Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding: All the Details

More than 3,000 guests attended the couple's 1981 nuptials, while a record-breaking 750 million people tuned in to watch the royals walk down the aisle on TV

Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Diana, Princess of Wales, wearing a wedding dress designed by David and Elizabeth Emanuel and the Spencer family Tiara, ride in an open carriage, from St. Paul's Cathedral to Buckingham Palace, following their wedding on July 29, 1981 in London, England
Photo: Anwar Hussein/WireImage

Prince Charles and Princess Diana's wedding on July 29, 1981, was hailed as the "wedding of the century," and for good reason. The lavish affair, which took place at St. Paul's Cathedral in London, cost roughly $48 million (around $156 million today when adjusted for inflation). The nuptials were watched by a record-breaking 750 million people in 74 countries around the world. It also marked the first time that a British citizen married an heir to the throne in 300 years.

Prince Charles announced his engagement to Diana just five months prior to the wedding on Feb. 24, 1981. While Charles told the BBC that he was "delighted and frankly amazed" that Diana was "prepared" to take him on, he upset his future wife when he was asked by the interviewer if they were in love. Diana replied, "Of course," while Charles said, "Whatever in love means" — a comment she reportedly found "traumatizing."

Still, their extravagant wedding was seemingly a dream come true for the bride. "I remember being so in love with my husband that I couldn't take my eyes off him," she later told Andrew Morton for his 1992 book, Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words. "I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. He was going to look after me."

She later said in an excerpt from Lady Colin Campbell's The Real Diana: "It was heaven, amazing, wonderful, though I was so nervous when I was walking up the aisle that I swore my knees would knock and make a noise."

The groom was also full of optimism, reportedly writing in a letter to a friend, "There were several times when I was perilously close to crying from the sheer joy of it all."

Diana, who met Charles only 13 times before marrying him, according to a series of private tapes that were recorded in 1992 with her voice coach, Peter Settelen, would later reminisce on her big day a bit differently, reportedly calling it the "worst day of her life." "If I could write my own script I would have my husband go away with [Camilla Parker Bowles] and never come back," she reportedly said in the tapes, which were aired in a 2017 documentary titled Diana: In Her Own Words.

Though the pair would ultimately divorce in 1996, just one year ahead of Diana's untimely death by a car crash, their wedding day lives on in infamy forever. Below, relive every over-the-top moment from the jaw-dropping affair, from the extreme lengths Diana's wedding dress designers went to keep her gown a secret to the flubs she and Charles made at the altar.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Registry

Prince Charles And Lady Diana Spencer (later To Become Princess Diana) At Buckingham Palace On The Day Of Announcing Their Engagement
Tim Graham Photo Library

Though the New York Times reported that the couple received roughly 3,000 presents between the time of their engagement and their big day, they also had a secret registry, according to Vanity Fair. Approval was needed by Buckingham Palace to view the list at General Trading Company, which reportedly included everything from wine coolers and bed trays to gardening furniture.

In addition to their chosen items, they received several high-profile gifts from important wedding guests, like the engraved Steuben glass bowl they were gifted by the Reagans, the Art Deco clock they got from Cartier and the diamond-and-sapphire parure of a watch, bracelet, pendant, ring and earrings Diana was given by the Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Rehearsal

Prince Charles with Lady Diana Spencer after their wedding rehearsal
Tim Graham Photo Library

After an hour-long rehearsal of the nuptials at the wedding venue of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, the couple danced at a gala ball hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace two nights before their wedding, along with the 1,400 family members and guests in attendance — including Nancy Reagan. A pared-down dinner for 90 followed, after which the group parted ways.

The country's largest fireworks display in more than two centuries was also held on the eve of the wedding, drawing hundreds of thousands of people to Hyde Park, including Prince Charles, who was on hand to light the first bonfire. The show was accompanied by music from 250 musicians, who played George Handel's "The Royal Fireworks" song. The New York Times reported that the show was modeled after one held in 1749 that marked the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.

A firework display over London on the eve of Charles and Diana's wedding, 28th July 1981
Terry Fincher/Getty

Diana did not join in the celebrations, spending the night at Clarence House with her sisters and bridal party in order to get up for her 6:30 a.m. wedding day call. According to journalist Penny Junor's book The Duchess: The Untold Story, her future husband sent her a gift from Buckingham Palace in the form of a signet ring bearing his Prince of Wale feathers, along with a sweet note that read, "I am so proud of you and when you come up, I'll be there at the altar for you tomorrow. Just look 'em in the eye and knock them dead."

Astrologer Penny Thornton, however, claimed in an ITV documentary that the royal also had an unpleasant confession for his bride-to-be. "One of the most shocking things that Diana told me was that the night before the wedding Charles told her that he didn't love her," Thornton said. "I think Charles didn't want to go into the wedding on a false premise. He wanted to square it with her and it was devastating for Diana."

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Venue

The Wedding Of Prince Charles To Lady Diana Spencer Held At St Paul's Cathedral In London.
Tim Graham Photo Library

The pair's venue choice of St. Paul's Cathedral marked the first royal affair to be held there since 1501. In addition to its enormous seating (St. Paul's holds 3,500 wedding guests to Westminster Abbey's 2,000), Prince Charles gave some insight into the venue choice while speaking to British television networks. According to the royal, the cathedral was chosen in part for its "spectacular" acoustics, which he felt would provide guests with a "stirring, dramatic and noisy" sound. ''If you have something rather quiet, you start hearing your ankles cricking, you know what I mean?'' he reportedly asked.

Beyond that, he is said to have reasoned that it had room for an orchestra, a world-famous choir and was "more beautiful" than Westminster Abbey, according to the 1998 book The Real Diana by Lady Colin Campbell.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Guest List

First Lady Nancy Reagan on the steps of St.Paul's Cathedral as she arrives for the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at the Cathedral, in London, UK, on Wednesday, July 29, 1981
Bryn Colton/Getty

Among the 3,500 who attended the pair's nuptials were many world leaders, including Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, Nancy Reagan, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the prince's parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and Princess Anne and Mark Philips, to name a few.

Also in attendance was Prince Charles's current wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, though she was not invited to the couple's more intimate wedding breakfast.

Guests at Buckingham Palace after the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in London, 29th July 1981
Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty

Absent from the service were several family members that were cut from a list of people her father, John Spencer, requested seats for. According to published journals of the late journalist Kenneth Rose, the Princess of Wales "crossed out all the family who had not bothered to come to the weddings of her sisters!" He added, "One day she will be very formidable."

Princess Diana's Wedding Dress

The Prince and Princess of Wales leave St Paul's Cathedral after their wedding, 29th July 1981
Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Jayne Fincher/Princess Diana Archive

Princess Diana's gown, which was crafted in the space of three months, was made with ivory silk taffeta that was dyed and woven ivory (instead of pure white) and decorated with ornate, hand-embroidery, with no less than 10,000 micro pearls. Though its massive 25-foot-long train was undoubtedly its defining feature, it also featured puffy sleeves, a ruffled necklace and a gorgeous lace trim, which came from a bag of scraps that was acquired by designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel at auction. As it turns out, the scraps also turned out to have a royal history, as an expert recognized the antique lace from the bodice of dress from the reign of Queen MaryPrince Charles's great-grandmother.

"It was all about drama and making Diana a fairytale princess," designer Elizabeth Emanuel explained to British Vogue. "The gown was typical of early '80s style — overblown, romantic, flouncy — but we had to get it right because we knew it would go down in history."

It was also completely the designers' creation. "There was no red tape, there were no limitations" from the palace," David told E! News. "We had completely, utterly free reign, and it was down to [Diana], and her alone, that she had the confidence to select Emanuel and to believe in it."

Beyond its obvious charms, the dress — Diana's "something new" — featured several special details that couldn't be seen by the naked eye, including a blue bow inside the bodice (her "something blue") and a tiny gold horseshoe that was sewn in for good luck. "We only told her on the wedding day," David told Hello! Magazine of the charm. "She didn't know about the horseshoe for good luck, [but] she was very touched. She was traditional."

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral in London, 29th July 1981. The couple leave the cathedral after the ceremony
Princess Diana and Prince Charles. Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty

Designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel went to great lengths to keep Diana's dress a secret, deliberately placing bits of unused fabric in the trash for the press to find, according to "Royal Style in the Making" exhibit curator Matthew Storey.

David also confirmed the design for an erroneous sketch of the gown to a Woman's Wear Daily reporter, who approached him on the morning of the couple's wedding. "I don't think they forgave me for one year," he told E! News of the incident.

As for the real sketch, the designer told Hello! magazine, "As soon as [Diana's mother] Mrs. Shand Kydd saw it and she loved it, we ripped up the design as we didn't want people to see it."

With so much interest in the bride's wedding gown, designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel prepared a second dress in the event that the original was leaked ahead of schedule.

"At the time we wanted to make absolutely sure that the dress was a surprise," Elizabeth told PEOPLE in 2011. "Had the secret of the real dress got out it's possible that Diana would actually have worn this one."

Princess Diana's Wedding Tiara

Diana On Wedding Day
Princess Diana on her wedding day. Lichfield/Getty

For her "something borrowed," Princess Diana had her pick of options, as Queen Elizabeth II offered to lend her the Queen Mary Lover's Knot tiara that has since been worn by Kate Middleton. She ultimately chose her family's own Spencer tiara, which was worn by her sisters, Lady Sarah and Lady Jane, for their weddings, as well as her former sister-in-law, Victoria Lockwood, who wore it for her nuptials to Diana's brother, Charles Spencer.

The piece itself also has its roots in history, as it's comprised of several pieces of jewelry, including end pieces from a bauble of Viscountess Frances Manby. The central part, meanwhile, comes from a wedding present that was given to Diana's grandma, Lady Cynthia Hamilton, on her wedding day to Albert Spencer.

Unfortunately for Diana, it also caused her a bit of pain. As her brother revealed to ET in 2010, "I just remember she had a cracking headache too because she wasn't used to wearing a tiara all morning."

Charles Spencer is the current owner of the tiara and was most recently exhibited by Sotheby's for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee, along with roughly 40 other royal and aristocratic tiaras.

Princess Diana's Wedding Flowers

Princess Diana and Prince Charles wedding
Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their wedding day. Terry Fincher/Princess Diana Archive/Getty Images

Like her dress designers, Princess Diana's florist was prepared in the event of a disaster, making not one, but two bouquets of gardenias, tephanotis, odontolglossum orchid, lily of the valley, Earl Mountbatten roses, freesia, veronica, ivy, myrtle and trasdescantia.

Florist David Longman told Express that after Queen Elizabeth lost the flowers during her own wedding, she started the tradition of having two identical bouquets made to prevent a similar mishap.

"We made two bouquets," head florist David Longman revealed to Express. "The first one had to be delivered at 8 o'clock to Buckingham Palace," he said. "We had a police escort motorcyclist who took us all through the city to the Palace. Then we came back, and by that time they had finished the second bouquet and back we went again."

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Party

Princess Diana and Prince Charles Wedding
RR Auction/Splash News Online

The royal couple's wedding party was made up of two pageboys (Lord Nicholas Windsor and Edward van Cutsem) and five bridesmaids, including Diana's niece, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (now Chatto), Diana's favorite former student, Clementine Hambro, Charles's goddaughter, India Hicks, Catherine Cameron and Sarah-Jane Gaselee. "Each bridesmaid had been chosen for personal reasons of the bride and groom," Hicks would later explain to Harper's Bazaar.

According to Penny Junor's book The Duchess: Camila Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown, Parker Bowles's son, Tom Parker Bowles, who is Charles's godson, was vetoed from the wedding party by Diana. "She agreed to several of his other godchildren, but there was a big scene about Tom Parker Bowles and Charles backed down," the book stated.

The bridal attendants dressed in outfits similar to Diana, with taffeta satin, lace trim and yellow sashes. Hambro, then 5, and Cameron, 6, were the youngest of the group, and also wore flower crowns to match their bouquets.

At one point, Hambro, the great-grandaughter of Winston Churchill, had a misstep, falling and bursting into tears. She later recalled to TODAY that Diana asked her if she "bumped her bottom," to which she replied, "No, I bumped my head."

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Ceremony

Lady Diana Spencer enters St. Paul's Cathedral on the hand of her father, Earl Spencer, ahead of her marriage to Prince Charles, Prince of Wales on July 29, 1981 in London, England
Anwar Hussein/Getty

Diana walked down the aisle on the arm of her father, Earl Edward John Spencer, despite the unsteadiness he faced from a stroke he had suffered three years prior.

While it was Charles who was keen on having music be a big part of his nuptials ("I've always longed to have a musical wedding," he said in a TV interview per the Washington Post), both the bride and groom selected the songs for their ceremony. From him, Elgar's "Pomp and Circumstance" and the hymn "Christ Has Made the Sure Foundation," which the prince said that he chose because of its "most marvelous melody." As for Diana, she chose "I Vow to Thee My Country," which she said was always a favorite of hers "since school days."

The Princess of Wales broke from tradition when she decided to leave the word "obey" out of her vows to Prince Charles from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, which dates back to 1662. "Lady Diana has chosen to follow the new ritual of the Church of England, and she will promise in the ceremony at St. Paul's Cathedral only to 'love him, comfort him, honor and keep him, in sickness and in health,' the New York Times reported ahead of the pair's nuptials.

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer at St Paul's Cathedral in London, 29th July 1981
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

According to the paper, the decision was one the couple made together after "very serious" discussions with Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie.

Despite their careful planning, the royal couple's vow recital didn't exactly go swimmingly. Diana accidentally referred to Prince Charles, whose full name is Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, as Prince Philip Charles. Charles, for his part, mistakenly offered Diana "thy goods" instead of the more traditional "my worldly goods."

The couple honored a then-58-year-long tradition when Prince Charles presented his bride with a Welsh gold ring from the Clogau St. David's mine — a practice that was started by the Queen Mother in her marriage to King George VI.

Prince Charles And Princess Diana Kissing On The Balcony Of Buckingham Palace On Their Wedding Day.
Tim Graham Photo Library

After exchanging their vows, the couple was taken back to Buckingham Palace by way of a State Landau carriage that dated back to 1902, which was first used by King Edward VIII during his coronation procession through London. The same carriage would later transport Prince William and Kate Middleton from their wedding venue of Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.

600,000 spectators lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of them as they passed by.

In addition to the verbal flubs both Charles and Diana made, the groom forgot to kiss his bride following their vow exchange. To make up for it, the royal couple gave the people a show by sharing a very public kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace—a tradition that would later be followed by Prince William and Kate Middleton.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Reception

The wedding cake on display at Charles & Diana Royal Wedding, 29th July 1981
David Levenson/Getty

Before the couple jetted off for their honeymoon, they celebrated their monumental moment with a far smaller group of loved ones: Just 120 of the cathedral's 3,500 guests were invited to the gathering at Buckingham Palace. There, they were treated to an epic feast that included such lavish dishes as brill in lobster sauce and Suprême de Volaille Princesse de Galles, a play on a chicken breast stuffed with lamb mousse, wrapped in brioche and topped off with Madeira sauce and asparagus tips. It was named for Diana herself, who loved chicken.

​​The couple had not one, not two, but a whopping 27 wedding cakes for guests to enjoy at their intimate breakfast ceremony, with the main cake measuring a towering five feet high and bearing the coat of arms of both the bride and groom, along with their initials and a sprinkling of roses, lilies of the valley and orchids. Created by the head baker at the Royal Naval Cookery School, David Avery, it had five pentagon-shaped tiers, with Roman columns separating each one. All in all, it weighed 200 pounds, according to Eater, but if guests didn't get their fill, there were 26 other cakes from royal wedding watchers to enjoy.

Though the couple's first dance song is unknown, they reportedly enjoyed music from jazz and pop bandleader Lester Lanin and his orchestra to kick off their wedding reception. Lanin also performed at Princess Grace Kelly's wedding to Prince Rainier III engagement party.

Following the excitement, Diana shared a sweet moment with her nearest and dearest. "As soon as the cake had been cut, Diana, her sisters, Sarah, the younger bridesmaids and I disappeared upstairs to help her change into her pink going-away outfit, designed by David Sassoon of Bellville Sassoon," Hicks recalled to Harper's Bazaar, adding, "The mood was girly and giggly."

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales (1961 -1997) leave Buckingham Palace for their honeymoon after their wedding, London, 29th July 1981
July 29, 1981: Charles and Princess Diana leave for their honeymoon. Serge Lemoine/Hulton Archive/Getty

The British author said that the new royal also gave them a sweet parting gift. "Diana thanked us and gave us each a kiss and a present: a pretty gold-rimmed Halcyon Days china box. Inside were two of the silkworms that had spun the silk for her wedding dress."

From there, she said goodbye to the rest of her guests and climbed into an open landau carriage, which Prince Charles's brothers, Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, had decorated with a "just married" sign.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles' Wedding Legacy

Royal Wedding Prince And Princess Of Wales
Prince Philip at the 1981 royal wedding of Charles and Diana.

Beyond breaking the world record for amassing the largest TV audience for a wedding, Prince Charles and Princess Diana's nuptials would have a lasting effect on wedding trends going forward. "It inspired girls all around the world to have their very own fairytale day. Soon after, punch-bowl receptions went by the wayside and were replaced by lavish receptions, elaborate dresses and even tiaras," wedding publicist Leila Lewis told Hello! magazine in 2019.

Added wedding expert Cornelia Powell: "It put a new era of fancy wedding hoopla into motion: elaborate designer gowns; a return of the status wedding celebration; staged over-the-top productions and celebrity weddings as media spectacles."

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