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Slimmed-down Bill steals show as Clintons roll in for Chelsea's wedding bash

Bill Clinton made a long-anticipated appearance in the upstate New York village of Rhinebeck, where his daughter is getting married, drawing crowds of onlookers yesterday afternoon as preparations continued largely out of sight for the grand and secretive occasion.

And the former US President looked like he'd heeded bride-to-be Chelsea's advice and lost the excess pounds as a slimmed and toned Clinton met hundreds of people, who had gathered outside the hotel where many of the guests are staying to catch a glimpse of the former president with his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.



Cheering

Shortly before 11pm local time, the Clintons exited a van arm-in-arm outside the Beekman Arms Hotel. The former first lady, in a long, green dress, waved to the cheering crowd waiting behind metal barricades outside and quickly went into the hotel. They left about a half-hour later.

Earlier in the day, Bill Clinton, looking fit and relaxed in blue jeans and a black knit shirt, walked with security a few blocks north from the village's main intersection to the restaurant Gigi Trattoria.

To questions blurted from the huge crowd he attracted, Clinton rattled off easy answers.

How are you?

"We're all fine."

"We love it here," he said. "Chelsea loves the area as well."

How's she doing?

"She's doing well."

Chelsea Clinton is expected to marry her longtime boyfriend, investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, at a ceremony this evening attended by 400 to 500 people at the grand Astor Courts, an estate on the scenic east bank of the Hudson River.

Rumours had abounded for weeks leading up to yesterday, including one that Rhinebeck was an elaborate decoy planned by the media-shy Chelsea and that the wedding would be elsewhere.

The appearance of the former president put all the conspiracy talk to rest.

And what does he think of his soon-to-be son-in-law?

"I like him very much," the popular Democrat said, picking up more people with each passing step. "I really do. I admire him. Hillary feels the same way."

The sight of an ex-president captivated many in the crowd.

After lunch, Clinton slowly wound his way out of a restaurant, taking time to shake hands with the kitchen staff and customers, who took pictures of him with their cell phones.

He emerged to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds of people who shouted, "We love you!" and "Congratulations!"

He took a moment to comfort a little girl who got jostled by the huge crowd but broke into a huge grin after the former president asked her name and whether she was all right.

There are still mysteries.

The VIP guest list is said to include such A-listers as Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and some of the Clintons' powerful political allies, and the village was filling up with the curious hoping to catch a glimpse of an honoured guest.

Meanwhile, a longtime Clinton family friend adamantly denied that the cost of the wedding would be more than $1m (e766,000). The friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with the family's desire for privacy, said the cost of the wedding will not exceed six figures. Wedding experts said it could cost $2m to $3m, while some media reports put the cost as high as $5m.



Security

State troopers directed the growing number of cars driving through the village and security guards were posted outside a private estate, just south of town, that was reportedly the site of the rehearsal dinner. At around 7pm, a stream of vehicles, pulled past the security checkpoint and into the estate.

Andrea Alvin, who lives on the same road as Astor Courts, said state police notified her three or four days ago that the road would be closed from 4pm to 8pm on Saturday and gave her a sticker so she could get in and out. She came home on Thursday to find a bottle of wine from the nearby Clinton Vineyards, courtesy of the wedding planner, with a note apologising for any inconvenience and included a phone number to call if there were any problems.

hnews@herald.ie


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