Prince Harry greets Windsor crowds ahead of British wedding extravaganza

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Britain's Prince Harry greets well-wishers on the street outside Windsor Castle in Windsor on May 18, 2018, the eve of his royal wedding to US actress Meghan Markle. PHOTO: AFP

WINDSOR (REUTERS) - Prince Harry greeted royal fans gathered outside Windsor Castle to celebrate his glittering wedding to US actress Meghan Markle this weekend.

A smiling Harry was joined by his elder brother Prince William as he mingled with excited crowds waving red, white and blue Union flags less than 24 hours before his marriage on Saturday (May 19).

The impromptu walkabout came as the final finishing touches were put in place for the royal extravaganza at Windsor Castle, home to monarchs for almost 1,000 years.

Earlier, Harry's office announced that his father Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, would walk his bride down the aisle in place of her ill father.

Markle's father, Thomas, pulled out days before the event, telling celebrity website TMZ he was recovering from heart surgery, in a family drama that played out under the glare of media attention.

"The Prince of Wales is pleased to be able to welcome Ms Markle to The Royal Family in this way," Harry's office Kensington Palace said in a statement.

Royal fans on the streets of Windsor, where the thousands of well-wishers mingled with journalists and armed police under swathes of British and American flags, expressed sympathy for Markle.

"I feel sorry that her dad is not there because you should have your dad, shouldn't you really," said Moira Moss, who was camping outside Windsor Castle. "Every daughter should have their dad but obviously he's not very well. I do feel sorry for her. It must be heartbreaking for her."

Markle's African-American mother, Doria Ragland, was due to meet Britain's Queen Elizabeth, Harry's 92-year-old grandmother, for tea on Friday. Harry and his fiancee arrived at Windsor Castle on Friday afternoon.

Ragland, a yoga instructor, charmed Charles, her daughter's future father-in-law, when they met on Wednesday, a source close to the royal family said.

Buckingham Palace confirmed that Elizabeth's husband, Prince Philip, 96, would be at the wedding despite undergoing hip replacement surgery last month.

Harry, 33, will marry Markle, 36, a star of the TV drama Suits, in Windsor Castle's 15th-century St George's Chapel at a ceremony that begins at 1100 GMT. The details of her dress, the ring and the order of service are still to be announced.

A former army officer and one-time royal wild child, Harry met his bride-to-be on a blind date in July 2016 after being set up through a mutual friend. Markle said she knew little about her royal date while Harry said he had never heard of Markle or watched her TV series.

However, it was love at first sight, and after just two dates, he whisked her off to Botswana for a holiday, camping under the stars.

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