Wedding of Lady Diana and Prince Charles

The Wedding of the Century

Princess Diana and Prince Charles sitting together in a carriage after their wedding.
Diana, Princess of Wales and Prince Charles ride in a carriage after their wedding at St. Paul's Cathedral July 29, 1981 in London, England. (Photo by Anwar Hussein/WireImage / Getty Images)

It was considered the wedding of the century. On July 29, 1981, 20-year old Lady Diana Spencer married 32-year-old Prince Charles at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. It was the first time in 300 years that a common British citizen would marry an heir to the throne. As Diana walked down the aisle in her beautiful, ivory, silk taffeta dress with a 25-foot-long train, an astonishing 750 million people watched on television to see her turn into a princess.

 

Charles and Diana Meet

The story began when Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth II, told him it was time for him to find a wife. Although he was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles, she was already married and, besides that, she was considered unsuitable for a royal match. However, that did not stop Charles from having an affair with her.

While Charles was secretly seeing Camilla, he was also dating other women in order to find a bride. It was while dating Diana's older sister, Sarah, that Charles and Diana first met during a garden party at Althorp, the Spencer's home, in 1977. Diana, who had reportedly already been fascinated with the prince, was now smitten. Charles saw Diana as a young, lively teenager.

In the summer of 1980, the two met again, this time with a different outcome. After talking with Diana at a polo match, Charles began inviting Diana to different outings. It wasn't long before the press got wind of the relationship, making the very shy Diana front-page news.

 

Getting Engaged

On February 6, 1981, after just six months of courtship, Prince Charles asked Diana to marry him. She was about to go to Australia with her mom and step-father and he hoped she would think about his question while she was away. Excitedly, Diana told Charles "yes" before she left.

The two kept the engagement a secret until her return.

Before the announcement was made public, Diana was given a selection of engagement rings to choose from; she picked a sapphire ring from Gerrard jewelers. The ring contained a 12-carat, oval sapphire, which was surrounded by 14 diamonds. At the time, some royal family members scoffed at her choice since it wasn't a ring made special for the occasion. (Later, Prince William proposed with this very same ring to Kate Middleton.)

On February 24, 1981, Charles and Diana's engagement was made public and the couple offered a very rare, joint interview. With hands joined, Charles and Diana, at first glance, seemed in love. It was only the telltale question at the end of the interview that lead to some doubt. When asked if they were in love, Diana answered, "Of course," while Charles responded, "Whatever in love means."

The Dress

Diana's wedding dress was a closely guarded secret. Reporters staked out the shop of Elizabeth and David Emanuel, the couple that Diana chose to design her dress, in order to get even a hint of the design.

To make sure the wedding dress was a secret, the Emanuels even made a different, back-up dress to be used if the primary dress design became public. Surprisingly, Diana's wedding-dress design was successfully kept a secret.

The wedding dress turned out to be gorgeous and matched the fairy-tale-wedding atmosphere of the day. It was made of ivory, silk taffeta, with antique lace attached to the bodice and decorated with 10,000 pearls. 

Most memorable, though, were the puffy sleeves and 25-foot-long train, which was the longest train in the history of royal weddings.

The Wedding

The actual wedding, held on July 29, 1981 at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, was large, extravagant, and wondrous.

Nearly 3,500 people attended personally, 600,000 people lined the streets of London hoping to catch a peek, and approximately 750 million people from around the world watched it on television.

Lady Diana and her father, Earl Spencer, arrived in a glass coach that did not quite accommodate the huge train, causing it to wrinkle. In addition to the dress, Diana wore a long veil, made of 150 yards of tule, and a tiara from the Spencer family collection.

When Diana emerged from the coach and the public got their first glimpse of the dress, the crowd cheered.

Once inside the cathedral, Diana was handed her large, beautiful bouquet, made of all white flowers, including gardenias, Earl Mountbatten roses, and Odontoglossum orchids as well as myrtle and veronica.

With her face still covered with the veil, Diana walked down the long aisle, accompanied by her father. At the altar, she met Prince Charles, who was wearing his full dress naval commander uniform.

The ceremony began at 11:20 a.m. with Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Robert Runcie officiating. Both Diana and Charles were nervous and made a few slight flubs in their lines, but otherwise all went smoothly. 

After a quick private signing, the newly married couple proceeded back down the long aisle to Elger's Pomp and Circumstance and then got into the horse-drawn, 1902 State Landau carriage, which took them to Buckingham Palace.

Dinner and a Kiss

Once at Buckingham, Princess Diana and Prince Charles went upstairs and kissed in front of the public for the first time.

The couple then enjoyed a private dinner with 120 guests, after which, they started on their honeymoon. For two weeks, the newlyweds enjoyed a cruise aboard the royal Britannica. Diana and Charles seemed to have a wonderful time spending time together on their honeymoon; it was when they got back to regular life that the troubles began.