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Madonna stood at altar and sang her heart out.

Byline: JIM LAWSON and MARK McGIVERN EXCLUSIVE

MADONNA burst into song in the stillness of Dornoch Cathedral yesterday as she got her first look at the altar where she will marry Guy Ritchie.

The most famous voice in the world soared to the rafters of the ancient church as she sang Latin hymn Ave Maria.

The only people there to hear her were Guy, her personal assistant, an amazed local resident, three Spanish tourists - and a journalist from the Daily Record.

Our man said: "It was almost surreal to see Madonna and Guy appear in the church.

"When she burst into song it was like a scene from a romantic movie.

"It could have been Grace Kelly walking with Cary Grant. It was really touching and the acoustics were superb.

"Her rendition of Ave Maria was perfect. It gave the few of us who were there a beautiful moment in a really beautiful church."

Madonna and Guy, the director of smash-hit movie Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, are expected to marry at the 776-year-old cathedral on December 22.

And the star's recital yesterday suggests she might even sing at her own wedding.

She and Guy will wed in Scotland because his family are from here.

They are expected to have their reception at the exclusive Skibo Castle Hotel six miles from the cathedral.

The millionaires' retreat has a reputation for discretion after hosting the near-secret marriage of publicity-shy movie star Robert Carlyle.

Madonna and Guy set off from their London home early yesterday and headed for Dornoch on a pre-wedding fact-finding mission.

Their private jet touched down at Inverness Airport at 11.30am.

Two Range Rovers, provided by Skibo Castle, drove on to the tarmac to pick up Madonna, Guy, two bodyguards and a personal assistant.

Madonna stepped from the plane looking every inch a megastar, wearing dark glasses, a fur-trimmed coat and embroidered jeans.

Guy followed, more casual in a jacket and denims.

It was a classic celebrity arrival. But a crew from Channel 4's Big Breakfast managed to miss it completely as they prepared to head back to London.

Madonna's party set out at 11.45am for the 50-mile drive to Skibo.They got there 45 minutes later, but Madonna could not resist driving an extra 10 minutes to soak up the atmosphere in the quiet streets of Dornoch and to see the cathedral for the first time.

The deeply-religious star looked reverent as she stood in the soft light of the stained glass.

Her presence stunned three tourists from Spain, all men in their 30s. They could scarcely believe that the planet's biggest pop icon was singing right in front of them in a 13th-century Highland church

At the cathedral gates, one of Madonna's party said: "We are here for a look round. They are not doing any interviews."

Local minister Susan Brown has remained determinedly silent as worldwide speculation raged that Madonna and Guy would wed in her parish.

The banns had still not been posted yesterday at the local register office.

But Rev Brown seemed to know more than she was telling when she was asked about the couple's plans. She said: "It is a private matter and I am bound by confidentiality."

Earlier this week, Guy said he was determined to tie the knot in full Highland dress despite being born and raised in England.

He is fiercely proud of his family's Scottish heritage. His grandad, Major Stewart Ritchie, died a hero near Dunkirk in 1940 while serving with the Seaforth Highlanders.

His dad John was a soldier in the same regiment and Guy will wear his Army sporran at the wedding.

He has paid more than pounds 1000 for the rest of his outfit.

It was Guy's sense of family tradition that finally persuaded Madonna to come here for her second marriage.

She had wanted to use their six- bedroom Beverly Hills mansion. But Guy wanted his first son, baby Rocco, baptised in England.

And since they both wanted to have the christening at the same time as the wedding, they turned their attentions to the UK.

Madonna fancied marrying at St Paul's in London. But she is banned under Church of England rules because she divorced her first husband, film star Sean Penn.

So Guy's pal, Lock Stock star Vinnie Jones, suggested a castle in Scotland.

Madonna admitted recently: "Guy and I fought like cats and dogs. In the end we had to compromise."

She had dismissed claims she would marry north of the border before Christmas, insisting that she wanted to wait until 2001.

But her words are now being seen as a smokescreen, as it becomes clear that planning for the big day has been going on for some time.

Fashion-watchers expect Madonna to wear Versace for the ceremony.

Her spokeswoman Barbara Charone has confirmed she and Guy will spend Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland with Rocco and Madonna's daughter Lourdes, four.

Lourdes' natural father is Madonna's former personal trainer Carlos Leon. But insiders say she now sees Guy as her dad and is thrilled he and her mum are getting married.

It is believed the couple will again fly in by private jet to Inverness Airport a few days before the wedding.

A source at Skibo said: "Everyone is sworn to secrecy but we knew she was coming here today.

"Her being at the cathedral makes everyone think that she will indeed marry there and have the reception here afterwards."

Madonna and Guy flew out from Inverness early yesterday evening and were believed to be heading back to London.

Ave Maria - FRANZ SCHUBERT

Ave Maria

Gratia plena

Maria, gratia plena

Maria, gratia plena

Ave, ave dominus

Dominus tecum

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

Et benedictus

Et benedictus fructus ventris

Ventris tuae, Jesus.

Ave Maria Ave Maria

Mater Dei

Ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Ora pro nobis

Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Nunc et in hora mortis

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Et in hora mortis nostrae

OR IN ENGLISH: IN August 1964 Julie Rogers had a hit with The Wedding Song, sung to the tune of Ave Maria. It reached number three. Her version of the song is:You by my side, that's how I see us,

I close my eyes and I can see us,

We're on our way to say I do,

My secret dreams have all come true

I see the church I see the people,

Your folks and mine, happy and smiling

And I can hear sweet voices singing Ave MariaSinger must get her rock banns

THE LAW

PREPARATIONS for a wedding in Scotland need to start four to six weeks before the actual ceremony.

The couple must contact the local register office in the area where they plan to wed, requesting registration forms. The forms have to be completed and returned at least 15 days before the big day.

The banns are then posted at the local register office for two weeks before the wedding in order to inform people of the couple's intention to wed.

There are final forms to be collected two days before the wedding so many couples who are travelling some distance arrive 48 hours beforehand.

As an American citizen, Madonna will need to show her birth and divorce certificates.Beauty attracts hordes

DORNOCH

THE Royal Burgh of Dornoch has a windswept beauty which thousands flock to every year.

It has always been popular with the rich, walkers and golfers.

With a population of around 2400, the area has a reputation for friendliness and is a national Designated Scenic Area.

Two top-class golf courses, two schools and the magnificent 13th century cathedral have been prime targets for tourists.

Each year, the Dornoch Highland Gathering is a big attraction.

And yesterday, local people could hardly believe that Madonna and husband-to-be Guy Ritchie had arrived.

At the Dornoch Castle Hotel, co-ordinator Ailsa Stewart, 43, said: "When I heard the news, I thought, 'Wow that's wonderful'."

Others said they would have no problem in coping with such a high-profile wedding.

Shop assistant Penelope Paton, of Dornoch Bakery, said: "Madonna might have to pay up to pounds 180 if she wanted us to make her a top-of-the-range three-tier cake."

Butcher Gavin Sutherland said: "It would be great news if they came here. Nothing much happens in Dornoch at this time of year and it would be a great boost for the town."Special and it's Scottish

SKIBO

MADONNA chose Skibo because it fits her demanding requirements.

She wants a spot which is exclusive, discreet, secure and, crucially, Scottish.

The price tag for the wedding is expected to exceed pounds 1.5 million.

Skibo has already played host to the marriages of film stars Ewan McGregor and Robert Carlyle and golf star Sam Torrance.

Visitors at the castle have their own butler and are driven around in vintage Rolls-Royces as standard.

They pay at least pounds 500 per person per night for the privelege.

Michael Douglas famously courted Catherine Zeta Jones at the estate, where they both exercised their love of golf.

Skibo was originally owned by Scotland's greatest philanthropist - steel magnate Andrew Carnegie - and was bought by millionaire Peter de Savaray who bought it for pounds 5.6million in 1990.

He spent pounds 10million and six years restoring it and formed the Carnegie Club where members pay a pounds 1000 registration fee then a further pounds 3000 per year to enjoy the facilities.

More than 90 per cent of vis are American or Japanese lured by the golf.
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Dec 6, 2000
Words:1588
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