Before all of the drama that characterized Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship — the estrangement, divorce and her tragic death 20 years ago this month — there was the fairytale wedding. The lavish ceremony in London’s St Paul’s Cathedral was watched by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Some 36 years after its original publication, and to coincide with the release of restored original footage, correspondent Hugh Mulligan’s report on the wedding is being made available for the public.
It was first published on July 29, 1981:
The royal wedding as witnessed from the pews of St Paul’s today was just as Prince Charles wanted it to be: “a marvelous musical and emotional experience.” The bridegroom didn’t spend half the time in tears, as he had predicted in a wedding eve interview. In fact, he smiled through much of the ceremony, except when the massed choirs sang, “Let all the people praise thee, O God,” he brushed as his eyes several times as if wiping away tears. But his voice was manly and robust when he answered, “I will,” to the marital vows administered by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Lady Diana Spencer’s responses were more frail but quite audible in Sir Christopher Wren’s magnificent cathedral, where at the archbishop’s words, “I pronounce that they be man and wife together,” she was transformed into the Princess of Wales. It was all a splendid royal and ecclesiastical spectacle of trumpet blasts and surging choirs, even if at one point the bride stumbled over her spouse’s four Christian names, and he left out the word “worldly” in promising her all his goods.
The assembled heads of state, crowned heads of Europe and honored guests like first lady Nancy Reagan, all joined in the singing of the hymns, as did the wedding couple. The Queen of Tonga cooled the brow of her husband the King by majestically beating a large rattan fan in time to the music.
Leaving the high altar after the 80-minute ceremony, the princess’ father, the Earl Spencer seemed to lean heavily on the arm of an usher as if worn out or emotionally drained by it all. The earl, who suffered a stroke two years ago, also got the seating arrangements mixed up after the newlyweds had signed the register, and did a little switching act with the Queen Mother. He was helped into the carriage with the queen, but went off waving and smiling down Ludgate Hill to the post-noon wedding breakfast.
The five bridesmaids, down to 5-year-old Clementine Hambro, one of the new princess’ former kindergarten charges, had quite a time turning and gathering in the bride’s 25-foot long train. But they handled it with aplomb. And very pretty little maids they were, too, not “eight as ugly girls as you could wish to see,” as Lady Somerset sniffed when the future Edward VII was the last Prince of Wales to marry 118 years ago.
Those of us in the hired morning suits found that the grey topper made an excellent desk, even if it was a bit difficult to take notes in nylon gloves. Of course this wouldn’t qualify as a royal media event if lenses, film canisters and other shrapnel didn’t come cascading down from the scaffolding where the photographers lurked. An explosion of fallen camera gear during the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address turned the plumed and helmeted head of the leader of Her Majesty’s Honorable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms.
And speaking of turned heads, Price Philip for some reason did turn and gaze about when the Archbishop, Rt Rev Robert Runcie asked if either the bride or bridge groom knew of any impediment to the marriage. Outside, subway stations near the route were packed. Newspaper boys did a brisk trade. Most papers poured out greetings. “Diana, This Is Your Day,” bannered the conservative Daily Express.
Even the staid Financial Times, which normally displays major business news on its first page, carried the wedding as its main story of the day under the headline, “A Right Royal Street Party.” The Communist Party’s Morning Story devoted a page to wedding coverage, with the headline, “For Richer and Richer.”