WINDSOR, England (Reuters) - Britain’s armed forces will on Thursday rehearse the carriage procession that Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle are to make through the crowded streets of Windsor after their wedding this weekend.
Harry, sixth-in-line to the throne, and Markle, a star in TV drama “Suits”, will tie the knot at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, home to the British royal family for nearly 1,000 years.
After the hour-long ceremony which will be attended by Harry’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth, the couple will make a procession through the town’s ancient streets on a 19th Century Ascot Landau carriage pulled by four Windsor Grey horses.
The sumptuous show of British pageantry is likely to attract a huge world audience while supporters hope the union of one of the most popular royals and a glamorous American actress, a divorcee with a white father and an African-American mother, will reinvigorate the monarchy.
However, much of the carefully-planned and choreographed build-up to the ceremony has been overshadowed in recent days by confusion over whether Markle’s father would attend and intensive media focus on other members of her family in the run up to the wedding.
Thomas Markle, a former lighting director for TV soaps and sitcoms, has given a series of contradictory statements about whether he will walk his daughter down the aisle. The Los Angeles-based celebrity website TMZ.com said he underwent heart surgery on Wednesday.
The website said it had spoken to him and that “he seemed alert and coherent, telling us doctors implanted stents in his blood vessels”. It was not known when he would be out of the hospital.
Police are expecting more than 100,000 people to throng the streets outside Windsor Castle, the queen’s home west of London and the oldest and largest inhabited fortress in the world, and have said there would be tight security for the event.
A large number of officers were present as large crowds gathered to watch the troops in colourful uniforms who will accompany the newlyweds in a carriage procession after the ceremony perform a practice run on Thursday.
Beside the British royal family, which blends sometimes stuffy European traditions with the global popularity of modern superstars, Markle has brought some Hollywood glamour and modernity to the House of Windsor.
She is due to arrive at the chapel in a car with her mother, Doria Ragland, though it is now unclear who will walk her down the aisle.
Ragland, a yoga instructor and social worker, has arrived in Britain and is due to meet the 92-year-old monarch and her husband Prince Philip, 96, on Thursday.
More than 5,000 media and support staff have registered for official positions in Windsor for the wedding, along with more than 160 photographers and 79 international TV networks, Kensington Palace said.
Britain’s monarchy continues to be a source of fascination around the world and few other countries can emulate the pageantry which surrounds the royals.
A global audience will be watching but how polls have suggested that most Britons are not as enthralled by the nuptials as the media.
A YouGov poll, commissioned by anti-monarchist pressure group Republic, found that 66 percent of Britons were not interested in the event, with 60 percent of Britons planning to have a normal weekend.
The poll also showed that 57 percent of respondents believed the royal family should pay not only for the wedding but also for the costs of police, which are expected to surpass the 6 million pound ($8 million) price tag for the 2011 wedding of Harry’s brother Prince William to wife Kate.
However, other surveys show most Britons are in favour of the monarchy continuing in Britain and that the wedding and the birth last month of William and Kate’s third child, Prince Louis, were events of which Britain could be proud.
The YouGov survey suggested that the popularity of the royal family is contingent on the personalities of its members. While the queen and younger royals such as Harry score highly, heir-to-the-throne Charles is far less popular.
“This YouGov poll shows a very clear picture of a nation disinterested and apathetic about the royal family,” Graham Smith, chief executive of Republic, said.
“We’re not a nation of republicans yet - but we’ve stopped being a nation of royalists.”
Editing by Alison Williams