With one week to go, London polishes up for royal wedding
The fountains have been cleaned, the lawns trimmed and giant Union Jack flags are flying in the wind -- it's one week from the royal wedding, and London is putting on its best face for William and Kate.
Hundreds of thousands of well-wishers are expected for the wedding of Prince William and his long-term girlfriend Kate Middleton on April 29, not to mention the hundreds of VIPs invited to attend the ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
To make the capital look as good as the bride, teams of contractors have given it a spring clean, and huge media stands have been erected to ensure the visiting hordes of journalists get the best possible view.
Dozens of red, white and blue British flags have been installed opposite Buckingham Palace, with more expected to be hung along the Mall, the road leading to the palace down which the newlyweds will drive in their carriage after the wedding.
Speakers have been set up among the chestnut trees to relay the marriage ceremony live to the crowds, and in nearby St James's Park, the grass has been trimmed and the flowerbeds packed with new blooms.
On Whitehall, which is also on the procession route, the war memorials have been cleaned with pressurised water jets, and stall owners selling wedding memorabilia are doing a roaring trade.
"My Kate and William tea-towels are almost sold out. I've sold hundreds of them," said Richard Hudson, as he struggled to keep up with demand from tourists for spoons, mugs and plates sporting the couple's picture.
Although William and Kate will not pass them, the authorities have taken the opportunity to spruce up the 19th century fountains in nearby Trafalgar Square.
This week they were drained, the tiles were polished and the bronze light fittings buffed in a job which took the best part of three days. "I don't think they'd been done for 20 years," remarked a contractor working on the fittings.
At the other end of Whitehall, outside the abbey, the anti-war protesters who made Parliament Square their home for several years have finally been cleared by court order and the patchy grass has been replanted.
The demonstrators are confined to a small strip of pavement opposite the Houses of Parliament, where their banners denouncing the "two million deaths in Iraq" are now softened by a poster featuring a heart enclosing the names William and Kate.
Behind the protesters, workmen put the finishing touches to a five-tiered stand overlooking the abbey's west entrance, where 100 photographers and up to 250 other media will watch Kate drive up to the church in her Rolls Royce.
It took two weeks to install, but the planning has gone on much longer -- and one contractor admitted he couldn't wait until it was all over. "I'm sick of it, to be honest," he said.
However, his colleague told him off for being so miserable, saying: "I'll be here to see Kate."
Scaffolding has also been installed on two buildings behind, with cameras even now lined up for the perfect shot of the abbey.
A smaller structure stands at Trafalgar Square, where producers from US network NBC pointed out the best views of the London skyline as metres of cable were unloaded below.
The main media centre is opposite Buckingham Palace, where a temporary bank of studios stands camouflaged in green against the trees of Green Park, but without blocking the view from the palace.
Behind it, in a makeshift media village built on the grass, the TV trucks are already in place, their satellite dishes directed to the sky. One week to go, but London is ready.
© 2011 AFP