By this time Prince Charles was 32 years old, and the Palace had been putting him under pressure to settle down since he had reached 30.
Charles had spent his twenties living a playboy lifestyle, encouraged by his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, who infamously told Charles to “sow his wild oats and have as many affairs as you can before settling down.” However, the search began for his future queen, that would fit the antiquated, pre-feminist idea of what that meant.
Diana was considered a suitable bride due to her beauty, lineage and unimpeachable personal record. The only surprise was that Charles had previously dated her older sister Sarah. With just six months between their first date and their engagement, in which time she spent a weekend at Balmoral and was approved by the family, they met only 13 times, according to Diana.
The wedding day was announced and declared a national holiday in the UK and was watched by an estimated global television audience of 750 million people. This was to be the fairy-tale wedding to beat all fairy-tales.
At 11:00 on 24 February 1981, the engagement of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer was official. Although the couple had first met in 1977 when Diana’s older sister Sarah was courting with Prince Charles, it was 1980 before Charles and Diana began dating. Just six months later, on 6 February 1981, Charles asked for Diana’s hand in marriage, and her positive response was kept secret until the official announcement.
Charles presented Diana with a large oval sapphire and fourteen diamonds set in platinum. The ring was made by the royal jewellers Garrard & Company, London and is now worn by Kate, wife of Diana’s eldest son William. At the time, the ring was controversial as Diana chose the ring directly out of the company’s catalogue and did not have a bespoke ring made.
It was Diana who chose David and Elizabeth Emanuel to create her ivory pure silk taffeta wedding gown, her princess fantasy. It was she who demanded the puffy sleeves, a neckline decorated with taffeta bows and floating silk, a twenty-five-foot taffeta train and antique Carrickmacross lace with embroidered pearls and sequins. Diana wanted to set a royal wedding record with the longest train in history. The wedding dress design was kept strictly secret.
The designers also created bridal slippers adorned with 540 sequins and 130 pearls in a heart-shaped design, which had the initials of C and D hand-painted on the arches. At the time Charles told a cousin that he found the day so joyful he could have cried. For her part, Diana said the day was both amazing and wonderful, though of course, the stories were slightly different about a decade later.
Diana carried a vast cascading bouquet including gardenias, gold Mountbatten roses, orchids, and myrtle, the latter being a royal tradition from Queen Victoria’s wedding bouquet. The bouquet was about 100 centimetres in length and was said to weigh about two kilograms. What is incredible, is that two identical bouquets were made up on the day, in case one got lost, as was the case at the wedding of Queen Elizabeth to Prince Philip in 1947.
The ceremony was a traditional Church of England wedding service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral doors opened at 09:00 and guests arrived from this point on, greeted with cheers from vast crowds. St Paul’s was chosen as the venue as it was able to hold more guests than Westminster Abbey, the site of most royal weddings over past generations.
The Dean of St Paul's Cathedral Alan Webster presided at the service, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie conducted the marriage.
Charles arrived at the cathedral with his brothers Andrew and Edward who walked up to the aisle with him. Lady Diana arrived at the cathedral in the Glass Coach, with her father. After some efforts to extricate her scrunched up train from the coach, the pair entered the cathedral to a trumpeted fanfare before walking up the aisle.
Both Diana got Charles’ made errors with their vows. Diana named her groom “Philip Charles Arthur George.” while Charles vowed not to share his own worldly goods, but his brides, saying “thy” instead of “my.”
After the wedding service was completed, the couple left the cathedral to the sound of St. Paul’s bells ringing out, soon joined by church bells from across London. Charles and Diana travelled back to Buckingham Palace for the wedding reception in a 1902 State Postillion Landau.
Three choirs, three orchestras and a fanfare ensemble played the music for the service: 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. Music 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.
About 3,500 guests attended the wedding, including European monarchs and more than 160 foreign dignitaries.