14 APRIL 2003
Belgium's royal family has welcomed a new princess into the fold, with the marriage of 39-year-old Prince Laurent to British-born land surveyor Claire Coombs in Brussels on Saturday.
As the wedding procession left the royal palace that morning, royal watchers got their first look at the stunning dress Claire had chosen for her special day – a white lace and silk off-the-shoulder gown by Belgian designer Edouard Vermeulen, who created the wedding dress of Crown Prince Philippe's wife, Princess Mathilde. An antique tiara, given to the bride by her future in-laws, held in place a vintage veil of Brussels lace which was worn by three generations of royal brides, beginning with Queen Paola's grandmother Laura Mosselman du Chenoy in 1877.
After a morning ceremony at the town hall – during which the couple were accompanied by Claire's mum and dad, Nicholas and Nicole Coombs, and Prince Laurent's parents, King Albert II and Queen Paola – the groom and his radiant bride stepped out onto the medieval building's balcony overlooking the historic Grande Place, to share their first public kiss as husband and wife. Then, thousands crowded the streets of the capital city to watch the royal wedding procession wind its way from the hall to its next stop – the Roman Catholic proceedings at Saint Michael and Gudula Cathedral.
Fifteen hundred guests gathered at the Cathedral, which had been filled with thousands of white azaleas, camellias, rhododendrons and hydrangeas in honour of the happy couple. And among the royal guests garnering cheers from the crowds outside upon their arrival were Sweden's striking princesses, Crown Princess Victoria and her sister Princess Madeleine; Luxembourg's Grand Duke Henri and his wife, Grand Duchess Maria Teresa; Princess Margriet and Pieter van Vollenhoven of the Netherlands; and Prince Nikolaus of Liechtenstein.
Blessed as husband and wife, Prince Laurent, dressed in full Naval Commander regalia, and his princess made their way back down the 110-metre red carpet to greet well-wishers waiting outside. The couple emerged to blue skies and sunshine as the cathedral's bells tolled and a 51-gun salute rang out.
Five hundred guests then attended a gala lunch banquet at the royal palace to complete the celebrations, wishing the newlyweds happiness and the best of luck as they begin their new life together.