Watching my niece become a princess

FOR a few brief days, East Lothian pensioner Margaret Cunningham rubbed shoulders with the likes of the Earl of Wessex, walked on red carpets and attended lavish state banquets.

Now back at home - a terraced house in Port Seton, the village where she has lived all her life - she is still incredulous at her few days as a VIP at the royal wedding of her great-niece to real-life Danish prince.

From the moment she set foot on Danish soil last Tuesday, 75-year-old Margaret was treated like a queen.

Sitting in an armchair in her modest sitting room, surrounded by mementoes of the fairytale wedding and enjoying a well-earned celebratory drink, she says: "We flew out of Edinburgh and when we arrived in Copenhagen, we did not even go through customs.

"We were given VIP badges to wear and security things around our necks and we were whisked off straight away in the royal bus with princes and goodness knows who else with us."

A police escort accompanied the bus which took Margaret to a historic hotel "just down the road from the palace" used by the Danish royal family to accommodate guests.

The next few days were a blur of official visits to famous castles and museums as Margaret and her family were treated to a prestigious tour of the country by their royal hosts.

Mary had invited Margaret, who was widowed 18 years ago, as the oldest surviving member of the Donaldson family, although the pair had only met on a couple of occasions. Mrs Cunningham’s brother, Peter, was Mary’s grandfather, and her father, John, and her uncle, Peter, who both emigrated as young men, are her nephews.

"They [the Danish royal family] were so hospitable. I could not fault them. The queen obviously adores Mary, she adores her whole family."

And then the day that she, and the rest of the world, had been waiting for, finally came. "Mary fever" has been raging in Denmark since news of her royal engagement to Danish Crown Prince Frederik was announced last October, and she has become a style icon both there and in her native land of Australia, where her father emigrated to from Scotland before she was born.

Crowds of well-wishers, tens of thousands-strong lined the streets to catch a glimpse of the prince and his bride on their wedding day last Friday. As Margaret and her family arrived at the stunning Copenhagen Cathedral, they were more than a little daunted to receive the red carpet treatment themselves.

Margaret says: "I got out of the royal bus and there was a big red carpet at the side of the cathedral. There were crowds of people - the Danish people all love Mary. They were wonderfully welcoming. It was a long walk along the red carpet. It’s a big thing to do for ordinary people. I had to meet all the dignitaries as well."

Inside, the Lothians pensioner was shown to her seat - in the second row from the front, as befitted her new-found status as a Very Important Person. "I was so close I could nearly touch Frederik. And Prince Edward [The Earl of Wessex] was at the back of me! We were obviously family but it was strange to be in front of British royalty."

As with many weddings, there were tears of joy during the ceremony, including a few from the Prince himself, who is renowned for his "common" touch. "They [the Danish royal family] are a very emotional family. I saw the prince had a tear in his eye. We all did a lot of crying," says Margaret.

"It was wonderful. Mary looked gorgeous in her dress. I think she was born to be a princess."

The reception, in a vast marquee at Fredensborg Palace on the outskirts of Copenhagen, was an eextravagant affair. Hundreds of waiters flitted to and fro, with platters laden with food for the sumptuous three-course wedding banquet.

"There were around 500 waiters - they marched in like an army. The food was wonderful, there were beautiful flowers everywhere. There were gold chairs and I was sitting next to kings! I could not believe it," says Margaret. Peter Donaldson, Mary’s uncle, who travelled to Copenhagen from Edinburgh for the wedding with Margaret but lives in Tasmania, Australia, was also over-awed.

Sitting near Margaret in her living room, he adds: "I’m a builder, not a prince! But we were almost turned into royalty overnight. The Danish royal family could not have treated us better. The marquee was as big as a soccer pitch. The wines were from the queen’s husband’s private bin from his own vineyard in France."

Mary’s father, John, who emigrated from Scotland to Tasmania, and Peter both added a touch of Scotland to proceedings by dressing in kilts for the occasion - to the delight of the Danes. Peter smiles: "They loved the kilts - they could not believe we were wearing them."

Recalling the speeches, Margaret says proudly: "John gave a wonderful speech. He said in his speech that he had three daughters and all of them were princesses, but now this one [Mary] was a real one."

But perhaps the most poignant reminder of Mary’s Scottish roots was a picture of Port Seton harbour with a fishing boat that her grandfather used to sail, given to her as a wedding present by Margaret.

"She was really touched, she loved the picture. We were all quite emotional," Margaret says.

It is a Danish tradition that the bride and groom must dance the Wedding Waltz just before midnight - or they will be turned into a pumpkin.

Mary and her prince obliged, while hundreds of guests formed a circle around them, gradually moving closer and closer until they were so near that the couple could no longer move - another Danish tradition.

Margaret, who had been standing near the back of the crowd at the time, recalls a passing "prince charming" of her own who came to her aid. She says: "I was standing at the back when all of a sudden a gentleman, I don’t know if he was a duke or someone, said to everyone: ‘This lady is family, let her through to the front’, and I got to the front! I could not believe it."

After the dancing, the Danish Royal Family put on a spectacular display of fireworks which burst to form heart shapes in the night sky. The revelries continued long into the night as the guests celebrated Denmark’s most high-society wedding for decades. Margaret recalls: "I did not get back to my hotel until 4.30am."

The next day Margaret and her relations were invited to the Palace for a private brunch. While they were there, the queen sent word for them to join her in person for lunch, so Margaret, Peter and their relations were once more rubbing shoulders with royalty.

"The queen was there, and the King of Norway. I am not an intellectual so I just listened mainly, but they were lovely, very friendly and welcoming, especially the queen."

Peter remembers how, like countless little girls around the world, Mary - who met her prince in Sydney through mutual friends - used to pretend she was a princess as a child.

He says: "When she was a little girl she used to go into her mother’s bedroom, dress up in her clothes and heels and jewellery and come out and strut about like she was a princess. She loved it. Now she is a princess."

Not many girls fulfil that dream. But lying on the coffee table in Margaret’s living room is a gold coin featuring the heads of Mary and her Prince - a solid reminder of her new status as a real-life royal.

Margaret is also keeping the VIP badges which she had to wear during her week-long visit to Denmark.

After getting back home this Monday, Margaret has been inundated with visits from friends and relations all keen to hear about her royal experience.

And while she says her life will now return to normal, a little part of her will miss being a virtual royal: "As the week went on I thought: ‘I could get used to this’," she laughs.

And who could blame her?