When Lady Tamara Grosvenor married Edward Van Cutsem in 2004, the whole of Chester ground to a halt. The streets around the cathedral were crammed with police; photographers sped around on motorbikes and the bluest of blue-bloods joined the congregation alongside the Queen (who was resplendent in purple), Prince Philip, Prince William and Prince Harry to celebrate the joining of two of England’s grandest families in what was called the wedding of the century.
But the marriage of Tamara’s younger brother Hugh – aka the Duke of Westminster, 32 – to Olivia Henson, 30, is set to be an even fancier affair. Primogeniture means Hugh is the sole heir to the vast Westminster fortune (worth an estimated £9 billion) and le tout monde will gather in Chester on June 7 next year to watch the man once dubbed ‘Britain’s most eligible bachelor’ be taken off the market.
So why are Harry and Meghan – who made Hugh one of their son Archie’s godparents – not on the guest list for what is guaranteed to be the society wedding of 2024?
Interestingly, Lady Tamara’s wedding was also a cautionary tale: had the then unmarried Camilla Parker Bowles and Prince Charles taken up their invite and joined Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in attending, Camilla would have had to sit several rows apart and arrive separately, as protocol dictated. This is perhaps why the pair were notable by their absence.
Harry and Meghan, meanwhile, have allegedly been excluded from Hugh’s wedding guest list to avoid a family clash in the House of Windsor (after all, what bride wants a royal feud to upstage her big day?). But it is quite a snub and illustrates just how distant Harry now is from the world that he was brought up in. He and Hugh know each other very well – in 2015 the pair travelled together in South Africa with the aim of fighting rhino poaching – and this lack of an invitation is likely to be a nail in the coffin of an important friendship.
But it seems that Harry is once again discovering how bad-mouthing the Royal family in public can have consequences on relationships beyond just those within his family. The Grosvenor ties to the royals are entrenched: while Hugh is King Charles’s godson; he in turn was made godfather to Prince George when he was born and later to Prince Archie.
Known to friends as ‘Hughie’, the 32-year-old billionaire also played a key role in the Coronation, forming part of the King and Queen’s procession. Born in January 1991, he was the third child and only son born of the 6th Duke and his wife Natalia, who is descended from Emperor Nicholas I of Russia and the House of Romanov. His sisters are all married: Lady Tamara, 43, to Van Cutsem; Lady Edwina, 42, to celebrity historian Dan Snow; and Lady Viola, 30, to Dragoon Guards officer Angus Roberts. Hugh himself became both the 7th Duke of Westminster and the richest man in Britain under the age of 35 when his father died in 2016.
The couple themselves are said to have met through friends and the King and Queen and the Prince and Princess of Wales are firmly on the invitation list for their June wedding – and there is a good chance all of them will attend (Charles is likely to be in the country as the following weekend is the Trooping the Colour).
“You have to remember that people like this are very traditional – and while they wouldn’t be at all bothered by a drunken uncle or some overt snogging on the dance floor, they don’t like it when people criticise their way of life in public, which is exactly what Harry and Meghan have been doing for the last few years,” says a source who knows the Grosvenors. “And given who he is, Hugh’s loyalty would always have to be to the current King and the future King.”
The absence of a stiff white invitation to prop up on a Montecito mantelpiece will sting even more when it becomes clear that the Waleses might play a major role in the day itself. William is apparently in the running to be best man (a role he last took on in public at Harry’s wedding) while Prince George, as one of Hugh’s godsons, is likely to be a pageboy. Given Hugh is thought to be the only friend of William and Harry’s chosen to be a godparent by both, this could fan even more flames over in California.
The day itself will probably follow a similar pattern to Lady Tamara’s wedding 20 years ago. The pair will also marry in Chester Cathedral – a 10th-century Grade I listed building that has been painstakingly restored over the last 200 years. “The couple have chosen the cathedral for both its beauty and long association with the Grosvenor family, including to the Duke personally”, a spokesman says. The reception will then take place in the family seat of Eaton Hall in Cheshire, where Hugh proposed to his fiancée in spring this year.
The family’s money has largely come from London property since Thomas Grosvenor was given what is now Mayfair and Belgravia as part of a dowry in the 1670s, but Eaton Hall is where the children grew up and the property has been the Grosvenor country house since the 15th century. The 11,000-acre estate has farmland and formal gardens which have remained largely intact over the centuries, but the main house has been knocked down and rebuilt numerous times over the last 600 years, culminating in a design by Alfred Waterhouse which dates back to the 1870s.
The hall itself is large enough to accommodate well over 200 guests, but the family could also opt for a marquee in the Italian gardens, which are filled with pools, fountains and statues that date back to the Victorian era, and would be particularly lovely in summer.
As for the couple themselves – they are unusually low-key given their wealth and connections, as evidenced by the fact that only one engagement photograph of them was released in which they are wearing very casual clothes. “They are very, very private,” says a high-society contact. “Nobody has any good gossip on them.”
What we do know is that Hugh attended a local public primary school before going to private Mostyn House School and then enrolling at Ellesmere College, a co-ed boarding school in Shropshire, while Henson went to Marlborough College, Catherine, Princess of Wales’s alma mater. He went on to study countryside management at Newcastle University while she read Hispanic studies and Italian at Trinity College, Dublin and now works at Belazu, a London-based company that sources Middle-Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients for chefs and home cooks.
Neither appears to have any interest in being a part of London’s glossy style set, although the guest list will likely include lots of old pals of the princes including all the Van Cutsems, Charlie van Straubenzee and Violet, Alice and Eliza Manners, the glamorous daughters of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland.
Which means the day itself will probably follow the rhythms of a classic upper-crust English country wedding, rather than anything billionaire-like: men in morning suits and women in pretty florals with hats, children as bridesmaids rather than adults, and a service filled with hymns and carefully chosen readings. Speeches at dinner will likely be dominated by men (something Meghan would possibly disapprove of) while the rule of thumb when it comes to the music will probably be: the cheesier the better.
When all is said and done, though, the fact that Harry and Meghan won’t be strutting their stuff to Sweet Caroline and Come on Eileen is incredibly sad. Given how deep the links are between the two families, it is an outcome neither side would have wanted.