Friday, April 29, 2011

Even the clergy were turning cartwheels on a magical occasion

By Robert Hardman

Double kiss: The newly-married couple share their first public kiss on the balcony as thousands of screaming well-wishers watch

-Kate said 'I am glad the weather held off, we had a great day'
-'I am so proud you're my wife' says William as he helps Kate into carriage
-One million well-wishers line the streets to catch a glimpse of the couple
-William tells Kate 'You look - er, you are beautiful' as she arrives at the altar
-Dress was by McQueen - but where will they go on honeymoon?

Two tiny, softly-spoken words cut the pin-drop silence of a dumbstruck Westminster Abbey and sent cheers ringing from Whitehall to Bucklebury to Papua New Guinea: ‘I will.’

And with that, Catherine Middleton went from ‘Miss’ to future Queen Consort of 16 nations spanning nearly seven billion acres and a large part of the Earth’s surface.

At her side was the young man with, perhaps, a greater burden of expectation than anyone alive. And now, he no longer carries it alone.

Prince William emerges from Buckingham Palace in his father's dark blue Aston Martin as the crowd roars. The number plate on the rear said 'Just Wed'

Unexpected: William motors around Buckingham Palace with his new wife in his father's 41-year-old Aston Martin which Charles was given as a gift for his 21st birthday party

Happy couple: The Aston Martin Volante is decorated with balloons and a 'Just Wed' registration plate, as William and Catherine emerge in the soft-top vehicle

Double kiss: The newly-married couple share their first public kiss on the balcony as thousands of screaming well-wishers watch

Police officers stand in front of royal supporters on The Mall in London, along the Processional Route by the Palace moments before William and Kate emerged to share a kiss

Newly wed: Prince William and his new wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, wave as they travel in the 1902 State Landau carriage along the Processional Route to Buckingham Palace

'You look beautiful': Prince William speaks to his bride Kate as she holds her father's hand at the altar

Newly-wed: Prince William Duke of Cambridge and Catherine Duchess of Cambridge leave Westminster Abbey with her sister Pippa supporting her dress

With his own no-nonsense ‘I will’, Prince William opened a new royal epoch, happily reuniting the Monarchy with those powerful memories of his late mother, all of it in front of half the planet.

Prior to this moment, the most-watched event in British history – perhaps in world history – had been her funeral here 14 years before. How many billions were watching now over supper in Sydney or breakfast in Ottawa; how many eyes prickling, throats tightening as that bravest of adolescent mourners now returned as the happiest man in the land?

The sense of a turning tide was as inescapable as Low Water on the Anglesey shoreline.

In the annals of our 1000-year-old Monarchy, this was a very good day. In the annals of the House of Windsor (created: 1917), it was a very great one.

Prince William greets Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her partner Tim Mathieson at Buckingham Palace in London after his wedding to Catherine

Royal reception: The Queen arrives at Buckingham Palace, left, after the wedding. Right, Kate's engagement and wedding rings on her finger

Kate, who has been given the title The Duchess of Cambridge, meets Governors-General and prime ministers at Buckingham Palace

The Royal Family has acquired a new recruit capable of great grace and poise under the most extreme pressure imaginable. What’s a garden party – or even a State Opening – after that 318ft walk to the Abbey altar?

What is a plaque-unveiling or a state visit after getting ‘William Arthur Philip Louis’ crystal clear, unquavering and in the right order?

Prince William, likewise, showed supreme unflappability as he gently fought with an obstreperous band of Welsh gold, as he proudly steered his future Queen into the daylight before a dazzled world already running out of superlatives.

Off to Clarence House: Catherine and William drive off from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House

A Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster from the Royal Air Force Battle of Britain Memorial Flight fly over Buckingham Palace as William and Kate emerge on the balcony

Salute to their friend: A Sea King helicopter hovers above the Victoria Memorial as Prince William drives his wife in the Aston Martin to Clarence House

Lip-reading viewers may have spotted what happened next. ‘Are you happy?’ asked the new Duchess of Cambridge as they climbed into the State Landau. ‘It was amazing, amazing,’ replied the Duke. ‘I am so proud you’re my wife.’

The most striking aspect of the whole occasion was the simplest of the lot: the sight of two people so confident and comfortable with each other that you can already hear them finishing each other’s sentences. They were even doing it on the Palace balcony. ‘Are you ready?’ asked Prince William. ‘Okay, let’s ...’ She finished that one with a kiss.

Westminster Abbey began the day with the flavour of a rather grand country wedding – lots of intergalactic hats, handsome chaps in uniform and exuberant flowers, all capped by several maples and hornbeams from the Highgrove garden. Trees in the Abbey? ‘Unheard of’, said one orderly. Yet also inspired.

Pippa Middleton and Prince Philip share a joke on the Buckingham Palace balcony after the wedding

A very public kiss: William and Catherine share a special moment on the Buckingham Palace balcony as thousands watch on

The smiling bride: A veiled Kate Middleton and then, later, unveiled. An estimated two billion people tuned in for her wedding

Balcony moment: Prince William and Kate kiss on the balcony at 1.35pm

Prince William and Kate Middleton exchange rings in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury during the ceremony

Bride-to-be Kate Middleton arrives at Westminster Abbey this morning for what has been billed as the wedding of the century

Kate Middleton arrives with her father Michael Middleton to join Prince William and his best man Harry at the altar

Thousands of people wave Union Jacks as the couple are taken to Westminster Abbey in their open-topped carriage. An estimated one million people lined the streets

The Victoria Memorial outside the Palace is filled with well-wishers celebrating the wedding

Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, emerge from the church after the wedding ceremony with Prince Harry and Pippa Middleton in the background

An estimated 10,000 people were packed into Trafalgar Square to watch the ceremony on a giant screen

Guests gaily tested the patience of the Abbey ushers as they kept leaping out of their seats to ‘Mwa-Mwa’ or shake hands with an old chum from the Army or St Andrews or a royal charity.

At one point, there was aisle gridlock. I spotted Earl Spencer trying to lead a trio of young Spencer belles through a yacking standstill, his path blocked by people shaking hands with the film director, Guy Ritchie, and the Lord Great Chamberlain, the Marquess of Cholmondeley. Progressing through the throng beneath a blue 45-degree Philip Treacy hat was It-girl and royal chum, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson, escorted by her novelist sister, Santa, and historian brother-in-law, Simon Sebag-Montefiore.

Morning coats were the general order of the day, regardless of an invitation offering a ‘lounge suit’ option. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, declared that he had rented his from Moss Bros – suggesting that he must have lost or outgrown the tails he wore for five years at Eton.

Buckingham Palace: Helped by her new husband, Catherine steps out of the carriage as it arrives at the Palace. Minutes later they shared their first kiss on the balcony

The happy couple hold hands during the wedding service at Westminster Abbey which was conducted by the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, centre

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince William wave to the vast crowds as they travel to Buckingham Palace in a 1902 State Landau

Prince William and Kate Middleton sit down during the service after he put the wedding band on her finger

William appeared to have a moment of difficulty in slipping the ring onto Kate's finger... But the ceremony went without a hitch

David Beckham had embellished his traditional wedding kit with a wing-collared shirt and his OBE, despite the dress code specifically advising against decorations for civilian guests. He was wearing it on the wrong side, too. Few seemed to notice. All eyes were on Mrs Beckham, not his gong.

I found myself seated deep in Middleton country, just behind Michael Middleton’s proud cousin, Cambridge geo-physicist, Penny Barton. She was delighted by news of the new Dukedom of Cambridge. ‘Maybe, William will be the next Chancellor of Cambridge University,’ she suggested. Prince Philip’s retirement does, indeed, create a vacancy.

Less relaxed were the official guests, all those ambassadors and Governors-General and Cabinet Ministers knowing that they must be on best behaviour lest a camera spot an injudicious yawn.

I spotted a very chuffed-looking Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the Queen’s 16 realms (the one which includes royal Mustique). Could this be the same ‘Comrade Ralph’ who staged a referendum on abolishing the Monarchy just 18 months ago? It was just as well he lost the vote, then, or he would not have had the call-up yesterday.

Vast crowds gather along The Mall and around the Queen Victoria Memorial as the Royal Air Force perform a fly over as Catherine and William share a kiss on the balcony

The royal carriage glides past the deep crowds after the Royal Wedding at Westminster Abbey today

William and his wife Kate wave to onlookers as they leave Westminster Abbey after the wedding

Not amused: Kate waves to the crowds from the Buckingham Palace but three-year-old bridesmaid Grace Van Cutsem is not amused by the noise

Kate Middleton and her father, Michael, travel in a Rolls Royce to Westminster Abbey

Kate Middleton waves as she arrives with her father Michael Middleton and her sister Philippa Middleton to the West Door of Westminster Abbey in London for her wedding

A team put the finishing touches to the cake that was prepared for William and Catherine at Buckingham Palace today

Suddenly, the bonhomie vanished as the groom arrived with his best man. The queue for the loos just behind William Shakespeare in Poet’s Corner vanished. Someone had flicked a switch from fun family event to living history. Prince William and Prince Harry had caused pan-generational hysteria on the streets, these two young blades in their magnificent uniforms – waving at the people, saluting the Cenotaph, prompting countless thoughts of ‘How proud their mother would have been ...’

Inside the Abbey, after brief chit-chat with assorted Spencers and Mountbattens, they disappeared to St Edward’s Chapel to wait. By now, the focus had shifted to the Goring Hotel where Miss Middleton and her father appeared to be smothered by a deluge of silk pursuing them into the Rolls-Royce. Michael Middleton’s good-natured calm and infectious pride throughout this entire engagement have made him a hero figure to Dads up and down the land. Here was the finest hour in any father’s life. Might he finally crack?

On the Abbey steps, Catherine reached out for his reassuring hand one last time and he grasped it. But this was no timid bride stepping forth into the unknown.

Together, they strode. Inside, it was the Windsors and Middletons who were setting the example, holding it together. Around them, lesser mortals sniffled and dabbed their eyes and gulped as Charles Hubert Parry’s ‘I Was Glad’ came forth brilliantly. Glad? Here were 1,900 people ready to cartwheel.

He's here: Prince William, left, arrives at Westminster Abbey next to his proud younger brother and best man Harry with two billion people watching

First glimpse: Prince William gets out of his Bentley and walks into the Abbey - and waits for Kate

Proud father: Prince Charles arrives with William's stepmother Camilla

Mother of the bride: Carole Middleton, mother of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, waves as she travels with Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla to Buckingham Palace after the wedding

Showbiz royalty: David Beckham, wearing his OBE on his lapel, centre, and his wife Victoria arrive at the west door of Westminster Abbey as guests arrive for the 11am ceremony

The Royal procession make their way down The Mall to Buckingham Palace after the wedding ceremony

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