40 Things You Didn’t Know About the Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer
This July 29th, it will have been 41 years since the so-called "Wedding of the Century." Although 750 million watched events unfold at the time, few were privy to these fascinating behind-the-scenes facts as recounted by royal historian, Carolyn Harris.
A Royal Wedding to Remember
On July 29, 1981, 750 million people in more than 70 countries watched Prince Charles, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, marry Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Although the marriage ended in divorce in 1996 and Diana tragically died in a car accident a year later, the wedding remains one of the most iconic moments in royal history. The celebrations set the scene for future royal weddings including those of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011 and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.
To mark the 41 years that have passed since, here’s a fascinating collection of little-known facts about the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
1. Prince Charles was the first British heir to the throne to marry a bride without a royal title in more than 300 years.
In 1660, the future King James II married one of his sister Mary’s ladies-in-waiting, Anne Hyde, after she became pregnant. Lady Diana Spencer was a member of the British aristocracy and was even descended from illegitimate children of King Charles II, but the engagement was still significant in establishing that a future Queen or Prince Consort did not have to belong to a royal house. (Here are more Princess Diana facts most people don’t know.)
2. Charles told the press in 1975, “I personally feel that a good age for a man to get married is around 30.”
Those words would come to haunt him. After Charles turned 30 on November 14, 1978, the pressure on him to get married increased considerably. In 1979, he proposed to his second cousin Amanda Knatchbull, the granddaughter of Lord Mountbatten, but according to Charles’s biographer Lord Dimbleby, she gave a “gentle but immediate” refusal.
3. The murder of Lord Mountbatten by the IRA helped bring Charles and Diana together.
As dramatized in Season 4 of The Crown on Netflix, Diana offered her condolences when Charles was grieving the loss of his great-uncle Lord Mountbatten, who he viewed as an honourary grandfather. Diana later recalled that after she told Charles, “My heart bled for you,” as she watched Mountbatten’s funeral, Charles “leapt on me, practically…and I wasn’t quite sure how to cope with this.”
4. Charles proposed to Diana in the nursery of Windsor Castle on February 6, 1981: the 29th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s accession to the throne.
5. They’d seen each other just 13 times before the proposal.
Diana later told her biographer Andrew Morton that she responded with giggles as she thought he was joking, but “The Prince was deadly serious, emphasizing the earnestness of his proposal by reminding her that one day she would be Queen.”
6. Both Charles and Diana had second thoughts about their engagement.
Charles was concerned about Diana’s mood swings and, according to journalist Tina Brown, was “desperately worried about how thin she was getting.” Charles’s biographer Sally Bedell-Smith notes he ultimately put it down to “pre-wedding jitters.” Diana, on the other hand, was troubled by Charles’s enduring friendship with his former girlfriend Camilla Parker Bowles.
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The Wedding Dress
7. Diana’s ivory silk taffeta and antique lace gown incorporated something old and something new.
The silk taffeta was woven by Stephen Waters of Suffolk and the Carickmacross lace had been worn by Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother, Queen Mary.
8. Diana’s waist size shrunk five-and-a-half inches during the engagement.
Diana suffered from bulimia, exacerbated by press scrutiny and tabloid comments about the supposed “ounce or two of puppy fat” under her arms. When she was engaged, she wore a size 14, but her waist shrank from 29 to 23.5 inches between her first and last wedding dress fittings.
9. There was a backup wedding dress.
The wedding dress designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, were concerned that photos of the wedding dress might be leaked to the press, so they designed a backup dress to be worn in the event that the design for the original become known. The second dress was a simpler version of the original without lace or embroidery. The backup dress was never finished and its current location is unknown.
10. The glass coach was not large enough for Diana, her father, and her wedding dress and train.
Bridesmaid India Hicks later recalled, “We all recognized the terrible mistake of having Diana, her father, who was by no means a small man, and a voluminous train pushed into a small carriage. Her dress, train and father were completely crumpled.”
11. Diana’s wedding dress has a lasting impact on 1980s fashions.
Margaret Trudeau, wife of then-Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and mother of current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commented at the time of the wedding, “’I can see that [Diana’s] going to have an influence on fashion—that we’re all suddenly going to get out of all this tailored business and into all kinds of ruffles.”
12. The Crown series on Netflix meticulously recreated Diana’s wedding dress for just a few moments onscreen.
The wedding ceremony itself was not re-enacted in the series, but an entire episode of Season 4 is devoted to the couple’s engagement.
The Wedding Guests
13. 3,500 people were on the guest list, including political figures from around the world.
Charles was Queen Elizabeth II’s eldest son and the heir to the throne; therefore, the guest list included obligatory world leaders as well as friends and family.
14. Camilla Parker Bowles was one of the guests.
Camilla wore a grey suit and matching pillbox hat with a veil, and was seated next to her sister, Annabel Eliot. Her first husband, Andrew Parker Bowles, was part of the festivities, commanding the Household Cavalry escort for the newlywed Charles and Diana. Camilla would eventually marry Prince Charles in 2005. (Here’s why Prince Charles didn’t marry Camilla in the first place.)
15. A special chair was custom-made for the King of Tonga.
King Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV of Tonga, a Pacific island nation that is part of the Commonwealth, was 6’5″ and 350 pounds and required a custom-made chair for the wedding. The King of Tonga considered the custom chairs to be state presents and took them home with him afterward.
16. The King and Queen of Spain refused to attend the wedding because of Charles and Diana’s honeymoon plans.
King Juan Carlos of Spain (who abdicated in 2014) is a descendant of Queen Victoria, and his wife Queen Sofia is a cousin of Prince Philip. Despite the family ties, they declined their invitations to the wedding as an act of protest because Charles and Diana would sail from Gibraltar—British territory since 1713, then claimed by Spain—on the Royal Yacht Britannia on their honeymoon.
17. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau attended the wedding ceremony alone.
Trudeau’s wife Margaret and their children, Justin, Sasha and Michel, watched the procession from Canada House in London’s Trafalgar Square. Both Pierre and Margaret were invited to the ceremony but they were estranged by the time of royal wedding and enjoyed the festivities separately.
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The Wedding Gifts
18. Charles and Diana had a gift registry at the General Trading Company in London.
While Princes William and Harry encouraged guests at their respective weddings to make charitable donations, Diana made it clear that gifts were welcome. “We have got two houses to fill,” she said.
19. Prince Charles received a ton of peat for his garden (literally).
As a wedding present, local village council in rural Somerset gave Prince Charles a ton of peat for use in the garden at his Highgrove estate in Gloucestershire. Prince Charles is the royal patron of the Soil Association in the United Kingdom, which has set organic standards since 1967.
20. More than a thousand wedding gifts were displayed to the public at St. James’s Palace in London.
Gifts on display ranged from priceless diamond and sapphire jewelry from then-Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia to a heart-shaped potato from schoolchildren Amanda and Melanie Simkin.
21. The Commonwealth nations presented official wedding gifts after the ceremony.
Governor General Edward Schreyer presented wedding gifts on behalf of Canada. Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Jean Wadds, was tasked with delivering the gifts to the royal couple.
22. Canada gave the royal couple a four-poster bed made of curly maple wood.
After consulting with Charles and Diana, the Canadian government selected 18th- and 19th-century antique furniture from Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia as a wedding gift. The suite included a four-poster bed, a birch chest of drawers, two candle stands, a mahogany framed mirror and a maple drop-front desk. Canada also gave Charles a painting of loons by famed Ontario artist Robert Bateman and Diana a diamond brooch.
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The Wedding Ceremony
23. Charles chose most of the wedding music himself.
In an interview prior to the wedding, Charles said that for the three-and-a-half minute walk down the aisle, he wanted something “very stirring, very dramatic and noisy so ankles can’t be heard creaking.” For the hymn, he chose “Let the Bright Seraphim” from George Frederic Handel’s Samson, sung by Kiri Te Kanawa of New Zealand.
24. Diana chose to omit the promise to “obey” from the wedding vows.
Although Queen Victoria was a reigning Queen at the time of her 1840 wedding and Queen Elizabeth II was the future queen when she married Prince Philip in 1947, they both vowed to obey their husbands. Diana asked for this word to be omitted from the vows, setting a precedent for future royal brides.
25. Both Charles and Diana stumbled over their vows.
Diana mixed up Charles’s first and middle names, vowing to marry “Philip Charles Arthur George” rather than “Charles Philip Arthur George,” while Charles vowed to endow Diana with “thy goods” rather than “all my worldly goods.”
26. Diana was nervous about curtsying to the Queen after the ceremony.
Aware that her wedding dress would weigh 20 pounds, including 10,000 pearls, Diana carefully practiced the curtsy to the Queen that would follow the signing of the register. The New York Times recorded, “with a deep curtsy by the Princess to her mother-in-law and sovereign, and with the solemn notes of Elgar’s ”Pomp and Circumstance No. 4,” [the wedding] was suddenly over.”
27. Charles and Diana were the first royal couple to kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
Newlywed royal couples had made an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony since Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter Victoria married Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia. Charles and Diana, however, were the first to kiss there in front of the cheering crowds.
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28. Diana’s bouquet was placed on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.
When Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (the future Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother) married the future King George VI in 1923, she left her bouquet on the tomb of the Unknown Warrior in honour of her brother Fergus, who died in the First World War. In doing so, she created a new royal wedding tradition followed by subsequent royal brides.
29. Only 120 of the guests were invited to the wedding reception.
The Queen hosted a luncheon, known as a wedding breakfast, for just 120 close friends and family at Buckingham Palace after the ceremony.
30. The menu at the reception included items named after the bride.
At the four-course wedding breakfast, guests dined on “Supréme de Volaille Princesse de Galles” or “Princess of Wales chicken supreme.”
31. There were 27 wedding cakes.
The largest cake (above) was a five-foot-tall fruit cake decorated with Prince Charles’s coat of arms, the Spencer family crest, ornamental “C” and “D” initials and flowers.
32. A slice of the giant wedding fruit cake was sold at an auction for $1,375 in 2014.
The slice came in a white and silver presentation box with a “CD” monogram and the date of the wedding. A piece of toast from the wedding breakfast had previously sold for $373.15 in 2012.
33. Charles and Diana started their honeymoon with three nights at the Mountbatten family estate, Broadlands.
It was the same place—and even the same bed—where Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip spent their wedding night in 1947. Broadlands now belongs to Lord Mountbatten’s grandson, Norton Knatchbull, 3rd Earl Mountbatten of Burma.
34. Charles arranged for the first-ever double bed to be brought aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia for the honeymoon cruise.
On the yacht, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had always slept in twin beds in adjoining (but separate) rooms. The Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned in 1997 and became a museum ship in Leith harbour in Scotland. The bed from Charles and Diana’s honeymoon remains on display there.
35. The crew of the Yacht Britannia wore rubber-soled slippers to avoid disturbing the newlyweds.
Crew member Philip Benjamin recalled, “We were told to fade into the background, we were to act like air.” Diana enjoyed attending crew parties below decks and played the piano for the sailors.
36. The honeymoon included an official dinner with the President of Egypt.
There were few stops on the honeymoon cruise because all visits ashore would have received extensive press attention and demand visits with local dignitaries. When the ship docked in Egypt’s Port Said, Charles and Diana invited the President Anwar Sadat and his wife Jihan aboard for an official dinner.
37. Charles wore a pair of cufflinks that had been a gift from Camilla Parker Bowles.
Diana was outraged that Charles wore the cufflinks, which displayed two gold intertwined “C”s, during their honeymoon. Journalist and Diana biographer Tina Brown notes that Charles did not pick out his own clothes, and that his valet Stephen Barry may have deliberately chosen the cufflinks out of spite following a disagreement with Diana.
Read more about what happened on Charles and Diana’s honeymoon.
38. Unlike Charles and Diana, Prince William and Catherine Middleton took their time to get engaged.
While Charles and Diana were engaged after a whirlwind courtship only to discover they did not know each other very well once they were married, William and Catherine took their time to build a lasting relationship. They dated for eight years and lived together while they were students at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
39. Prince William gave Catherine Middleton Diana’s engagement ring.
When Prince William proposed to Catherine Middleton in 2010, he presented her with Diana’s sapphire engagement ring. Prince Harry had originally chosen this keepsake for himself, but gave it to William as his relationship with Catherine progressed.
40. Despite the breakdown of Charles and Diana’s relationship, royal weddings remain cause for celebration.
The 2011 wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey played to a global audience of 2 billion (including 5.22 million Canadians).
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