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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
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

IT Technician - 1st Line

£19000 - £21000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPOR...

Special Needs Teaching Assistant

£50 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Special Educational Needs Teach...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant Birmingham

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Comission: SThree: The SThree group is a world lea...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London