Belgians brave rain for royal bride

BELGIUM yesterday tried to forget its ethnic divisions and its succession of public scandals, as it celebrated its first royal wedding for 15 years with a day of lavish celebration.

Prince Philippe tied the knot with his glamorous, aristocratic bride Mathilde d'Udekem d'Acoz in a ceremony so multi-lingual that, at times, one expected members of the illustrious congregation to reach for translators' headsets.

At the climax of the morning's events in the Cathedral of Saints Michel- et-Gudule, Philippe and his bride exchanged rings pledging, in both French and Dutch, their "love and fidelity" before kissing each other on both cheeks. Earlier, at a civilian marriage ceremony, all three of Belgium's official languages were spoken as officialdom pronounced the couple man and wife in French, Dutch and German.

"It's impossible to ignore, impossible to escape," said the newsreader on Belgium's French-speaking main television channel as the television transmission began yesterday morning. Quite so. The main stations were offering no less than 15 hours of live coverage, starting two-and-a-half hours before the civil ceremony began in the seventeenth century Grand Place. Even shoppers on the capital's main shopping street who tried to ignore the festivities were treated to complementary heart-shaped pralines, and a fly-past by the Belgian air force which trailed the colours of the national flag through the sky.

For Philippe, who was passed over in favour of his uncle when the throne last changed hands in 1993, Mathilde is the perfect bride, with links to both the French and Flemish communities. Stunning and popular, she is also destined to be the first ever Belgian-born queen. Nevertheless, the engagement was disrupted by media revelations that King Albert has a 31-year-old illegitimate daughter. These were seen by some French-speakers as a plot by Flemish nationalists, who view the monarchy as a binding force in Belgium and an obstacle to independence for Flanders. A pre-nuptial tour of the country triggered some student protests, with 16 arrests on one occasion.

Yesterday most of the press was accentuating the positive. The national daily broadsheet, La Libre Belgique, devoted its opening seven pages to the event. The marriage, it gushed, was one which "marked out, like a beacon, the history of a country" and allowed "the re-affirmation of the union - around the monarchy - of most compatriots of both the north and the south".

As expected, Mathilde was the star of the show, smiling radiantly in her elegant eggshell gown of crepe and silk. She went to the cathedral in a glass-topped Mercedes limo which seemed only just large enough to accommodate her 15ft train of Brussels lace, which Queen Paola wore 40 years ago when she married King Albert II.

Prince Charles, Prince Naruhito of Japan and Romano Prodi, President of the European Commission, were among the guests in an extravaganza with some eyebrow-raising statistics, such as the 25,000 cut flowers filling the cathedral. Afterwards the dignitaries dined on pasta stuffed with white truffle on a bed of spinach and lobster, followed by tournedos of calf with mushrooms. Last night 3,500 guests were attending a reception at the Chateau de Laeken, where 6,000 sandwiches were provided.

Although the crowds came out, the down-to-earth character of the Belgian populace prevailed over wilder predictions of jubilation. Despite free public transport, perhaps a quarter of the predicted 200,000 spectators lined the streets, many realising that the pavements of Brussels are not the best place to spend a chilly, rainy December day - even for the last royal marriage of the millennium.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
A poster by Durham Constabulary
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine