It was a real-life fairytale wedding watched by millions around the world. Princess Diana and Prince Charles married in 1981 in a lavish ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Here are the surprising facts behind the iconic Royal wedding that reveal all was not what it seemed…
A Whirlwind Romance
Contrary to popular belief, Charles and Diana knew little of each other before they made their way down the aisle. Their engagement was announced after the couple had only gone on twelve dates.
A National Holiday
The spectacular wedding day between the two young lovers was officially declared a national holiday. July 29, 1981, was declared a national holiday by the UK so that overjoyed citizens could be a part of the celebration.
Let Them Eat Cake
The couple’s celebration was nothing short of extravagant. The bride and groom had 27 wedding cakes. The official cake was provided by David Avery, the head baker at the Royal Naval cooking school. Astonishingly, in 2014, a 33-year-old slice of wedding cake from the special day sold at auction for $1,375.
The Secret Dress
Details about Diana’s wedding dress were “the most closely guarded secrets in fashion history.” The details of the dress were kept so successfully hidden from the world press that details were only released “in sealed envelopes” and the media were only permitted to open them “the moment [Diana] stepped into the glass coach at Clarence House.” Designers had to make three dresses for Diana, just in case word got to the media before the big day.
In The Details
Diana’s elaborate Emanuel wedding dress had the longest train in royal history. Not only was the spectacular design adorned with more than 10,000 mother of pearl sequins and pearls, but it included a 25-foot-long train. The silk-taffeta custom design reportedly cost $115,000.
Ring the Bells
In one of her many controversial bridal choices, Diana actually selected her own engagement ring from a catalog. Although most royal engagement rings are custom made to order, Diana was adamant that she would choose her ring — which consisted of 14 brilliant solitaire diamonds around a 12-carat sapphire set in white gold — from the Garrard jewelry collection catalog. It has since been passed on to Prince William’s wife, Kate Middleton.
Diana was the very first royal bride to omit “obey” from her wedding vows. While the couple exchanged the expected traditional wedding vows, Diana decisively removed the word “obey” from her public promise to the prince. Kate and William followed suit when they wed in 2011.
Few people know, but Prince Charles had actually dated his Bride’s Maid of Honor – none other than her sister! Charles briefly dated Diana’s sister, Sarah Spencer, but the romance was short lived. Charles’s family believed that the young, innocent and beautiful Diana was a more suitable match for the Prince.
The stress of the imminent wedding was almost too much for the future Princess to bear. Diana lost a startling amount of weight before the big day, complicating the design of her dress. It took 15 lengthy fittings to get Diana’s dress to fit. “Every time she turned up for a fitting, she had lost more weight,” noted Elizabeth Emmanuel to Express.co.uk. “We put it down to nerves. But it did make it incredibly difficult for us to get on with making the dress.” She actually had to be sown into the gown on the morning of the nuptials.
It seemed that Charles had his own fears about the approaching wedding vows. According to the royal biographer Sally Bedell Smith’s book Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life, Charles was still hopelessly in love with his ex-love, Camilla Parker-Bowels and felt pressured into his forthcoming wedding by his severe father. Smith alleges that the Prince was so distraught, he cried the night before his wedding to Diana. Charles rekindled his affair with Parker-Bowles in 1986, after Princes William and Harry were born.
It seems the dress was not the only concern for Diana’s designers. Due to her above-average height, the heels that Diana wore had to be very low to ensure she wouldn’t tower over her Prince. Cobbler Clive Shilton explained; “Her main concern was that she wouldn’t appear taller than Prince Charles, and because she was very tall — 5ft 10in — the shoes would have to have a low heel.”
Just Like Cinderella
The expert cobbler had to come up with a pair of custom wedding heels that would cater to the Princess’s requirements. The one-of-a-kind cream silk slippers were covered in 542 sequins and 132 pearls and had a “C” and “D” with a love heart in between painted on the shoes’ hidden arch. The shoes reportedly took 6 months to complete.
Renowned florist David Longman told Express that after Queen Elizabeth lost her flowers during her own wedding, she estabished the tradition of having two identical bouquets made to prevent any other royal bride from experiencing a similar mishap. “We made two bouquets. The first one had to be delivered at 8 o’clock to Buckingham Palace. We had a police escort motorcyclist who took us all through the city to the Palace,” said Longman about the royal affair. “Then we came back, and by that time they had finished the second bouquet and back we went again.”
Diana was so overcome with nerves when she made it to the altar that she actually mixed up the order of her groom’s many names. Rather than calling her husband Charles Philip, she referred to him as Philip Charles Arthur George.
Watched by Millions
The royal wedding became an international spectacle. The event was watched by 3,500 distinguished guests. The bride’s arrival and the ceremony was broadcast in 74 countries, and watched by 750 million people worldwide.
The Forgotten Kiss
It seems the Prince was also affected by nerves on the big day. As is tradition, the bride and groom are supposed to seal their vows with a kiss. In what appeared to be an ominous sign, Prince Charles forgot to kiss Diana at the altar. The couple later kissed on the balcony, watched by millions.
In another fact that proved Diana would be no ordinary royal wife, Diana was the first Englishwoman in 300 years to become the spouse of an heir apparent, and she was also the first royal bride to have a paying job before her engagement. She worked as a kindergarten teacher assistant.
Ex in Attendence
Diana was reportedly well aware of Charles’ lingering feelings for Camilla Parker Bowles prior to their wedding day. Rather surprisingly, Camilla was invited to the wedding, but Diana had refused to have her attend the more exclusive wedding breakfast that took place at Buckingham Palace before the nuptials.
Diana’s wedding dress outrageous 25-foot train ended up causing problems on her big day. The designers of her dress didn’t factor in the size of the small glass carriage she would be traveling in. The dress and its lengthy train ended up being crushed inside the carriage. When she arrived at the London cathedral, there were visible wrinkles in her dress and train, which her bridesmaids tried to shake out.
Tiara in Training
Princess Diana’s brother, Charles Spencer, revealed that the elaborate tiara that she wore on her wedding day gave her a splitting headache. “In the evening we all went to a sort of semi-private party and she was there and she seemed incredibly relaxed and happy and I just remember she had a cracking headache too because she wasn’t used to wearing a tiara all morning,” he said. Diana wore the Spencer Tiara, which had been in Diana’s family for almost a century.
In yet another incident that pointed to trouble for the pair, Charles revealed his supposed hesitation in a live interview when the pair’s engagement was announced. When the two publicly confirmed their engagement in 1981, a reporter asked if they were in love. “Of course,” Diana said, yet Charles replied with a deceiving, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.”
In yet another wedding fumble, the Princess actually spilled an entire bottle of perfume on her dress while trying to dab her inner wrists with the scent. Her favorite perfume, Quelques Fleure actually left a stain on the dress that the princess covered with her hand or her bridal bouquet throughout the ceremony.
Diana had envisioned exactly what she wanted her wedding gown to look like, and the Princess also had in mind a little something extra. There was a hidden good luck charm in Diana’s dress: a 18-carat gold horseshoe trinket studded with white diamonds. “[The dress] was the fulfillment of her princess fantasy,” wrote biographer Tina Brown. “She was insistent in her demand for its puffy sleeves and floating silk, its twenty-five-foot taffeta train, its nipped waist, and its antique lace embroidered with pearls and sequins.”
As part of the intense security operation before the royal nuptials, according to the The New York Times, police opened the surrounding area’s manholes, used a host of search dogs, and stationed sharpshooters on nearby roofs in the case of an attack by Irish Republican guerrillas. The security measures reportedly boosted the wedding’s total cost, when adjusted for inflation, to $110 million.
The press were so desperate to get a sneak peek of Diana’s dress, that the dress designers, the Emanuels, took unprecedented security precautions of their own when designing the gown. The pair ripped up sketches after showing them to the Princess (since journalists had previously ransacked their trash). The pair even installed a safe in their studio to hold their designs.
The couple received an array of outrageous gifts from the world’s dignitaries. On behalf of the United States, the Reagans sent the couple an engraved Steuben glass bowl and a handmade porcelain centerpiece. Canada gifted the couple a roomful of antique Canadian-made furniture, including a four-poster bed in maple and a small desk. Australia sent 20 handcrafted silver platters, inscribed with the date of the marriage. The couple also received whisky from Scotland; a matching diamond and sapphire watch, bracelet, pendant, ring, and earrings from Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia; and a pair of 100-year-old silk mittens.
Despite the fairytale dress and the worldwide adoration, Diana’s misery began as she made her way down the aisle. In 2017, previously unseen footage was unearthed which shows the Princess talking to her friend and voice coach, Peter Settelen. She goes on to describe her wedding day as “the worst day of my life.” She added, referring to Camilla, “If I could write my own script I would have my husband go away with his woman and never come back.”
Another fact, that was only uncovered once the pair had wedded, revealed Charles and Diana were distantly related. They were distant cousins — very, very distant. Diana and Charles were 16th cousins once removed as they were both descendants of Tudor King, Henry VII.
The couple were expected to spend some much-needed quality time together on their 14 day honeymoon aboard a cruise round the Mediterranean. Yet the cracks appeared in the relationship soon after their departure. Diana wrote in an uncovered piece of correspondence, “The honeymoon was a perfect opportunity to catch up on sleep…”
Though Charles and Diana were photographed looking like infatuated newlyweds, the public have since learnt of the heartbreaking reality behind the images. Reports have also said that Diana was prescribed valium while the two honeymooned in Balmoral, Scotland.
Though many attributed her excessive weight loss to nerves approaching her wedding day. Released tapes reveal a more sinister story. A comment Charles made to Diana while the couple was engaged “set something off” in her. When Charles grabbed Diana’s waist and reportedly said, “Oh, a bit chubby here, aren’t we?”, it led Diana to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. She went from a 29-inch waist all the way down to 23.5 inches before she walked down the aisle.
The Queen’s Disapproval
Though Her Majesty the Queen, was initially pleased with Diana as a choice for her royal son, the relationship would ultimately drive a wedge between the Charles and the Queen. In 1993, an audio transcript of a phone call between Camilla and Charles made it to the press, confirming the sexual nature of their affair. Once the news became public, the Queen was outraged by the scandal. Until the mid-2000s, the Queen actually refused to be in Duchess Camilla’s presence.
A Hidden Gift
Charles’s apparent insensitivity made it hard for Diana to ignore his relationship with Parker-Bowels. The Prince and Camilla had nicknames for one another: Fred and Gladys. Just weeks before his wedding to Diana, Charles gifted Camilla a bracelet with a G and F inscribed on it, which Diana soon discovered. Graciously, Diana still allowed Camilla to attend the nuptials.
The wedding between Diana and Charles historically took place at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Lady Diana left Clarence House and was transported to the ceremony venue in a glass and gold coach. One of few royal weddings not to take place at the royal church at Westminster Abbey, the last royal wedding to be held at St. Paul’s Cathedral was 480 years before that of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, between Prince Arthur, eldest son of King Henry VII, and Princess Catherine in 1501.
With the recent marriage of her youngest son, Prince Harry, many have been inspired to reflect on the great life of the beloved late Princess Diana. Throughout her troubled marriage and fluctuating personal health, Diana will be remembered as a Princess of the People, a gracious and authentic beauty who remains an immortal icon.