Wedding of the Century: Charles & Diana


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

May Unions – St. Paul Cathedral, London, England

Lindsey Schwarck

National news anchors have been counting down the weeks, days and hours until the big day. Fashion critics anxiously speculate about the bride-to-be’s wedding gown designer. Paparazzi swarm the future princess, and her picture covers supermarket tabloids. The year: 1981.

The Couple

Diana Spencer captivated the media after Prince Charles proposed in February 1981. Spencer’s engagement ring consisted of 14 diamonds surrounding a large sapphire stone. Though the couple only courted for six months, they soon began planning for a fairy-tale wedding. They immediately caught the world’s attention.

“There was a lot of hype for several weeks leading up to the royal wedding. It was really interesting that something taking place in another country was having that effect in the United States,” said Michelle Uthe, an Iowa State alumna who was a high school senior at the time.

After months of anticipation, nearly 750 million viewers watched as Diana and Charles exchanged their vows on July 29, 1981. Another 600,000 people from across the world lined the streets outside St. Paul’s Cathedral to catch a glimpse of the royalty.

“It was hot and so loud, with so much cheering,” said bridesmaid Sarah Jane Gaselee in a post-wedding interview.

The Dress

The future princess arrived outside the church in a glass-topped coach accompanied by her father. It was the moment everyone had been waiting for: the unveiling of the dress.

Diana stepped out of the carriage in a ball gown fit for a queen. Created by David and Elizabeth Emanuel, the ivory dress was made of silk taffeta and lace embellishments. With a ruffled neck, full shoulders and full sleeves, the gown is best remembered for its 25-foot train. Like Kate Middleton, Diana had a spare dress (five to be exact) to wear in the event that her gown or choice of designer was revealed before the big day.

The Ceremony

After a long walk down the aisle, Diana reached Prince Charles and Robert Runcie (the archbishop of Canterbury, who led the service). The ceremony went smoothly, despite Diana transposing her husband’s name as “Philip Charles Arthur George” instead of “Charles Philip Arthur George” when reciting her vows.

After the wedding, the fans proceeded to Buckingham Palace. Church bells chimed and the crowd cheered as the husband and wife appeared on the balcony and shared a kiss.

It was the first time in 300 years that a British citizen married an heir to the throne. It also stands out as the “wedding of the century.”