Most people get married at the weekend so they can ensure that all their friends and relatives will be able to attend. If they choose a weekday to pledge their respective troths it’s usually for reasons of money, as venues are a lot cheaper Monday to Friday.
I’d say it’s unlikely however, in the case of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer, that issues of money or their guests not being able to blag a day off work were instrumental in them choosing a Wednesday to get hitched. Wednesday 29 July, 1981 to be exact – one of the most memorable dates in recent Royal history. In fact, nobody in the UK had a problem getting time away from their job to watch this massive event as the day was declared a national holiday. And a lot of people around the rest of the world stopped what they were doing to watch the proceedings too; it has been estimated that there was a global audience of approximately 750 million watching on TV.
The wedding took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral, as opposed to the more usual Royal wedding and coronation venue of Westminster Abbey, as it could seat a larger congregation (3,500 of Charles and Diana’s ‘close’ friends and family, to be precise – working out the seating plan must have been a logistical nightmare) and was in a good position for a longer procession for the bride and her entourage from her starting point of Clarence House. Approximately 600,000 people were present in London that day, presumably preferring to spend most of the day hanging about for a thirty second glance of the Glass Coach going past, rather than sitting comfortably in their own lounge watching the whole thing on the television.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Robert Runcie, officiated at the ceremony, alongside the not so ‘Most’ but in this case ‘Very’ Reverend Alan Webster (Dean of St. Paul’s). Included on the guest list were the Queen’s governors-general, most of Europe’s crowned heads (King Juan Carlos I of Spain didn’t come as his government was put out that Charles and Di would be visiting Gibraltar during their honeymoon) and many of its elected heads of state as well.
Lady Diana, 20, chose not to be one of those brides who lets her husband-to-be sweat on the altar when they turn up fashionably late; she arrived pretty much on time. Her father, John, the 8th Earl Spencer, accompanied her to the cathedral, along with half a dozen Met Police on horseback. Once she had descended from the coach the world was given the first look at the most famous wedding dress in the world, along with its frankly ridiculous 25 foot taffeta and antique lace train. It appeared nobody questioned the wisdom of this for when the bride needed to spend a penny, but it looked good on the overhead camera. She also wore the Spencer family heirloom tiara (which allegedly gave her a headache). Nobody was that bothered about what Charles, 32, was wearing, but there aren’t many men who don’t look a little bit dashing in their naval commander’s uniform.
Designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel, Diana’s dress was decorated in sequins and 10,000 pearls and was valued in 1981 at £9,000. It has been kept since then at Althorp, the Spencer family home in Northamptonshire, under guardianship of her brother Charles, although it has made many appearances in the ‘Diana: A Celebration’ touring exhibition. In 2014 it was valued at £30,099 and ownership of it was transferred to her sons, the Princes William and Harry.
Speaking in public makes many people nervous, so it’s no surprise that Diana and Charles felt the pressure while they gave their vows, with both making small mistakes. Charles promised that he would offer his new bride all her own stuff (he said ‘thy goods’ instead of ‘my worldly goods’) and Diana tried to marry Charles’ dad (she mixed up her groom’s names, saying ‘Philip Charles Arthur George’ instead of ‘Charles Philip’). Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance played as the newly- married couple left the Cathedral. Prince Charles still bore the same name as when he went in; Diana was now the proud bearer of a few more….Princess of Wales, Baroness of Renfrew, Countess of Chester, Duchess of Cornwall and Duchess of Rothesay.
In case you were worried where on earth the new couple would be able to hold a reception that could comfortably fit all 3,500 guests, you’ll be interested to know that 3,380 of them were told to sling their hook (albeit a lot more politely I’m sure) after the ceremony, and only 120 of them trundled off to Buckingham Palace for the wedding breakfast. Before that, of course, was the moment that the whole world was holding its breath for: the first Royal kiss.
This took place on the balcony of the palace, surrounded by the rest of the Royal Family. It’s a moment that has been immortalised on millions of tea towels, glasses, china plates, mugs, stamps and even a Rubiks Cube (yes, really).
Later that day Prince Charles and Princess Diana left the palace to go on their honeymoon. And despite being the most famous couple on the planet that day, they weren’t immune to the traditions of any other wedding. Charles’ brothers, Princes Edward and Andrew tied a ‘Just Married’ sign on to their carriage (not exactly tin cans tied to the exhaust pipe of a Ford Escort, but it was done in the same spirit) which was on view as it drove over Westminster Bridge. It took Charles and Di to the station, where they boarded a train to Romsey in Hampshire, where they would spend the first part of their time together at the Mountbatten family home, Broadlands.
Later they travelled to Gibraltar; the Royal Yacht Britannia was waiting to take them on a cruise through the Mediterranean, visiting Egypt, Tunisia, Sardinia and Greece. And if that wasn’t enough, they popped back to Balmoral to round the trip off.
The word ‘fairytale’ has been much over-used when describing the Royal Wedding; to the watching world it did indeed look as if the Prince and the Princess had found storybook true love. We now know that things weren’t the way they seemed. But that’s a whole different story.