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True to tradition, the bride kept her 300 guests waiting before she entered Saint Salvator's, a 17th-century Protestant church on the remote Castle Leslie estate in Ireland. As an organ played a bridal march variation of "Heather"—a song written for her by her betrothed—Heather Mills, clad in a gown of ecru lace and attended by her sister Fiona Mills, came down the aisle. In her hands Heather carried a bouquet of 11 red-pink McCartney roses, so named in 1993 in honor of the man who waited for her at the altar: Sir Paul McCartney.

Just a week shy of his 60th birthday, the ex-Beatle had chosen the spot for its personal resonance: His mother, Mary Patricia, was born in County Monaghan. The June 11 ceremony was no less sentimental. English poet and friend Adrian Mitchell read a verse written in the couple's honor; guests sang traditional hymns while a soft rain fell outside. As Mills, 34, recited her vows, she was "overcome by the emotion of the occasion," says McCartney spokesman Geoff Baker. "She briefly faltered and wept tears of joy."

After the pair exited the church to the strains of another McCartney tune, "Wedding March," bells began to peal. When the ringing stopped, so did the rain. And, as if it was just one more extra in the elaborate, roughly $3.2 million extravaganza, two rainbows appeared. It seemed an excellent omen for the couple, whose three-year romance has been buffeted by a tough British press and some difficult moments with McCartney's children.

The guest list was made up mostly of longtime friends and family, with an eclectic bunch of stars sprinkled in, such as former Beatle Ringo, ex-model Twiggy and actor Steve Buscemi, whom McCartney met last October at the Concert for New York City. For many the wedding day began at a hotel near London's Heathrow airport, where guests gathered before boarding two chartered aircraft for the 90-minute flight to Belfast. From there 14 buses and vans chauffeured them the last 60 miles of their journey.

Like the guests, almost everything at the reception that followed was imported. The 14-in. gold-leaf plates and seats draped in white linen with gold bows were trucked in, the wedding cake was reportedly made by Choccywoccydoodah of Brighton, England, and one of the bands to perform was the New Jersey R&B outfit Soul Solution. Mills flew in Amanda Amos of Brighton to fix her hair and Mathew Alexander of London's Michaeljohn salon to do her makeup. The food, however, depended on Irish talent: The castle's head chef, Noel McMeel, prepared the Indian-theme vegetarian meal, while pastry chef Garry McDowell made a strawberry dessert.

Thus the couple got hitched without a hitch—despite the fact that their secret had been blown five days earlier. On June 6 Sir John Leslie—known locally as Sir Jack—the eccentric 86-year-old owner of the 1,000-acre Leslie estate, halted his morning constitutional to answer questions from reporters. "It's next Tuesday, but it's top secret," said the dapper Leslie, who has a fondness for disco dancing and turning up in the castle dining room in his pajamas and robe. "I have to keep it dead secret."

By then word was out that the castle's 14 suites—which lack phones, TVs and clocks—had been block-booked for two weeks, as had two nearby hotels. Despite attempts by the castle staff to distract reporters with talk of a product launch, few were fooled. For more than a week, tractor-trailers delivered lighting and sound equipment, while other crews hauled in portable luxury rest rooms and mobile kitchens. Fresh flowers were delivered in two 40-ft. refrigerated trailers. "We went to Holland to choose all the flowers," says Chris Ram, manager of Bill & Ben Flowers in London. "The type? The list goes on for five pages."

With an accent on peaches, reds and pinks, Michael Dendels of Eric Buter Baugh Flower Design at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles supervised the arrangement of thousands of roses, carnations and tulips into elaborate table centerpieces involving three glass vases set inside one another. Some 100 private security guards, many of them former British soldiers (not to mention veterans of the Madonna-Guy Ritchie wedding in December '00), arrived from Scotland. Intrusions appear to have been prevented—with perhaps one exception. "Paul McCartney has banned his crew from eating meat," says a contractor, who smuggled in hamburgers from a street vendor. "They get sacked if they are caught eating these."

The day before the wedding, a relaxed and somewhat giddy McCartney and his bride-to-be took advantage of a brief moment of sunshine to face their well-wishers outside the castle gate. "As you know through Uncle Jack," said Sir Paul, "it's tomorrow." "But," Mills chimed in, laughing, "it's a secret." The couple exchanged three kisses, and the groom admitted he was "just a bit" nervous.

The fun began that night when the bride's and groom's families met for the first time. Twelve members from each side, as well as four band members from McCartney's recent 19-city Driving USA tour, gathered in the castle's main hall for a vegetarian meal. McCartney's brother and best man Mike, who had stood up for him at his first marriage in 1969, offered a toast. Then the joint clan tried out local dances and listened to McCartney at the piano until 4 a.m. The couple retired to different wings. "They will be staying in separate bedrooms, absolutely," said Geoff Baker.

There was, perhaps, a sigh of relief in those separate chambers that the families had gotten along, given the well-publicized tensions between Mills and McCartney's four children (Heather, 39; Mary, 32; Stella, 30; and James, 24). As their wedding day approached, Fleet Street contended that Stella, a fashion designer, was miffed that Mills had declined to let her design the bridal gown. "What a load of rubbish," a Mills pal claims. "Stella never offered to do the dress." (The final result was designed by Mills and sewn by Eavis and Brown.)

Whatever the frock facts, sources say relations remain frosty. Days before the wedding a Mills friend said, "It's been up and down, and I think it's pretty down at the moment." As Stella passed through Heathrow on June 10, however, she put a better face on it. "It certainly does have my blessing," she told reporters of the wedding. "Absolutely." The legendary Cute Beatle, whose beloved first wife, Linda, died of breast cancer in 1998, says he understands why his children find it difficult to adjust to his changing life. "That I was having any relationship was weird, because they were used to me being with their mom for 30 years, and then I think the big shock for them was her age," he told TV Guide last year. "That she's younger than my daughter Heather."

Some friends predict the kids will make their peace with the match if they haven't already. "After a certain point, what are the kids going to do?" says a fashion insider. "They love their father." McCartney, meanwhile, is upbeat. "More than anything, they want me to be happy," he told Britain's Sunday Telegraph, "and this is what makes me happy."

That much has been evident from the first moment the widower of 13 months set eyes on Mills at a charity dinner in London in May of '99. Two months later Mills called off her engagement to freelance cameraman Chris Terrill just two weeks shy of their wedding. By the fall the May-December romance had begun, with McCartney donating $240,000 to her Heather Mills Health Trust, which recycles artificial limbs for land-mine victims. Mills herself lost the lower half of her left leg when she was mowed down by a police motorcycle in August '93. Her high energy and refusal to let the accident diminish her joie de vivre—she posed nude for the Disabilities Trust 2000 calendar—made an impression on the grieving McCartney, who, in March '00, announced, "We are an item."

The couple have been virtually inseparable ever since, although they did part ways on June 1. That night McCartney staged a stag party for 15 guests, including son James, at the members-only Home House, a club in central London where two comedians performed and Paul played guitar. Seventy miles away Mills hosted a wedding shower at her two-story white stone house on the southern coast of England. "It was a pampering day," says Mills's friend Pamela Cockerill. Lazing along Mills's private stretch of Hove beach, the 20 partygoers soaked up the rays and washed down barbecue. "She was completely happy," says Cockerill.

At no time did the talk turn to the recent tabloid tattle that had the engaged couple arguing on May 18 in Adventura, Fla., with McCartney reportedly yelling, "I don't want to marry you! The wedding's off"—then hurling Mills's $21,000 diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring from their hotel balcony. Yes, the ring—somehow—flew off the balcony, says the hotel's director of public relations Carmen Ackerman, but "there was no brawl."

Perhaps—but there were fireworks on the couple's wedding night. At 1:20 a.m. the couple boarded a vintage cabin cruiser and motored to the middle of one of the estate's three lakes. For seven minutes spectacular fireworks lit the sky. About 20 minutes later, under cover of dark, the newlyweds climbed into a helicopter and choppered off to their honeymoon—one secret they took with them into their new life together.

Jill Smolowe
Pete Norman and Ellen Tumposky in County Monaghan and Nina Biddle, Kristi Patton and Cathy Nolan in Paris

  • Contributors:
  • Pete Norman,
  • Ellen Tumposky,
  • Nina Biddle,
  • Kristi Patton,
  • Cathy Nolan.