Wedding watchers gather early in Manhattan

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess

Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, left, smile as they leave Westminster Abbey. (April 29, 2011) (Credit: AP)

Fans intent on watching the royal wedding live woke up long before dawn Friday, donning morning jackets and fancy hats for a packed viewing party at the Paley Center for Media in Manhattan.

Botho Neuss, 22, said he skipped sleep altogether, staying up the whole night in anticipation of the lavish union of Prince William and Catherine Middleton.

"This is the happening of the year, maybe of the next 15 years," said Neuss, who is visiting New York from Cologne, Germany. "I couldn't miss it."

About 300 patrons, most in formal wear and some in bridesmaid dresses, sipped tea, ate biscuits and posed on a red carpet with life-size cardboard cutouts of Middleton, William and Prince Harry before the wedding ceremony.

Then, in spacious screening rooms, they waved British flags and cheered loudly during the processional arrival of Queen Elizabeth II and later, the arrival of a glowing Middleton, who wore a modern but modest gown by Alexander McQueen successor Sarah Burton.

"I love it. It's beautiful. With all the anticipation, who would have thought Kate would pull it off?" said Anna Piore, 36, of Brooklyn.

Piore woke at 4 a.m. to catch the wedding, which played out hours ahead in London's Westminster Abbey. She had pinned her great-grandmother's sapphire-and-pearl brooch on her hat. "I never thought I'd have occasion to wear it," Piore said.

Her friend Megan Meagher joked that she woke up "late" at 5 a.m. The 33-year-old wore a tiny red hat with a black veil that she found at a thrift shop and black gloves.

The audience, watching with rapt attention, cooed at tender moments between the royal couple. Around 7:30 a.m., they toasted the newlyweds with Champagne, using their new titles, "Long live the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge."

Danielle Black, 26, a London expat living in Manhattan, said Friday's wedding isn't something she could watch at home alone.

"A lot of people still talk about the wedding of Charles and Diana, how it was a big thing," said Black, who is too young to have witnessed that ceremony herself. "I wanted to watch this wedding -- another big thing -- here with my friends."

Susan Heaney, who met Princess Diana at charity events in the 1990s, said William's late mother would have been proud of the wedding Friday.

"She told me how hard it was to travel and leave her children. I feel like she was a mother before anything else," said Heaney, 51, of Manhattan. "She would have loved this and she would have loved Catherine."

Dewey Wigod rose at 3 a.m. and dressed in a tuxedo that included a top hat, white tie and tails. The 48-year-old Manhattan filmmaker said he met Diana when he edited documentaries on her charity work.

Asked if the pageantry and early start to the day were worth it, Wigod didn't hesitate. "Definitely," he said.

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