x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The royal wedding: excitement, relief, and a kiss

It was the perfect wedding and Catherine Middleton, now transformed into HRH Duchess of Cambridge, was the perfect princess: poised, elegant and beautiful on the arm of her handsome prince.

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, wave as they travel in the 1902 State Landau carriage along the Processional Route to Buckingham Palace.
Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, wave as they travel in the 1902 State Landau carriage along the Processional Route to Buckingham Palace.

LONDON // "Oh wow," the bride could be seen to exclaim as she stepped out onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace after the wedding of the decade, facing a sea of red, white and blue Union flags and cheering crowds.

Then came the kiss everybody had been waiting for and London erupted in joyous celebration.

It was the perfect wedding and Catherine Middleton, now transformed into HRH Duchess of Cambridge, was the perfect princess: poised, elegant and beautiful on the arm of her handsome prince.

The evident joy of the young couple was infectious, a mixture of excitement and relief that months of meticulous planning had been pulled off so successfully. In the end, amid all the pomp and circumstance, Prince William and his bride did what they set out to do: make it their special day.

Their first choice of venue would probably have been a small church in the village of Bucklebury near the Middleton family home, but that, of course, was out of the question.

"We're supposed to have just a small family affair," the prince was reported to have joked to his bride and her father at the altar.

Yet the configuration of the magnificent Westminster Abbey, particularly what are known as the north and south lanterns, where the closest family and friends were seated and where the couple made their vows, gave the wedding ceremony a special intimacy.

The accent of the entire day was dignified and understated, very traditional and very English, from the choice of music to the elegance of Ms Middleton's dress, one of the best kept secrets of the day.

It all came down to a young man and a young woman who appeared deeply in love, exchanging their marriage vows and supported by their family and closest friends.

Ms Middleton started the day as a commoner but her poise and composure on her big day pointed to a woman comfortable in the public eye. She looked serene as she emerged from the Goring Hotel with her father, Michael Middleton, to step gracefully into the Rolls-Royce Phantom 6, known affectionately by palace staff as Rolls-Royce One, for the seven-minute journey to the abbey, stopping to give the crowds a glimpse of her dress before disappearing into the church.

Ms Middleton appeared unconcerned that her wedding was being witnessed by nearly 2,000 guests and watched by an estimated two billion people on television around the world.

The dress itself, designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, was made of ivory silk and lace, with a simple veil secured by the Hero tiara made by Cartier for the queen mother. The effect was more Grace Kelly than the elaborate, frothy wedding gown created for Princess Diana by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel.

Her choice of the same delicate shade of ivory for the bridesmaids' dresses and the elegant sheath worn by her sister and maid of honour, Pippa, created a stunningly co-ordinated effect. Without a bouquet of her own, she held the hands of the youngest flower girls, Eliza Lopes and Grace van Cutsem, as they walked down the main aisle adorned with young green maple trees.

Waiting at the altar, Prince William fiddled with the cuffs of the scarlet dress uniform he wore as a colonel of the Irish Guards. Standing beside him, his best man, best friend and brother, Prince Harry, in Blues and Royals finery, cracked jokes and did his best to keep the bridegroom calm.

Prince Harry could not resist a first glimpse of the bride walking slowly down the aisle on her father's arm to the strains of Sir Charles Hubert Parry's I Was Glad as William stared steadfastly ahead. But, as his bride took her place beside him, the tension suddenly left William's face as he looked at her for the first time that day.

He appeared to whisper "You look beautiful" to her as the congregation launched itself into the first hymn, Guide Me, Oh Thy Great Redeemer.

The couple were word perfect in their responses as they were guided through their vows by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, resplendent in his gold and red archbishop's mantle, bearded and with white hair untamed as ever.

As predicted, there was no mention of the bride "obeying" the groom. She promised to "love and cherish", as a befits a modern bride.

The pair sat serious-faced and listening intently to the booming baritone of the flamboyant Bishop of London Richard Chartres who gave the address. A family friend who went to university with William's father, the Prince of Wales, the bishop spoke of their "joyful day" and the importance of personal relationships. The bride looked at William and smiled as the bishop read a prayer the couple wrote together thanking their families for the love they share and pledging to keep focused on what is "real and important in life".

The only tiny hitch was when the plain Welsh gold wedding band showed signs of resistance as the prince slipped it onto his wife's finger. With a little pressure, however, it was soon in place. A huge cheer from outside could plainly be heard throughout the abbey as the archbishop pronounced them man and wife.

Ms Middleton's father, a former airline manager, looked proud but close to tears as he looked on. As the newlywed couple knelt to receive the archbishop's blessing, the bride's father wiped his brow.

Carole Middleton, the mother of the bride, looked stunning in a Catherine Walker coat and dress of the palest pastel blue. It was one of the most elegant outfits in the abbey, where royals from around the world, heads of state and political dignitaries mingled with sports stars, celebrities and the personal friends and colleagues of the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

Among the guests were Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Prince Albert of Monaco, the Sultan of Brunei, the King of Tonga, the Serbian royal family and Norway's king and queen.

William's uncle, Diana's brother, Earl Spencer, arrived with his Canadian fiancée, Karen Gordon, followed by the Mr Bean actor Rowan Atkinson, the former England rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward and the film producer Guy Ritchie.

Outside Westminster Abbey tumultuous cheers rang out as the newlyweds emerged, with the bells drowning out the strains of William Walton's Crown Imperial. A threat of showers never materialised and the sun struggled out from behind clouds as the couple walked out, all smiles and waves, to step into the 1902 State Landau escorted by the jingling spurs and gleaming breastplates of the Household Cavalry for their journey down the Mall.

More than one million people, many arriving from around the world, were in the streets of London for the event and there was a distinctly carnival feeling about the place.

Outside the Abbey and around Buckingham Palace, a tented pavement city of red, white and blue gave diehard royalists prime views of the day. One tent was covered with the autographs of people from as far afield as Chile, Nepal, South Africa, Dubai and Argentina.

"I booked my flight as soon as the date was announced. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the future king and queen of Britain married," said the tent's owner, Deanna Bayer, of Jacksonville, Florida.

A notice on the back of one woman's chair said simply: "I'm not crazy, I just want to see the dress."

It was a truly modern wedding with the official royal website streaming the ceremony via YouTube and with updates on Facebook and Twitter. About 21,000 letters and cards that arrived at the various royal palaces from around the world underlined the fascination for royal pageantry and the romance of a royal wedding.

The couple chose every aspect of the service together - from the traditional hymns, such as A Love Divine, All Loves Excelling and Jerusalem, to the mostly traditional organ music by Bach, Elgar and Walton. Music composed specially for the day included an anthem by the British composer John Rutter and a motet, Ubi Caritas, by the Welsh composer Paul Mealor.

For weeks beforehand, the pair listened to suggested pieces on their iPods before making their choices.

The couple were expected to greet another 300 guests for a party last night that was due to continue into the small hours.

In another break with tradition, Prince William drove his bride down the Mall towards Clarence House after the reception in an open blue Aston Martin DB6 owned by the Prince of Wales and decorated by the mischievous Prince Harry with a "JU5T WED" number plate and balloons.

The couple were to spend the night at the palace before departing on honeymoon, the destination of which has not yet been revealed.