PALM BEACH - In a private ceremony that sparked a public spectacle, billionaire Donald Trump got married here Saturday before holding a gala reception at his seaside estate that was bedecked with enough gold, diamonds and celebrity to rival the starry night.
The public was not invited to the evening nuptials, but hundreds showed up anyway, lining the roadway in front of Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in hopes of spotting expected guests that included Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric and New York Yankee Derek Jeter.
"I had to be star-struck for one night," exclaimed Rob Anderson, 34, who drove over the causeway from West Palm Beach. "And I'm surprised we'd get so close."
Wearing a glittering Christian Dior dress that reportedly cost $200,000, European model Melania Knauss became the third wife of the flamboyant real estate mogul who loves to stamp his name on the buildings, casinos and golf courses he owns. The ceremony, held in an ornate stone church bedecked with white gardenias, was conducted by the rector, the Rev. Ralph R. Warren, and lasted less than 30 minutes.
After the exchange of vows, Trump gave his new wife a kiss.
As the couple left the church, waving to spectators from the back of a black Mercedes limousine, singer Billy Joel walked over to scores of news reporters camped out across the street and reported, "It was a beautiful ceremony." He mentioned that a unity candle lit during the exchange of vows was the same one used in Melania's baptism.
"Stunningly simple," said Joyce McLendon, who attended the wedding with her husband, Town Councilman Sam McLendon. She reported that Trump's 23-year-old daughter from his first marriage, Ivanka, read a passage from the Bible. The new Mrs. Trump is 34, while The Donald is 58.
In choosing to wed in Palm Beach at the height of the winter social season, Trump took advantage of the balmy weather and the $35 million ballroom he added to his historic Mediterranean-style estate, Mar-a-Lago, where some 400 guests were to dine on filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce, sip Crystal champagne and dance to the music of a 36-piece orchestra.
The first of scores of limousines pulled up to the church just before 6 p.m., and as on-lookers cheered, camera flashes lit up the gathering dusk. But the first arrivals to step to the curb turned out to be an elderly couple no one recognized. "It's nobody," cried a voice from the disappointed throng.
Minutes later, however, Mark Burnett, creator of Trump's hit NBC television show The Apprentice, showed up, and soon the cavalcade of notables was under way. Among the famous faces: Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Matt Laurer, Shaquille O'Neal, Kelly Ripa, Mark Consuelos, Heidi Klum, Rudolph Giuliani, Don King, Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, Star Jones Reynolds, Russell Simmons, Gayle King, Chris Matthews, Kathy and Rick Hilton, Stone Phillips, Simon Cowell, Les Moonves and Julie Chen and, arriving in a white Volvo station wagon, Barbara Walters.
The appearance of so many luminaries at a single event was like Oscar night, and a rarity here. On hand to record the action were television network camera crews, reporters from Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight and a gaggle of paparazzi. All were confined to an open grassy church lot across the street from the church entrance.
Overhead, news helicopters buzzed the coastline, and a small plane passed by towing a banner that read, "Melania, you're hired." Dozens of vintage Ferraris, driven by owners meeting next door to the church at the posh Breakers hotel, cruised by.
After the wedding, the newlyweds got a police escort to Mar-a-Lago, built in the 1930s for cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, just minutes away. A phalanx of limousines soon followed.
Outside the gates of the estate stood tuxedoed security guards; Palm Beach police officers were stationed along the roadway.
Inside, guests could expect to eat well, dance to American standards and dig in to a 5-foot-tall wedding cake frosted with Grand Marnier buttercream and covered with 3,000 white roses.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporter Shahien Nasiripour contributed to this article.
The Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.