George Clooney sipped champagne with celebrity pals before donning a tuxedo and boarding a water taxi that conveyed the smiling groom up the majestic Grand Canal in Venice.
The actor waved to well-wishers gathered to catch a glimpse of what presumably were his last public moments of bachelorhood.
Clooney’s water taxi was the last of a procession of a dozen that brought guests including Cindy Crawford, her husband Randy Gerber, Bill Murray and Matt Damon from the five-star Cipriani hotel opposite St Mark’s Square up the Grand Canal to the luxury Aman hotel.
Crawford wore a purple floor-length halter dress while the men were all dressed in tuxedos.
Clooney’s boat was momentarily blocked by a passing cruise-liner and then by a water bus, giving time for a flotilla of photographers to catch up.
The star maintained his ever-relaxed demeanour and waved to hundreds of people who crowded the arched Accademia bridge, canal banks and passing water taxis to see the Hollywood star before he took the plunge he long vowed never to take.
With the pink sunset casting a gleam on Venice’s most picturesque canal, Clooney rubbed his hands in sweet anticipation, and disappeared into the Aman’s tent-covered pier.
There were no signs of his bride, human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, who was last seen publicly yesterday riding a water-taxi down the Grand Canal with Clooney’s arm resting comfortably around her. The bride, wearing a bold black-and-white striped Dolce & Gabbana dress, beamed.
Clooney, 53, and Alamuddin, 36, who were engaged in April, have not publicly divulged details of the weekend-long celebrations, leaving plenty open to speculation.
Venice city officials have announced the closure of a 50-metre length of pedestrian way along the Grand Canal near the 16th-century Cavalli Palace, used for civil marriage ceremonies, for two hours on Monday because of the Clooney nuptials. The Cavalli Palace is just opposite the Aman hotel.
Media have speculated that the couple will have two ceremonies – one on Saturday followed by a civil ceremony on Monday.
Clooney started the day relaxing over coffee with Crawford and her husband on the Cipriani hotel terrace, seemingly unfazed by photographers hovering in boats off-shore.
Cipriani staff formed a protective barrier blocking the view of Clooney and his guests, but then Clooney apparently waved them away. The actor even interacted briefly with the paparazzi.
After someone yelled “is this really happening, George?” the actor feigned looking at a watch on his bare wrist and yelled back: “Yeah, right now.”
Clooney had long vowed he would never marry again following his 1989-93 marriage to Talia Balsam. He dated a series of models and actresses that made his love life tabloid fodder, until meeting his match in Alamuddin.
Venice is perhaps a natural setting for Clooney’s wedding. The star owns a villa on Lake Como north of Milan, feels at home in Italy and is a frequent visitor to Venice, often to promote his films at the Venice Film Festival.
The Venetian waterways offer stunning views of the city’s Byzantine and Renaissance architecture, where East truly meets West. Its islands and maze of canals also permit privacy and easily restricted access.
Singer Bono and his wife were among the late arrivals, joining Clooney’s cousin Miguel Ferrer, Ellen Barkin, Anna Wintour and Richard Kind.
Clooney and Alamuddin are among thousands of non-Venetian couples, foreign and Italian, who choose each year to marry in Venice, and the city administration smoothes over the process with an on-line application form and list of documents needed to make the ceremony legally binding.
Alamuddin, a London-based human rights lawyer, is of Lebanese origin, and her wedding was also being celebrated in her family’s village of origin, Baakline in the Chouf district. Alamuddin left Lebanon during the civil war and was raised in the United Kingdom. She met Clooney, who is active in many political causes, through her work.
As the wedding party descended on Venice, the Alamuddin family house in Baakline was empty. Her neighbours said the bride’s cousins departed the night before.
Many villagers welcomed the news of the impending nuptials. “We congratulate them and we hope that the happiness will be international,” said shopkeeper Ghassan Bou Hatoum.