Royal couple enters married life on world stage

Updated at 5:29 p.m. ET

LONDON - With a smile that lit up TV screens around the world, Kate Middleton married Prince William in a union that promised to revitalize the British monarchy. A million people roared their approval as the royal couple then paraded through London in an open carriage.

Even knowing that an immense television audience was tuning in to watch, the couple managed, at times, to appear in their own private world Friday, both at Westminster Abbey and on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

William whispered to Kate, who radiated contentment and joy, as they pledged their lives to one another at the church with the simple words "I will."

After a ceremonial tour around London, they then delivered two — not one — sweet, slightly self-conscious kisses on the balcony, with William blushing deeply at the highly anticipated event. Within moments, a flyby of vintage and modern Royal Air Force planes roared overhead.

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For much of the world, the wedding was a dramatic introduction to Middleton's beguiling star power. Despite the pressure, the 29-year-old carried the day with an easy smile, youthful exuberance and a sense of decorum that matched the event.

After the ceremony, Middleton curtsied easily before Queen Elizabeth II, comfortably sharing the stage with the woman who has reigned since 1952.

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The sighting of Middleton's wedding gown — the biggest secret of the day — prompted swoons of admiration as she stepped out of a Rolls-Royce with her father at the abbey. Against all odds, the sun broke through steely gray skies at precisely that moment.

Her ivory-and-white satin dress — with its plunging neckline, long lacy shoulders and sleeves and a train over 2-yards long — was designed by Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen. Middleton's hair was half-up, half-down, decorated with dramatic veil and a tiara on loan from the queen. Her dramatic diamond earrings were a gift from her parents.

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"It's a dream," said Jennie Bond, a leading British monarchy expert and royal wedding consultant for The Associated Press. "It is a beautiful laced soft look, which is extremely elegant. She looked stunning."

The structured dress, which emphasized Middleton's slim figure, reminded some of the wedding dress worn by a princess from another era, the late Grace Kelly of Monaco.

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For the evening, she changed into a second Sarah Burton creation, a strapless white satin evening gown with a circle skirt and diamante embroidered detail round the waist.

"I am glad the weather held off. We had a great day," Middleton told a photographer, making her first public comments as she and William arrived at Buckingham Palace for an evening reception.

William, second-in-line to the throne after his father, Prince Charles, wore the scarlet tunic of an Irish Guards officer, reinforcing his new image as a dedicated military man.

Maid of honor Pippa Middleton wore a simple column dress and naturally styled hair, while best man Prince Harry was dressed in formal military attire. The flower girls, in cream dresses with full skirts and flowers in their hair, walked down hand-in-hand with Pippa.

The couple's first royal wedding present came from the queen: the royal titles of the duke and duchess of Cambridge.

A flood of well-wishers — as well as some protesters — packed central London, especially around Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and other landmarks beginning at dawn, despite cool temperatures and the threat of rain. Cheers erupted as huge television screens began broadcasting at Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park.

"Will, it's not too late!" read one sign held aloft by an admirer dressed as a bride.

The Metropolitan Police estimated the crowd peaked at one million along the route, with around 500,000 people in and around The Mall trying to catch a glimpse of the couple's kiss.

The iconic abbey was airy and calm, the long aisle leading to the altar lined with maple and hornbeam trees as light streamed in through the high arched windows. The soft green trees framed the couple against the red carpet as they walked down the aisle, having recited their vows without stumbling before Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.

The royal couple smiled broadly as they were driven to Buckingham Palace in the open-topped State Landau, a carriage built in 1902, escorted by four white horses and followed by scarlet-clad troops on horseback.

Later in the afternoon, William and Middleton delighted the crowds outside of Buckingham Palace by going out for a spin in a dark-blue Aston Martin Volante convertible festooned with ribbons, bows and balloons and bearing the ceremonial license plate "JU5T WED."

(Watch at left)

It drove down London's Mall for a couple minutes before pulling in to Clarence House, the home of Prince Charles, drawing cheers from the lingering crowd.

The Aston Martin has been owned since 1969 by Prince Charles, an ardent environmentalist who had the car converted so that it could run on bioethanol made from the waste matter generated by English wine production.

It was accompanied by a search-and-rescue helicopter in a special flyby. William is a serving search-and-rescue pilot on the island of Anglesey in Wales.