.
Most of all, Rachel-Meghan is a feminist, the experts emphasized, even as the cameras panned over a fairytale Windsor kingdom, an open landau carriage. Magnificent white horses (unicorns perhaps) pranced past cheering crowds. Impassive footmen sat in the back of the coach, the mounted and marching royal guard in full livery. And of course, the mile-long train on the Givenchy gown (a French fashion house; quelle scandal!)

Modernism, feminism, shmeminism. It was the medieval Cinderella wedding from the fairytale that captured the imagination, that made the heart beat faster and the eyes mist over. The chance we all dreamed of, to go back to an innocent time we heard of once in a lullaby, where the bride was breathtakingly beautiful and the groom was a prince.

When Princess Diana gave her famous interview to Martin Bashir in 1995 about the real side of her marriage to Prince Charles and what it was like to be part of the royal family, I wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post about the breaking of the fairytale. We all know how that story ended.

More than 20 years later, her son, with the help of a half-black American divorce, brought us a tikkun – aptly on Shavuot – a corrective experience to heal that trauma, and a welcome slap of retaliation to the Palace. Let’s see you try to bully Rachel-Megan, you Palace mandarins. Let’s see the queen tell her what to do and how to behave. She’ll soon show them where to stick it. And let’s see you, Harry, try to cheat on her, like your father did to Diana, she’ll show you what’s what.

Yet there remained something heartwarming in watching the old story run in a different, updated, reconciled version. The former villain Prince Charles is recast as a kindly surrogate father giving his new daughter-in-law away. The once hated Camilla, Diana’s Cruella, is smiling cheerfully (even though I saw her roll her eyes during the black preacher’s sermon). There is a black gospel choir in Windsor chapel, supporting crowds from all over the world. Even the queen seemed appeased, having finally come round – or maybe just lost her last round. A serene old lady finally admitting she’d maybe behaved badly, done wrong, now ready to make amends.

But still, the wedding brought some hope, or illusion, that fairytales do come true. Of course, to have a chance of surviving today the “peasant bride” in the story needs to be independent and opinionated, to have been married before, or at least not be even a pretend virgin. It’s Cinderella’s postmodern resume to apply for the post of princess. And to my relief and the relief of womankind – not so damned young either! Yes, she’s still stunning and a TV star, so it’s a bit of a stretch to believe this could happen to us. And don’t tell us that to make it work and to live happily ever after they also need love, blah blah blah, till death. Because, let’s face it, money, status, royalty, good looks, making history – what more could one possibly need?

Maybe we should ask the ever-scowling Victoria Beckham why, among all those happy, good-looking, wealthy, upper-class cool cats, she opted to be sourpuss of the day.

About the Author
Michal Yudelman O’Dwyer was born on a kibbutz in the Negev, served in the army, and studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, University of Chicago and CCNY. She has worked as a journalist, columnist, and translator, and published 10 short stories. A collection of her short stories, entitled “Somebody I used to know,” is to be published (in Hebrew) in a few weeks. Lives in Tel Aviv with the Irish journalist Thomas O’Dwyer and three cats.