LONDON - The big day is finally here for Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The couple will marry Saturday in the town of Windsor, outside London.
Prince Charles, Prince Harry’s father, will walk Markle down the aisle, Kensington Palace announced Friday.
The American former actress confirmed this week that her father will not attend the ceremony because of ill health, after days of speculation over whether he would make the journey across the Atlantic.
Throngs of people are descending on the historic town as well-wishers try to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. Thousands of police officers are mounting one of the biggest security operations in recent years, paid for by the public, a bill some opposed to the monarchy resent.
Supporters argue the wedding is likely to attract big spending by visitors and those watching in bars and big screens across the country.
The ceremony is to begin at midday in the stunning 14th century Saint George’s Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle, where Prince Harry was baptized in 1984.
As she did before the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, Queen Elizabeth II has conferred a dukedom on Prince Harry, making him the Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel.
The new title will mean that when Harry marries American actress Meghan Markle, she will become the Duchess of Sussex. The secondary titles are for use in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
About 600 guests have been invited, mainly those who have a direct relationship with the couple.
WATCH: Huge Security Operation Under Way as Britain Prepares For Royal Wedding
Public on the castle grounds
In addition, more than 2,500 members of the public have been invited onto the castle grounds — the prime spot to watch the guests come and go.
“To me, that was surprising, and it was very touching. Because for as much as they don’t like the media intrusion, the royals, they’ve invited media in, they’ve invited the public in, and they’re wanting to share their special day,” said Thomas Mace-Archer-Mills of the British Monarchist Society and Foundation.
Four members of the Mumbai city-based charity the Myna Mahila Foundation have been invited. The NGO provides sanitary products in the slums of the Indian capital and was visited by Meghan Markle last year. It’s one of seven charities the couple has asked guests to make donations to in lieu of wedding gifts. The charity’s founder, Suhani Jalota, says the invitation came as a huge shock.
“We are representing not just Myna, but also the women across the urban slums in the city and India as well. I think there is a lot on the plate and a lot of pressure.”
Well-wishers line the streets
More than 100,000 people are expected to line the streets of Windsor. Many have arrived early to bag the best spots. Donna Werner is a self-confessed royal superfan who flew from her home in the U.S. state of Connecticut and has camped for four nights on a Windsor sidewalk.
“Every little girl has read fairytales from her childhood on by her mother and she always dreams of becoming a princess and living in a castle. And I mean, this is it. This is a real life fairytale.”
In a break with U.S. tradition, Markle will not have a maid of honor. All of the six bridesmaids and four page boys will be children of friends of the couple. Harry’s nephew, Prince George, will be a pageboy, and niece Princess Charlotte a bridesmaid.
?Reception banquet for 600
In the kitchens of Windsor Castle, 30 chefs will prepare a banquet for the reception guests.
“The couple ... tasted everything, they’ve been involved in every detail,” royal head chef Mark Flanagan said.
That could mean some stateside surprises among the British fare.
“Are we going to see hot dogs and these sorts of American things? I’m sure there will be a nod to the American culture where food is concerned,” Mace-Archer-Mills said.
As well as the home crowds, millions are expected to tune in around the globe, with the promise of British pomp mixed with plenty of Hollywood glamour.
In Photos: Crowds Gather for Royal WeddingView full gallery