Harry served 10 years in the British Army, seeing front line action as a Troop Leader with the Household Cavalry in Afghanistan in 2008, before returning at the helm of an Apache helicopter with the Army Air Corps in 2012. Within the tight-knit world of the British military, this makes him a part of their brotherhood for life.
“The Household Cavalry is a relatively small regiment, so is naturally a very tight unit and a family,” says regimental adjutant, Captain Thomas Mountain, 28, who will help form a 24-man staircase party on the steps of St. George’s Chapel and greet Harry, 33, and Meghan, 36, with a “royal salute” when they exit as husband and wife.
Waiting nearby will be a troop of 24 mounted Household Cavalry soldiers commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Gaselee, who will escort the newlyweds’ Ascot Landau carriage through the packed, flag-filled streets of Windsor.
“There’s an added pressure that one of our now ex-Household Cavalry is getting married, and we all want to the best that we possibly can,” says Moutain, “to play our small part in what will be a phenomenal day.”
“I will be stood right at the top of the steps next to the chapel doors as the married couple exits. It is a huge honor and a privilege to be part of it, if only in a small way,” he says.
So what does the special salute involve?
“A Household Cavalry version of the royal salute is when we sort of punch our sword out to the right and bring it all the way across the front our body until it is back in front of our face, and then lower the sword down,” Mountain explains.
“The horse and the traveling escort will be waiting for the married couple to come out in their carriage and will pick them up just outside the Royal Mews. They will then escort them through Windsor and back into Windsor Castle, where the escort will finish and return to the barracks.”
The Household Cavalry’s ceremonial display will be the climax of a month’s meticulous preparation involving horses, men and vast amounts of polish and elbow grease. “Clearly, we need to look immaculate, because visually it is hugely important,” says Mountain.
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On the day itself, the regiment will rise at 5 a.m. and exercise their horses to “flatten” their excitement, then enjoy a hearty breakfast and embark on hour upon hour of cleaning and polishing to ensure that every minute element of their historic uniforms are gleaming.
“It will take soldiers probably eight to 10 hours to clean all their kit,” explains Mountain. “Unless you put it onto the horse and onto the individual and look after it, it can get ruined very, very quickly. So the maintenance of the kit once it’s on is absolutely key.”
Mountain — and all the members of the British armed forces on parade during the wedding – is far more than a ceremonial soldier. Hailing from Moray in Scotland, he joined the British army straight out of school and served his country with distinction on the front lines of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in 2013.
Like all members of the Household Cavalry – which is split into the Life Guards and The Blues & Royals, the latter of which is Prince Harry’s (and Mountain’s) military home – Mountain is expected to combine this war-fighting capability with the ability to stay on top of a horse during state ceremonial duties.
“We are first and foremost operational soldiers and then perform ceremonial duties after that,” he says. “I came back from Afghanistan in 2013 and seven months later I was trotting down The Mall on a Mexican state visit.”
While he is used to taking part in huge state occasions – and will be Trooping the Colour for the Queen’s “official” birthday the Sunday after the wedding – this doesn’t mean that Mountain isn’t nervous of the big day. Far from it.
“It’s one in a million,” he says. “The sense of excitement and drama has been building as we drawn nearer — it’s palpable. The week before I think that, naturally, a few nerves will appear, but I think it’s always a good thing to be a little bit nervous.
“There’s going to be millions of people watching, so it’s a huge event to take part in. Everyone in the regiment is getting asked by their friends and family, ‘Are you part of the parade?’ As you can imagine, everyone’s family is excited. To be honest, standing at the top of the stairs, it’s going to be immense. It’s going to be phenomenal. It’s going to be incredible.”