Britain gears up for global royal wedding

Britain is making final preparations for the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton next week as the biggest royal occasion in 30 years brings closure to the tragic legacy of Princess Diana.

A worldwide television audience of two billion people is set to watch live on April 29 while crowds of hundreds of thousands are expected to line the route from Westminster Abbey to catch a glimpse of the newlyweds.

Royal officials are working around the clock to put the finishing touches on the global event, the climax of a royal romance that began eight years ago when William and Kate were students together at university in Scotland.

Around 1,900 guests including foreign royals and celebrities are heading to London for the service, while British police have launched a massive security operation to guard against the threat of terror attacks and protests.

William, the 28-year-old second-in-line to the throne who works as a Royal Air Force helicopter pilot, proposed last year to Kate, 29, the commoner daughter of self-made millionaires, using his late mother Diana's engagement ring.

The pomp and ceremony surrounding the service reflects the fact that it is the grandest royal wedding since William's parents Prince Charles - the heir to Queen Elizabeth II - married Princess Diana on June 21, 1981.

"William and Catherine, as they will be known, are saying 'we are the future of the British monarchy and we are going to be a success,'" royal expert Robert Jobson told AFP.

Diana's shadow has hung over the royals since she died in a car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997, a year after her stormy divorce from Charles.

William and his younger brother Harry, who will be his best man, were seen by millions as they sadly followed her coffin into the Westminster Abbey for her funeral.

But in the past decade and a half "The Firm", as Britain's royals are known, have done their best to improve their aloof image, with the young heartthrob William in the vanguard.

The queen met Kate's parents Michael and Carole over lunch at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday, itself a major step given the snobbery directed at Kate's parents for having made their money through a party planning firm.

William and Kate have personally overseen "every detail" of their "exquisitely beautiful" wedding day, said St James's Palace, William's official residence.

The service will see some 40 monarchs including Prince Albert of Monaco along with representatives of more than 100 countries. There will also be friends and acquaintances of the couple - including some old flames.

The wedding starts at 1000 GMT at Westminster Abbey and afterwards the newlyweds will lead a procession to Buckingham Palace, travelling in a horse-drawn carriage past landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament and the Mall.

As well as being beamed around the world on television it will also be streamed live on YouTube while royal officials will post blog and Twitter updates.

Parts of the capital have already been decked out in the red, white and blue of the British flag for the big day. The government has declared a public holiday and pubs are allowed to stay open late.

Some 650 guests have been invited to the reception at the palace, while the hottest ticket in town will be a dinner-dance hosted by Prince Charles for a lucky 300 or so people.

The Middleton's home village of Bucklebury is also planning a street party.

But key details about William and Kate's big day remain shrouded in mystery.

Her wedding dress has prompted acres of media speculation, while there is no news on what titles the couple will take - or whether the newlyweds will emulate Charles and Diana and kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

Scotland Yard said it would have 5,000 officers on duty. It has also pledged to prevent a group of Muslim extremists carrying through their threat to protest outside the wedding.

Britain's small republican movement is, however, having a light-hearted street party to promote its bid to see off the monarchy.