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The Global Spectacle: Prince Charles and Lady Diana's Wedding

The Global Spectacle: Prince Charles and Lady Diana's Wedding

The union of Prince Charles and Lady Diana unfolded as a modern-day fairy tale, captivating the entire world.

The royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer took place at St. Paul's Cathedral on July 29, 1981, and left an indelible mark on history. Dubbed "the wedding of the century" for its opulence, it shattered records, set global fashion trends, and brought refreshing changes to royal traditions.

The Bride's Extraordinary Journey

Lady Diana Spencer, affectionately known as the "People's Princess," was the first British citizen in over three centuries to marry an heir to the throne. However, her lineage was far from ordinary, being the daughter of Edward John Spencer and Frances Ruth Burke Roche, the Viscount and Viscountess Althorp. Diana's initial encounter with Charles, the Prince of Wales, who was 13 years her senior, occurred when her family rented Queen Elizabeth II's estate, Park House, during her childhood.

Charles had briefly courted Diana's elder sister, Lady Sarah, before embarking on his courtship with Diana. He proposed to her with a 12-carat sapphire engagement ring adorned with 14 solitaire diamonds after just 13 meetings. To the public, the whirlwind romance between the reserved 20-year-old kindergarten teacher and the future king appeared as if it were plucked from the pages of a fairy tale.

The Guest List and Venue

The royal wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana held particular significance, as it was the first to take place at St. Paul's Cathedral in London since the nuptials of Prince Arthur (son of King Henry VII) and Princess Catherine in 1501. The grand interior of St. Paul's proved more suitable for hosting their 3,500 guests than the traditional site of royal weddings, Westminster Abbey, where Queen Elizabeth II had wed Prince Philip in 1947.

The guest list, however, was not without drama. While European leaders received invitations, some declined. The President of the Republic of Ireland declined due to disputes over Northern Ireland's status, while the President of Greece abstained because former King Constantine of Greece, a cousin and friend of Prince Charles, attended the wedding with the title of 'King.' King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, who were cousins to Prince Philip, also opted not to attend due to Charles and Diana's planned honeymoon in Gibraltar, a territory claimed by Spain but under British control since 1704.

America was represented by First Lady Nancy Reagan. The international press extensively covered the attire, interactions, and London festivities leading up to the grand event.

The Phenomenal Build-Up

In the months preceding the wedding, media coverage of the impending nuptials whipped the public into a frenzy. According to Jonny Dymond, BBC news' royal correspondent, Charles had been actively searching for a bride for nearly seven years. The newspapers maintained a continuous drumbeat about the impending wedding, despite challenging economic times in Britain marked by escalating unemployment, social unrest, and riots in major cities. Amidst these hardships, the "fairytale wedding" stood in stark contrast, with the last royal heir's wedding occurring in 1947 when Queen Elizabeth married.

The wedding was broadcast in 74 countries, captivating an astounding 750 million viewers worldwide. In the United States, people set their alarms early to witness the event live. In the UK, the wedding date, July 29, 1981, was declared a national holiday to enable more subjects to watch. Over 600,000 spectators thronged the streets of London, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Jeffery Simpson of the Globe and Mail reported that during the service, the royal couple could clearly hear the cheers of the thousands outside. After one such cheer, Lady Diana turned to Prince Charles, smiling beneath her veil.

Princess Diana's Iconic Wedding Attire

Princess Diana's wedding gown, a creation of David and Elizabeth Emanuel, was a masterpiece crafted from silk taffeta. It featured the longest train in royal history, stretching 25 feet and adorned with 10,000 pearls. Princess Diana complemented her ensemble with the Spencer tiara, an heirloom in her family for over a century, and a 153-yard veil.

Fun Fact: Amidst the 27 cakes at their wedding, the main cake, a fruitcake by David Avery, weighed over 200 pounds and featured five tiers.

The Ceremony and Cultural Impact

Princess Diana made history by omitting the word "obey" from her traditional wedding vows, a purposeful choice that stirred controversy. Several unplanned moments during the ceremony added to its charm, such as Diana momentarily addressing her husband by the wrong name, calling him "Philip Charles Arthur George" instead of "Charles Philip Arthur George."

Prince Charles unintentionally missed the customary kiss at the altar after exchanging vows but made up for it by sharing a kiss with Diana on thebalcony, delighting the jubilant crowds. This tradition was later continued by their eldest son, Prince William, at his 2011 wedding to Kate Middleton.

In his address to the wedding guests, the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed, "All couples are royal couples on their wedding day." This sentiment resonated, influencing the wedding industry. Diana-mania swept the world, with people imitating her style choices and fashion. The extravagant creations she wore during and after the wedding marked a romantic revival in an era recovering from industrial strife.

Even those who couldn't afford gowns with 25-foot trains settled for commemorative memorabilia, including tea towels, posters, Coca-Cola bottles, and a commemorative coin from the Royal Mint bearing the likenesses of the bride and groom.

While Charles and Diana's marriage ultimately ended in divorce in 1996, the enduring legacy of the "wedding of the century" continued to shape fashion, culture, and the weddings of their sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, each of which became global spectacles in their own right.

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