Informality and little pomp as Edward and Sophie say `I do'

Audience of 200 million watch new-style royal wedding of Lord and Lady Wessex.

Audience of 200 million watch new-style royal wedding of Lord and Lady Wessex.

Just a dash of traditional pageantry, some faintly amusing straining after informality and a few human touches ushered in the new era of royal weddings on Saturday as Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones were married in St George's Chapel, Windsor.

In keeping with the couple's wish to avoid pomp and ceremony, ladies in evening dress and men in morning coats had earlier arrived at the entrance to the chapel by royal minibus. The public was treated to the unusual sight of the Sultan of Brunei hopping down the steps of a minibus when it parked outside the chapel. Princess Anne also looked distinctly uncomfortable as she negotiated the high steps in a long, tight lime-green skirt.

Prince Edward, the newly-titled Earl of Wessex, and Sophie Rhys-Jones, the newly titled Countess of Wessex, had wanted an informal, family affair and so there was relatively little pomp, military procession and pageantry and, as the bride had asked, its was "no hats please" for the ladies and morning suits (preferably not grey) for the men, the relaxed dress code adding to the unstuffy atmosphere of what will surely be the last British royal wedding of the 20th century.


The couple had nevertheless bowed to the wishes of Queen Elizabeth who judged the public interest, while not on the scale of Prince Charles's marriage to the then Lady Diana Spencer, was sufficient to warrant controlled public and media access.

An interesting feature of the day was the decision by Queen Elizabeth to bestow the title Earl of Wessex on her third son. The title had not been used since 1066 when King Harold II died at the Battle of Hastings. And, given the British government's plans to phase out the political role of the hereditary peerage , it is unlikely that the prince will ever take his seat in the House of Lords. The couple also decided that any children of their marriage would not be given royal titles and would simply be known as Lord or Lady - a sign of the royal family's desire not to create an ever-expanding list of minor royals.

An estimated television audience of 200 million watched the couple exchange their vows - and witness Edward's struggle to put the wedding ring on Sophie's finger - during a brisk 45-minute service. Inside St George's Chapel, the cheers of 8,000 members of the public standing outside in the grounds of Windsor Castle reached the couple as first Edward, then Sophie, the new Countess of Wessex, uttered the words "I do." Both then turned to the other and smiled broadly, betraying not a hint of nerves as they were married by the Rt. Rev Peter Nott, Bishop of Norwich.

Standing behind the Prince, his two "supporters" or joint best men, Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, looked on. Queen Elizabeth and senior royals including Princess Margaret, who is recovering from a stroke, and Sophie's family smiled as they watched the service from their seats on either side of the high altar.

One of the few hitches of the day came when the new Countess of Wessex, or Sophie Wessex as she will be known in her professional life, began reciting her vows. Halfway through, the roar of an aircraft flying into Heathrow Airport nearby almost drowned out her little voice. It was a human touch during an otherwise completely choreographed day.

Earlier, the bride, accompanied by her father, Christopher Rhys-Jones, arrived six minutes late at the entrance to the chapel after being driven the two-and-a-half mile route from the Royal Lodge, the Queen Mother's weekend residence, in a black, glass-backed Rolls Royce. Shortly after 5 p.m. the bride stepped out into a windy Windsor day looking confident in a long, ivory, panelled dress-coat, encrusted with 325,000 cut glass and pearl beads.

Dress designers were hurriedly cutting and stitching copies of the dress on Saturday night and these are expected to go on sale this week. Sophie also wore a white-and-black pearl necklace and earrings, a gift designed by her husband.

There was a playful wink from the prince as he caught the first glimpse of his bride walking up the aisle and smiles from Sophie too as she sailed through her vows without stumbling over her husband's names.

After they were married, the Earl and Countess of Wessex walked out onto the steps of the chapel, greeted by cheers and polite clapping from the public who were gathered on the lawns of the castle. They resisted pleas from photographers to kiss on the steps - aware perhaps that to do so would have encouraged comparisons with previous royal couples - and instead climbed into a royal landau which drove them through the narrow streets of Windsor.

At a reception at Windsor Castle later, the couple cut their wedding cake which was reportedly adorned with daffodils, reflecting Sophie's Welsh heritage, and tennis rackets, a reference to the couple's first meeting on a tennis court.

The details of their honeymoon, as one expects from this couple, were being kept a strict secret.