London's streets fill with wedding fans

Thousands gather early on the streets of London, prepared to celebrate the marriage of Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of Prince William and Kate Middleton camp out along the procession route a day ahead of the Royal Wedding  in London, England.
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LONDON // Millions of Britons were last night poised for the biggest party the nation has seen in a generation as the countdown continued to today's marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton.

As the couple issued a statement saying they had been "incredibly moved" by the public's show of affection towards them, organisers around the country were putting the final touches to almost 6,000 street parties - the most since Queen Elizabeth's silver jubilee in 1977. More than 800 are being held in London alone.

Just as with most weddings, the main concerns centred on the weather after forecasters' suggestions that showers, blustery wind and maybe even thunderstorms could make it day for umbrellas rather than barbecues.

Yet the hundreds of people already camping out along the processional route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey were not prepared to let a little rain spoil their celebration.

"Even if there was a thunderstorm, it's not going to dampen the spirit," Faith Nicholson, one of those camping out along the Mall, said yesterday. "We're all looking forward to this. Bring it on, I don't care. I'm here and that's all I want."

Dozens of Union Jack flags fluttered around Parliament Square outside the abbey where, hours before, empty flagpoles had stood. In the overcast skies above, news helicopters criss-crossed the overcast skies.

The pavement across from the vast abbey doors, through which the newlyweds will emerge, was filled by the hardy campers who continued to arrive all day.

Twenty-four hours earlier there had been a sparse smattering of tents. By midmorning yesterday, there was a dense tented village bedecked with bunting, balloons and home-made banners wishing the couple luck.

All along Whitehall, Union Jacks hung from lampposts and shop and restaurant awnings. In Trafalgar Square, where several thousand are expected to gather to watch the event on two huge screens, the sculpted lions that guard the four corners of the base of Nelson's Column now do so from a cage of lighting and speaker struts.

Through Admiralty Arch and down onto the Mall, the crowds and the clutter of flags, tents, banners and canvas chairs were more apparent with every step along the processional route to Buckingham Palace.

Friends Renee Gauthier, from Canada's West Coast, Janet Sanburg, from Australia, and Londoner Babs Kell and her daughter Phoebe, were busily setting up a campsite at the top of the Mall.

"It's always been my dream to attend a state occasion," said Ms Sanburg. "I guess it was either going to be a wedding or a funeral. I'm glad it's this."

The campers are expected to be joined by 600,000 other spectators along the route for the wedding, to be attended by 1,900 guests.

Thousands of journalists and camera crews from around the world have also been setting up temporary studios along the route and outside Buckingham Palace, ready to bring minute-by-minute reports and pictures to a television audience that is estimated to be anywhere between one and two billion.

Not everyone was in a festive mood, however. Bahraini pro-democracy campaigners mounted a vigil outside Saudi Arabia's embassy in London to protest the wedding invitation to Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, following the Saudi military intervention in their country.

As well, the wedding invitation to the Syrian ambassador was withdrawn at the last minute yesterday because of the brutal suppression of anti-government protests in his country and there were rumblings of discontent among Labour Party politicians because ex-premiers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had been left off the guest list, while the former Conservative prime minister, John Major, had not.

Prince William and his bride-to-be spent yesterday well away from the spotlight that will envelop them today. Prince William was to spend last night with his father, Prince Charles, his stepmother, the Duchess of Cornwall, and his brother, Prince Harry, at Clarence House, the family's official residence.

Miss Middleton and her family gathered for the night at the Goring Hotel in Belgravia, just around the corner from the palace, which had been sealed off by armed police earlier in the day.

The Queen, meanwhile, hosted an event for British and foreign royals, including Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, near Hyde Park, which had also been sealed off.

On Wednesday evening, Prince William and Miss Middleton had taken part in their final wedding rehearsal ahead of their big day, accompanied at the abbey by Prince Harry - the best man - Miss Middleton's parents, and senior clergy.

Yesterday, the official souvenir wedding programme was released, in which the couple wrote: "We are both so delighted that you are able to join us in celebrating what we hope will be one of the happiest days of our lives.

"The affection shown to us by so many people during our engagement has been incredibly moving, and has touched us both deeply. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone most sincerely for their kindness."

It was also revealed that Miss Middleton will not promise to "obey" her new husband when they exchange wedding vows. Instead of the traditional vow to "love, honour and obey" her husband, she will promise to "love, comfort, honour and keep" him.

dsapsted@thenational.ae

lcollins@thenational.ae