It’s hard to remember a time when the world didn’t see Meghan Markle as a princess bride.
Just one year ago today, the newly minted duchess was still Prince Harry‘s very serious girlfriend. And instead of endless speculation about whether her dad Thomas Markle would be available to walk her down the aisle, the question was whether or not she’d be on hand for another well-heeled affair.
But when Pippa Middleton arrived to her nuptials at Berkshire, England’s St. Mark’s Church—nary a scene-stealing bridesmaid in sight—Markle was tucked away at Harry’s two-bedroom Kensington Palace cottage, some 50 miles away. The California native, then still a regular on Suits, simply didn’t want to pull focus on Pippa’s special day.
Same goes for big sister Kate Middleton. Instead of accepting an in-the-spotlight role as maid of honor, the duchess, 36, took on the crucial duty of keeping the eight young bridesmaids and page boys (including her kids Prince George, 4, and Princess Charlotte, 3) in line—leading to one very relatable (and incredibly meme-able) mom moment.
But while she didn’t have the official title, one onlooker told E! News she “very much appeared to be attendant-in-chief,” laughing with Pippa before the 11:30 a.m. ceremony. She also returned a favor from six years prior, adjusting the train of Pippa’s custom ivory lace Giles Deacon gown. Though Kate’s modest blush Alexander McQueen dress meant she didn’t incite the same level of hysteria as the world’s most famous bridesmaid did in 2011. (Years later Pippa would joke that perhaps her ivory crepe Alexander McQueen fit “a little too well.”)
That meant all 100 sets of eyes were firmly on Pippa as she exited the open-top vintage car with dad Michael Middleton and made the slow walk down the aisle in her hand appliquéd bespoke lace dress. Vastly different from the tennis whites she once vowed to wed in, Pippa’s gown featured a pearl-embroidered bodice and an organza and tulle skirt and was made complete with a bespoke cathedral-length Stephen Jones veil, handmade Maidenhair fern tiara, Manolo Blahnik pumps and the same diamond drop Robinson Pelham earrings she wore to Kate’s nuptials.
Waiting in front of the stained glass windows Pippa used to peer at when she’d attend services as a child: race car driver turned financier James Matthews, the man the onetime columnist first connected with during a 2009 trip to Scotland. Reverend Nick Wynne-Jones led a roughly 45-minute service that featured Christian hymns from the choir of Winchester Cathedral and a slew of readings. Kate recited a prayer, Matthews’ reality star brother Spencer Matthews quoted a passage from Paulo Coelho’s novel The Alchemist and the groom himself read “Love is an Adventure” by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Wynne-Jones “did a fantastic job,” a guest told E! News, adding his calmness “really brought a peaceful stillness” to the church, strung with garlands of pink and white blooms. As an extra straight-from-a-fairytale touch, “You could hear birds chirping outside,” reveals the attendee. “It was beautiful.”
Everything culminated with the couple trading vows. Reciting their words with “absolute sincerity,” says the guest, they used a more modern version with Pippa electing not to promise to “obey” her spouse. “That’s quite normal,” notes the guest. After they sealed their words with a kiss, says the wedding attendee, “There was an immense sense of joy in the air.”
As the church bells pealed to give the confirmation that the cookbook author, 34, and her hedge fund manager groom, 42, were officially husband and wife, guests were ushered across Conservative Party politician Richard Benyon’s sprawling property for a champagne reception. On the grounds of the private estate (a set location for Netflix’s hit royal series The Crown) celebrants sipped Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne and reportedly snacked on some 1,000 canapés, including asparagus spears with Hollandaise sauce, Serrano ham, and carpaccio, as the newlyweds’ dads Michael and David Matthews offered brief toasts.
And while rumblings of rain had ruined Pippa’s original plan to make the brief journey from the estate’s Englefield House, where she began prepping at 5 a.m., on horse-drawn carriage, the sun came out for her picture-perfect exit. As the new spouses hopped into their vintage green Jaguar E-type convertible, onlookers called out their best wishes.
Their guests also rode in style. Though Pippa wasn’t marrying a potential future king, the security at her nuptials was still royally serious. Guests were asked to make the short drive to Bucklebury Village Hall (Pippa’s hometown is roughly seven miles from St. Mark’s Church) where they had to pass a series of hurdles before they could gain entry to the fleet of 50 Land Rovers. Each of the fascinator-adorned 300-plus reception attendees had to have photo identification out (unclear if bold-faced names such as Prince William and tennis pro Roger Federer were given a pass) and confirm their password. To ensure they couldn’t be passed along to a plus-one, the phrases were unique to every guest, an insider told E! News, and chosen three months earlier.
It wasn’t all stressful, though. Before they were put through the ringer, male attendees were offered fresh white shirts should they care to change.
This being, after all, the type of celebration where you’d like to look your best.
Though the reception took place at Michael and Carole Middleton‘s 18-acre Bucklebury estate, this was no backyard affair. Workers had constructed a sizeable glass palace on the grounds, that took three days to erect and came with a reported price tag of $130,000. Floral company Lavender Green then covered the marquee in some $20,000 worth of in-season blooms (some reportedly flown in from Holland), encasing both the pillars and the ceiling. “There will be floral arrangements from top to bottom,” a local told E! News pre-party. “it’s going to be magnificent.”
And that wasn’t even the most impressive part. Nor were the luxury bathrooms (dubbed “throne rooms”), constructed for the occasion with oak fittings, porcelain basins, spot lights and full-length mirrors. Though they, and the eco-friendly, vacuum-flush toilets, were a nice touch.
At some point, following the first dance, the cutting of the $3,000 Domino Purchas Contemporary Cakes confection and the five-course trout and lamb menu (all washed down with estimated 150 bottles of Dom Ruinart 2002 champagne and 750 bottles of Nyetimber 2010 Blanc de Noir Millington wine) attendees took in an aerial performance by fighter plane Supermarine Spitfire.
And should barrel rolls and other aerobatic stunts not be to your liking, the couple arranged to have an over-the-top light show, live band and multiple table tennis stations to keep guests (including Markle, Harry having driven back to London to bring her to the reception) enthused.
But what may have been the night’s most memorable moment came just after 11:30 p.m. when the groom’s best man Justin Johannsen gave a 10-minute toast. (Matthew’s brother, Made in Chelsea standout Spencer, also gave a speech that caused the crowd to erupt into a Beatles sing-a-long.) Johannsen, a longtime friend of the groom, led by instructing revelers to “Hear all, eat all, drink all and let your hair down,” before launching into some lewd jokes. (The details of his speech were picked up by various British media outlets.) Discussing “the love of James’ life,” he described someone he deemed “beautiful,” “energetic,” “loyal” and “soft-mouthed,” adding that she “comes on command” and has a “great behind.” Then he got to the punchline: “But that’s enough about James’ spaniel,” he said. “I’m here to talk about James’ love, Pippa.”
Having dispensed with the wisecracks (he also poked fun at Pippa’s workouts and James’ brother saying he assumed the couple was honeymooning in Wales “as I heard Spencer saying that after the wedding, he was going to Bangor for two weeks,”) Johannsen got serious. “I think I can say for everyone, that you look stunning. The image of perfection,” he told Pippa. “I know that James first fell in love with your gutsiness and your spirit and then succumbed to your beauty. You make James extremely happy. You have a voir la joie that warms the hearts of everyone who knows you, and you have won the heart of the best man that I know.”
Post-vows, the pair skipped Wales in favor of a lustworthy honeymoon that involved jaunts to Tetiaroa, a chain of islands in French Polynesia near Tahiti and the Australian cities of Sydney and Perth. They then followed their whirlwind trip by traveling to Stockholm and Ireland for friends’ weddings.
Their bliss hasn’t stopped since then. As sister Kate prepared to give birth to her third heir, Prince Louis, this April royal watchers learned her little sis was expecting as well.
Thrilled to be starting a family of their own, the couple have a bright future. “Pippa and James are a wonderful couple,” one insider tells E! News. Not only are the duo very well-suited, says the source, “They want to do everything they can to ensure they enjoy a long and happy marriage.”
And that starts with celebrating a successful first year. Congratulations!