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Villages at fever pitch but Middletons 'solid'

A KERRY-BORN artist is among the honoured few guests who will attend the marriage at Westminster Abbey, the champagne lunch with the queen and the more intimate evening reception hosted by Prince Charles tomorrow.

Gemma Billington and her husband Tim, a horse-breeder, who are close friends of the Middletons, told yesterday of the growing excitement at the Middletons' home ahead of the big day.

Gemma was enjoying the peace at her farm in Stanford Dingley in Berkshire yesterday as photographers and the media thronged to the old childhood haunts of the future princess.

The Billingtons will spend tonight at the Goring Hotel in London with Carole and Michael Middleton, Kate and her sister Pippa.

Unlike Lady Diana, who travelled to her wedding from Clarence House by carriage, Kate has chosen the more low-key hotel near Buckingham Palace for her final night as a commoner, and she will travel to Westminster Abbey by car.


Yesterday, Gemma said that all the local villages were "at fever pitch" but the Middleton family was "very solid" in the run-up to the wedding.

"We're all excited, and it's lovely to have a nice thing like this happening," she said.

"We are surrounded by photographers and the excitement is speading all over the county.

"I'm living in the same valley as the Middletons. I've known the family for a long time, our children are the same ages, and we're very good friends," Gemma said.

"They're fine. They're incredible; really solid people.

"I'm not nervous but just want to make sure I have everything in the hotel and am making a list.

"We're all going to Westminister Abbey, but it's all new to all of us because we haven't been to a royal wedding before.

"All the villages are having street parties and people are drinking beer and roasting hogs and some are dressed up as royal characters."

Four years ago, Kate visited Dublin to attend Gemma's exhibition at the Urban Retreat Gallery on Hanover Quay.

Gemma, who is planning a new exhibition in Kerry in July, has been asked to use her talents to decorate the local pub, the Old Boot Inn, where Kate and William often visit for a drink.

A marquee has been erected next door where locals who were not lucky enough to get an invite will be able to watch the wedding.

The pub, owned by another wedding guest, John Haley, is one of the stop-offs on a recently established tourist coach tour called 'Kate Middleton Country'.

After hanging her paintings in the pub yesterday, Gemma began her wedding preparations with a manicure.

Tomorrow she will wear a hat by Aoife Hannon from Listowel, and a dress and handcrocheted cape by Irish designer Alison Conneely to the abbey.

The artist, who is originally from Killorglin, will wear a ballgown by the same designer for the evening reception.

Irish Independent