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Today in history... a fairytale Royal Wedding

12:00am | & News

Where were you and what were were you doing 35 years ago today?

Chances are that you were glued to a TV set watching the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, along with a billion other viewers in 74 countries around the globe.

The eagerly anticipated Royal Wedding captivated Britain as a national holiday was declared to mark the historic occasion on July 29th, 1981. It seemed – and was portrayed in the media – to be the culmination of a fairytale romance between a beautiful young woman and her handsome prince. The fact that 32-year-old Charles was 12 years older than his shy 20-year-old bride was hardly mentioned.

Crowds of 600,000 people lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the couple on their wedding day, while 3,500 invited guests were crammed into St Paul's Cathedral for the televised ceremony. 

Lady Diana arrived almost on time, accompanied by her father Earl Spencer and wearing a sumptuous ivory taffeta and antique lace gown with a 25ft train, designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel. Her walk down the red-carpeted aisle of St Paul's took a full three-and-a-half minutes. Waiting at the altar, Prince Charles wore the full dress uniform of a Royal Navy Commander.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Robert Runcie conducted the traditional Church of England Service, but was assisted by clergymen from other denominations. As with any bride and groom, nerves played their part, with both Charles and Diana slightly fluffing their vows. Diana mixed up the Prince's names, calling him Philip Charles Arthur George, rather than Charles Philip, while Charles endowed his bride with "thy goods" instead of "my worldly goods".

After a brief signing ceremony – the only part of the service not televised – the newlywed Prince and Princess of Wales walked back down the aisle to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance, emerging to rapturous cheers from the waiting crowds.

They rode in an open carriage back to Buckingham Palace, cheered all the way, before emerging onto the balcony shortly after 1pm to give the crowds the kiss they had been longing to see. It was the cue for celebratory street parties to begin across the UK.

Later, as the newlyweds left for their honeymoon in Hampshire, there was laughter when the crowds spotted the handwritten "Just Married" sign fixed to the back of the landau taking them to the railway station. It had apparently been put there by Charles' younger brothers, Princes Andrew and Edward.

Less than a year later the royal couple's first child, William, was born, with a second son, Harry, arriving two years later. Sadly the fairytale marriage was not all it seemed and was destined to fail almost from the start. Unknown to the public, Charles had a long-running relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles, stretching back to the early 1970s, which increasingly put strain on his marriage. Diana also sought solace in the arms of other men as her relationship with the royal family deteriorated.

The couple separated in 1993 and were finally divorced in 1996. Tragically Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris the following year, with many commentators claiming her continued hounding by opportunist "paparazzi" photographers had contributed to the fatal accident.

Charles' relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles was by now public knowledge, referenced in a revealing 1995 Panorama interview with Diana and written about in various books, magazines and newspaper articles. Eventually the couple married in 2005, a decade after Camilla's divorce from Andrew Parker-Bowles.

After Charles and Diana's divorce and her subsequent death, the Royal Family's popularity in the UK was at an all-time low. It took many years to recover, eventually bolstered by the next generation of royals, including William and Harry, and by the continued dignified presence of The Queen, now Britain's longest-serving monarch.

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