On this day (29 July) in 1981 the country came to a halt to witness the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer - or Diana, Princess of Wales as we came to know her. Thirty years on, we look back at one of the most momentous occasions in the history of our Royal Family.
The occasion was widely billed as a fairytale wedding when Charles and Diana got married a few months after they got engaged, the year after they started dating. Diana was just 20 when she walked down the aisle towards her 32-year-old Prince. That made her a markedly younger bride than 29-year old Kate Middleton, who became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge when she married Prince William this year. But for Maureen Cahill from Hertfordshire, who was 35 when the couple wed, the age gap wasn’t the most notable difference: “I remember feeling it wasn’t a relaxed occasion. Diana didn’t seem happy. But Kate looked excited, and it seemed like a more laid back affair.” An example of this is the balcony kiss. Whist almost identical in both weddings, Prince William initiated the kiss with Kate (twice) who happily accepted, whereas it was Diana who leaned awkwardly towards Charles. William and Kate stood close together to wave to the crowd after - there was a considerable gap between Diana and Charles.
Princes Charles married Diana at St Paul’s Cathedral before a congregation of 3,500. Although William paid tribute his parents wedding in many ways (including giving his mother’s engagement ring to Kate) the couple had their ceremony in the comparably more intimate Westminster Abbey, in front of 1900 people. Prince William may have fumbled with the ring but it wasn’t as noticeable as the way both of his parents fumbled with their words at the altar. Diana accidentally reversed the order of Charles's first two names, calling him “Philip Charles Arthur George”, and Charles referred to "thy goods" instead of "my worldly goods". Much was made of the fact Diana did not promise to "obey" Charles in the vows, but Kate Middleton was applauded for making the same decision this year - surely a sign of the times.
As with Kate, whose elegant £250K Alexander McQueen number went down a storm with viewers and style experts alike, the first sight of the bride’s dress was one of the most memorable moments of the day. But for different reasons. Mary Rose from Kent, who watched the event live on TV when she was 27, remembers: “Everyone was dying to see the much anticipated dress, and I’ll never forget Diana stepping from the royal carriage and her dress was terribly crushed.” The dress in question was an ivory silk taffeta and antique lace gown valued at £9000, and despite its bad first impression it remains one of the most famous wedding dresses of all time. Elizabeth Emanuel – who designed the dress with her husband David – claims to still receive requests for replicas of it today.
An estimated 600,000 people filled the streets of London to see Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on their wedding day, which was watched by an estimated global TV audience of 750 million making it – at the time - the most popular programme ever broadcast. An estimated two billion people worldwide watched William and Kate’s wedding in April this year, with an around one million people lining the procession route from the abbey to the palace following the ceremony. Both days were marked with a national holiday.
What happened next?
In less than a year the couple had their first son, William, with Harry arriving two years later. By then reports that Charles' long-running relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles was putting strain on his marriage were widespread, while Diana's relationship with the entire Royal Family deteriorated. The
Couple separated in 1993 and finally divorced in 1996. A year later Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris, and Prince Charles went on to marry Camilla Parker-Bowles in 2005.
It may not be the fairytale ending the world had hoped for, but without Charles and Diana’s marriage there would be no Prince William and Princess Catherine. Only time will tell how the future will pan out for the newly married couple but from what we’ve seen, there’s nothing to suggest they won’t live happily ever after.
Do you remember Charles and Diana’s wedding? What was your highlight?
Princess Diana's spare wedding dress
Royal wedding dresses through the ages
Relive the best moments of the royal wedding