Middleton sets off to marry prince

2011-04-29 10:35

Kate Middleton left a London hotel on Friday for Westminster Abbey, where she will marry Prince William in a royal occasion of dazzling pomp and pageantry that has attracted a huge global audience.

Middleton, the first “commoner” to marry a prince in close proximity to the throne in over 350 years, is seen as the new, modern face of the British monarchy, which is enjoying a surge in popularity on the back of the big occasion.

After weeks of fevered speculation in the fashion press, details of her wedding dress were revealed as she stepped into a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI limousine for the abbey to marry and become Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Bells pealed loudly and trumpets blared as 1 900 guests poured into the historic abbey, coronation site for the monarchy since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066.

The monarch Queen Elizabeth, David and Victoria Beckham, the footballer-pop star couple, singer Elton John and Prime Minister David Cameron were among the famous guests at the abbey.

They joined 50 heads of state as well as charity workers and war veterans who know the prince from his military training.

Thousands of people from around the world were outside the abbey, many of them camping overnight for the best view of the future king and queen and fuelling the feel-good factor that has briefly lifted Britain from its economic gloom.

“People watching this at home must think we’re completely mad, but there’s just no comparison,” said 58-year-old Denise Mill from southern England. “I just had to be here.”

Around her the crowd entered into the festive spirit on a chilly day by wearing national flags and even fake wedding dresses and tiaras. Hundreds of police officers, some armed, dotted the royal routes in a major security operation.

Tens of thousands more crammed the flag-lined streets of London to catch a glimpse of marching military bands in black bearskin hats, cavalrymen in shining breastplates and ornate carriages that will carry royal figures from the service.

SEALED WITH A KISS
A large gathering is expected outside the queen’s London residence, Buckingham Palace, to cheer on the married couple as they appear on the balcony for a much-anticipated public kiss.

For others, however, the biggest royal wedding since William’s mother Diana married Prince Charles in 1981 was an event to avoid, reflecting divided opinion about the monarchy.

“It’s just a wedding,” said 25-year-old Ivan Smith. “Everyone is going mad about it. I couldn’t care less.”

Palace officials have released virtually every detail of the service, including the music and flowers. But the big secret was the identity of the designer of Middleton’s dress.

A screen had been erected at the future queen’s hotel to protect her from prying eyes, a new reality the 29-year-old must learn to live with as she joins Britain’s monarchy.

Fierce appetite for images of the young bride have drawn uncomfortable parallels with William’s late mother Princess Diana, who became the world’s most photographed woman and died in a car crash after being pursued by paparazzi in Paris.

The royals’ cool reaction to Diana’s death contrasted with an outpouring of public grief and marked a low point for the monarchy. Some questioned whether the institution, a vestige of imperial glory, had outlived its unifying role in a modern state divided by partisan politics and regional separatism.

William (28) has kept the memory of his mother alive – he gave Middleton his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring and Elton John famously sang “Candle in the Wind” at Diana’s funeral in the same abbey in 1997.

Also in the abbey on Friday was Charles Spencer, Diana’s brother who delivered an outspoken attack on the royal family at the 1997 funeral.

During the wedding, to be streamed live on YouTube, Middleton will not promise to “obey” William as part of her wedding vows, and he will not wear a wedding ring.

The wedding ring is made out of Welsh gold reflecting the couple’s links with Wales where they live. Prince Charles is also the Prince of Wales.

After the marriage, the couple are expected to leave the abbey in the 1902 open-topped state landau carriage for Buckingham Palace, where there will be a reception followed by a smaller party for some 300 guests.

About 5 500 street parties will be held across Britain, in keeping with tradition, although they will be more common in the more affluent south of England than in the poorer north.

REVIVAL IN FORTUNES
The marriage between William, second in line to the throne, and Middleton, dubbed “Waity Katie” for their long courtship, has cemented a recovery in the monarchy’s popularity.

A series of scandals involving senior royals, Britain’s economic difficulties and Diana’s death after her divorce from Prince Charles led many to question the future of an institution rooted in the imperial past.

But William is seen as a less distant, more rounded figure than his father.

In a surprise walkabout on Thursday evening which was a break from tradition, the groom reached into the crowds waiting on the Mall, the avenue leading to Buckingham Palace, shaking hands and chatting happily with delighted members of the public.

Some 8 000 reporters and support staff have descended on the capital to capture the occasion in words and images, and, while some question a British government estimate of a global audience of two billion, hundreds of millions are certain to tune in.

A Daily Mail survey showed 51% of people believed the wedding would strengthen the monarchy in Britain, compared with 65% who said the marriage between Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005 would weaken it.

However, while the queen (85) exercises limited power, and is largely a symbolic figurehead in Britain and its former colonies, critics question the privileges she and her family enjoy, particularly at a time when the economy is so weak.

The monarchy officially costs the British taxpayer around £40 million pounds (about R440 million) a year, while anti-royalists put the figure at closer to £180 million.

William faces a long wait for the throne, however – his grandmother Queen Elizabeth shows little sign of slowing down at 85 and his father Charles is a fit and active 62-year-old.

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