In the event, you heard the action long before you saw it. For those with the best of views – the campers who reached the front of the half a million packing The Mall – the rough equation was seven hours’ wait for seven seconds of action. A glimpse, a wave, and a moment captured on the phones and cameras held aloft.
An estimated one million people lined the route, with two billion more in 180 countries watching the television coverage.
When the sun rose yesterday morning above The Mall, it resembled an early-morning scene from a music festival. Bleary eyed diehards emerged from their tents and headed for the Portaloos (still clean at that stage). The only rule: someone had to stay behind to guard the spot from the 6am johnny-come-latelys.
“I tell you what: if you’re camping out for a royal wedding, don’t get your sleeping bag from Argos,” said 22-year-old Seb Bradley as he packed up his tent. “I’m freezing.” Drunkards kicked out of pubs in the early hours were sobering up to find themselves in a sea of red and blue.
Shirley Johnson, 59, had flown in from Edmonton in Canada – a present from her husband. But his generosity did not extend to camping out in The Mall.Hehad left his wife, wrapped in a Wills and Kate flag to keep her warm, to save their spot directly behind the barriers. “He’s asleep in the hotel,” she said, before pausing and adding: “In a warm king-sized bed.”
Over at Westminster Abbey, the queuing had become fraught overnight. “At two this morning, it got very tense,” said Kathleen Trigg from Wimbledon who had been near the front for three days. “Some new comers turned up and started bickering and pushing and shoving to get to the front.”
Six turned to 7am and 8am, and more and more people flooded into the prime viewing locations. There were bemused children dragged from their beds on a parent’s whim and teenagers cracking open the gin at dawn. One grandmother from Canada, Jill Brierley, had won a trip to see the wedding and brought her 19-year-old granddaughter Shylock, who has just finished a course of chemotherapy.
As the royal cars made their way down The Mall on the way to the Abbey, huge cheers rippled its length, the loudest saved for Kate, necks craned in union for a first glimpse of “that dress”.
Jacqueline Davies, 85, sat in her wheelchair, covered in a blanket and wearing a rather fetching £2 tiara. Nearly 60 years ago, she camped out on The Mall for the coronation. She is the same age as the Queen, got married in the same year, and witnessed Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales’s wedding. She hopes that Kate and William will one day rival her favourite royal, Princess Anne (she works the hardest).
When the service began, live audio coverage was played from speakers along the route. With no sight of what was going on inside the Abbey, people simply stood listening, smiling, holding hands. “I will” drew a huge cheer, as did the pronouncement of man and wife.
Then it was over and the real business of the day began. People jostled for position, and tempers frayed, as the crowd waited for the carriage procession to make its way back to Buckingham Palace. An enterprising company was handing out cardboard periscopes to those at the back of the 10-deep crowd. They were better than nothing but gave a rather surreal and distorted picture of the pageantry going on behind the crash barriers.
First came the ceremonial horse guards and then, at a decent trot (slightly too decent a trot for the liking of some in the crowd), the 1902 State Landau carrying the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Some spectators had to leave disappointed. “All I saw was a couple of cars and a horse,” said a mournful Angela Cavill, who had been to the various weddings of Charles and Andrew.
Those with a ringside perch included 18-year-old Freddie Durham. “It was genuinely exciting – an extraordinary spectacle,” he said. “I saw it all. I felt like I was there as history was being made. I know it sounds lame. But it’s a royal wedding and I loved it.”
New friendships were struck. Billy, a homeless man in his fifties who normally sleeps in Paddington, met a Canadian tourist who took him to Harrods for lunch, buying him a bagel topped with Stilton, orange and figs. “It was lovely, but I only ate half of it,” he said. “I’m saving the other half for later. I like it when people come and talk to me. “My last giro was stolen by a friend on the street, and that really makes you lose hope in people, but today gives me hope. William will be a perfect king.”
More than 5,000 police officers were on duty. Fifty-seven arrests were made around Westminster, following pre-emptive raids against republican protesters the previous day in south and east London, which attracted criticism for stifling dissent. Six arrests were for drunk-and-disorderly behaviour and four for carrying offensive weapons. Police also arrested a 38-year-old man in Pall Mall on suspicion of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old girl. Thirteen people were still in custody last night.
Police used a “section 60” order to cordon off Trafalgar Square and allow officers to stop and search anyone without discretion, after a group of republican demonstrators were seen donning black masks in Soho. “We are all quite appalled and outraged because we did nothing wrong at all and were transported all that way with handcuffs,” said a young woman who had wanted to protest against the cost of the nuptials