Northwestern alumni paint Windsor purple to cheer royal couple
Alumna Meghan Markle waved to fellow alumni along parade route
WINDSOR, England - More than two-dozen Northwestern University alumni, resplendent in purple t-shirts, gathered along the parade route in Windsor Saturday (May 19) to cheer fellow alumna, Meghan Markle, who became royalty by marrying England’s Prince Harry.
The group, which numbered 26 strong, draped the barricades along the route with NU banners, flew a homemade Northwestern flag and waved purple metallic pom-poms as the newly married royal couple passed.
Ellen Bencard, an NU alumna who now lives in England, said she drove to Windsor at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in a car packed with friends, lawn chairs and purple flags. Her goal was to get a good spot to wish the new duchess well.
Many hours later, Bencard and her fellow Northwestern alumni got their wish.
“A 2:30 a.m. start followed by a nine-hour wait to see a two-minute carriage pass by is not rational, even if we have visual evidence that Meghan saw and appreciated our presence,” Bencard conceded. “But that’s not what this is about. It’s the experience, a lovely day out with your friends – drinking in the atmosphere and being a part of history.”
Bencard said the Northwestern flag she made was reportedly seen by an estimated 2 billion people around the world. And countless others saw Bencard and current Northwestern student Ruthie Hubbard interviewed on CBS.
Hubbard, who is in her second year at the Kellogg School of Management, said she flew to England for the wedding in part because, like Markle, she is a person of color, and felt attending the historic event, being visible and contributing to the conversation were important.
“I had the opportunity to share my brief thoughts on Meghan and this historic occasion with my new UK alumni friends and rejoice in African-American culture,” Hubbard said. “To have our newly minted Duke and Duchess see my face in the Purple Pride crowd, cheering them on, meant the world to me.”
Hubbard joined alumni along the road to Windsor Castle, where more than 100,000 people gathered for the day. Markle passed the group of alumni twice, first in a car with her mother, Doria Ragland, on the way to the wedding, and later, after the wedding, in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband, Prince Harry.
“Media’s representation of people of color, particularly black women of course, is one of my biggest passions,” Hubbard said. “Being visible, simply existing well in spaces we don’t usually occupy and recognizing the reality that many people across our own country do not have real exposure to women like me is why I made this trip across the pond.”
Hubbard praised Bencard, head of the alumni advance team, for organizing and creating a terrific game plan for the day.
“She made us easily visible with Northwestern shirts for the day and made a makeshift flag that stood out and above the sea of 100,000 visitors,” Hubbard said, noting that Bencard also provided “Wildcat fuel in the form of English pastries adorned with royal wedding décor.”
In addition, Bencard helped select a strategic spot along the carriage route – a prime real estate selection that ensured Markle would pass by twice. The media also noticed. CBS reporter Roxana Saberi, a Northwestern graduate, found them along the route and interviewed Hubbard, Bencard and other members of the University alumni group as part of the network’s live coverage of the royal wedding.
Bencard, 53, graduated from Northwestern (Medill School of Journalism) in 1986 and went on to get her graduate journalism degree in ‘87. (She was a journalism cherub in 1981, giving her the Medill triple crown.) A career in corporate communications for big IT services firms allowed her to follow her dream of spending time in Europe. She settled in England permanently in 1999, took dual citizenship in 2004 and married an Englishman in 2011. While technology marketing remains the official job, it’s her decade-old blog on travel, culture and food that feeds the passions that originally lured her overseas. Bencard has been committed to alumni service since leaving Northwestern. She’s a past president of the St. Louis and Dallas alumni clubs and was head of the Alumni Admissions Council in the UK for almost a decade. She is currently arts and culture co-chair for the Northwestern Alumni Club of the UK.
Hubbard is set to graduate this spring from the Kellogg School of Management. She is also involved in Medill and Northwestern as a student board member of the Student Publishing Company for Northwestern. Before Kellogg, Hubbard worked at JPMorgan Asset Management in New York and, upon graduation, she intends to work in media consulting/strategy and content acquisition.
Saberi is also a graduate of Medill, where she earned her MSJ in 1999. Saberi was awarded the Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism in 2009, and she has worked as a journalist for National Public Radio, British Broadcasting Corp. and other news outlets before joining CBS.
Kellogg School of Management student Ruthie Hubbard and Northwestern Alumna Ellen Bencard contributed to this report.