From across the world, crowds gather for William and Kate
They came from all over the world, wearing outlandish outfits and waving Union Jack flags, rising before dawn or camping overnight to secure their spot for the royal wedding.
Thousands of royal enthusiasts braved a chilly night on London's streets to get a front-row seat for Prince William and Kate Middleton's wedding, their numbers swelled Friday by a constant stream of new arrivals.
"I might never have another opportunity to see such a thing," said Isabel Minguez, an 18-year-old student from Madrid sitting outside Westminster Abbey, where the couple will finally tie the knot after an eight-year courtship.
"I could have watched it on TV but up close it is so much better. And you meet people too," said Haytham Khalaf, a 35-year-old university researcher from Jordan, adding that the wedding was a "once in a lifetime" event.
The crowds were the biggest on The Mall, the wide tree-lined avenue leading to Buckingham Palace down which the newlyweds will travel in a horse-drawn carriage after the ceremony.
They will appear for the first time as husband and wife on the palace balcony, and are expected to treat the crowds to a kiss.
Australian Sam Harburg, 27, dressed in a a pink tie and dark blue jacket, arrived with a friend at 4:00 am equipped with a cool box with beer and two bottles of champagne, "one for the procession and one for the royal kiss".
After living in London, he was due to go home this weekend but pushed back his flight so he could join the celebrations. "I can tell my friends in Australia that I was here," he said.
The palace balcony doors opened at one point, sending a roar of excitement across the crowd -- at least those who could see.
"It's hard for short people. I can't see anything!" said Maria Read, 43, standing on a small but very unstable folding chair.
She said her family back home in Brazil had set their alarms for dawn to watch the wedding on television, saying: "We find it beautiful -- it's their wedding but we celebrate it, we are part of the party."
The crowd was a riot of colour -- there were little girls in princess dresses, women sporting paper crowns and plastic tiaras, men in William paper masks and millions upon millions of red, white and blue Union Jack flags.
One couple came dressed as daffodils, the national flower of Wales, where William and Kate will live after their marriage, while two women wore wedding dresses with signs on their backs saying "It should have been me!".
Outside Westminster Abbey, Kim Ratcliffe, 37, wore a spectacular hat ontop of her blond hair. "I came prepared just in case they would invite me in!" she said, pushing her two daughters, both dressed as princesses, in their pram.
She came over from Texas with her British husband to watch the wedding, saying: "We love the monarchy -- it is part of history."
People have been camping outside the abbey since Monday night, but the excitement was mounting just hours before the ceremony. After an uncomfortable night, campers exchanged coffee and cakes before putting away their tents.
Back on The Mall, Julie Officer, a 39-year-old nurse from London, had donned a fancy hat similar to those worn by the royal family.
She arrived at 3:30am, while it was still dark, but found many hundreds had got there before her. "I wanted to see the balcony but it's already crowded," she said, wrapped in a sleeping bag alongside a security barrier.
Next to her was Bernadette Baker, also a nurse, from New York. "I am so curious to see what Kate does with her hair," said the 31-year-old, wearing a hat with purple flowers and a purple dress, and waving a Union Jack flag.
About 5,500 street parties are expected across Britain on Friday, including in the Scottish university of St Andrews, where William and Kate met.
In Bucklebury, the village where Kate grew up up west of London, marquees were set up on the green for a huge party with a hog roast, stalls and games as residents put on a big show for their most famous daughter.
© 2011 AFP