London was in a party mood from early in the morning, with hordes of people congregating along the Mall, in Trafalgar Square, in front of Westminster Abbey and even in Hyde Park, where huge screens had been set up for people to watch the event.
"Kate is a role model for our young girls," mused a bystander as the tension built up in Trafalgar Square prior to the bride's arrival. "It's rare to have someone young and beautiful who dresses so elegantly and demurely — I think it'll set a new standard."
And the standard was certainly set with a crowd who'd dressed up to the nines to come and watch the wedding. Flamboyant hats and confections of fascinators bobbed vigorously as bucks fizz was poured and strawberries were passed around, and though the sky was gray the crowd was anything but. Cross dressing queens and painted ladies, groups of girls painting each other’s nails in patriotic colors, and white haired gents sporting golden crowns all jostled together for a view.
Two octegenarians from Minnesota had plundered the souvenir shops and were sporting Will and Kate paraphernalia top to toe, from the ribbons in their blue-rinsed hair to the faux sapphire ring on their fingers. "We got a little carried away," they confessed, but they planned to buy more sophisticated souvenirs for the folks who stayed at home.
A running commentary on the outfits of each distinguished guest kept the crowd animated in the build up to the main event. Victoria Beckham was deemed to look "a bit trussed up and uncomfortable" by a group of suburban mothers who disproved of her choice to wear black. Prime Minister David Cameron’s wife Samantha caused a stir when she showed up sans chapeau (choosing instead to wear Erdem jewels in her hair). "She's not doing herself any favors there," muttered one disparaging spectator.
Carole Middleton hit all the right notes, however, with her sleek ice blue outfit by the studio of the late Catherine Walker — a favorite designer of Princess Diana's. But of course, the main topic on the tips of thousands of tongues was The Dress. The rampant rumours pointing to Sarah Burton meant most people were hoping to see a McQueen dress. Others were hoping that the honor would be bestowed on a lesser known designer. "Kate has the chance to change somebody's life with the dress she chooses," said a visiting student from Philadelphia, who had travelled with friends especially for the event, "so I want to see her wearing a niche English designer that isn't necessarily well known." Others thought McQueen might be on the flamboyant side for a princess-in-waiting who has already earned praise for her conservative dress. "It's never been her style to take risks," said another onlooker, "so why would she start on her wedding day?"
But whatever people were hoping for, whether conservative or statement, famous or niche, all expectations were fulfilled — and surpassed — the moment the elegant lace decolletage of the bride was first glimpsed in the back of the car taking her to Westminster Abbey from the Goring Hotel. Ripples of approval built up to rapturous applause and even a few high fives from keen fashion followers when the bride stepped out of the car and the designer was announced. A few raised eyebrows from some French spectators about the appropriateness of the virginal veil covering her face, but apart from that the crowd was unanimous in its praise.
“We were watching two young people in love — young people who just happened to be royal,” said Buki Obakin, whose husband is chief executive of Prince William’s charity Centrepoint. “The atmosphere was really warm, which is not surprising because when you meet William, he makes you feel like a friend.”
“It was a joyful ceremony, and very simple really,” said Monica Main, one of Queen Elizabeth’s personal representatives in Scotland. “Catherine’s dress was very plain but wonderful.”
“We had Becks and Posh behind us,” said Natalie Lake, a friend of the bride’s family. “There was an electric atmosphere.” Her friend, Alex Williams, said she was seated near Ian Thorpe, the Australian swimmer and Olympic gold medalist. “There was such warmth! Everyone was chatting before the service and making friends with people they didn’t know.”
“In the beginning, when the guests began to arrive, there was a lot of hustle and bustle, and people moving around or getting up to go to the toilet,” said Sam Williams, a guest of the groom’s. “But when the royals started coming in, everything got very quiet, and then when Catherine came, it was so still you could hear a pin drop. The whole experience was just lovely.”
Following the service, Queen Elizabeth held a lunch-time reception at Buckingham Palace for 650 guests, drawn from the wedding service congregation and representing William and Kate’s official and private lives.
There, guests were served canapés made using U.K.-based ingredients, which included miniature watercress and asparagus tarts, quail eggs with celery salt and miniature Yorkshire puddings with roast fillet of beef. The 10,000 canapés were prepared by a team of 21 chefs led by royal chef Mark Flanagan.
Guests also sipped Pol Roger NV Brut Reserve Champagne, and witnessed the cutting of the cake. The eight-tier wedding cake — which was decorated with cream and white icing, worked into 17 different varieties of iced flowers and leaves — was served at the reception. A chocolate biscuit cake, made at the request of Prince William and using a royal family recipe, was also served.
Following the reception, William and Kate drove from Buckingham Palace to Clarence House in a blue open-top vintage Aston Martin, strewn with balloons and bearing the number plate “JU5T WED” on the back, to cheers from the crowds.