2 FEBRUARY 2002
She had practised all week in the palace with a curtain, so that on the big day, Maxima Zorreguieta would not put a foot wrong. “I keep dreaming that I’m going to step on my train and get all tangled up,” the vivacious Argentine had said in the run-up to her nuptials to the Netherlands’ Crown Prince, Willem-Alexander. And, as the newly-weds left the royal palace in Amsterdam’s Dam Square following the civil ceremony, Maxima did her adopted nation proud.

As she stooped to enter the shiny black limousine, her husband of 30 minutes by her side, the olive-skinned beauty with the dancing eyes, aided by her bridesmaids, gathered up her five-metre silk and lace train and laid it neatly on her lap. Then it was off to the historic Nieuwe Kerk for the religious service.

While the bride and groom were making their way through the streets of Amsterdam, the church had been filling up with its illustrious guests. Every royal dynasty in Europe was represented: the Prince of Wales arrived with his younger brother and sister-in-law, the Earl and Countess of Wessex, before accompanying Queen Noor, the widow of the late King Hussein of Jordan, to her seat.

The Scandinavian monarchies were represented by King Carl XVI Gustav and Queen Silvia accompanying their three children. Norway’s Crown Prince Haakon and his wife Mette-Marit, were surely remembering their own happy day six months ago. The next royal couple to marry, Princess Martha-Louise and her fiancé Ari Behn will have been watching the proceedings with interest.

Earlier, a cheer had gone up as Nelson Mandela arrived at the imposing church, his wife Graça Michel in a yellow outfit the colour of sunlight. Seconds after, recent Nobel Peace Prize winner Kofi Annan joined the former president of South Africa for the religious celebration. The Begum Inaara, wife of the Aga Khan, dressed in pale gold, leant over and spoke to Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, in traditional Moslem dress of fez and djellebah.

Other people present included the Dutch Prime Minister, Wim Kok and the country’s MPs. King Albert II of Belgium, Queen Paola, Crown Prince Philippe and wife Mathilde had all made the short trip from Belgium, as had Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg. Prince Albert of Monaco had come to see his Low Countries counterpart tie the knot, as had Crown Prince Felipe of Spain, who was accompanied by his mother, Queen Sofia.

At 11.30am, the huge doors of the protestant church swung open to reveal the bride and groom to the illustrious congregation. Preceded by six tiny attendants and an official bearing the two gold rings on a silver platter, the Crown Prince and Princess of Orange made their stately progress up the red carpet towards the altar.

After a welcoming word from Carel A ter Linden, the emeritus minister of the Kloosterkerkgemeente church community in The Hague, the ceremony began. Switching from Dutch to English, the clergyman spoke of Maxima’s parents and how “without them, she would not have become the person that she is.” Then, after urging the congregation to enthusiastically sing the hymns chosen by the couple, Bernard Winsemius struck up the opening notes of the first hymn on the historic church organ.

Seated on ornate gilded wooden Empire-style tabourets, Maxima’s impressive train stretching far behind her, the couple listened to the lessons, read by Father Braun, the Catholic priest chosen by the bride to attend the wedding, and Prince Johan Friso, Willem-Alexander’s middle brother. Maxima, hearing the first lesson in her native tongue, looked close to tears again as she remembered the family members and friends still in her country of birth that had been unable to make it to Europe to see her say “I do” to the man she loves.

“I am sure you have lived through some difficult moments, dear Maxima,” said the reverend in his address. “And I am sure that at some time you must have thought hard about going to live in a strange country with a new life and you will have suffered. You might even have felt the call of your people, asking you to return to your roots. But you two have decided to unite your lives and, in Maxima’s case, to renounce the freedom which you have worked so hard for.”

“You are not only marrying Willem-Alexander,” continued the clergyman, “you are marrying a country. Willem-Alexander, she will help you with her cheerful character, her kindness and her spontaneous personality. And you will be able to carry out your official duties happily.”

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The bride and groom enter the church preceded by their six tiny attendants

An impressive aerial view of the church interior

Willem-Alexander held hands contentedly throughout the 90-minute ceremony

There was more laughter when the groom had difficulty placing the ring on Maxima's finger

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