They came, they camped, they stood on each other’s shoulders, climbed lamp posts and jumped into fountains, all to catch a fleeting glimpse of the royal couple.
One million people flocked to central London, bedecked in red white and blue, to be part of an event they described as “something only the British could do” – and that, for the crowd, was worth celebrating.
Many Londoners who had been there for the wedding of Charles and Diana wanted to bring their children, while others from further afield had gone to great lengths to make it on the day.
Decked in hats and wedding party dresses, Mo Gatto, a 57-year-old lawyer had flown over from Mississippi with her friend, Lydia Rayner, 60, who runs medical clinics, because “the fanfare with which the British do a royal wedding is just amazing”.
Looking mournfully at the barriers between herself and St James’s Park, Gatto said: “I’m hoping for a Bloody Mary in the park – what do you think the chances are of that?”
Jackie Vincent, 60, an entrepreneur who began his journey on Tuesday from Mississippi on a standby flight, “lost count” of the number of flights it had taken him to get to London to meet Gatto and Rayner.
“I went from Mississippi to Atlanta, Georgia, to Washington DC, to La Guardia, New York, then a rush-hour cab ride to JFK, then I missed two more flights and finally I got to London at midnight on Thursday morning,” he said, describing the wedding as a “monumental event” that he would not miss.
Jeanette Borman, a 55-year-old teacher from Cape Town, had an arguably more difficult journey to get to Buckingham Palace to see the kiss.
A group of Russian women helped her friend, Rachelle Jordaan, lift her wheelchair over a waist-high barrier after they made the trip up the Mall from Horseguards Parade.
“People think we’re crazy,” Borman said with a smile. “I came here 30 years ago for Charles and Diana … it’s a shame it didn’t work so well. But I think this young couple are in love – don’t you think so?”
Nick Ryan, a company director from Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, who had witnessed the wedding of Charles and Diana had brought his two daughters, Charlotte, aged eight, and Emily, 11, to share what he described as a “very special, memorable day”.
“It’s a great day to be British. The royal family is a historic institution that has endured where others have not,” he said. “We’re an island nation – that’s probably part of it.”
He described William and Harry as a “breath of fresh air” to an institution that “was becoming staid”.
Shortly before 1.25pm, as the Royal couple were about to make their appearance on the balcony, those too impatient to wait for a gap in the crowds around them jumped into the pool at the Queen Victoria memorial to get a better view.
Among them, the water coming up to their thighs, were Fraser Houlder, 35, and his wife Carrie-Ann, also 35, from Wimbledon, with their sons, Jake, three, and Aaron, five. They waved flags and smiled, talking about the day as a “once in a lifetime experience”.
With the kiss over and the flypast done, the crowd remained put, unsure whether the show was over and, in any case, unable to move.
A voice over the loudspeaker confirmed it was, saying: “There will be no more balcony appearances” and asking people to make their way home.
In the distance, the strains of Rule Britannia could be heard. Up the Mall, half way up a lamppost, a man in a suit was playing the piece on a trumpet, while those around him joined him in song, flags waving in time. The party had just begun.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010