The April wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was the most watched royal wedding in history.
It is part of tradition that the groom should be the last person to set eyes on his bride on their wedding day, and on April 29, 2011, Prince William was no exception. Although her every move was being broadcast to billions of people around the world, he would not get a glimpse of Catherine Middleton until she joined him in the altar in Westminster Abbey.
The wait was well worth it. When she arrived at his side in her elegant white gown, Kate was lovelier than he had ever seen her. “You're so beautiful,”a blushing William whispered, as she beamed at him.
It had been three decades since Britain's wedding of a future king. But while many had expected an event as extravagant as over-the-top as the July 1981 wedding of Williams parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the reality proved less grand but perhaps more moving.
Their role in the monarchy not withstanding, William and Kate are also like any young couple in love and wanted their wedding to be a reflection of their personalities. Thus although the ceremony was steeped in the pomp and pageantry dictated by the groom's status as second in line to the throne, it was also thoroughly contemporary and romantic like the couples themselves.
A Modern Love Story
William and Kate dated for eight years and even lived together before he asked her to marry him, something that wouldn't have been accepted in previous generations of royal courtship. Yet the couple wouldn't have had it in any way.
The courtship's length did not stem from the lack of conviction that their love would go the distance. Friends first they have been all but inseparable as first-year students at the University of St. Andrews in 2011. (“I knew there was something special with her,” William said later.) It was just that they didn't want to rush the most important decision of their lives—especially as it meant pushing Kate, who comes from a quiet upper-middle class family, still farther into the public eye. “I just wanted to give her the best chance to settle in,” he said.
By the time William proposed with his late mother's sapphire-and-diamond engagement ring on a romantic vacation in Kenya, he and Kate were prepared as perhaps to other royal couple before them for what their future would hold—starting of course with the wedding the world had been waiting for.
William and Kate's marriage was one of the most anticipated events in living history, a fact not lost in the couple. “The affection shown to us by so many people during our engagement has been incredibly moving and has touched both deeply,” they wrote in their wedding program.
More than two billion people watched the spectacle on television, 400 million more tuned in online, and it's estimated that at least one million people lined the streets of London. As was the case with previous royal weddings, many camped out—some for five days—to stake out a spot. A few lucky spectators were even able to get close to the bride and groom on the eve of the wedding. A relaxed William and Kate—he in his London residence, Clarence House, she at the Goring Hotel—embarked on an impromptu walkabout so they could meet and greet their royal fans. Neither seemed at all nervous. “All I've got to do is get the lines right,” said the prince.
By thing point, and after numerous rehearsals, the schedule of the day was down to a science. The palace had announced the plans for a wedding luncheon for 600—instead of the traditional breakfast—hosted by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
Revelry would continue that night with Prince Charles hosting a reception for 300 at the palace. Every last detail was taken care of and publicized. The only mystery? What the bride would be wearing.
When Kate exited her hotel on what turned out to be a gloriously sunny April day, it felt as if the world stopped. We had never seen her more beautiful. Her gown by Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen reflected Kate's modern tastes (as shown by the deep V-neckline and cinched waist) while adhering to tradition with its long sleeves, lace and the crisp white colour that Queen Victoria made fashionable ago. The BBC called it a “cathedral worthy dress” and Vogue deemed it “pure and yet conveying the grandeur of its importance.”
It had been an early morning for the bride but you couldn't tell. She was glowing from inside out, her natural make-up by her own hand and her hair a simple demi-chignon of cascading curl. (Kate's only stipulation to her hairdresser, Richard Ward, was that William must be able to recognize her at the altar). On her head was her “something borrowed,” the 1936 Cartier halo tiara loaned to her by the Queen. Her new earrings—diamond oak leaves—were a wedding present from her parents based on their new coast of arms.
Regal, smiling and waiving delicately to the crowd, Kate—who rode to the abbey with her father Michael, in a Rolls-Royce Phantom VI—showed no sign of nerves as she passed the throngs gathered along her route. Her composure would no doubt have drawn admiration from her royal predecessors.
Already assembled under the church's spires were her wedding party: sister and made of honour Pippa, then 27: bridesmaids Eliza Lopes, 3, Grace van Cutsem, 3, Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor, 7 and the Hon. Margarita Armstrong-Jones, 8; and pageboys Tom Pettifer, 8, and William Lowther-Pinkerton, 10.
A serious-looking William and his brother, best man, Prince Harry, had made their way earlier over Westminster Abbey. The two had eaten a hearty breakfast with Kate's brother, James, 24—who would give the reading during the ceremony—before dressing and heading to the church. William, an honorary colonel of the Irish Guards, wore its iconic read uniform.
Before he left, the Queen declared him His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge, Earl of Strathearn, and Baron Carrickfergus. Kate was about to become a duchess.
“A Small Family Affair”
It takes about four minutes to walk from the west door to the altar of the historic abbey, and the vision of Kate sweeping along on the arm of her father to the tune of “I was Glad When they Said Unto Me” by Sir Hubert Perry, a song played at the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 will be forever etched in the memories of the viewers.
Graceful and elegant, she joined a canon of royal brides—including Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother—who wed at the abbey. The venue was carefully chosen by the couple for its intimacy; it holds just half the guests of Saint Paul's Cathedral, where William's parents were married.
Live maple and hornbeam trees lining the nave added to the day's simple, natural feel—although the star-studded congregation certainly upped the glamor factor. Some 1,900 dignitaries and royals were present, including Prince Albert of Monaco and soon-to-be wife Charlene Wittstock, and Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain. (“We were supposed to have just a small family affair,” William joked to his father-in-law.)
In preparation for the wedding, the Lord Chamberlain
sent-out 1,900 gold-embossed invitations, decorated
with gold script and bevelled , gilded edges.
Celebrity friends such as David Beckham and Victoria Beckham, Sir Elton John and his Canadian husband, David Furnish, and director Guy Ritchie could be seen in the pews. And in another modern twist, there were more humble guests, too: Kate's family friends from Bucklebury included the butcher, mailman and pub owner.
As she walked up the aisle, Kate smiled at the guests but for the most part, her eyes were up ahead on her waiting prince. William had kept his back to her as she approached but Harry couldn't help sneaking a look at his soon-to-be sister-in-law, whispering to his brother, “Wait 'til you see her.”
It's said that the sun poked out of the cloudy spring sky the moment Kate arrived at William's side. “When the sun just came out as Kate reached the alter, we knew it was Diana,” said one onlooker.
Like William's late mother, Kate didn't promise to obey her husband, but rather vowed to “love him, comfort him, honour him.” William for his part couldn't tear his eyes from Kate. They shared smile after smile as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, performed the service which included a prayer they wrote together. “God our Father, we thank you for our families, for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.”
The iconic sapphire-diamond
engagement ring was once
owned by the late Princess of
Wales, which she chose as her
engagement ring in 1981. It was
made by Garrard Jewellers.
Finally, William placed the ring of Welsh gold on his bride's finger. It was as they predicted in their wedding program, one of the happiest moments of their lives.
Sealed with a Kiss
For the crowd, the best part of the day was the couple's kiss on the balcony at Buckingham Palace, a tradition started by the prince's parents 30 years ago. “Oh, wow!” said Kate when she beheld the sea of people chanting, “Kiss, kiss, kiss.” Asked William, “Kate, shall we?” He then leaned toward her with a smiled and kissed her not once but twice as the 500,000-strong crowd roared its approval.
The public portion of the celebrations were winding down—but William and Kate had one more surprise up their sleeve. For the return to Clarence House, the newly weds hopped into Prince Charles' blue Aston Martin Volante, decorated by an enthusiastic Prince Harry with a “JUST WEDDED” license plate and balloons. He drove off, grinning with Kate smiling from the passenger seat.
It was a fitting image of a couple who have approached the ups and downs of life together for the past decade. And now that they're happily married, they'll continue to face the world side by side.
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Article written by Carli White for Hello! Royal Special, The World's Greatest Royal Weddings: A Collection of Magical Love Stories, published 2011.