Edward & Sophie
In a day devoid of pomp if not ceremony, another Windsor ties the knot
I will I will…
In a surprising royal rouser, the wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones went off with uncommonly common touches—and without a kiss. From Windsor to West Hollywood this year, celebrity couples set their own styles for teaming up. Courteney Cox Arquette had a user-Friendly ceremony, young Macaulay Culkin needed his mom’s permission to get a marriage license, and Kathy Najimy put on a dog-gone affair. No matter if they made altar-ations or played it straight down the aisle, it’s been a smashing season for the ring thing.
June 19, 1999
It was his own black-oxford-shod feet, not a stately royal landau, that got Prince Edward to the church on time. Once inside St. George’s Chapel, he and his supporters, brothers Prince Charles and Prince Andrew, who had strolled with Edward from nearby Windsor Castle apartments, passed the time before the start of the 5 p.m. ceremony by “larking about,” reports a guest. “Andrew pretended he had lost Edward’s ring. He was going, ‘Oh, oh!’ while searching his pockets, and Edward looked at him as if to say, ‘You’re a buffoon!’ ” Minutes later, when his bride walked up the aisle, a relaxed Edward greeted her with a smile—and a wink. “The enduring memory,” says another attendee, “was the casualness of it all.”
Royal weddings clearly aren’t what they used to be. Eighteen years after Prince Charles wed Lady Diana Spencer amid pomp and pageantry in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, and 13 years after Prince Andrew-and Sarah Ferguson followed suit in Westminster Abbey, the Queen’s youngest son, 35, married commoner Sophie Rhys-Jones, 34, in a wedding that seemed designed to prove the royals really aren’t so different from the rest of us.
Instead of a fairy-tale confection, public relations executive Sophie wore a sleek, sophisticated coat dress in ivory silk inlaid with 325,000 beads by designer Samantha Shaw, along with a black-and-white pearl necklace designed by her fiancé. (She gave him an 18-karat gold pocket watch.) In place of the traditional military uniform, TV producer Edward—who left the Royal Marines after just four months in 1987—said his “I will’s” in a morning suit. Of the 560 guests, most were friends and relatives of the couple, not other crowned heads or dignitaries. But even the bigwigs—like the Sultan of Brunei, who brought his two wives—were ferried to the chapel in white minibuses. Says British actor Anthony Andrews, a friend of the groom’s: “You felt you were part of a family occasion, rather than a state one.”
Not that the 200 million people who watched the wedding on TV—about 550 million fewer than the worldwide audience for Charles and Diana’s wedding—didn’t have plenty on which to feast their eyes. Among those seated in the 500-year-old chapel for the 45-minute ceremony were Lord Lloyd-Webber, Sir David Frost and Prince Felipe of Spain. Dapper Prince William, who turned 17 on June 21 (and is getting a Volkswagen Golf car from Dad), and Prince Harry, 14, kept a watchful eye on cousins Beatrice, 10, and Eugenie, 9, who attended without their royal-outcast mum, Sarah, Duchess of York. (Fergie, like Prince Charles’s inamorata, Camilla Parker Bowles, was left off the guest list. “The duchess was sad for the girls that she wouldn’t be there,” says a friend.)
Princess Margaret, still healing after scalding her feet in the bath last March, sat in a wheelchair by the Queen Mum, who flouted the bride’s no-hats request by wearing a small blue chapeau festooned with ostrich feathers. The Queen, in lilac silk with the pearls and earrings she wore to her own wedding—a sign, perhaps, of her hopes for this new marriage—also wore feathers. “There’s no way she would appear in public before 6 without something on her head,” says Diana’s former butler Paul Burrell (see his story, p. 68).
The ceremony itself went off hitch-free. The bride’s attendants—Camilla Hadden, 8, Olivia Taylor, 5, Felix Sowerbutts, 7, and Harry Warburton, 6, all children of the couple’s friends—successfully navigated the chapel steps and Sophie’s train. Looking slim (she had reportedly lost some 10 pounds), tanned after a trip to Italy with a friend the week before and only a little nervous, Sophie approached the altar on the arm of her father, tire sales executive Christopher Rhys-Jones. Unlike Diana, who stumbled over Charles’s many monikers, Sophie remembered her groom’s four names—Edward Antony Richard Louis. And when 8,000 ticketed spectators, who heard the ceremony through loudspeakers, cheered as she recited her vows, “it brought a grin to her face,” says a guest. Even Edward’s difficulty getting Sophie’s ring over her knuckle—a moment the ring’s designer, crown jeweler David Thomas, admits “made my heart miss a few beats”—didn’t unnerve her. “They are so in love,” says guest Ruthie Henshall, a friend of Edward’s. Never mind that, to the alarm of romantics everywhere, they neglected to seal it with a public kiss. “When they left the main room, they gave each other a kiss,” says a friend. “It was a great private moment.”
And one marked, no doubt, by supreme relief. The weeks following their January engagement announcement had been difficult ones for Sophie. Photographers followed her everywhere. (“I…make sure I don’t look a complete mess when I walk out the door,” she told the BBC.) The couple were reportedly criticized for including wildly expensive items—a $14,000 silver teapot, $8,000 worth of video equipment—on their wedding gift wish-list. Then, just three weeks before the wedding, The Sun tabloid published a 1988 photo, sold to them by an erstwhile pal of Sophie’s, of English deejay Chris Tarrant playfully lifting up her bikini top. (After the Palace called the move “premeditated cruelty,” the paper apologized and agreed to donate proceeds from the photo’s syndication to Sophie’s favorite charities.)
If the ceremony didn’t completely erase that unpleasant memory, the reception that followed surely did. After proceeding by horse-drawn carriage through streets lined with 20,000 well-wishers, the new Earl and Countess of Wessex—titles bestowed that morning by the Queen—and their guests dined at Windsor Castle on a buffet of haddock coulibiac, beef stroganoff, raspberries and wedding cake. Edward toasted “the hostess of this evening—perhaps the most wonderful mother in the world, the Queen.” Recalls Sam Haskell, who promotes the prince’s Ardent TV company in the U.S.: “It was like we were at this wonderful, loving southern wedding.”
Even the dancing defied expectations. While the Royal Marines Band played rock oldies, “Prince William was teaching everyone how to line dance,” says a guest. The Queen joined Beatrice and Eugenie in boogeying to the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” “And this charming old gentleman took the Queen Mum to the floor, she threw her walking sticks aside, and she started to do the twist,” says Anthony Andrews. “The Queen then stamped her feet and pleaded, ‘Come on, Mummy, it’s time for bed.’ It brought the house down.”
At midnight, the newlyweds, still in wedding wear, departed in a maroon Rolls Royce trailing heart-shaped balloons. After a night at the Royal Lodge, the Queen Mum’s Windsor abode, and brunch the next day hosted by Sophie’s parents at Bagshot Park—the nine-bedroom, 87-acre estate 10 miles south of Windsor that the earl and the countess will call home once renovations are complete—it was off to Balmoral for an abbreviated honeymoon. Living at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle for now, “they’ll take a longer vacation [at some point],” says Jonathan Howell, a pal of Edward’s. “They’re busy people.”
Which is what those who know them believe will help make this a lasting union. Though she bears a passing resemblance to the late Princess Diana, Sophie Wessex, as she will be known professionally, plans to continue her PR work, not fill the void left by Diana on the charity circuit. “The royal family [is] doing an exceptional job in the public role,” she told the BBC. “I don’t see a massive need for me to do the same thing.”
Still, as she and Edward took leave of their guests that magical night, Murray Harkin, Sophie’s partner at the R-JH public relations firm, noticed something new in his longtime friend’s face. “Sophie was glowing,” he says. “It was like she was being beamed into another life.”
Written by Kim Hubbard
Reported by Simon Perry and Nina Biddle in Windsor