Remember When Pippa Middleton Had a Wedding Fit for a Princess?

Pippa Middleton may not have married a prince. But between the handmade bespoke gown, the aerial performances and the seemingly endless bottles of champagne, her 2017 wedding was certainly regal.

By Sarah Grossbart May 20, 2021 7:00 AMTags
Watch: Pippa Middleton & James Matthews Leave Their Wedding in Style

Truthfully, a bit of a bridal freakout may have been in order. 

Because not only did Pippa Middleton have millions of eyes trained on her equal parts quaint and splashy countryside nuptials, all ready to pick apart her choice of florals and headpiece, there were any number of well-heeled attendees that could potentially upstage her. 

The guest list for her vows to financier James Matthews contained the expected socialites and actors, plus his reality star brother, Spencer Matthews of Made in Chelsea fame, and a handful of real-life princesses. But in the days leading up to her May 20, 2017, nuptials, it wasn't Pippa's sister Kate Middleton causing the most concern, the future queen begging off of matron of honor duties lest she pull too much focus from her 20-months-younger sis. 

Pippa had reportedly been somewhat reluctant to include Prince Harry's presumed plus-one, the royal's months-long romance with then-actress Meghan Markle having become the story of the moment. And on the morning of her vows, those worries seemed justified given the Sun's classy front-page story comparing pictures of Pippa and Meghan's backside declaring the writer's big day the "Wedding of the rears."

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Pippa Middleton & James Matthews' Wedding

But by the time her father, Michael Middleton, steered their open-top vintage ride up to St. Mark's Church in the English county of Berkshire, Pippa appeared to have put those anxieties behind her.

Her outfit of choice—a bespoke Giles Deacon gown, featuring yards of hand-appliquéd cotton lace, cathedral-length Stephen Jones veil, handmade Maidenhair fern tiara, and Manolo Blahnik pumps—was a significant upgrade from the tennis whites a young, dress-averse Pippa had vowed to wear to her future wedding. And it came with the requisite lady-in-waiting, Kate happily returning the favor from her wedding day six years prior by adjusting Pippa's sizable train. 

And, for what it's worth, the only ones pulling focus were then 3-year-old Prince George and his 2-year-old sister Princess Charlotte, Kate dutifully attempting to wrangle her adorable scene-stealers and the other six bridesmaids and pageboys

Justin Tallis - WPA Pool/Getty Images

With Meghan tucked away at her and Harry's Airbnb, having decided last-minute she didn't want to risk causing a stir with her arrival, Pippa got her princess moment. All eyes were trained on her as she made her way past the wooden pews she once sat in as a child and toward the man of her dreams waiting in front of the stained glass windows. 

A 45-minute ceremony, led by Reverend Nick Wynne-Jones, featured readings from Kate, James' brother Spencer, who chose a passage from Paulo Coelho's novel The Alchemist, and the groom himself, who recited Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Love is an Adventure." But no words were quite as important as those that officially joined the author and columnist with the guy she first met at his parents' St Barts resort in 2006. 

"It was a beautiful, traditional ceremony," a guest told E! News at the time. "Pippa and James both looked a little nervous but they were smiling at each other the entire ceremony." When the big moment came, the duo, who took a few stabs at dating before agreeing on forever in July 2016, "read their vows with absolute sincerity," continued the guest, "and, as expected, Pippa read more modern vows, not promising to 'obey' her husband."

Once pronounced husband and wife, "there was an immense sense of joy in the air," shared the guest, the birds outside even chirping their approval as if lifted straight from Cinderella's screen. 

And that was just the start of the right-out-of-a-fairytale day. 

As the church bells pealed, guests were ushered across politician Richard Benyon's sprawling property for a champagne reception. On the grounds of the private estate (a set location for Netflix's hit royal series The Crown) celebrants sipped Ruinart Blanc de Blanc Champagne and reportedly snacked on some 1,000 canapés, including asparagus spears with Hollandaise sauce, Serrano ham, and carpaccio, as the newlyweds' dads Michael and David Matthews offered brief toasts. 

And while rumblings of rain had ruined Pippa's original plan to make the brief journey from the estate's Englefield House, where she began prepping at 5 a.m., in a horse-drawn carriage, the sun came out for her picture-perfect exit. As the new spouses hopped into their vintage green Jaguar E-type convertible, onlookers called out their best wishes. 

Neil Mockford/GC Images

Their guests also rode in style. While Pippa wasn't marrying a potential future king (though her man will one day be named Laird of Glen Affric, a distinction currently held by his father, making her his future lady) the security at their nuptials was still royally serious.

Guests were asked to make the seven-mile drive to Bucklebury Village Hall, where they had to pass a series of hurdles before they could gain entry to the fleet of 50 Land Rovers. Each of the fascinator-adorned 300-plus reception attendees had to have photo identification out (though we're going to guess the likes of Kate, husband Prince William and tennis ace Roger Federer were given a pass) and confirm their password. To ensure they couldn't be shared with anyone, the phrases were unique to every guest, an insider told E! News, and chosen three months earlier.  

It wasn't all stressful, though. Before they were put through the ringer, male attendees were offered fresh white shirts should they care to change. 

Justin Tallis/Pool Photo via AP

This being, after all, the type of celebration where you'd like to look your best. 

Though the reception took place at Michael and Carole Middleton's 18-acre Bucklebury estate, this was no backyard affair. Workers had constructed a sizable glass palace on the grounds, that took three days to erect and came with a reported price tag of $130,000. 

Floral company Lavender Green then covered the marquee in roughly $20,000 worth of in-season blooms (some reportedly flown in from Holland), encasing both the pillars and the ceiling. "There will be floral arrangements from top to bottom," a local told E! News pre-party. "It's going to be magnificent."

And that wasn't even the most impressive part. Nor were the luxury bathrooms (dubbed "throne rooms"), constructed for the occasion with oak fittings, porcelain basins, spot lights and full-length mirrors. Though they, and the eco-friendly, vacuum-flush toilets, were a nice touch. 

At some point, following the first dance, the cutting of the $3,000 Domino Purchas Contemporary Cakes confection and the five-course trout and lamb menu (all washed down with an estimated 150 bottles of Dom Ruinart 2002 champagne and 750 bottles of Nyetimber 2010 Blanc de Noir Millington wine) attendees took in an aerial performance by fighter plane Supermarine Spitfire. 

JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

And should barrel rolls and other aerobatic stunts not be to your liking, the couple arranged to have an over-the-top light show, live band and multiple table tennis stations to keep guests enthused (including Meghan, who attended the reception in black in the hopes of staying relatively under the radar). 

But what may have been the night's most memorable moment came just after 11:30 p.m. when the groom's best man Justin Johannsen gave a 10-minute toast. (James' brother Spencer gave his own speech that incited a Beatles sing-a-long.) Justin, a longtime friend of the groom, led by instructing revelers to "Hear all, eat all, drink all and let your hair down," before launching into some lewd jokes. 

Discussing "the love of James' life," he described someone he deemed "beautiful," "energetic," "loyal" and "soft-mouthed," adding that she "comes on command" and has a "great behind." Then he got to the punchline: "But that's enough about James' spaniel," he said. "I'm here to talk about James' love, Pippa."

E! News

Having dispensed with the wisecracks (Justin also poked fun at Pippa's workouts and James' brother saying he assumed the couple was honeymooning in Wales, "as I heard Spencer saying that after the wedding, he was going to Bangor for two weeks") Justin got serious. 

"I think I can say for everyone, that you look stunning. The image of perfection," he told Pippa. "I know that James first fell in love with your gutsiness and your spirit and then succumbed to your beauty. You make James extremely happy. You have a voir la joie that warms the hearts of everyone who knows you, and you have won the heart of the best man that I know." 

Really all that was left to do after that was to live happily ever after

And, you know, spend a month traipsing around French Polynesia, Australia, Sweden and Ireland on honeymoon. Girlfriend did marry a billionaire, after all. 

Plus as his best man noted, James fell hard for Pippa's adventurous spirit, something that has linked them from their days of running across the Sahara Desert and climbing the Matterhorn to now parenting 2-year-old son Arthur and 2-month-old daughter Grace

"I think James and I have the same spirit," Pippa told the Daily Mail in 2016, opining on the success of their relationship. "We are both competitive. We have had many adventures together. We have a lot in common and that helps."

A wedding fit for a queen didn't hurt either.