By Catherine Ostler
Stylish choice: Pippa Middleton's slinky white cowl-neck dress showed off her slender figure, while the cap sleeves kept it youthful. The back of the dress was studded with tiny silk-covered buttons
The day might have belonged to the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, but the supporting cast were almost as gripping, and none of them more so than the members of what is fast becoming Britain’s most famous and fascinating family.
Middleton-watchers were amply rewarded with a spectacle of nerves, tans, dignity, surprising outfits and sex appeal (yes, that refers to you, Miss Philippa Middleton!).
Indeed, you could even say that the Westminster Abbey Show felt just as much Bucklebury (the Berkshire village where the Middletons live) as it did Buckingham Palace — despite all the trumpeters and foreign dignitaries.
The Duchess of Cambridge's uncle Gary, right, went pretty much unnoticed while her brother, James was given a starring role with the only person to give a reading during the wedding service at Westminster Abbey
Elegant: Pippa, pictured entering Westminster Abbey this morning with the bridesmaids and pageboys, echoed the bride's dress in a design by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen
For that we can thank the lively nature of that close-knit, party-loving Home Counties family.
Even the trees lining the Abbey aisle seemed to be a reminder of the oak-lined avenue that leads through Bucklebury to the Middleton manse. They served like lights on a runway to guide the Middletons to take-off as the family became linked for ever to the British monarchy.
Only Earl Spencer in a front row abbey seat and looking like an overgrown member of the Bullingdon Club could offer advice from personal experience of how bumpy a journey that can sometimes be.
But the Middletons out in force, it has to be said, just make everything look like enormous fun.
For royalists, Disney fans, romantics and young girls, the bride who became a Princess before our very eyes and her smart groom were the only hero and heroine.
But right on their tail in terms of youth, glamour and audience excitement was the new Duchess’s fabulously foxy younger sister Philippa, otherwise known as Pippa.
Certainly, among many a red-blooded male, and on social networking site Twitter, Pippa was, plainly ‘It’.
Within minutes of her arrival, the younger Miss Middleton had nearly crashed the Twitter site as thousands of wedding watchers tweeted in enthusiastic praise of Her Royal Hotness.
The 27-year-old party planner was notably darker than her sister and looking all the more so because, very unusually for a bridesmaid, she was also wearing white.
‘She was mahogany in colour,’ said one guest, ‘but absolutely gorgeous. She looked amazing.’
Her slinky frock, like her sister’s, by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen, was made of ‘heavy, ivory, satin crepe’ and sported the same embroidery and buttons as her sister’s dress, but had youthful cupped sleeves, a surprisingly low cowl-neck — for an abbey — and a resulting suggestion of cleavage.
Many women would have been quite happy to wear Pippa’s dress themselves as a wedding dress. One wit remarked: ‘It would have looked particularly good for a beach ceremony for a wedding somewhere like Ibiza.’
Responsibility: Pippa walked down the aisle with the two youngest bridesmaids Grace van Cutsem (left) and Eliza Lopes (right), both three.
They were followed by Margarita Armstrong-Jones, eight (middle left), Louise Windsor, seven, (middle right), Billy Lowther-Pinkerton, ten, (back left) and Tom Pettifer, eight (back right)
Bridal party: The maid-of-honour held the two youngest bridesmaids' hands as they entered the Abbey
Pippa wore her hair half-up and half-down, clipped with lily-of-the-valley flowers at the back, and she walked into the Abbey beaming, holding the hands of the two smallest bridesmaids, Grace van Cutsem and Eliza Lopes (both aged three), having meticulously straightened her sister’s train.
Her parents had given her a pair of floral diamond earrings as a present, designed, like her sister’s, by Robinson Pelham (whose creative director Zoe Benyon was a wedding guest and who is married to the Middletons’ local MP Richard Benyon).
Pippa executed her duties (holding and passing the bouquet, smoothing the train, shepherding pages and bridesmaids up and down and making sure none of them got left behind) beautifully. But her efficiency wasn’t necessarily the focus.
Many women admired her dress, but an army of male fans were happily distracted by her shapely rear as the procession went up the aisle.
It certainly seemed that Prince Harry was smitten as he walked back down the aisle with her, sharing some piece of jolly mischief.
Though by the time they came out on to the Buckingham Palace balcony he had his grandfather the Duke of Edinburgh to compete with, as the duke indulged in a little light jokey flirting, discovering his sense of humour for the maid-of-honour’s benefit. (And why should the fact that he’s nearly 90 stop him sharing banter with such an adept bridesmaid?)
For many, it became irresistible to indulge in a little what-if speculation about the idea of Harry and Pippa enjoying themselves late into the night on the dance floor under the mirror balls in the Throne Room . . . Chelsy, if she is still interested, had better reveal her hand now.
The other Middleton sibling, brother James, the third acorn on the family crest (is he now sporting a brand new signet ring on his pinkie, emblazoned with it?) had an equally key role, being — unusually — the only lay speaker, and definitely the only one without a bushy grey beard.
The 23-year-old Cake Kit entrepreneur and wannabe Richard Branson also looked as if he’d had a close encounter with a Fake Bake spray gun (though rumours that a company had set up a booth for the family the night before in The Goring Hotel were quickly denied).
He arrived with his mother in a Jaguar and escorted her down the aisle. But his starring moment came when he read the lesson from Romans Chapter 12.
Doting sister: Pippa carries Kate's train as she enters Westminster Abbey with her father, Michael Middleton
Moment in the spotlight: Pippa then proudly carried her newly-married sister's train out of the Abbey after the wedding, before helping her into a waiting horse-drawn carriage
Smartly and slightly flamboyantly dressed in tail coat, pale yellow waistcoat, blue shirt with white collar and a purple tie (with a tie pin sporting that ubiquitous oak motif), he didn’t smile much, but he did get all his words out without a single stumble and seemed to know it all off by heart.
If anything, the Middleton parents looked more nervous than their children. One-time flight dispatcher Michael Middleton (‘What a day for the Yorkshire son of an airline pilot!’ a BBC commentator helpfully announced) has never seemed like a man who relishes attention and looked less than relaxed about dispatching his elder daughter into the Windsor family.
But like any proud father handing over his daughter, he was a touching sight. He was seen reassuring Kate: ‘Are you ready? You look great.’
Caring: Pippa clearly relished her role as maid-of-honour, which involved escorting three of the youngsters - (left to right) Billy, Grace and Margarita - to Buckingham Palace as part of the wedding procession
Ladies -in-waiting: Pippa Middleton and young Margarita give the crowds a wave as they leave the Abbey
Helping hand: Best man Prince Harry supported Pippa in her duties, taking care of his seven-year-old cousin, Lady Louise Windsor in the procession to Buckingham Palace
He clutched her hand tightly at the altar until he passed it to Prince William when he gave her away.
At which point he looked rather relieved to have got the major part of his role out of the way. One hopes someone gave him a glass of something strong post haste at the Palace.
But the greatest relief of all must have been that the family black sheep, Uncle Gary, former cocaine addict and owner of Ibiza palace Le Maison de Bang Bang, was hardly to be seen.
Though seen leaving his mews flat in his £280,000 Rolls-Royce, tattoos fully covered in a pink shirt and slightly odd grey tail coat with grey waistcoat — tan freshly topped up courtesy of The Electric Beach in the days before the wedding — no one spotted him going in to the Abbey as the world was distracted by the fashion parade.
And for the Middleton family brand image, that can only be a good thing.
Uncle Gary was taken to the wedding in a £280,000 Rolls while his tattoos, visible right, were covered