A royal wedding is pretty much guaranteed to be an extravagant occasion, and Harry and Meghan’s certainly was that. As is commonplace at royal weddings, plenty of expensive gifts were sent to the happy couple. But a few months after the event, it was reported that $9 million worth of presents had simply been sent back by the new duke and duchess. And one might well imagine that this was because they hadn’t wanted – or needed – them.
Everything about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding was to the highest standard. And needless to say, staging it required a budget that regular people could scarcely imagine. According to CBS, the whole event cost about $45 million – an even higher figure than that forked out for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011.
When the nuptials were first announced, the royal family stated that they would be covering most of the costs – such as decorations, music, the service and the reception. However, according to reports, the budget for security was ultimately to be funded by taxpayers. This included police, rooftop snipers and other anti-terrorism measures.
Security for the big day in fact cost more than $40 million, according to the wedding website Bridebook. But other purchases allegedly came from the pocket of the bride and groom – both of whom could certainly afford it. It’s reported that Meghan paid for her Givenchy gown herself, for example, and it apparently cost around $500,000.
Other expensive items included the sort of things that would never be considered for a regular wedding but that are deemed vital for a royal one. There was Harry’s Royal Air Force uniform, for instance, and silver-plated trumpets with the Royal Coat of Arms stamped onto them. What’s more, toilets for all the guests set the palace back some $46,000.
Yes, Harry and Meghan’s wedding was steeped in tradition. There were, though, some traditions that they chose to ignore – and one of these involved the giving of wedding gifts. Sending luxurious or meaningful presents to a royal wedding is a very old custom indeed – one that has its roots in both pageantry and diplomacy.
When Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in 1947, for instance, the couple received a multitude of gifts from other royal families and world leaders. Many of these were items that only served a decorative purpose: Sweden sent crystal candlesticks, West Germany sent porcelain horses, and India sent carpets. But the idea was to maintain good relations between countries rather than to send personal presents.
It was also commonplace for the subjects of royals to send along wedding gifts as well. Queen Elizabeth II received plenty of presents from the people of Britain, and some of them were touchingly modest. These included a box of apples, a bathroom sponge, a silver bread basket and many knitted items. Companies also got in on the action and sent gifts that advertised their products.
However, times have changed. When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex came back from their honeymoon – which reportedly cost them at least another $100,000 – it was reported that they were returning vast quantities of the wedding gifts that had been given to them.
The reason for this was pretty simple: they hadn’t actually wanted or asked for gifts in the first place. Harry and Meghan had instead requested that people donate to charities that the couple had chosen. The statement released before the wedding read, “Prince Harry and Ms. Meghan Markle are incredibly grateful for the goodwill shown to them since the announcement of their engagement and are keen that as many people as possible benefit from this generosity of spirit.”
“The couple have therefore asked that anyone who might wish to mark the occasion considers making a donation to charity, rather than sending a wedding gift,” the statement went on. “Many of these are small charities, and the couple are pleased to be able to amplify and shine a light on their work.” The causes included homelessness, HIV and women’s rights.
Despite this, though, people sent gifts anyway. Some were from genuine well-wishers, of course. But others were allegedly from companies that hoped a royal might be seen wearing or endorsing their products. And yet no matter how nice the presents may have been, the royal family has strict rules about what they can accept.
The Daily Express subsequently reported on the rules laid down by the palace. “When gifts are accepted, the consent of the Member of the Royal Family should be contingent upon the enterprise undertaking not to exploit the gift for commercial purposes,” the rules begin. As a result, then, accepting presents from companies is usually out of the question.
“Gifts offered by private individuals living in the U.K. not personally known to the Member of the Royal Family should be refused where there are concerns about the propriety or motives of the donor or the gift itself,” the rules conclude. As with almost everything to do with the royal family, then, it was all about protocol.
Some of the gifts were inappropriate anyway, it was also reported. For instance, one swimwear company had allegedly sent Harry and Meghan a pair of swimming trunks and a bikini, likely hoping that the couple would be spotted in them.
But the royal family are strict about gifts more generally. And while the Queen is happy to accept letters and might even answer them, she won’t even accept presents. The official royal family website states, “For security reasons, the Correspondence Team are unable to accept any unsolicited gifts which are sent to The Queen.”
Despite these strict rules, though, some people chose to give practical and creative gifts to Harry and Meghan. Presents that would – as the couple had requested in their initial statement – benefit as many people as possible. Australia gave a large donation to Harry’s Invictus Games, for example, and the country’s Taronga Zoo named two koala bears after the couple.
Canada did a similar thing too. And on the wedding day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement about monetary donations. “Today, Canadians joined in celebration as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle married,” he said. “To celebrate their union, Canada will donate $50,000 to Jumpstart, a Canadian charity dedicated to making play and sports more accessible to children from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
And the charities initially chosen by Harry and Meghan received an outpouring of support as well. Surfers Against Sewage, an environmental charity, saw a triple increase in donations. Others, such as the Myna Mahila Foundation – the only non-U.K. charity selected – also reported that they were experiencing far more support.
Harry and Meghan now have their lives as a duke and duchess ahead of them. They’ll almost certainly be making charity work a big part of their duties, too, just as they did before they were married. What’s more, delightfully, they seem to have started a trend. In June 2018 wedding website The Knot reported that one in ten couples were now asking for charity donations instead of gifts. And that should help towards making the world a better place.