Some estimates have put the price of Harry and Meghan's nuptials at £32m © PA Wire/PA Images
Some estimates have put the price of Harry and Meghan's nuptials at £32m © PA Wire/PA Images

How much will the royal wedding cost?

14 May 2018

How much does a royal wedding cost? Since you asked, nobody outside the royal family really knows but, as the nuptials of Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle draw near, the British media has felt obliged to speculate.

Business Insider estimates that the total cost of the ‘People’s Wedding’, as some broadcasters have christened it, could exceed £32m “most of which is allotted for security, and the royal family will pay for it.”

This seems expensive – it is £7m more than was spent on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding in 2011. ITV estimates that the security for that wedding cost only £6.3m, a sum paid, the broadcaster says, by the taxpayer, not the Windsors.

Business Insider drew on estimates made by the Bride Brook website which predicts that the total spend on the wedding itself will come to around £2m. That includes food and drink (28,000 canapes and 16,000 glasses of champagne are expected to be served to the 4,000 guests at the reception) entertainment, clothing, celebrity photographer Alexi Lubomirski (who is descended from Polish royalty) and the honeymoon. In comparison, the average British wedding now costs around £27,000.

Bride Brook’s £2m estimate might be too low if, as some have speculated, Markle spends £500,000 on a custom-made tiara. It seems more likely that she will borrow one from the Queen, who has one of the finest collections of tiaras in the world, or wear Princess Diana’s tiara. (Markle’s engagement ring contains two diamonds from Diana’s collection.)

As at most weddings, the question of “How much?” is inextricably linked to “Who’s paying?” To clarify matters, Kensington Palace has said, in an official statement: “As was the case with the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the royal family will pay for the core aspects of the wedding, such as the church service, the associated music, flowers, decoration and the reception afterwards.”

This is a rather elegant way of implicitly confirming that the taxpayer will foot the bill for the 5,000 police officers on duty. That said, with fewer guests at the service – and no heads of state invited – the bill should be smaller than for the Cambridges’ wedding.

If the bride-to-be does borrow a tiara, the most expensive single item at the wedding will probably be her dress. The Daily Mail reports that Tamara Ralph and Michael Russo, the Australian couple who designed the £56,000 dress Markle wore in the official engagement portrait, have created a £100,000 gown for her. Other sources favour Burberry, Stella McCartney and Canadian-Turkish designer Erdem Moralioglu.

The Daily Express agrees that Ralph and Russo will make the dress but, quoting the inevitable ‘royal insider’, suggests it will only cost £40,000 yet “outdazzle” the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress. Sadly, the ‘royal insider’ does not reveal how this ‘outdazzling’ will be achieved.

Whoever makes the dress – and whatever it costs – the bride is expected to order two, in case there is an accident. Two bridal bouquets will be supplied for the same reason.

Forty thousand pounds seems low – some of Ralph and Russo’s dresses take 3,000 hours to make. That would make the dress cheaper than the wedding cake which has been priced at around £50,000. The lemon elderflower wedding cake, decorated with fresh buttercream icing, is being made by Claire Ptak, a Californian pastry chef who runs the trendy organic Violet Bakery in Hackney.

The decorations for St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where the couple will be wed, will be even more locally sourced. The chapel will be adorned with peonies, white garden roses and foxgloves and branches of beech, birch and hornbeam selected by floral designer Philippa Craddock from Windsor Great Park and the Crown Estates. Two hundred thousand flowers will be styled for the wedding and the reception at Frogmore House at a cost, Bride Brook suggests, of around £110,000.

And then there’s the music, some of which will be deeply traditional and thoroughly English. The Ministry of Defence has commissioned York instrument maker Smith-Watkins to craft 20 fanfare trumpets. Company co-founder Richard Watkins, whose company made the same instruments for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s nuptials, believes the trumpets, which cost between £3,000 and £6,000 apiece, will be played at the wedding on 19 May.

Trumpets stamped with the royal seal might sound blingy but such flourishes look modest when compared to the extravagant 1981 wedding of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum of Dubai and Princess Salama. With a new 20,000-seat stadium built for the occasion, which lasted for seven days, and 34 private jets to ferry in guests, the wedding cost $100m in today’s money. The ceremony was not without romance – it began at dawn with a caravan of 20 camels and the groom riding a white horse to the portal of Salama’s palace.

Dubai’s royals look frugal compared to the French royal house of Valois. The Daily Beast has estimated that the wedding of Charles The Bold, Duke of Burgundy, to Margaret of York, sister of Edward IV and Richard III, in the summer of 1468 cost, in today’s money, a colossal $325m.

At that time, the Duchy of Burgundy stretched from France to Belgium and the Netherlands, and, to celebrate the marriage, Margaret rode through the city of Bruges on a golden litter, her reception sweetened by the free wine that flowed from artificial pelicans and sculpted archers along her route.

One curious item in this nine-day extravaganza of pomp and circumstance was a 41-foot tower inhabited by monkeys, wolves and dancing bears.

The 19% of Britons who would like a republic are unlikely to be placated but, seen in that light, the wedding of Harry and Meghan looks a snip – especially if you factor in the expected influx of 450,000 tourists who could generate £268m for the British economy.

Weddings – even royal ones – should not be judged in financial terms. Yet the royals know that, in times of economic uncertainty, the media will be quick to condemn extravagance.

Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine has already fired a broadside at designers Ralph and Russo, saying: “Their fashion philosophy can be summed up thus: Take one ordinary dress; cover it in sparkles and flounces; sell it to someone with more money than sense. Admittedly, this approach could apply to 96% of modern fashion, except that it’s not usually the taxpayer who foots the bill.”

Given the statement by Kensington Palace, it seems unlikely that the taxpayer will directly foot the bill. Vine, who fears the engaged couple are on a mission to turn the Windsors into a “cross between Strictly Come Dancing and the Kardashians”, would presumably be happier if Markle followed the Queen’s thrifty example. When she married Prince Philip in 1947, she saved up her ration coupons and, with a gift of 200 more from the government, bought the material for her wedding dress.

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