Elton John and his partner of 12 years, David Furnish, made their union official Wednesday under a new law in the U.K. that allows same-sex couples to form civil partnerships.
Fans flocked to the town hall in Windsor, England – the Guildhall, where Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles married in April – for the private, 20-minute ceremony. The couple appeared before the crowd and the paparazzi, posing for photographs, waving and blowing kisses from the steps of the venue. Sir Elton even accepted a small ice cream cake made by a local bakery.
Asked by PEOPLE how he felt, John replied: “Wonderful. Just great.”
The ceremony was to be followed by a star-studded, $2 million reception for more than 600 guests at the singer’s nearby mansion.
Furnish’s father Jack told PEOPLE after the service: “It was a short and sweet affair but it was also a great service and it’s definitely one of the happiest days of our lives. They are a lovely couple and it’s just so great to see them so happy.”
Close friends Sam Taylor-Wood and husband Jay Jopling, who attended the service, called the ceremony “very, very emotional.”
“Both Elton and David had tears in their eyes as the service drew to a close,” she said. “It was lovely when they kissed. Very romantic, and touching.”
Husband Jay added: “They kissed like any other couple would at the appropriate moment and then all eight of us at the service burst out clapping.”
The ceremony marked a huge milestone for same-sex couples across the U.K., gay rights advocates say. Wednesday is the first day such unions become legal in England and Wales, following ceremonies earlier in the week in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The new law will afford same-sex couples the same rights to social security, taxes, pensions and inheritances as other married couples.
John, 58, and Furnish, 43, kicked off two days of celebrations in luxurious style with a joint bachelor party in London’s West End on Monday. The event took place at the Too2Much nightclub in Soho and featured a specially recorded video message from President Bill Clinton, who sent along his best wishes.
Guests at the party included Bryan Adams, Jimmy Choo owner Tamara Mellon, Kid Rock, Eric McCormack and two other British knights: “Lord of the Rings” star Sir Ian McKellen and songwriter Sir Tim Rice.
Reported by Neil Michael, Sara Hammel, Phil Boucher and Todd Peterson