GOSPORT newlyweds Robert and Alex Ballard were forced to flee their wedding reception after a fire tore through a historic castle hotel.
The couple from Gosport had just enjoyed their first dance at the Ryde Castle Hotel on the Isle of Wight when the blaze broke out on the roof.
Robert, 23, his bride Alex, 21, and their family and friends fled the blazing building on Saturday night as firefighters began a 12-hour battle to save the castle.
The couple spent their wedding night in a nearby bowling alley and a church before returning home in the early hours.
Fire crews are investigating if fireworks let off to celebrate the wedding may have started the blaze.
Alex, of Ford Road, told The News: ‘We could see smoke billowing from the roof at first, then the fire took hold. Our daughter Lilly hadn’t gone to bed yet.
‘She was still dancing on the dancefloor so I picked her up and went straight out.
‘We were standing in the green across the road and I was still in my wedding dress.
‘Everyone was very helpful and we’re lucky no-one was hurt.
‘Our wedding certificate is in the hotel safe which is now buried under the rubble.
‘It’s not the wedding I had hoped for.’
Friends and family members ran through the hotel to rouse a handful of sleeping guests in their rooms.
Isle of Wight Council paid for the couple to return home in the early hours on Sunday.
Robert said: ‘It is not how we imagined the day would end.
‘We couldn’t believe it – it took hold so fast.
‘When the fire alarm went off, people didn’t think it was real to start with.
‘But by the time we were led from the back of the hotel to the front the roof was well alight.
‘Everyone pulled together which was nice and the local church were really kind to us by taking all of us in.’
The fire burned for hours and destroyed many parts of the historic castle.
Shock for gran who had returned from Malaysia trip
ROBERT’s grandmother Vicky Betsworth had just returned from seeing her brother buried in Kuala Lumpur when she heard of the wedding fire.
As reported in The News, 76-year-old Vicky flew to Malaysia last week to bury her brother Philip, an Army corporal who died in 1950 after his Dakota aircraft crashed into a jungle ravine during the Malaya Emergency.
Vicky, of Tukes Avenue, Gosport, said: ‘When I got the phone call from my grandson I went to pieces. My family could have all been wiped out. I’m so lucky they are okay.
‘I had such a good time in Kuala Lumpur. The service was so special and everything was done just right.’