Prince William and Harry arrive
London - Prince William and best man Prince Harry strode into Westminster Abbey in formal military attire on Friday as royal fans lined the streets of London by the thousands, hoping to snatch a glimpse of a historic royal wedding expected to revitalize British monarchy.
A third of the planet was forecast to be watching on Friday as William and Kate Middleton, the future king and queen of England, start their lives as husband and wife with the two simple words "I will."
All the clamouring over every detail - the wedding dress, her hair, their titles, the romantic kiss on the balcony, the honeymoon - finally will be answered. But the biggest question won't be resolved for years: Will this royal couple live happily ever after?
Will their union endure like that of William's grandparents Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, now in its 64th year - or crumble in a spectacular and mortifying fashion like that of his own parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana?
Much will depend on whether 28-year-old William and 29-year-old Kate can summon the things every couple needs: patience, love, wit and wisdom. But they face the twin burdens of fame and scrutiny. Money, power, beauty - it can all go wrong if not carefully nurtured.
These are the thorny issues upon which the fate of the monarchy rests, as the remarkable queen, now 85, inevitably ages and declines.
By dawn on Friday, crowds were awake and waving flags for television cameras under steely gray skies and cool temperatures. Technicians ran last-minute checks on huge television screens broadcasting the ceremony at Trafalgar Square. Cheers erupted in Hyde Park when the screens began operating.
In contrast to the clamour outside, inside the abbey all was airy and calm. The long aisle leading to the altar was lined with maple and hornbeam trees as light streamed in through the high arched windows under the fan-vaulted ceiling.
Plumage of Amazonian variety filled the cavernous abbey as some 1 900 guests filed in, the vast majority of women in hats, some a full two feet across or high. Some looked like dinner plates. One woman wore a bright red fascinator that resembled a flame licking her cheek. A BBC commentator noted there were some "very odd choices" in fashion walking through the abbey door.
Most men, however, looked elegant and suave in long tails, some highlighted by formal plaid pants and vests. Others wore military uniforms.
Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, David Beckham and his wife Victoria and Prince Harry's on-off girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, were among the early arrivals.
"It's very exciting," Prime Minister David Cameron said before he entered the church. "I went on to the mall last night and met some people sleeping on the streets. There's a sense of excitement that you can't really put a word to (...) It's a chance to celebrate."
The royals fervently hope that a joyous union for the second-in-line to the British throne will rub out the squalid memories of his parents embarrassing each other and the nation with confessions of adultery as their marriage slid toward divorce.
And there is no small irony in the sight of Americans waking up before dawn (on the East Coast) or staying up all night (West Coast) after their fellow countrymen fought so fiercely centuries ago to throw off the yoke of the British monarchy and proclaim a country in which all men are created equal.
Brenda Mordic, 61, from Columbus, Georgia, clutched a Union Jack, with her friend Annette Adams, 66.
"We came for the excitement of everything," Mordic said. "We watched William grow up. I came for Prince Charles' wedding to Diana and I came for Princess Diana's funeral. We love royalty England and London."