LONDON (AP) - The bride has arrived, and Britain’s biggest royal wedding in decades has begun.
Kate Middleton emerged from a Rolls-Royce at Westminster Abbey on Friday in a long sleeved dress designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen.
She began the long walk up the aisle to the strains of Charles Parry’s “I was glad.”
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
LONDON (AP) _ Prince William and best man Prince Harry strode into Westminster Abbey in formal military attire Friday as royal fans packed the streets of London, hoping to snatch a glimpse of a historic royal wedding expected to revitalize British monarchy.
Some 2 billion people across the globe were expected to tune in as William and Kate Middleton, the future king and queen of England, start their lives as husband and wife with the two simple words “I will.”
A million well-wishers _ as well as some protesters _ were flooding into the historic environs surrounding Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and other London landmarks. By dawn, crowds were waving flags for television cameras under steely gray skies and cool temperatures. Cheers erupted as huge television screens began broadcasting at Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park.
“Will, it’s not too late!” said one sign held aloft by an admirer dressed as a bride.
Brenda Hunt-Stevenson, a 56-year-old retired teacher from Newfoundland, Canada, said there was only one thing on her mind. “I want to see that kiss on that balcony. That’s going to clinch it for me. I don’t care what Kate wears. She is beautiful anyway.”
Although the designer of Middleton’s dress remains a mystery, William wore the scarlet tunic of an Irish Guards officer. His choice of ceremonial military dress sent a strong signal of support for the armed forces, reinforcing his new image as a dedicated military man, not a club-hopping party boy.
In contrast to the clamor outside, inside the abbey all was airy and calm. The long aisle leading to the altar was lined with maple and hornbeam trees as light streamed in through the high arched windows.
Plumage of Amazonian variety filled the cavernous abbey as some 1,900 guests filed in, the vast majority of women in hats, some a full two feet (.6 meters) across or high. Some looked like dinner plates. One woman wore a bright red fascinator that resembled a flame licking her cheek. A BBC commentator noted there were some “very odd choices” in fashion walking through the abbey door.
Most men, however, looked elegant and suave in long tails, some highlighted by formal plaid pants and vests. Others wore military uniforms.
All the clamoring over every detail _ the wedding dress, her hair, their titles, the romantic kiss on the balcony, the honeymoon _ finally will be answered. But the biggest question won’t be resolved for years: Will this royal couple live happily ever after?
Will their union endure like that of William’s grandparents _ Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, now in its 64th year _ or crumble in a spectacular and mortifying fashion like that of his own parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana?
Recent history augurs badly: The first marriages of three of the queen’s four children ended in divorce. But William and Kate seem to glow with happiness in each other’s company, and unlike Charles and Diana they’ve had eight years to figure out that they want to be together.
Still, the fate of their marriage depends on private matters impossible for the public to gauge. Any wedding is fundamentally about two people. Will their lives together, starting with such high hopes, be blessed by good fortune, children, good health, productive work?
Much will depend on whether 28-year-old William and 29-year-old Kate can summon the things every couple needs: patience, love, wit and wisdom. But they face the twin burdens of fame and scrutiny. Money, power, beauty _ it can all go wrong if not carefully nurtured.
These are the thorny issues upon which the fate of the monarchy rests, as the remarkable queen, now 85, inevitably ages and declines.
Everything was set with military precision: The rehearsals have been held, the cakes have been baked, the toast of the best man (William’s brother Harry) written, suits and uniforms pressed, hats carefully chosen, shoes buffed, flowers arranged and the champagne put on ice for two exclusive receptions at Buckingham Palace.
Despite a forecast of scattered showers, the royal-couple to be will brave the elements and travel from the abbey to Buckingham Palace in an open-topped carriage. They will also have new titles _ the duke and duchess of Cambridge.
Hundreds of street parties are planned as Britons celebrate part of the heritage that makes them unique _ and overseas visitors come to witness traditions they’ve admired from afar.
“It’s part of history,” said Norene Shultis of Madison, Wis., who arrived in London Thursday after an overnight flight. “It’s so different from the United States. We don’t have royalty. And we think William and Kate will be a good couple and do lots of good things and live happily ever after.”
The government has declared a national holiday and London spruced up for the big event, which has drawn thousands of journalists and hundreds of thousands of visitors from overseas.
The celebration will be British to the core, from the freshly polished horse-drawn carriages to the sausages and lager served at street parties. Some pubs were opening early, offering beer and English breakfasts _ sausages, beans, toast, fried eggs and bacon.
A number of famous people were left off the guest list, including President Barack Obama and Britain’s last two prime ministers, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, in a snub to their Labour Party, which traditionally is not as strong a backer of the monarchy as the ruling Conservatives. The invitation for Syria’s ambassador was rescinded because of Britain’s unhappiness with the bloody government crackdown there.
The public festivities reflected Britons’ continuing fascination with the royal family, which despite its foibles remains a powerful symbol of unity and pride.
“It’s very exciting,” Prime Minister David Cameron said before he entered the church. “I went on to the mall last night and met some people sleeping on the streets. There’s a sense of excitement that you can’t really put a word to … It’s a chance to celebrate.”
The royals fervently hope that a joyous union for the second-in-line to the British throne will rub out the squalid memories of his parents embarrassing each other and the nation with confessions of adultery as their marriage slid toward divorce.
And there is no small irony in the sight of Americans waking up before dawn (on the East Coast) or staying up all night (West Coast) after their fellow countrymen fought so fiercely centuries ago to throw off the yoke of the British monarchy and proclaim a country in which all men are created equal.
Brenda Mordic, 61, from Columbus, Georgia, clutched a Union Jack, with her friend Annette Adams, 66.
“We came for the excitement of everything,” Mordic said. “We watched William grow up. I came for Prince Charles’ wedding to Diana and I came for Princess Diana’s funeral. We love royalty England and London.”
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