LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton married at Westminster Abbey on Friday in a sumptuous show of British pageantry that attracted a huge world audience and breathed new life into the monarchy.
One million well-wishers watched military bands in black bearskin hats and household cavalrymen in shining breastplates escorting the beaming couple in a 1902 open-topped state landau carriage after the ceremony.
Queen Elizabeth's grandson and his bride then appeared on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in central London where they sealed their union with two kisses before a jubilant, cheering crowd who waved flags and banners.
"The monarchy is like our Hollywood, the movies, for us," said Californian Diane Weltz, who flew in especially.
Middleton, who wore a laced ivory-colored dress with a train for the ceremony, became the first "commoner" to marry a prince close to the throne in more than 350 years.
"I am glad the weather held off. We had a great day," she said in her first public comments after the wedding.
The 29-year-old, whose mother's family has coal mining roots, has brought a sense of modernity to the monarchy and helped restore popularity to an institution tarnished by the death of William's hugely popular mother Princess Diana in 1997.
Charles Spencer, Diana's brother who famously excoriated the royals at her funeral in the same abbey, told the BBC the wedding was "very moving," before adding: "The only downside on a perfect day was Diana not being there."
Fans from Asia to the United States camped overnight outside the abbey to catch a glimpse of the future king and queen, whose marriage has fueled a feel-good factor that briefly lifted Britain from its economic gloom.
More than 8,000 journalists descended on London and the ceremony was streamed live on YouTube, ensuring what experts expect will be one of the biggest global audiences ever.
SEALED WITH KISSES
The crowd entered into the festive spirit on a day when threatened rain failed to materialize by wearing national flags, masks of the couple and even fake wedding dresses and tiaras.
"It should have been me!" shouted nurse Jo Newman, 27, dressed as a bride and clutching a bouquet of plastic roses.
Hundreds of police officers, some armed, dotted the royal routes in a major security operation. They made 55 arrests in London, mostly for minor offences.
A sea of supporters cheered as the couple sealed their marriage with one sheepish kiss, then another.
World War Two and modern warplanes flew over the waving royals before they went inside for a champagne reception for 650 guests in the palace's 19 opulent state rooms.
It was a day that mixed royal pomp with splashes of informality.
The couple made a surprise appearance in an open-top vintage Aston Martin owned by the prince's father with the license plate "JU5T WED," trailing balloons to travel the short journey to St. James's Palace in a light-hearted and crowd-pleasing gesture.
They returned to Buckingham Palace for a more intimate party for 300 close friends and family. Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip left the younger crowd to dance into the early hours, media reported.
The exuberance of royal fans was not shared throughout Britain. For some, the biggest royal wedding since Diana married Charles in 1981 was something to forget, reflecting divided opinion about the monarchy.
In the economically depressed northern city of Bradford, businessman Waheed Yunus said: "It's two young people getting married. It's as simple as that. It happens throughout the whole world every single day.
"There are much more pressing issues. There are much more important things going on in the world."
A series of scandals involving senior royals, Britain's economic problems and Diana's death after her divorce from Prince Charles led many to question the future of the monarchy.
Middleton's background, 28-year-old William's appeal, the enduring adoration for his mother and a media-savvy royal press team have restored their standing with the public.
A Daily Mail survey showed 51 percent of people believed the wedding would strengthen the monarchy in Britain, compared with 65 percent who said the marriage between Prince Charles and divorcee Camilla Parker Bowles in 2005 would weaken it.
However, while Queen Elizabeth, 85, exercises limited power, and is largely a symbolic figurehead in Britain and its former colonies, critics question the privileges she and her family enjoy, particularly at a time when the economy is weak.
The monarchy officially costs the British taxpayer about 40 million pounds ($67 million) a year, while anti-royalists put the figure at closer to 180 million pounds.
DRESS DESIGNER UNVEILED
Middleton's dress, the subject of fevered speculation for months in the fashion press, was a traditional ivory silk and satin outfit with a lace applique and flowing train.
It was designed by Sarah Burton of the Alexander McQueen label, named after the British designer who committed suicide. Burton also made her strapless evening gown.
For the wedding, the bride wore a tiara loaned by the queen and the diamond and sapphire engagement ring that belonged to Diana, who was divorced from Prince Charles in 1996, a year before her death in a car crash in Paris aged just 36.
The royals' cool reaction to Diana's death contrasted with an outpouring of public grief and marked a low point for the family.
Some questioned whether the institution, a vestige of imperial glory, had outlived its unifying role in a modern state divided by partisan politics and regional separatism.
About 5,500 street parties were held throughout Britain for the royal wedding, in keeping with tradition, and celebrations were held from Beijing and Sydney to New York and Dubai.
Bells pealed and trumpets blared as 1,900 guests earlier poured into the historic abbey, coronation site for the monarchy since William the Conqueror was crowned in 1066.
The queen, other royals, Prime Minister David Cameron, David and Victoria Beckham, the footballer-pop star couple, and singer Elton John were among famous guests at the abbey.
They joined 50 heads of state as well as friends, charity workers and war veterans who know the prince from his military career in what commentators said was a more progressive snapshot of modern Britain than previous royal weddings.
After the abbey had emptied, a cassocked member of staff was caught on camera cartwheeling down the red carpeted aisle.
"It was a moment of exuberance. Like everyone else he was so pleased it had gone well," said an abbey spokeswoman.
Middleton has been given the title Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge, and the queen made her grandson William the Duke of Cambridge to mark the marriage.
William could face a long wait for the throne. His grandmother Queen Elizabeth shows little sign of slowing down at 85 and his father Charles is a fit and active 62-year-old.
Reposted From Mike Collet-White and Michael Holden of Reuters