Early celebrations in Edinburgh as guests gather for cocktails on board Britannia

29 JULY 2011

British royalty rubbed shoulders with sporting heroes as friends and family of Zara and Mike came together to celebrate the couple's union on Friday evening.

Around 150 people attended a special cocktail pre-wedding party thrown by the bride and groom on board the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Every effort was made to send them off in style.

Elegant dresses and sharp suits abound as the invitees gathered at the historical vessel, where they were greeted by a traditional piper.

The beaming bride-to-be was radiant in a modern Alice + Olivia silk one-shouldered number, teamed with nude heels, while her future husband looked particularly dapper for the evening's festivities.

 

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Making their first joint appearance since their tour of North America were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – known in Scotland as the Earl and Countess of Strathearn.

It was another sartorial triumph for Kate, who recycled the emerald Diane Von Furstenberg silk shift dress that she wore at a cocktail reception on the day of the couple's arrival in Los Angeles.

Prince Harry – who, like William, enjoys a close bond with his cousin and her rugby-playing groom – was also at the party, clearly excited to be a part of the celebrations. A big cheer went up as he arrived on board.

And further adding to the glitz and glamour of the evening were Princesses Eugenie and Beatrice – no stranger to sporting endeavors following her 2010 London Marathon success – and Autumn Phillips, Zara's sister-in-law who is hotly tipped to be a bridesmaid.

 

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Stars from the world of sport included some of Mike's England team mates and faces from the equestrian arena.

The groom's best man Iain Balshaw was there, sporting a cut eye following a moped accident last week, as was his former teammate – and current manager – Martin Johnson.

The couple's proud parents were of course in attendance having attended the final wedding rehearsal at Canongate Kirk that afternoon.

Princess Anne was escorted by her husband Timothy Laurence, while Zara's father Mark Phillips arrived with his second wife Sandy Pflueger.

They mingled on board with Mike's delighted mother and father Phil and Linda.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh were not in attendance.

The cocktail reception provided a welcome return to the Britannia for the royal guests who have a long-standing history with the yacht.

The Queen described it as "the one place I can truly relax".

And Anne once remarked that standing on its decks and sailing on a sunny, breezy day is "the nearest thing to heaven as anyone will ever get on this earth."

The vessel was the setting for countless royal banquets and state visits. But pomp and pageantry aside, it was much loved by the monarch and her family.

In fact, when Britannia was decommissioned in 1997, the normally reserved sovereign publically shed a tear.

 

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The 412-ft ship has also been an integral part of many love stories. Poignantly, it was the setting for the romantic honeymoon cruise taken by Zara's parents Anne and Mark following their marriage in 1973.

It also served as a romantic retreat for three other royal newlyweds.

The late Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong-Jones journeyed 6,000 miles on a voyage to the Caribbean following their nuptials in 1960.

Twenty years later Prince Charles and Princess Diana flew to Gibraltar to board Britannia for a sixteen-day honeymoon in the Mediterranean after their wedding.

And in 1985, Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York spent five days cruising around the Azores on it after exchanging vows.

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