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British Royal Wedding Look-Back: Charles and Diana

  April 28, 2011 at 6:00 am by

How apt that the final wedding in our ‘British Royal Wedding Look-Back’ series (parts one through six of the series looked at the marriages of Edward VII and Alexandra, George V and Mary, George VI and Elizabeth, Edward VIII and Wallis, Elizabeth II and Philip and Margaret and Antony) is the 1981 marriage of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer – the parents of tomorrow’s groom.

The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer had known each other for several years before they become romantically involved in mid-1980 (the Prince was previously linked to Diana’s elder sister Sarah). The couple were seen on the town several times over the coming months, before Charles proposed marriage to his nineteen-year-old girlfriend (there was a thirteen year age gap between the pair) at the beginning of February 1981. Diana immediately said yes, and was later given the chance to choose her engagement ring. The royal bride-to-be chose a blue sapphire and diamond ring, then worth approximately £30,000; and their engagement was officially announced on February 24th.

The ‘wedding of the century’ took place on July 29, and broke with the recent royal tradition of marrying in Westminster Abbey. Charles and Diana were instead wed at the grand St Paul’s Cathedral, as the Abbey was unable to accommodate their 3,500 invited guests. As with all royal weddings, the Archbishop of Canterbury (then Robert Runcie) presided over the ceremony. The Prince of Wales arrived to the Cathedral with his two brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward, who acted as his supporters. He cut a dashing figure in his full naval officer dress.

View more archive images of the wedding at The Times

Lady Diana arrived at St Paul’s in the royal Glass Coach, travelling from Clarence House with her father, the 8th Earl Spencer, passing an estimated 600,000 well-wishers lining the processional route. The moment imprinted on everyone’s brains, still thirty years later, is when the bride stepped out of the coach to reveal her wedding dress. Its design was a typical ‘80s “meringue” style, made of ivory silk, taffeta, lace and some 10,000 pearls and was designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel. On her head was the Spencer family tiara. Elizabeth Emmanuel recently said in an interview in connection with the upcoming wedding that her favourite moment was not when Diana was exiting the coach, but when she was at the top of the Cathedral steps and her 25-foot train was still being removed from the coach. It took Lady Diana and her father three and a half minutes to reach the Cathedral altar. She was accompanied by her seven bridesmaids and pages – Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, India Hicks, Catherine Cameron, Sarah-Jane Gaselee, Clementine Hambro, Lord Nicholas Windsor and Edward van Cutsem.

The service did not go entirely as rehearsed – with Lady Diana taking ‘Philip Charles Arthur George’ to be her husband (not ‘Charles Philip Arthur George’), and the Prince declaring to share “all thy goods” with his bride, instead of “all my worldly goods.” The bridal couple also broke with tradition once more – Diana omitted the word ‘obey’ from her vows, causing a stir amongst the more traditionalists in the congregation and society. The couple privately signed their wedding registry, before exiting the Cathedral to the tune of Pomp and Circumstance.

A state landau carried the newly married Prince and Princess of Wales to Buckingham Palace, where they appeared on the balcony at just after 13:00. Charles and Diana were joined by their families, and to the great cheer of the crowd, kissed each other (the first time a royal bridal couple had done so on the Palace balcony). Queen Elizabeth II looked away, while Prince Edward grinned cheekily. A wedding breakfast for over one hundred of the couple’s closest family and friends was then held, where a five-foot tall fruitcake baked by the Naval Armed Forces was served to the guests (it took the bakers fourteen weeks to make), before the Prince and Princess of Wales set off for Hampshire for their honeymoon (accompanied by a ‘Just Married’ sign tied to the back of their carriage by the groom’s mischievous brothers).

The Prince and Princess of Wales seemingly had a happy beginning to their marriage – their first son, William, was born less than a year after their wedding in June 1982, and Henry followed in September 1984. Behind the scenes, their relationship was beginning to deteriorate and they formally separated in 1992, sparking the ensuing “War of the Waleses”. Charles and Diana’s divorce was finalised in 1996, with the Princess retaining the right to the style ‘Diana, Princess of Wales’, but losing her ‘HRH’. The couple’s relationship became amicable over the years between their separation and divorce, and the world, and her family, were shocked and devastated when Diana was killed in a car accident in Paris on August 31st, 1997. The Prince of Wales was later married for a second-time, to Camilla Parker-Bowles, in 2005.

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