Hordes gather for William and Kate wedding
Hundreds of thousands of spectators gathered in London on the eve of the biggest royal wedding for 30 years after Prince William and Kate Middleton took part in a low-key rehearsal for their big day.
Well-wishers camped in front of the Westminster Abbey venue cheered as William and Kate were whisked out of the church following Wednesday's full run-through, but the couple were kept out of the public's expectant gaze.
The pair went through their paces in secret after around 1,000 army, navy and air force personnel earlier had their final practice, offering a glimpse of the pomp that two billion people worldwide are predicted to follow live on Friday.
Best man Prince Harry was at his older brother William's side for the sunset rehearsal, while Middleton, dressed casually in a jacket and a skirt, was joined by her parents.
Senior clergy were also inside the historic abbey, William's St James's Palace office said.
The most notable absentees from the run-through were the 1,900 guests who will occupy the pews on Friday as an eclectic mix of international dignitaries, politicians and celebrities descended upon London for the event.
Iconic Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe, England football legend Trevor Brooking and Gareth Thomas, the Welsh rugby player who recently came out as gay, will be among those rubbing shoulders with some of the 40 invited foreign royals.
Prime Minister David Cameron and former leader John Major will be in attendance along with celebrities such as Elton John, David and Victoria Beckham and Mr Bean actor Rowan Atkinson.
The list has not been without controversy, and Thursday's media questioned the appearance of Sami Khiyami, a senior representative of a Syrian regime which has been roundly criticised for killing pro-democracy demonstrators.
With more violent crackdowns expected over the next few days, St James's Palace was reported to be mulling over rescinding the ambassador's invitation and was to make a final decision "in the next 24 hours," The Times said.
One uninvited guest promising to dampen the party spirit is a patch of stormy weather sweeping in from eastern Europe, which threatens to drench those watching from the uncovered sidelines.
After the last rehearsal, William and Kate were driven back to Clarence House, the residence of Prince Charles, the young royal's father, where it is believed they were to spend their final night together before the wedding.
William eased his nerves by biking off to Battersea Park, south London, where he was pictured playing 5-a-side football with his friends on public pitches.
Middleton will spend Thursday night, her last as a commoner, at The Goring, a luxury London hotel close to Buckingham Palace.
Royal enthusiasts began on Monday setting up camp outside Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, where the pair will return after the ceremony for the traditional balcony appearance.
"I have just done a month in China travelling through Tibet so this is a piece of cake. I am very proud, I wouldn't be here if I wasn't," said Cynthia Fisher, 69, from Sheffield in northern England, wearing a glittery Union flag bowler hat.
Those waking before dawn on Wednesday were treated to a dry-run by the military which involved horse-drawn carriages, mounted cavalry and limousines including the Rolls Royce that will ferry Kate to the abbey.
Later in the day, thousands of tourists were soaking up the atmosphere outside Buckingham Palace.
Kumar Iyer, a retired bank worker from Thiruvananthapuram in southern India, said he had also been in London for the wedding of William's parents Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981.
"Poor Diana is not there to witness the marriage, that is sad," he told AFP.
The fervour around the ceremony partly reflects the public's enduring fascination with Diana, who died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 and whose emotional funeral was held at Westminster Abbey.
Key points remain shrouded in mystery: the wedding dress has prompted enormous media speculation, while there is no news on whether the royal couple will take any new official titles.
© 2011 AFP