Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ Royal Wedding: A Photo Album
It was an event the world will never forget.
The wedding of the century
Forty years ago, on a delightfully warm and sunny London day, the world had the opportunity to watch history unfold with Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding, which was televised on July 29, 1981. According to the BBC, 750 million people in 74 countries tuned in to absorb all of the details of the big day, including Princess Diana’s wedding dress and the stunning Spencer tiara. This is aside from the 600,000 people who waited patiently on the streets to catch a glimpse of the soon-to-be Princess of Wales make her way to St. Paul’s Cathedral for the ceremony. Up until this day, most of the wedding details had been kept under wraps, except for Diana’s engagement ring, which was revealed when she and Prince Charles announced their engagement. Take a walk down memory lane with these gorgeous photos of the wedding that captured global attention, and then take a look at these other memorable Princess Diana photos.
On February 24, 1981, then-19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer and 32-year-old Prince Charles announced that they were to be married. Not surprisingly, Princess Diana’s engagement ring was an absolute stunner. It featured a 12-carat oval blue sapphire outlined in diamonds, set in 18-karat white gold, and was designed by the House of Garrard. Although it was Diana herself who picked out the sparkler, which now adorns the hand of Kate Middleton, Vogue reports controversy surrounding her decision because the ring came from a catalog that anyone wealthy enough to afford such a bauble could buy. It’s believed the palace wasn’t thrilled with the choice because they wanted the ring to be something exclusive to royals. For the record, the ring cost $60,000 back in 1981.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding was expected to be nothing short of spectacular, and they chose the jaw-dropping St. Paul’s Cathedral as the ceremony venue. The cathedral is also where Queen Elizabeth II held the Thanksgiving services for both her Golden and Diamond Jubilees and where Winston Churchill’s state funeral took place upon his passing. According to Time, Charles and Diana decided on St. Paul’s for their nuptials, as opposed to the traditional royal wedding venue of Westminster Abbey, because it had many more seats. With 3,500 invitees expected to attend the grand event, St. Paul’s just made more sense.
The guest list
If you can invite 3,500 people to your wedding, you’d imagine no one would feel left out. After all, who actually knows 3,500 people? Well, when you’re a royal, there’s still bound to be drama between guests—those who were invited and those who didn’t make the cut. Interestingly, according to royal historian Carolyn Harris, much of this disgruntlement came from world leaders (quelle surprise). “The President of the Republic of Ireland declined the invitation because of disputes over the status of Northern Ireland,” she told History.com. “The President of Greece did not attend because former King Constantine of Greece, a cousin and friend of Prince Charles, was invited to the wedding with the title of ‘King,’ and King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain did not attend the wedding because Charles and Diana planned to board the Royal Yacht Britannia for their honeymoon in Gibraltar, which had been British territory since 1704 but was claimed by Spain.”
One aspect of the royal wedding that really captivated the world was the fact that this was the first time in more than 300 years that a “commoner” would marry the heir to the British throne, according to History Extra. Prior to Diana, it was Anne Hyde who married the future King James II back in 1660. When Diana first met Charles, she was working part-time as a kindergarten teacher. That’s hardly the kind of glamour you’d expect from a future royal, but it’s what made their whirlwind romance all the more appealing to the average person.
Charles and Diana’s wedding was huge—and lavish. When you take into account the many, many invited guests, not to mention the tremendous amount of security needed to protect the couple and said guests, the big event cost likely around $48 million (or about $137 million in today’s world). Of that, Smithsonian Magazine estimates that about $600,00 went to security, with more than 5,000 police officers deployed to manage crowd control. After all, there were 600,000 people lining the streets of the couple’s two-mile route!
Princess Diana’s wedding dress became instantly iconic. Designed by husband-and-wife duo Elizabeth and David Emanuel, it really embraced all that was fabulous about ’80s fashion with its poof sleeves, fitted bodice, and enormous skirt (complete with a 25-foot-long train, no less). In 1981, the dress—which featured 10,000 hand-sewn pearls, among other incredible details—was valued at $115,000. Of the glamorous gown, Elizabeth Emanuel told the BBC: “We just went for drama. It was everyone’s idea of a fairy princess. The time was perfect for that. It was a time of frills and flounces.” Years later, another one of her dresses—now known as Princess Diana’s “revenge dress”—would be iconic for a very different reason.
As previously mentioned, the train of Princess Diana’s wedding gown was a whopping 25 feet long—the longest train in the history of royal wedding dresses! Due to its length and the size of the gown’s skirt, the blushing bride almost couldn’t fit into the carriage that was to take her to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Emanuels had to carefully fold the train and skirt repeatedly so that the 20-year-old bride could be transported to her own wedding. Upon her arrival at the cathedral, the designers were horrified to see creases where the folds were in place, so they quickly smoothed them out as she emerged from the carriage.
To match the grandeur of her wedding gown, Princess Di needed an equally gorgeous veil. Peggy Umpleby, an employee of S. Lock, is the woman who was tasked with embroidering the lengthy accessory, which included 139 meters of tulle, according to British Vogue. It had to equal the length of Diana’s enormous train for maximum dramatic effect. Dress designer Elizabeth Emanuel gave specific instructions to Umpleby: “I asked that the tiny mother of pearl sequins looked as if they were scattered on the tulle. As the sequins were almost transparent, only the sparkles of light would be visible, creating a fairy dust effect. We used the same sequins on the gown itself, so that it would also sparkle as Diana walked down the aisle.”
How do you find a pair of wedding shoes to match such a glorious gown? You find a celebrity shoe designer to whip up something fabulous. Clive Shilton is the man behind Princess Diana’s wedding shoes, and of the pair, he told reporters: “Her main concern was that she wouldn’t appear taller than Prince Charles, and because she was very tall—5 feet, 10 inches—the shoes would have to have a low heel.” Shilton obliged with a heel that looks to be no more than an inch but then embellished the shoe itself with 500 sequins, more than 100 seed pearls, satin, and lace, according to Marie Claire UK. The shoes also featured a minute detail that was full of romance: the letters C and D joined with a heart for the royal couple.
While it’s customary for Queen Elizabeth II to loan out tiaras from her own personal collection for a big event like a wedding, Princess Diana chose to wear her family’s own headpiece, known as the Spencer Tiara. It’s a gorgeous piece that holds quite a bit of history, combining many different pieces of jewelry, according to Town & Country. The center of the tiara was included as a gift from Lady Sarah Spencer to Cynthia Spencer back in 1919 for her wedding. Additional elements were added to it by the House of Garrard (also the makers of Diana’s engagement ring) in 1937. Diana’s sisters would also wear this heirloom for their respective weddings, as would her sister-in-law Victoria Lockwood.
The good luck charm
Charles and Diana’s marriage lasted just 15 years and they separated four years prior to their divorce being finalized, but those involved with designing Princess Diana’s wedding gown had only the best intentions for the newly minted royal. The Emanuels had a small 18-karat gold horseshoe, embellished with diamonds, sewn to the label of the dress for good luck. There was also a blue bow sewn into the waistband of the dress as Diana’s “something blue.” Her “something old” was both the Spencer tiara and the antique lace used to adorn parts of the gown.
Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding was anything but ordinary, particularly to us commoners, but it was full of royal traditions and little tokens of wedding mementos. Take Diana’s bouquet, for example. Though it was full of lush white and gold flowers, like orchids, lily of the valley, and even Earl Mountbatten roses, it also included a small sprig of myrtle, which was meant to symbolize love. To make the statement even sweeter, the sprig was cut from bushes grown from Queen Victoria’s bouquet dating back to 1840! According to BBC’s History Extra, the bridal bouquet was placed on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the wedding.
The just-in-case items
When you’re planning for an event that is going to be viewed by millions and millions of people around the world, you want to make sure you check all of your boxes so that the entire thing goes off without a hitch. That’s why the dress designers began a backup dress for Diana, reportedly a simpler version of the luxurious frock she actually wore. But they apparently never ended up finishing it because there just wasn’t enough time. Additionally, in the event of rain (hey, the wedding did take place in London), they created two umbrellas that matched the ivory silk taffeta ensemble.
The groom’s garb
Let’s face it: On the day of a wedding, it’s really all about the bride and what she’s wearing. But we can’t leave out the groom entirely! Prince Charles was outfitted in his full naval commander uniform for the ceremony. Aside from having it pressed and in order, it must have been a breeze getting ready for the big day, unlike the 15 fittings Diana reportedly had with the Emanuels ahead of July 29, 1981. Charles and Diana took separate methods of transport to the cathedral, but then, of course, left and followed the procession back to Buckingham Palace together as husband and wife after the ceremony. While we’re talking about His Royal Highness, check out these things you never knew about Prince Charles.
The bridal party
To aid in the festivities, Princess Diana had five wedding attendants who were mostly young kids at the time. They included Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, Clementine Hambro, India Hicks, Sarah-Jane Gasalee, and Catherine Cameron. Armstrong-Jones is the daughter of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon. Hicks, who was just 13 at the time of the wedding, is Prince Charles’ goddaughter. Hambro is both the great-granddaughter of Winston Churchill and a former student of Diana’s from her teaching years, according to Tatler. Gaselee was connected to the couple because her father, a racehorse trainer, taught the Prince how to be a jump jockey. Cameron is the daughter of a friend of the Prince; she was only six years old when she served as a bridesmaid.
Princess Diana prepared for her big day at Clarence House, a British royal residence located in the City of Westminster. There, she dressed and chatted with her bridal party before leaving in a carriage with her father, Earl Spencer, to head to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Her father also walked her down the aisle. Prince Charles made his way to the cathedral separately, of course. After they were wed, the couple took the same carriage back to Buckingham Palace, waving to the hundreds of thousands of admirers lining the streets along the way.
Princess Diana may have been quite a young bride, but she was also a modern one. CR Fashion Book reports Diana was the first royal to take some very pointed verbiage out of her wedding vows: The couple did not utter the word obey. Incidentally, Diana made a minor goof when she said her groom’s name incorrectly. Though who could blame her when his name includes so many monikers? She called him Philip Charles Arthur George instead of Charles Philip Arthur George. Charles had his own slip-up when reciting his vows, saying “thy goods” instead of “my worldly goods.” Either way, at the end of the ceremony, they were hitched! These are the other rules Princess Diana changed for good.
The balcony kiss
As it were, Prince Charles forgot to kiss his new bride after they exchanged vows. If that isn’t foreshadowing the future of their relationship, we don’t know what it is. However, this gave the couple the opportunity to inaugurate what we now know as “the balcony kiss.” Now, after each royal wedding when the newly married couple emerges on the balcony of whichever royal residence they are at, it has become customary for the bride and groom to exchange a kiss, much to the excitement of onlookers. Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s balcony kiss seemed to make up for the forgotten smooch at the cathedral.
The wedding meal
So here’s the funny thing about royal weddings: While the ceremony may include thousands of invited guests, the customary official wedding meal has far fewer attendees. In Charles and Diana’s case, they feasted with just 121 guests. So what did they dine on at this intimate affair? Smithsonian Magazine reports the menu included items like strawberries and clotted cream, brill in lobster sauce, and creamed corn (which seems oddly pedestrian for the royal duo). However, there was also a dish called Suprême de Volaille Princesse de Galles, a stuffed chicken breast wrapped in brioche.
The wedding cakes
Yes, you read that correctly—there were multiple wedding cakes to celebrate the nuptials of Princess Diana and Prince Charles. How many? Rumor has it there were 27 confections to choose from, but Eater reports the main ceremonial cake was made by David Avery, head baker of the Royal Naval Cookery School. It looked more like a piece of art than something you would dive into with a fork. Comprised of five tiers of fruit cake, it weighed more than 200 pounds. (Hey, fruit cake is dense!) Details on the cake included the family’s coat of arms, as well as the bride and groom’s initials.
The very expensive slice of cake
For some newlyweds, it’s tradition to freeze the top tier of their wedding cake and then eat it on their first anniversary. Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s wedding cake (we’re talking the aforementioned fruit cake), however, had a couple of saved slices auctioned off to royal fans. Hello! reports that one such slice went for an impressive $1,375 at auction in 2014, more than 33 years after the wedding occurred. Lest you think all the winning bidder got was a piece of moldy cake, the item did come in its original wax paper and doily, with a card that said: “With best wishes from / Their Royal Highnesses / The Prince & Princess of Wales.”
The bride’s perfume
There are so many fine little details that go into a wedding day and, in particular, a bride’s ensemble. For Princess Diana, that included a very special fragrance she chose for her big day. According to Allure, she wore Quelques Fleurs by Houbigant Paris, one of her favorite scents. It’s described as a “multi-floral bouquet,” with top notes of bergamot, galbanum, tarragon, and lemon. Its base notes consist of sandalwood, oakmoss, cedarwood, and tonka bean, among others. There’s even a rumor Diana accidentally spilled a few drops of the perfume on her wedding dress and did her best to hide the stain by gathering that area of the skirt with her hands.
According to some royal insiders, the wedding almost didn’t happen due to nerves on the part of both the bride and the groom. Diana has said that she only recalls meeting Charles 13 times before they became engaged, which isn’t a lot of time to get to know each other. “There was an air of desperation about the marriage,” royal expert Stephen Bates told Time. “The fact they scarcely knew each other was a big problem because the royals were so desperate to seize this potential asset, that they didn’t question whether she was up to the immense pressure she was going to get.”
The not-so-welcome guest
To call Camilla Parker Bowles a surprise guest isn’t quite right, as she was an invited guest of Prince Charles, but she was certainly one that Princess Diana felt the need to keep her eye on, according to royal sources. Charles’ now-wife (and ex-girlfriend at the time) was actually a shoo-in for an invitation, but not for the reasons you might think. Her then-husband Andrew Parker Bowles served as the Commanding Officer of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, which meant he was in charge of the ceremonial escort accompanying the newly married couple through the streets of London.
The young ladies in Princess Diana’s wedding party received some sweet gifts from the bride. “Diana thanked us and gave us each a kiss and a present: a pretty gold-rimmed Halcyon Days china box,” says bridesmaid India Hicks in an essay for Harper’s Bazaar. “Inside were two of the silkworms that had spun the silk for her wedding dress.” In addition to this keepsake, Hicks says she received a package that included a rose from Diana’s bouquet set in Perspex so it could be used as a paperweight. Alongside it was a handwritten note from the Princess of Wales herself. Here are some of the most inspiring Princess Diana quotes.
The “Just Married” fiasco
After the ceremonial post-wedding meal, it was time for Prince Charles and Princess Diana to swap their wedding garb for their going-away outfits. This falls in line with royal tradition set many years prior. Diana’s ensemble consisted of a peach Bellville Sasson suit and matching hat. She and Charles took an open landau carriage to “ride off into the sunset,” but that wasn’t without its shenanigans. Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, Charles’ younger brothers, did manage to “decorate” the coach with balloons, cans, and a “Just Married” sign. Oh, those sneaky royals.
After all of the hoopla of the big day, Charles and Diana left for their honeymoon, which was quite a lengthy affair. To start, they spent three days at Broadlands, a country home in southeast England that was once owned by the Prince’s great uncle. Next up was a Mediterranean cruise aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, which served the Queen and royal family for 44 years. Today, the stunning vessel is a tourist attraction in Edinburgh, so visitors can actually check out the “floating palace” for themselves. After they returned from their sea voyage, Charles and Diana spent several weeks as husband and wife at Balmoral Estate.
The marriage’s demise
Ultimately, after all of the excitement over Charles and Diana’s wedding, the highly publicized couple simply had to come to terms with the fact that they weren’t, in fact, meant to be. Rumors of infidelity swirled around both parties. Their divorce was finalized in 1996 after they first separated in 1992. Sadly, Princess Diana died tragically a year after the divorce papers were signed. At the age of 36, her life ended in a car accident that occurred while being chased by paparazzi in Paris. Here are more details about Princess Diana’s death and her tragic accident.
Today, royal watchers can take in the beauty of Princess Diana’s wedding gown at a limited-time exhibit called Royal Style in the Making. To check out the unbelievable dress, you’ll need to make your way to the Orangery at Kensington Palace, a location that has special meaning because it’s a place Diana once called home. This is the first time the grown has been put on public display in 25 years. Previously, it was exhibited in 1999, following her death, at her ancestral home, Althorp. Next, read up on the conspiracy theories that still surround Princess Diana’s death.