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Getting married is serious business. It's kinda formal, like funerals or playing stud poker.

—from the 1940 film They Knew What They Wanted

And so it was on July 23, as Prince Andrew, the newly titled Duke of York and fourth in line to the British throne, married irrepressible commoner Sarah Margaret Ferguson, exchanging vows in a solemn 45-minute ceremony in majestic Westminster Abbey. So serious, in fact, that Prince Andrew, when asked earlier what he most looked forward to, sighed, "the 24th."

The patented British pomp and pageantry delighted the thousands of exuberant well-wishers, who lined 10-deep along the half-mile processional route and cheered wildly when the couple's vows were heard over loudspeakers outside the Abbey. "The French would not do it so grand. It was beautiful and magnificent," said a French student. "It was better than Dynasty," raved an Italian observer. Summed up a middle-aged woman, also an out-of-towner: "We don't have this in Germany."

The 26-year-old bride, looking perfectly pre-Raphaelite in a Victorian-style ivory silk dress that was embroidered with bees and thistles from her new coat of arms, appeared relaxed—until she arrived at the Abbey. Andrew, 26, dashingly attired in the ceremonial garb of a navy lieutenant (which he is) smiled gallantly before and after. In the end, the nuptials went flawlessly but for one minor slipup by the bride: While saying her vows she repeated the word "Christian," one of Andrew's four names.

Four-year-old page Prince William, whose precociousness led to worries that he might upstage the bride and groom, proved himself to be a royal trooper. Though he rushed up the aisle practically towing his cousin Laura Fellowes, 6, wily William's greatest sin was merely excessive fidgeting. At one point, while the other young attendants sat poised and proper, William made funny faces, twirled and chewed on the cord of his Panama sailor's hat, and later tried to pull his mini-sword out of its case.

The parents of both the bride and groom, meanwhile, seemed particularly tickled. Maj. Ronald Ferguson, who has called his new son-in-law "a real man," noted before the wedding: "I don't think any father is satisfied with a daughter's boyfriends—but now I am." As for Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth, surely they must have been pleased that they no longer have to worry about their son's well-publicized love life. For his parents it was, at last, an Andrew affair to be proud of.

Much had been made of Fergie's lively (by royal standards) past and his randy (by anyone's standards) past, and, indeed, lost loves aplenty were invited to sit in the cushioned chairs. Among the expected 1,800 guests were Sarah's former lovers, businessman Kim Smith-Bingham and car-racing consultant Paddy McNally, with whom she lived off and on for three years, as well as Andy's ex-flames Finola Hughes and Di look-alike Carolyn Herbert. Luminaries included Nancy Reagan, Estée Lauder, Prince Albert of Monaco, Elton John (in pink glasses and a ponytail) and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Soft-porn starlet Koo Stark, the grand passion of Andrew's life until Fergie, was rumored to have set up camp on foreign shores, having declined offers to cover the nuptials for several newspapers. Absent, too, was sexpot Vicki Hodge, whose memoirs of a lusty Caribbean romp with Andrew caused an uproar in 1983. Hodge's gift to Fergie of a $3,750 pin failed to earn her an invitation. (But will it earn her a thank-you note?)

Notable for his presence was Hector Barrantes, the polo-playing Argentinian who stole the heart of Fergie's mother, Susan, in 1973. The Queen had dropped hints to Barrantes that, given the strained relations between the two countries over the Falklands war, he might make everybody happy by calling in sick. He rejected such pleas, however, and was respectably seated smack in the middle of the second row, not far from Mrs. Reagan and almost directly behind his wife. It was just as well the proud stepfather was not out front: Days earlier he had his nose bloodied by a polo ball during a match in Greenwich, Conn., something Fergie's father had probably wanted to do for years.

But this was after all a sumptuous spectacle celebrating the future, not dwelling on past rivalries. Following the ceremony, which was seen by an estimated 300 million TV viewers in 39 countries (less than half the number who watched Charles and Di five years ago), the much-relaxed, grinning duo was cheered once again as they rode back to Buckingham Palace in an open 1902 State Landau. There, the delighted Queen hosted a wedding breakfast for 100 or so guests, including Mrs. Reagan. (The First Lady was without her husband—no heads of state were invited—but did not lack for company. The Washington Post reported that she was attended by 20 Secret Service agents and nine staffers, including a medic, hairdresser and personal maid.) The lavish midday spread included Scotch lamb, followed by English strawberries and cream and a 240-pound, five-tier frosted fruitcake created by royal navy chefs.

That the festivities went smoothly was no accident. The security of the affair had been planned meticulously. The Palace refused to release a guest list. Seating assignments were guarded until the last moment. The Abbey was closed to all outsiders as of July 18. Some 2,000 police lined the processional route; marksmen secured nearly every rooftop, and armed officers, disguised as footmen, rode on all nine carriages carrying the bridal party. For the first time in memory, officers of the SAS, an elite antiterrorist force, were called in to assist. And those rough-and-ready royals Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Prince Andrew, his bride and Prince Edward had already been briefed by the SAS on how to act should they be kidnapped.

If members of the family were jittery, they weren't showing it. The dizzying days leading up to the nuptials were marked, for the most part, by reveling and pranks. At the final wedding rehearsal, Prince Edward, Andrew's younger brother and supporter (best man), who had flown in from New Zealand for the ceremony, arrived with his arm in a sling as a gag. The young Prince—considered the family egghead and now its lone catch—claimed to have been "bitten by a kiwi," British slang for a New Zealander. "There was so much laughing and carrying on that it was difficult to hear a word," said one witness. At a prior rehearsal, a thoroughly relaxed Fergie kicked off her shoes and slipped behind an Abbey piano for an impromptu recital.

Parties were in full throttle as well. Two days before the wedding, Major Ferguson, Prince Charles's polo manager, hosted a bash at Smith's Lawn in Windsor Great Park for 700 guests, including Michael Caine, ex-race car champion Jackie Stewart, Elton John (Andy's favorite singer), Anthony (Brideshead Revisited) Andrews and actress Katie Rabett (one of Andy's former girlfriends).

Then there was the Prince's bachelor party, which was to have been his spicy swan song to swinging singlehood. About 20 invitees, including elder brother Charles, Elton John and David Frost, arrived for dinner at the Kensington home of Peter Dineley. Much to the dismay of the celebrants, however, photographers had tracked them down. The police held the news-hounds at bay while dinner and champagne were served on a garden terrace. As it turned out, the party proved more stagnant than stag, and by 12:45 a.m. the affair broke up.

Meanwhile, at Kensington Palace high jinks were being concocted by Fergie, her playmate-accomplice Princess Diana and comedienne-pal Pamela Stephenson. The trio was planning to crash Andrew's bachelor bash—dressed as policewomen—until the stag party location was discovered by reporters. All dressed up in wigs with no place to go, the women instead took a detour to Annabel's, a tony London night spot. There they perched on bar stools, drinking and giggling. One man, unaware of whom he was hitting on, offered to buy them a round. "Sorry, we never drink while on duty," Diana declared. After 20 minutes, however, astonished patrons caught on to the ruse and the pranksters fled. The Daily Mirror gleefully labeled them "Fergie and Lacey." Later Diana talked about the escapade with some police wives at a garden party given by the Queen. "The wig was hot and uncomfortable and the black shoes were two sizes too small," she said. "It did cause a stir—sometimes you just have to laugh."

Give credit to Fergie as well for being able to shrug off most of the scrutiny of the last few months. What did hurt was Fleet Street's obsession with her size-16 figure (that's a 14 in the U.S.), described as "Rubenesque," and with her "frumpy" taste in clothes. (Her battle of the bulge has been hindered by her attempts to give up her pack-a-day smoking habit, in keeping with the royal aversion to cigarettes.) Such carping "used to bother me," Fergie has allowed. "But now I do not read the criticisms." She brushes away questions about her weight. "I do not diet. I do not have a problem," she has said, adding, "I dress for Andrew and only Andrew." Lindka Cierach, who made Fergie's wedding dress, leaps to her client's defense: "She isn't skinny, but then the majority of my clients aren't skinny. Sarah is just a very attractive, natural girl."

Some compare Fergie, unfairly, with Diana, saying the new bride will never be as svelte or high gloss. That's fine with Fergie, who has said, "I don't want to be a Diana clone."

To prove it, she put her personal stamp on the wedding with some surprising choices: To make her dress which had a 17½-foot train with an embroidered letter "A") as well as the dresses for her young bridal attendants, she called on little-known Fulham designer Cierach, 33, and gave her carte blanche. To create her bridal bouquet(a mix of gardenias, lilies, lilies of the valley, veronica and myrtle), she snubbed established London shops in favor of Jane Packer, 26, a florist for merely four years. Fergie and Andrew surprisingly declined to use regular family photographers Lord Snowdon and the Queen's cousin Lord Lichfield, who shot Di's wedding, in favor of Scotsman Albert Watson, well known for his fashion photography and a frequent contributor to Vogue.

Fergie asserted herself in other ways, not all of them to everyone's liking. Unlike Di, Fergie chose the traditional 1662 marriage service in which she twice promised to "obey" her husband. For that she drew boos from feminists. "If she wants to give a lead to modern women in Britain, this is not the way to do it," declared Labour MP Clare Short. Countered Fergie: "I was thinking of obeying in moral terms, as opposed to physically obeying...I am not the sort of woman who is going to meekly trot along behind her husband."

Fergie's independent ways have provoked speculation that a feud is brewing between her and Diana, who is said to be fed up with Fergiemania. Balderdash. In a BBC interview, Fergie explained she seeks out Diana's advice on practically everything because "there's nobody better than the Princess of Wales."

The Duke and Duchess of York, however, have said no thanks to an available apartment in Kensington Palace next to Charles and Diana's. Instead, they will move into Andrew's second-floor digs in Buckingham Palace, where Fergie has been living—in a separate suite once occupied by Di—since the engagement. There, photos of Sarah and Di dot the walls, while pictures of Koo Stark are hidden away in private albums. Come September, Andrew rejoins the navy for an officer's course in Yeovilton in southwest England, and Fergie will be alone weekdays, which she won't mind. "I think it's a healthy relationship," Sarah has said. "I can do my own thing too."

For starters, she'll set up house with the estimated $1.5 million worth of gifts that have been pouring in. The lovebirds are like big winners on Wheel of Fortune: So far they are said to have received six traditional sofas and 12 armchairs, 308 vases, 16 Persian rugs, 18 breakfast-serving sets, 600 dinner plates in eight patterns, 38 silver and glass salt and pepper shakers, and more than 1,000 crystal wine and water glasses. (What? No toaster oven?) The grandest prize of all may have gone to the bride's father. He was told by the Queen that the Crown would pick up the tab for the wedding—one report put the cost at $350,000—because it was an affair of state.

The fact is this is one couple who doesn't have to worry about whether to refinance the homestead. With his new title (the last Duke and Duchess of York were Andrew's maternal grandparents), Andrew alone will now earn more than $100,000 yearly as an officer and a royal. Sarah also hopes to keep her $24,000-a-year job as an editor with a graphic arts firm, but that will not be easy. The Queen is said to be against the idea because of security worries, and Fergie will be given her share of royal road-show chores.

As for Andrew's upward mobility in the navy, that may have been doomed with his "I will." Though in the middle of a 12-year commission, friends say that Fergie may force him to cut short his duty. As one friend speculates, "She will not put up with being left behind at home while he gallivants around without her."

So much for those vows of obedience. In any case, the British have embraced their newest Princess, who sealed the marriage with a passionate kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Then it was off to the Azores for a honeymoon. Her countrymen, meanwhile, are hoping that after the Queen's staff smoothes out her random rough spots, Fergie will retain enough of her bounce to remain the rowdy and refreshing redhead who captured a Prince's elusive heart.

  • Contributors:
  • Dianna Waggoner.