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Queen's cousin to be first royal in same-sex marriage – and his ex-wife is giving him away

Queen's cousin to be royals' first gay marriage
Credit: David M. Benett/Getty Images
Lord Ivar Mountbatten at Kensington Palace on June 19, 2014 in London.

If you thought American Meghan Markle was an unprecedented royal bride, wait until you hear about the wedding plans for Queen Elizabeth II's cousin, Lord Ivar Mountbatten, who's set to become the first royal in history to enter into a same-sex marriage.

His ex-wife, mother of his three children, will walk him down the aisle at the ceremony this summer. And everybody with an HRH before their name seems to be pretty cool about it. 

No doubt about it, the members of the British royal family, who once clutched their pearls at the thought of even meeting a divorced person let alone marrying one (Prince Harry married divorced American actress Markle on May 19), have well and truly entered the 21st century.

Here's the quick summary of the ancestry of Ivar Mountbatten, 55:  He is related to the royal Windsors because they are all descended from Queen Victoria. (He's a great-great-great grandson.) Thus, he is a distant cousin to the queen, a closer cousin to her husband, Prince Philip, and the nephew of Lord Louis "Uncle Dickie" Mountbatten, who helped get Elizabeth and Philip together, who was a beloved mentor to Prince Charles and who was killed in an IRA bombing in Ireland in 1979.

Ivar Mountbatten, a farmer and trained geologist, was married in 1994 to Penelope Vere Thompson, 52. They are the parents of three daughters, ages 22, 20 and 15. They had a largely happy marriage but divorced in 2011 over his secret sexuality.

In 2016, he came out publicly as a gay man in a relationship with James Coyle, an airline cabin-services director whom he met at a Swiss ski resort popular with members of the royal family.

Credit: STEVE PARSONS/AFP/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II leaves St George's Chapel after attending the annual Garter Ceremony in Windsor Castle on June 18, 2018.

Word of his wedding plans has been circulating in the British media for months but over the weekend, Mountbatten, Coyle and Penny Mountbatten were interviewed about their unconventional family by The Daily Mail, complete with pictures of the trio looking deliriously happy.

On Twitter, the story was greeted with approval by advocates for gay people.

The two men plan to marry later this summer in the private chapel on Mountbatten's country estate in Devon near the village of Uffculme. They agreed to an interview because they want the public announcement of the first same-sex marriage in the extended royal family to be handled with "dignity."

"We really are a funny threesome," said Lord Ivar as he showed writer Rebecca Hardy into a drawing room. "Not in that way!" he adds laughing as the rest look bemused. 

Penny Mountbatten, who has an events-planning business in London, is so on board about the marriage she's going to give her ex away at the ceremony. "It was the girls' idea," she said in her first interview on the subject. "It makes me feel quite emotional. I'm really very touched."

She said her former husband is a changed man, and for the better, since he came out. "James is hugely responsible for that because he's so much fun," she said. "Ivar is so much more relaxed these days. He's so much kinder."

Mountbatten is certainly not the first gay person in the 1,000-year history of British royalty: Even reigning kings such as Richard I The Lionheart, Edward II and James I are considered by biographers and historians to be among those who likely were homosexuals.

But none of them were open about it (the penalty could be death) and certainly none of them ever entered a same-sex marriage, which has been legal in England, Wales and Scotland only since 2014.

So Mountbatten is unique. His marriage plans have the blessing of families and friends, including Mountbatten's lifelong friend Prince Edward, the queen's youngest son. Mountbatten is godparent to the Earl of Wessex's elder child, while he and his wife, Countess Sophie, are godparents to Mountbatten's two eldest daughters.

But it's not clear whether any senior members of the royal family will be attending the nuptials, largely because royal schedules are put in place months or years in advance.

Mountbatten's daughters are mostly blase about the coming wedding, he and his intended said.

"It's a very modern marriage,"' Coyle said. "There was no proposal, just an acceptance of this great love. He cares. I care. The girls are very accepting. Three years ago they were saying: 'Wow. Are you guys going to get married?' "

Mountbatten said his eldest daughter, Ella, told him a same-sex marriage is no longer a big deal. "It's so normal nowadays."

But Mountbatten himself says he feels uncomfortable at times, having grown up in the culturally constricting environments of royal and aristocratic families.  

"I've lived my whole life as a heterosexual. So, all of a sudden, having a bloke around is unusual — even now. It's brilliant but I suppose in an ideal world I would prefer to have a wife because that has always been the norm."

They're planning a small wedding, just close family and about 120 friends for the reception afterwards.

And there won't be two men in tuxedos on a cake, white doves or "anything twee or contrived like that," added Coyle.

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