The invitations are out, the guest list is leaking, and the wedding of Kate Middleton to Prince William is shaping up as the royal bride is putting her own stamp on the big day. From her arrival at Westminster Abbey to the after parties with her prince, this week's issue of PEOPLE has the early scoop. Ryan Naylor, a mailman in Kate's hometown of Bucklebury, says, "She's the best thing to happen to the royal family in years."
William and Kate caught the world off guard when they announced their betrothal. Now they plan to do it again, on a grander scale, by keeping their guests guessing right up until they file into Westminster Abbey on April 29th. "Prince William and Catherine are keen that some things be a surprise for that day, for their friends and family and those watching around the world," says a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman.
A lucky 1900 royal insiders just received their golden tickets – literally. The 8"-by-6" white cards sent "in the name of Her Majesty the Queen" arrived via first-class mail – her insignia die-stamped in gold then burnished, the beveled edges gilded. Says one well-connected recipient: "It's the thickest invitation I have ever had. There's gold leaf all over it. Proper royal family stuff."
Regarding the guest list, PEOPLE is assured that the Beckhams made the cut (David and Prince William "became close" through World Cup soccer, says a royal source). But reps for rumored guest Kanye West could not be reached. The Obamas will be absent April 29, as will – notably – the groom's aunt Sarah Ferguson. The couple's hip exes will likely attend ("They're still friends with people from that group," says a royal source), as will heads of their favorite charities and royals from around world.
Posh and Becks aside, "it's not a star-studded event," a source tells PEOPLE. In fact, friends seated in the nave of Westminster Abbey may have no view of the altar. And while 50-plus royals and the Middletons will flank the couple, adds a Palace source, "you can't assume they'll use a hierarchical [seating] plan."
Kate will avoid the perils of squeezing into a glass coach (in 1981 there was barely room for Lady Diana and her father, let alone the gown's 25-ft. silk taffeta train) by taking a car to Westminster Abbey. As a Palace source explained, "Catherine opted for a slightly lower-key arrival. She felt she would be arriving as Miss Middleton and leaving as HRH whatever, so that was the thinking behind it." But the public will still get their princess-in-a-carriage moment when William and Kate leave the abbey.
On the big day, Kate will surely have professional help with a tiara-friendly coiffure – most likely courtesy of her hair guru James Pryce of the Richard Ward salon – but she doesn't have a pro putting together the outfits that have made her a fashion icon. And she did her own makeup for November's engagement announcement, with glowing results. Despite rumors of spa days, Kate rarely indulges in manicures or beauty treatments. Says a source, "She does all the rest herself."
More scoop on William and Kate's big day is in the March 7th issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, Feb. 25th.
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