When Prince Charles tied the knot with Diana in 1981 their nuptials were dubbed the “wedding of the century.” According to the BBC, it was seen on television by 750 million people across the globe and would go down as one of the most-watched broadcasts in history. But some of the sweetest aspects of their big day have been overlooked – as these 40 images show.
Charles and Diana had become engaged just five months prior to their big day on July 29, 1981. Though it seems that this timespan was long enough for wedding fever to take hold in the U.K. as 600,000 people lined the London streets in the hopes of watching history unfold. This picture shows a small part of that crowd, some of whom waved flags as they waited for the royal party to pass by.
But it seems that it wasn’t just everyday folk who were excited by the prospect of the royal wedding. Here, comedian Spike Milligan can be seen entertaining the crowds on the big day. He joined an illustrious congregation of 3,500 people at the wedding, which included royalty from across Europe, heads of state and people from the entertainment industry.
Among the guests was Nancy Reagan – the then-First Lady of the United States. She and her husband Ronald gifted Charles and Diana with a bespoke Boehm porcelain centerpiece and an engraved glass bowl by Steuben on behalf of America. Meanwhile, the Canadians presented the couple with antique furniture, while Australia sent 20 inscribed silver platters.
St. Paul’s Cathedral began to fill up as guests arrived. Charles and Diana broke with tradition by choosing this venue, as Westminster Abbey was the usual choice for royal weddings. However, the latter apparently had less of a wow-factor for the bride. Lady Colin Campbell explained in her book The Real Diana that St. Paul’s “was more beautiful, could hold a full orchestra, and had a world-famous choir.”
Among the guests at Charles and Diana’s wedding were representatives of various European royal families. In this photo are Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II and Prince Henrik. Meanwhile, behind them is Norway’s King Harald V. Royals from Monoco, the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium were also in attendance. Spain’s King Juan Carlos turned down his invitation due to the couple’s controversial decision to kick off their honeymoon cruise in Gibraltar.
Members of Charles’ family arrived at St. Paul’s in eight carriages. These included Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, who are photographed here on the way to their son’s wedding. Diana had known the royal family since she was a child, and they reportedly approved of her relationship with Charles.
Prince Charles also traveled to his wedding in a state carriage – accompanied by his brother Prince Andrew. According to tradition, royals have “supporters” instead of best men, and they are essentially the same thing. The groom chose both of his brothers – Andrew and Edward – to fulfil this role at his wedding.
Charles seemed to be in good spirits as he smiled and waved at onlookers on the way to his wedding. He wore his naval commander uniform that featured three gold bands on the cuff, which symbolized his role within the Royal Navy. He also sported epaulets and the royal cipher of the Prince of Wales.
Meanwhile, people flocked to The Mall in London and formed a huge crowd as the day got underway. The tree-lined street connects Trafalgar Square to Buckingham Palace and is often a point of focus during parades and royal weddings. According to CBS News, $600,000 was spent just on crowd control and security in a bid to maintain order on Charles and Diana’s big day.
Diana arrived at the wedding accompanied by her father Earl Spencer. They had traveled to St. Paul’s in a glass coach, which was barely big enough to accommodate them and the bride’s humongous gown. Nevertheless, Diana looks happy here as she waves and smiles to the onlooking crowd.
It seemed that Diana wanted to make quite the impression on her big day, as she stepped out in the longest train in royal wedding history. It measured 25 feet and was designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Here, some of Diana’s five bridesmaids grapple with the lengthy accessory as she prepares to make her entrance in St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Diana’s chief bridesmaid at her wedding to Charles was Sarah Armstrong-Jones: the daughter of Princess Margaret and her former husband the Earl of Snowdon. At the time, Sarah was 17 years old – just three years younger than the 20-year-old bride. Charles, meanwhile, was 32 on his wedding day.
The cathedral looked rammed to the rafters with distinguished guests ahead of Diana’s arrival in the historic building. Among the individuals in the congregation was Camilla Parker Bowles – then Charles’ ex-girlfriend and his future wife. Diana was aware of her husband’s feelings for Camilla, and the latter was allowed to attend the ceremony, though she was not present at the couple’s wedding breakfast.
Diana was accompanied down the aisle by her father: Earl Spencer. And she walked to the sound of “Trumpet Voluntary in D” by Jeremiah Clarke. In this shot, the bride makes her way past some of the top figures in British politics at the time. These include the then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and politicians Leon Brittan and Michael Heseltine.
Diana’s father gave her away to her husband-to-be after she reached the end of the aisle. The ceremony was officiated by the Archbishop of Canterbury: Robert Runcie. He said of the wedding during his sermon, “Here is the stuff of which fairytales are made.” But he warned that marriage was just the start of this story.
The couple were seen sharing a tender moment during the ceremony, as Charles seemingly whispered in Diana’s ear. It’s reported that the bride accidentally stained the wedding dress with her favorite perfume – Quelques Fleurs – on the big day. As a result, she apparently covered the mark with her hand throughout her nuptials.
Members of Diana’s family watched on from the sidelines during the ceremony. They included her parents John Spencer and Frances Shand Kydd and her sibling Charles, who would later follow his dad’s footsteps to become the 9th Earl Spencer. Meanwhile, Diana’s maternal grandmother Lady Fermoy was also in attendance.
Evidently, Charles and Diana enjoyed a fairytale wedding, but it was not without the odd hiccup. While saying her vows, Diana mixed up her groom’s names – referring to him as “Philip Charles” rather than “Charles Philip.” For his part, Charles offered his bride “thy goods” instead of his “worldly goods.”
The signing of this document by Prince Charles, Diana and the Archbishop of Canterbury was history in the making. Upon her marriage to the future king of England, Lady Spencer became Diana, Princess of Wales. Following her vows, she would go on to become one of the most-loved members of the royal family until her untimely death in 1997.
Charles and Diana’s wedding might seem as traditional as they come. But the couple did break from convention in some ways. For one, they were the first members of the British royal family to ditch an old-fashioned vow to “obey.” Nevertheless, some time-honored rituals were adhered to – as is seen here – when Diana curtseyed to the Queen after becoming the Princess of Wales.
Charles and Diana then left St. Paul’s together with their bridesmaids once the wedding ceremony was over. The two youngest were Catherine Cameron and Clementine Hambro who were six and five respectively. The latter had been a favorite pupil of Diana’s from her time working at Young England kindergarten. And like the bride, she was also a relative of Winston Churchill.
Charles and Diana subsequently emerged from St. Paul’s Cathedral as husband and wife following their nuptials. Here, the newly appointed Princess of Wales waves to onlookers as she stands side-by-side with Charles. And as she takes off her veil, Diana’s family heirloom the Spencer Tiara can now be seen in all its glory.
Charles and Diana arrived at St. Paul’s separately, though they left together in a gold-encrusted, horse-drawn carriage. The coach would take them to Buckingham Palace to continue the celebrations. First, though, the couple enjoyed a procession through the packed-out streets of London – smiling and waving as they went.
It’s clear to see from this image just what a spectacle Charles and Diana’s wedding procession was to behold. The parade was flanked by members of the Household Cavalry and the Foot Guards, and it had all the pomp and ceremony we’ve come to expect from a royal wedding. As a result, the happy couple seemingly delighted the crowds as they rolled by in their carriage.
It’s hard to imagine what a whirlwind Diana’s wedding must have been. But in this image, it appears that she is taking a second to soak it all up. Later, Diana would call her nuptials to Charles the “worst day of my life” in leaked audio tapes. But judging from the smile on her face, it would appear the new princess did find moments of joy on her big day.
The Queen and Earl Spencer traveled onto Buckingham Palace together as the father of the bride and mother of the groom following Diana and Charles’ wedding ceremony. The Spencers had many connections to the royal family; they rented a home owned by the Queen, while the monarch was also the godmother of Diana’s brother Charles.
Meanwhile, Charles’ father Prince Philip and Diana’s mother Frances Shand Kydd also shared a carriage. The Princess of Wales’ parents had divorced while she was a child, and her father had won custody of her and Diana’s siblings. She was not close to her mom, though their family resemblance is clear to see.
It would be fair to say that the eyes of the world were on the couple throughout the royal wedding. Charles had long attracted media attention as heir to the British throne. However, his relationship and subsequent marriage to Diana particularly captivated the press and general public alike. Their wedding was watched in as many as 74 countries, according to Biography.com.
Part of the interest in the wedding was no doubt down to the fact that the royal family came out in force to celebrate the big day. Here, Charles’ aunt Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon is seen traveling the procession with his sister: Princess Anne. By this point, both women had enjoyed royal weddings of their own. Margaret had married Antony Armstrong-Jones back in 1960, while Anne wed Mark Phillips 13 years later. Sadly, both marriages ended in divorce.
For his part, Prince Edward also formed part of the wedding procession. Charles’ youngest sibling is seen here riding in a carriage alongside some of Diana’s bridesmaids. He would go on to marry Sophie Rhys-Jones in 1999 and is the only one of the Queen’s children who has not been divorced.
And the wedding procession was quite the sight to behold as it snaked its way through London. Flags and bunting hung along the route between St. Paul’s and Buckingham Palace. As can be seen in this picture, some people took to balconies in a bid to catch a glimpse of the historic moment, while others perched precariously on a store sign.
Eventually, Charles and Diana arrived at Buckingham Palace to get their wedding breakfast underway. The reception was a more intimate affair than the couple’s ceremony – with just 120 guests in attendance. The celebration took place away from public eyes, and this gave the bride and groom some privacy on their big day.
The festivities of the royal wedding included a military parade outside of Buckingham Palace. And the day’s pageantry was widely celebrated by the international press. Reporting on the event, The New York Times said that it symbolized “the continuity of the monarchy” in the United Kingdom.
Behind the gates of Buckingham Palace, the wedding party gathered in the throne room for a series of official portraits. In this one, Charles and Diana are accompanied by their groomsmen, pageboys and bridesmaids. The group includes Charles, brothers Andrew and Edward, and their niece – Princess Anne’s daughter – Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones.
Here, the happy couple pose alongside other members of the British royal family, some of Diana’s relatives and their bridesmaids and ushers in another official portrait from Charles and Diana’s big day. Among the crowd is Charles’ grandmother the Queen Mother, as well as the parents and siblings of the bride and groom.
Perhaps one of the most incredible images from Diana and Charles’ wedding is this one. It shows the bride and groom alongside members of multiple royal families from across Europe. These include the monarchs of Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Norway, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands and Sweden.
Charles and Diana also emerged on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to greet the crowds as part of their big day. The spot has often been a focal point during royal events and weddings since 1858. The tradition was started by Princess Victoria – the daughter of Queen Victoria – who was the first to utilize the platform on her big day.
But while Charles and Diana were honoring this old custom by appearing on the balcony, they also started another tradition. While the couple forgot to kiss following their vows in St. Paul’s, they made up for it with a public smooch in front of the crowds gathered outside Buckingham Palace. In the years since, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson and Prince William and Kate Middleton have followed in their footsteps.
Charles and Diana made an understated exit from Buckingham Palace in an open-top carriage following their wedding breakfast. They were bound for Waterloo Station, where they would catch a train to Broadlands – a country pile where they would spend the first part of their honeymoon. And tied to the back of the landau was a homemade “just married” sign to mark the occasion.
It seemed that Prince Charles and Princess Diana might one day become the King and Queen of Britain back on that day in 1981. However, their marriage was not to last. They eventually separated in 1992 and subsequently divorced in 1996. Sadly, Diana died just one year later following a car crash aged just 36.