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WINDSOR, England — Around 100,000 well-wishers crammed their way into the narrow streets of this town that is usually home to just 31,000 people as they prepared to welcome Meghan Markle to Britain's royal family Saturday.
Fascinators — the headpieces often worn by women to weddings in the U.K. — perched on well-coiffed heads, while red, blue and white British flags were draped around shoulders and children wore blow-up crowns.
Four miles of bunting decorated the town and some royal fans staked out spaces along the processional route days before the ceremony at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle to ensure a good view.
By 6:30 a.m. (1:30 a.m. ET), the sidewalk nearest to castle was becoming unpassable as good-natured crowds tried to get as close as possible to the wedding venue.
Americans were among the crowd of well-wishers early Saturday morning, many of whom said they had come to witness a part of history.
"I want to be front and center," she said.
While Shah said she has long been a fan of the royals — "I’ve read all the books, watched every movie" — Markle was a particular draw.
"I’m going to wave my American flag supporting her — that’s the first thing,” Shah said after a chilly night wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag. “I think I’ll probably be crying to be quite honest."
Shah said that Markle "represents change," adding: "I like that she’s the new Britain: She’s American, she’s an actress, she’s a minority."
The Starlin family said they flew in from Wichita, Kansas, late Friday in order to view the royal wedding.
After landing at Heathrow Airport at 11 p.m. (6 p.m. ET), the family of four dropped their bags off at an AirBnB and headed to the castle.
“We love history and it's kind of being a part of history to be here,” said Adrienne Starlin, 38. “The kids learn about it at school and it’s magical.”
As Saturday turned warm and sunny, the crowds outside Windsor Castle buzzed with a jovial festival-like spirit.
Balraj Kooner, 40, and his son Jayden, 10, from Wolverhampton, stopped to take a picture in front of a high school band. Kooner's older son Darram, 15, watched the festivities from inside the castle as one of the members of the public viewing.
Darram, who brought his mother along as his plus one, was invited to be a member of the public view because of his activism. Despite his young age, he has already spoken in front of the British Parliament about racism.
When asked whether his son or his wife was more excited to witness the royal wedding, Balraj Kooner replied, "My wife. Definitely."
Screens were set up along the Long Walk leading up to Windsor Castle and in the Alexandra Gardens park so well-wishers could watch the ceremony together.
The newlyweds took a carriage ride through town to greet the public. Markle and Harry — now known officially as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — rode in an open-topped Ascot Landau carriage pulled by four horses.
Police were out in full force starting days before the festivities. Around 3,000 officers were expected in Windsor on Saturday along with 250 ceremonial members of the armed forces. Many streets were closed to vehicles and barriers installed.
To help accommodate the large numbers of visitors, bus and rail companies added extra train and bus services.
Since her engagement to Harry, Markle has appeared to embrace her new role. With a more casual manner than many of her fellow royals, she greets and hugs people during her engagements, an unusual gesture for royals in public.
Markle’s American background — the actress hails from Los Angeles and her mother is a social worker and yoga instructor — gave some American royal fans a push to experience the festivities in person.
Andrea Austin, who stood on a packed sidewalk on Windsor's High Street, said she had traveled from San Francisco to witness history.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing — it’s an American marrying a royal," the technology sales executive said.
"It’s a great opportunity to bring a bit of the monarchy to us," the 50-year-old added, referring to Prince Harry's U.S.-born bride.
American sisters Stefanie and Samantha Scruggs arrived prepared — with bottles of champagne in hand and fascinators on their heads.
“There’s something really exciting about the tradition, and the pomp and circumstance,” said Stefanie Scruggs, 34, who works in the oil industry in Dallas, Texas. “And all pride and happiness unfold in front of you.”
Samantha Scruggs, an engineer who lives in Houston, chimed in: “It is really joyous — a whole country behind one undivided feeling.”
Fiona and Glen Afwireng, of Slough, called the marriage "a beautiful thing."
“I loved the way we had the gospel singers and the preacher had that American style,” said Fiona Afwireng, 40, who born and raised in the U.K. but also has Ghanaian roots.
She added that she “loved the fact” that Markle is African-American and that she brought some elements of her culture into the ceremony.
“It was really ground-breaking,” she said.
Karen Bevan, 53, from the English city of Portsmouth, and Karen Clout, who described herself as “over 70,” from St. Albans, are seasoned royal watchers.
The two Karens were strangers until Friday night when they parked they lawn chairs side by side on the High Street. Overnight, they bonded.
“For me it’s not about the royal family, it’s the event. It’s about being part of a historic event and meeting new people. Talking to people I wouldn’t normally talk to,” Clout said.
The town was expected to keep up the celebrations through the evening.
Many pubs which normally close at 11 p.m. (6 p.m ET) were granted permission to stay open an extra hour.