LONDON, (Reuters) – Joyous crowds cheered and gaped in awe as beaming newly-weds Prince William and Kate Middleton rode through London in a fairytale horse-drawn carriage and kissed on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
Hundreds of thousands of royal fans from all walks of life and from across the planet descended on London on Friday to witness the most talked about British wedding in years.
Some wore Union Jack dresses and old-fashioned wigs to celebrate the day, others partied feverishly with painted faces and fluttering flags. Many were just happy to witness all the rare pomp and circumstance of a full-blown royal event.
“We wanted to feel the atmosphere — how the British get excited,” said Zhang Ying, a Chinese university student, who declared Middleton was “born to be a queen.”
William, in full military regalia, and his new bride, in a show-stopping ivory-coloured silk and satin dress, had clearly wowed the hoards of people lining the streets from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.
“The monarchy is like our Hollywood, the movies, for us,” said 48-year-old Californian Diane Weltz who had treated her daughter Samantha to a trip to London for her 21st birthday.
Many well-wishers had spent the night sleeping in the streets around the abbey to make sure they got a prime spot to see William and Middleton emerge as a married couple.
“I managed to catch a few hours’ sleep in a doorway, but I don’t mind, today is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I had to be here,” said Canadian Jay Edmonds.
Draped in a Union Jack flag, with tufts of white hair poking out from under a Union Jack hat, 77-year-old Terry Hut had spent five days establishing his position at the front of the barriers for his fifth royal wedding appearance.
In London’s Hyde Park, giant screens beamed footage of the day to a crowd of all ages, creeds and backgrounds.
“It should have been me,” shouted nurse Jo Newman, 27, dressed as a bride and clutching a bouquet of plastic roses.
Across Britain, communities were enjoying street parties and a welcome day off to celebrate the most talked about British wedding in decades. Hardcore fans along the streets of Westminster had been getting in the mood since dawn.
William, second-in-line to the throne, and Kate have already said thanks for the outpouring of affection this week, but the pair looked genuinely overcome by the atmosphere as they waved and smiled to fans.
“The pictures on the mugs don’t do the couple justice,” said 34-year-old Madeleine Senior who flew in from Australia for the big day.
While most of the revellers were happy to flood the couple with good wishes, a few republicans gathered to protest.
“My message to the royal couple is good luck and enjoy your married life, but please don’t take for granted that one day you will be king or queen,” said Graham Smith of the anti-monarchist lobby group Republic.