Delay to the Prince's big day was not our decision, insists No 10

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The Independent Online

The wedding of the Prince of Wales faced fresh controversy last night after Downing Street was forced to angrily deny it had leaned on the royal couple to postpone the event.

The wedding of the Prince of Wales faced fresh controversy last night after Downing Street was forced to angrily deny it had leaned on the royal couple to postpone the event.

As Clarence House announced it was delaying the marriage by 24 hours to allow the Prince to attend the funeral of the Pope in Rome, officials insisted that Charles and his fiancée had made the decision.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman confirmed, however, that there had been contact between No 10 and the Prince's officials. "We had asked to be kept informed about what their decision was going to be," he said. But there was an audible sigh of relief within Whitehall at the postponement ­ avoiding an embarrassing clash for Tony Blair and allowing him to attend both the Pope's funeral and the royal wedding.

Friday's royal ceremony has been bedevilled with controversy since it was announced in February. There has been a forced change of venue, a snub from the Queen, challenges over its legality and an underlying wave of public disquiet at the future role of Camilla Parker Bowles.

But the spectre of Mr Blair interfering with arrangements was proving the most incendiary issue. After a hurried re-arranging of diaries, Mr Blair is expected to go to the Palace today to seek the dissolution of Parliament. In the run-up to the election, Downing Street wanted to avoid any repeat of the controversies over his role in the funerals of the Princess of Wales and the Queen Mother.

While there was no constitutional precedent for a British prime minister to attend the Pope's funeral, it was clear that Mr Blair and his wife Cherie, a committed Catholic, wanted to go. Both of the Blairs have had an audience with the Pope.

For the royal couple, the change of date will prove a logistical nightmare. Courtiers were working flat out to keep any changes to a minimum, such as rebooking the Philharmonia Orchestra, the St George's Chapel Choir and Ekaterina Semenchuk, a young Russian contralto who has been specially flown over as a wedding gift from the Mariinsky Theatre Trust of St Petersburg.

It will also prove a headache for broadcasters, which still intend to provide live coverage of the event on Saturday morning ahead of the John Smith's Grand National at Aintree. The police were also facing additional costs as protection officers were forced to rethink the security operation with cordons due to be in place now for an extra day.

It also meant that three couples, who had assumed they would be getting married the day after the Prince and his fiancée, would now share their day with them. Clarence House said it was determined not to inconvenience the couples, whose services begin at 2pm.

The first rumblings that Charles would be forced to move the wedding began yesterday as he cut short his skiing holiday in Klosters to attend a Westminster Cathedral service of Vespers for the Dead for John Paul II with Mrs Parker Bowles. She will not attend Friday's ceremony in Rome.

Paddy Harverson, the communications secretary at Clarence House, said the Prince felt that switching the date was "absolutely the right thing to do".

"He had a lot of respect for the Pope," he said. "He feels this is absolutely the right thing to do. Mrs Parker Bowles agrees entirely. The wedding is still going to be a good day, but it has just been pushed back 24 hours ... Hopefully the majority of guests that were going on Friday will be there on Saturday."

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