People were counting down the days until the royal wedding more than they would their own big day — that's just how captivated the public has been by the real-life fairytale unfolding between the now Duke and Duchess of Sussex. A fusion of time-honoured British tradition and the young couple's unique approach, the celebrations felt brilliantly modern. Every detail was meticulously planned and the end result truly was breathtaking. The song Meghan Markle walked down the aisle to was particularly beautiful, and it turns out the music has a special importance for the couple, too.
Choosing the songs that will feature as part of a wedding ceremony is no easy task. With a royal wedding, that's no different, especially with the whole world watching. On Saturday, May 19, Markle walked down the aisle to George Frederic Handel's "Eternal Source Of Light Divine," a spell-binding cantata performed by the Welsh soprano Elin Manahan.
The song is undoubtedly beautiful in its own right, but the reason the pair chose it to be pride of place at their wedding goes much deeper than its beauty. The choice is both a celebration of her new life as part of the royal family, but equally an acknowledgement of the generations of royals that came before.
The history behind Handel's composition is hugely symbolic. Aside from "Eternal Source of Light Divine," this song is also called "Ode for the birthday of Queen Anne," as, according to the British Library, it was written originally in 1713 to celebrate the then Queen's 48th birthday. Perhaps more touchingly for Meghan and Harry, music by Handel was also chosen by Princess Diana Spencer before she married Prince Charles in 1981, when Kiri Te Kanawa sang Handel's "Let the Bright Seraphim" from the opera Samson.
Though Meghan and Harry had one of the highest profile weddings of the century to date, it was incredibly touching to see both the groom's mother, Princess Diana, and other royal ancestors commemorated on the big day.
Handel's composition opens with the lines, "Eternal source of light divine, with double warmth thy beams display, and with distinguish'd glory shine, to add a lustre to this day." Echoing around St George's Chapel, Welsh soprano Manahan brought new life to the centuries old song. Given that The Telegraph reported in 2011 that Prince Charles gave the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge a hand in choosing the music for their wedding, one wonders if Prince Charles did the same for his youngest son. Either way, I doubt there was a dry eye in the entire room.
It isn't the first time that Manahan has performed for a royal audience. In 2016, the singer performed at the University of Swansea to celebrate Prince Charles' summer tour. She gleefully tweeted at the time, "Today, Prince Charles gets to hear me sing. Bet he can't wait." Little did she know, two years later, she would be watched by millions all over the world as she sang during Prince Charles' youngest son's wedding.
Handel is a symbolic composer in royal history, and was given a stipend by the crown for his work. Given his compositions were also featured Harry's parents' wedding, it underpins how important the composer is in royal tradition. It was the perfect song choice to start Prince Harry and Markle's married life together.
The accompanying choir and broad array of musicians chosen to perform on the day celebrated the talent of young British musicians, just as Handel did in the 18th century. Cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, who in 2016 won BBC Young Musician of the year, has been a favourite of Prince Harry's since he saw him perform last year. Excitingly, Markle personally called the 19-year-old to invite him to perform at the service. Also performing on the big day was Karen Gibson and The Kingdom Choir, a group celebrated for creating a unique British sound for over 20 years.
The performance typified modern Britain, bringing together a symbolic song rich in royal history, performed by the best musicians from across the UK, bestowing the ceremony with an updated sense of tradition. Though they have very much done things their way since news of the couple first emerged, this song and its stunning performance united royal legacy with a unique contemporary approach, perfectly tailored to Harry and Meghan.