FROM THE RADIAM LOOKS ON THE FACES OK VISCOUNT Linley and his bride, Serena Stanhope, no one would have guessed that the groom came from a family beset by discord. Indeed, the fractious clan headed by Linley's aunt, Queen Elizabeth, was on its best behavior for the Oct. 8 nuptials, billed in Britain as the Wedding of the Year. Linley's divorced parents, Princess Margaret and the Earl of Snowdon, made a show of solidarity by arriving together for the 3 p.m. wedding at St. Margaret's Church in Parliament Square, where they were cheered by the 5,000 spectators. The Queen looked relaxed as she stepped out of her Rolls with Prince Edward and the Queen Mum. And chilly Princess Anne welcomed the wrayward Princess of Wales (see page 110) with a sisterly kiss.

On the heels of numerous public relations disasters, the match between Linley and Stanhope, a 23-year-old blue blood with cover-girl looks, seemed a windfall for the monarchy. Never mind that she will have no official duties or that he is just 12th in line to the throne. For the moment, at least, the newly weds are the royal family's hottest property.

Not that the entire clan was on hand for the ceremony. Reportedly eager to avoid his estranged wife, Prince Charles managed to be in Turkey on official business. Prince Philip chose to be at a carriage-driving event in Gladstone, N.J. Prince Andrew, on naval duty in Gibraltar, sent his regrets, and the star-crossed Duchess of York was in absentia.

But for Linley, 31, and the new viscountess, family politics seemed beside the point. Described by The Daily Telegraph as "a stunning display of royalty, money, beauty, show business and daring fashion," their wedding also reflected the fact that the two seemed very much in love. "I have seen a lot of the couple, and I am very impressed," said the Dean of Westminster, who conducted the 45-minute Anglican service. "I think they are going to be very happy."

Six hundred and fifty guests witnessed the ceremony—including Elton John, ex-King Constantine of Greece, the Aga Khan and Jerry Hall (who arrived five minutes after the bride). Linley himself slipped into the church via a side door to await Serena, who had caused a stir by missing the rehearsal the day before. But she was nothing if not punctual for the big event: At 3:02 she emerged from a midnight-blue limousine with her father, Viscount Petersham. Designed by young couturier Bruce Bobbins, her $9,000 dress, with its fitted oyster-satin bodice and full tulle skirt, was reminiscent of Princess Margaret's 1960 wedding gown. Serena's diamond tiara (on loan from her soon-to-be mother-in-law) and her upswept blond hair (arranged by Nicky Clarke for a reported $1,500) gave her the air of a latter-day Princess Grace.

After the nuptials, the beaming newlyweds rode in a 1911 Rolls to the reception at nearby St. James's Palace. Next to her diamond engagement ring, Serena wore a plain gold band from the society jeweler Wartski. Her father, whose fortune is estimated at $300 million, ponied up $40,000 for the champagne-and-canapé reception; another $8,000 went to the Palace for operating costs. (As a spokesman for the frugal Queen put it, "There [was] no charge to the taxpayer.")

That parsimonious theme emerged again at a postreception supper at the Knightsbridge restaurant San Lorenzo. The 150-odd guests, including Elton John, were asked to contribute $50 each toward the tab.

In sum, the wedding celebration was a curious blend of grandeur and pragmatism—the same qualities that have marked Linley's private life. Although he grew up in Kensington Palace, he seems well aware of the dangers of seeming too grand. From the beginning, he was encouraged to make his own way—particularly since he receives no money from the Civil List. These days, he puts in six-day weeks as the owner of a custom furniture business. "My children are not royal," Princess Margaret once said. "They just happen to have an aunt who is the Queen."

And parents who were mismatched bohemians. A café society favorite with a weakness for artistes, Margaret wed photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones after being forced to abandon her plans to marry clashing RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend. When David and sister Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, now 29, were young, their parents threw themselves into jet-selling—partying with Peter Sellers, Rudolf Nureyev and the Beatles. The high life bottomed out in 1976, when the argumentative and unhappy couple separated. Although the Princess and Lord Snowdon's divorce was amicable, the upheavals didn't end; Margaret had already taken up with landscape gardener Roddy Llewellyn, 18 years her junior, and the seven-year dalliance rocked the royal family.

Linley declines to discuss the rough spots. In a recent interview at his Pimlico atelier, he preferred to focus on the happier memories. His father, he said, provided the inspiration for his career: "Tie had a wonderful workshop in which he and I used to make things. We made anything from toys to you name it." Linley later became fascinated with 17th-and 18th-century furniture. After leaving Bedales, an artsy public school, he attended a woodworking school; in 1985, he set up his first shop. Author of Classical Furniture, published recently by Harry Abrams, he will embark on a North American book tour in November, and the new viscountess will be at his side.

Touted by some Palace sympathizers as the poster boy for a "new breed" of Windsors, Linley makes a point of eschewing pomp. Only strangers use his title; he invariably introduces himself as David Linley. His light-filled one-bedroom flat in Fulham is cluttered with comfortable furniture, and local shopkeepers describe him as "natural."

Not that he hasn't found time for fast cars and flashy women. Before settling down with Serena, Linley's penchant for attractive blondes—including socialite Susannah Constantine, 30—and a proclivity for speeding (his license was suspended for five months in 1988) earned him a reputation as a roué.

When it came time to marry, however, he chose a partner whose family was as rooted in tradition as his own. Raised quietly in Ireland with her older brother, William, now 25, Serena is the granddaughter of the Earl of Harrington, who owns a 700-acre estate in County Limerick. Her mother, Virginia Freeman Jackson, was a debutante; her father is heir to the earl and owner of vast chunks of Kensington. Educated at St. Mary's in Wantage, Oxfordshire, Serena (who is expected to inherit a substantial portion of her father's wealth) was a gregarious sort "more interested in lacrosse than Latin," by one account.

Like Linley's, Serena's parents divorced early on. After the 1983 split, her father sailed around the world on his yacht, stopping in Fiji to marry his girlfriend, Anita Countess of Suffolk. Serena, 13, spent much of her time with the couple in Chelsea, while her mother settled in Monaco.

After leaving school, Serena took the blue-blood route—studying art in Italy and, in 1989, joining Sotheby's as a trainee. She met Linley when her father commissioned him to design a walnut dining table for his Chelsea house. By last May, they were engaged. The Queen, who must give the nod to all family matches, was "thrilled," says Linley.

Even before their betrothal, Serena learned that rubbing shoulders with royals can set off Fleet Street. In July 1992, she and Linley spent a weekend with her mother in Monte Carlo, where they were snapped in a steamy embrace at a beach club. The photo made the front pages of the London tabs. Last May, ex-boyfriend Alexander Slack sold a graphic account of her "secret sexy past" to the Sunday tabloid The People. "She met me as a girl," he told the paper, "but left me as a woman."

Slack's tales about lovemaking in the great outdoors, however, didn't seem to tarnish Serena. After the honeymoon, she will move into Linley's modest flat and, perhaps, look for a job. Beyond that, the two will be free to pursue other passions: skiing, motorbiking and travel. Not to mention each other: Martin Burrel, the manager of the London restaurant Deals, which Linley co-owns, says that the viscount is "happier now than he has ever been. And it's all down to Serena."

MICHELLE GREEN
VIRGINIA GINNANE in London

  • Contributors:
  • Virginia Ginnane.