Flags fly at half price for the Windsor show

Two divorcees and a bridegroom: will it work this time for Edward and Sophie?
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The Independent Online
THERE WAS a moment, of five or maybe 10 seconds, when Edward Windsor must have wished he could try a second take. It was 5.15pm and he couldn't get the ring on to the finger of his intended.

As the television cameras closed in on his hand he fumbled, he pushed, he twisted, but to no avail. Sophie's knuckle was the problem - either it was too big or the ring was too small. It was impossible not to feel sorry for him. What is the correct royal protocol in such circumstances?

She wriggled the offending finger, took a deep breath, and the deed was done. By 5.22pm they were man and wife.

Prince Edward always said he wanted a private wedding. Yesterday the British public seemed happy to grant him this wish. In Windsor town centre, crush barriers were plentiful but there was a notable lack of people interested in being crushed for the sake of a view of a television executive and a PR woman riding past in an open landau. The union flags which started the day costing pounds 1 fell in value - two for the price of one.

Inside Windsor castle, however, the mood was rather different. Here were 6,000 members of the public enthusiastic about the Royal Family, or at least keen enough to put a stamp on an envelope and apply for tickets. They evidently liked heritage, history, tradition, pageantry, and all the things the New Labour government thinks we might be better off without.

Who better to supply all that than the House of Windsor, brand leaders in royalty for more than a century, as the management-speak of the happy, splicing media couple would have it?

This was supposed to be a continental-style wedding chiefly on account of its unusual timing. It did seem to have been ideally suited to a particular continent - across the Atlantic and watching on TV, without having to get up in the middle of the night as they did for Diana's funeral.

But whatever we call it, it was rather enjoyable for those who made it inside the gates. The fun really began as the last of the public collided with the first of the guests. Most people on both sides had dressed up and it was difficult to decide who was who. That extraordinary creature in the fuchsia negligee? Answer - public. The woman with a tree from a Doctor Seuss book on her head? Answer - a guest, of course.

There were big cheers for celebrities Lord Lloyd Webber, John Gordon Sinclair, and Jackie Stewart. The guests arrived in white micro-buses from the park and ride, like OAPs on a sightseeing trip. What a thrill this little trip must have been for the likes of Sir David Frost, who looked as if he hadn't been on a bus since the start of decimalisation.

Meanwhile, the public clapped, cheered, laughed and passed judgment. Not in a cruel way, mind you. There was a sympathetic "aaahh" when one unfortunate woman arrived in an identical frock to that worn by a woman in the previous coach. It was cream with red diamond motifs. Then a man in a waistcoat in similar material. Could these have been costumes from It's a Royal Knockout 1987?

Then on to the main course. The Royal Family rattled through non-stop. Sophie and her father arrived in the fastest-moving vehicle of the day, which disappointed all the spies from Top Shop. She looked remarkably blonde under a net of icing sugar. And yes, she did look radiant. An ivory dress, padded shoulders and a plunging neckline. Maybe not Liz Hurley, but radical for a royal.

Edward looked relaxed and dignified. You could tell he was the television presenter. It was Prince Charles who handed over the ring to the Bishop of Norwich (with a fierce scowl not quite in keeping with such a joyous occasion; who knows what memories were going through his mind).

Strangest of all at this wedding was the absence of hats. The soon-to- be-weds had let it be known that, in a break with centuries of tradition, they would prefer hatless guests. And that is what they got. Unless one counts the feathers.

There was Princess Margaret, stranded in her wheelchair, borrowed from her mum, in a green chiffon dress and feather to match. Behind her the Princess Royal, looking quite impatient in a discreet pale dress complete with the non-headwear. And her mother, trying hard to smile, in a lacy, flowery gown. Finished off with a splendid mauve plume, styled like a Roman emperor's wreath. And the Queen Mother; no nonsense about the headgear for her. The blue plumage was both elegant yet understated.

Former royal bride Marina Ogilvy - the one who was pregnant when she wed - turned up. But black-sheep-in-chief Sarah Ferguson stayed away, banned, it is rumoured, on account of past transgressions.

As for the latest pair of royal highnesses, both spoke their vows flawlessly. Sophie was a little quiet - an excellent thing in a woman, especially one who vows to obey. It really was a different royal wedding. Perhaps, who knows, it will be a different royal marriage.