Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer

Charles and Diana kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace following their wedding in 1981

THE wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer took place on Wednesday, July 29, 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, United Kingdom. The groom was the heir to the British throne, and the bride was a member of the Spencer family.

The ceremony was a traditional Church of England wedding service. The Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, Alan Webster, presided at the service, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, conducted the marriage.

Notable figures in attendance included many members of other royal families, republican heads of state, and members of the bride and groom’s families. After the ceremony, the couple made the traditional appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

The United Kingdom had a national holiday on that day to mark the wedding. The ceremony featured many ceremonial aspects, including use of the state carriages and roles for the Foot Guards and Household Cavalry.

Their marriage was widely billed as a “fairy-tale wedding” and the “wedding of the century”. It was watched by an estimated global TV audience of 750 million people. Events were held around the Commonwealth to mark the wedding. Many street parties were held throughout the UK to celebrate the occasion.

The Prince of Wales had known Lady Diana Spencer for several years. He invited her for a sailing weekend to Cowes aboard the royal yacht Britannia as their relationship began to develop. This was followed by an invitation to Balmoral Castle, the Windsor family’s Scottish home, to meet his family.

Diana and Charles had been seeing each other for about six months when he proposed on February 3, 1981 in the nursery at Windsor Castle.

Their engagement became official later that month, and the couple gave an exclusive interview. During the public announcement of the engagement, Diana wore a cobalt blue skirt suit by the British label Cojana. Diana selected an elegant, large £30,000 engagement ring that consisted of 14 solitaire diamonds surrounding a 12-carat oval blue Ceylon sapphire set in 18-carat white gold.

A series of photographs taken by the Earl of Snowdon were published in Vogue magazine to mark the engagement.

3,500 guests made up the congregation at St Paul’s Cathedral. Charles and Diana selected St Paul’s over Westminster Abbey, the traditional site of royal weddings, because St Paul’s offered more seating and permitted a longer procession through London.

Two million spectators lined the route of Diana’s procession from Clarence House, with 4,000 police and 2,200 military officers to manage the crowds.

Regiments from the Commonwealth realms participated in the procession, including the Royal Regiment of Canada.

At 10:22 BST the Queen and the royal family were taken to the cathedral in eight carriages. The Prince of Wales in the gold-encrusted coach which was later used following the ceremony to take the couple back to Buckingham Palace.

Lady Diana arrived at the cathedral in the Glass Coach with her father, John Spencer; she was escorted by six mounted Metropolitan Police officers. She arrived almost on time for the 11:20 BST ceremony. The carriage was too small to hold the two of them comfortably due to her voluminous dress and train.

As the choir sang Trumpet Voluntary, an anthem by Jeremiah Clarke, the bride made the three-and-a-half minute walk up the aisle.

The Royal Wedding of Charles and Diana, as captured by the cameras of Thames Television

Diana accidentally changed the order of Charles’s names during her vows, saying “Philip Charles Arthur George” instead of the correct “Charles Philip Arthur George”. She did not promise to “obey” him as part of the traditional vows. That word was eliminated at the couple’s request.

Charles also made an error. He said he would offer her “thy goods” instead of “my worldly goods”.

In keeping with tradition, the couple’s wedding rings were crafted from Welsh gold from the Clogau St David’s mine in Bontddu. The tradition of using Welsh gold within the wedding rings of the Royal Family dates back to 1923. Upon marriage Diana automatically acquired the title of Princess of Wales.

Three choirs, three orchestras and a fanfare ensemble played the music for the service. These were the Bach Choir, the Choir of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Choir of the Chapel Royal, the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, the Philharmonia Orchestra and the English Chamber Orchestra and a fanfare ensemble from the Royal Military School.

Music and songs used during the wedding included the Prince of Denmark’s March, I Vow to Thee, My Country, Pomp and Circumstance No.4 and the British National Anthem (God Save the Queen). New Zealand soprano, Kiri Te Kanawa sang Let The Bright Seraphim from GF Handel’s Samson.

Diana’s wedding dress was made of ivory silk taffeta, decorated with lace, hand embroidery, sequins, and 10,000 pearls. It was designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel and had a 25-foot (7.6m) train of ivory taffeta and antique lace. The dress was designed according to Diana’s wishes who wanted it to have the longest train in the royal wedding history.

The bride wore her family’s heirloom tiara over an ivory silk tulle veil and had a pair of slippers made out of hand-made ivory silk with pearl and sequin embroidery.

Charles wore his full dress naval commander uniform. He also wore stars of the orders of the Garter, Thistle and Bath, the Queen’s silver jubilee medal, and the royal cipher of the Prince of Wales in gold on epaulettes on both shoulders. He carried a full dress sword tassled in gold.

The royal couple had seven bridal attendants. Eleven-year-old Lord Nicholas Windsor, son of the Duke and Duchess of Kent, and eight-year-old Edward van Cutsem, godsons of the Prince of Wales, were page boys.

Diana’s bridesmaids were 17 year-old Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, daughter of the Earl of Snowdon and Princess Margaret; 13 year-old India Hicks, the granddaughter of the Earl Mountbatten of Burma and daughter of David and Lady Pamela Hicks; six-year-old Catherine Cameron, daughter of Donald and Lady Cecil Cameron and granddaughter of the Marquess of Lothian; 11 year-old Sarah-Jane Gaselee, daughter of Nick Gaselee and his wife; and five-year-old Clementine Hambro, daughter of Rupert Hambro and the Hon Mrs Hambro and granddaughter of Lord and Lady Soames and great-granddaughter of Winston Churchill.

Princes Andrew and Edward were the Prince of Wales’s supporters (the equivalent of best man for a royal wedding).

All of the Queen’s governors-general, as well as Europe’s crowned heads, attended. Most of Europe’s elected heads of state were among the guests, while First Lady Nancy Reagan represented the United States at the wedding. Among other invitees were the couple’s friends and the bride invited the staff of the nursery school in which she had worked to the wedding. Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe were among the entertainers who were invited to the ceremony by the Prince of Wales.

Diana and Charles made a traditional appearance on a balcony of Buckingham Palace at 13:10 BST, and delighted the crowd when they kissed, initiating the tradition of kissing the bride on the balcony.

The couple had 27 wedding cakes. The Naval Armed Forces supplied the official wedding cake.

An estimated 750 million people watched the ceremony worldwide, and this figure could be as high as one billion when the radio audience is taken into account. The event was broadcast in 50 countries with near 100 television companies covering it.

The wedding ceremony was positively received by the public, and according to The New York Times symbolised “the continuity of the monarchy” in the UK.

A ‘just married’ sign was attached to the landau by Princes Andrew and Edward and the couple was driven over Westminster Bridge to catch the British Royal Train from Waterloo station to Romsey in Hampshire to begin their honeymoon. They travelled to Broadlands, where Prince Charles’s parents had spent their wedding night in 1947.

They stayed there for three days, then flew to Gibraltar, where they boarded the Royal Yacht Britannia for an 11-day cruise of the Mediterranean, visiting Tunisia, Sardinia, Greece and Egypt.

Then they flew to Scotland, where the rest of the royal family had gathered at Balmoral Castle, and spent time in a hunting lodge on the estate. During that time, the press was given an arranged opportunity to take pictures. By the time the couple returned from their honeymoon, their wedding gifts were displayed at St James’s Palace.