LONDON: Prince William and Kate Middleton were set to marry Friday in Britain’s biggest royal wedding in 30 years, to be watched by up to half a million spectators in London and two billion global TV viewers.
The red carpet and floral decorations were in place at the Westminster Abbey venue as Britons across the country prepared to toast the occasion with champagne breakfasts and around 6,000 street parties.
Over a quarter of the world’s population is expected to watch the moment Kate becomes a princess after William places the wedding ring on her finger in the church which held the funeral for his late mother Diana.
On the eve of the wedding, thousands of campers had transformed The Mall, the wide boulevard leading to Buckingham Palace, into a multicoloured sea of flags and eccentric headgear as they prepared to cheer on the newly weds.
Some of them were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of William when he made an impromptu evening visit to shake hands with well-wishers, before retiring to spend his last night as a single man with his family.
The 28-year-old prince was heard telling his fans: “All I’ve got to do is get the lines right”.
Campers trying to get a good night’s sleep were rudely awoken in Friday’s early hours as fireworks lit up London’s night sky.
The first glimpse the waiting world will have of the bride, and her much-talked about gown, will be at around 11:00 am (1000 GMT) when she steps out of the Rolls-Royce Phantom car which will transport her to the abbey.
The Order of Service revealed that Kate will not promise to obey her husband in her marriage vows, following in the footsteps of Diana, who later divorced William’s father Prince Charles and died in a Paris car crash in 1997.
William will be dressed in the world-famous scarlet colours of the British army, but will not be wearing a wedding ring at any point in the service in keeping with his grandfather Prince Philip’s preference.
Hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to line the streets and watch on big screen televisions in London’s Hyde Park and Trafalgar Square with champagne, Pimm’s, wedding cake and a band all laid on to keep the party swinging.
The latest weather forecast offered more hope for the assembled hordes with scattered showers predicted instead of storms.
The royal couple promised Thursday that the post-wedding processional carriage ride to Buckingham Palace would take place in an open State Landau even if showers were expected.
“The forecast will have to be pretty severe for the wet weather option (closed carriage) to be used,” a spokesman for William’s St James’s Palace said.
“Unless we’re looking at the possibility of thunderstorms then the couple will just get on with it.”
Earlier, the pair said they had been “incredibly moved” by the affection shown to them since they announced their engagement in November.
In a message in their official wedding programme, William and Kate thanked “everyone most sincerely for their kindness” as they prepare for “one of the happiest days of our lives”.
Inside the church — which has been decorated with English Field Maple trees and plants including blossoms, azaleas and rhododendron — will be an eclectic mix of dignitaries, celebrities and politicians.
Around 40 foreign royals will be in attendance along with footballer David Beckham, singer Elton John and Prime Minister David Cameron.
In a diplomatic row that threatened to overshadow the good mood, Britain abruptly withdrew the Syrian ambassador’s invitation, saying the regime’s crackdown on protesters made it unacceptable for him to attend.
Kate, 29, spent her last night as a commoner at the upmarket Goring Hotel, close to Buckingham Palace.
Earlier, a woman sporting a distinctive belt often worn by Alexander McQueen designer Sarah Burton was seen entering the hotel, fuelling wedding dress rumours.
Later Thursday, Camilla and Charles attended a reception along with the queen being given for British and foreign royals attending the wedding at the Mandarin Oriental hotel in central London.
As final security checks were carried out, police said they had arrested 20 people across London after warning they would act to prevent anyone causing trouble during the wedding.