📸 Diana and Charles on their wedding day
Oftentimes weddings are tight-knit affairs, a bride and groom surrounded by friends and family, but things are a bit more complicated with a royal wedding. With an estimated 750,000,000 viewers watching across the world, HRH Charles Windsor, Prince of Wales, and Lady Diana Spencer were married on July 29, 1981. To those at home, it seemed the culmination of a fairytale romance, the assistant kindergarten teacher marrying the future King of England. But beneath the happy facade the two’s relationship was already strained, as the pressures of royal life on Diana and the tidal wave of publicity exacerbated struggles with Charles.
📸 Diana in 1971
Diana was born July 1, 1961 into British nobility, the daughter of Edward John Spencer and Frances Roche. The Spencer family had a long relationship with the Royal family and was deeply immersed in British upper society. Diana first met Charles while he was dating her sister, Sarah, in 1977, though the relationship later ended. The two traveled in the same circles, meeting at various functions and royal retreats, with Charles proposing in 1981. Diana accepted, though the two had only met each other just 13 times. She was 19, working in London as a kindergarten teacher, while Charles was 32 and the heir apparent to the British throne.
📸 Diana and Charles on the day of their announcement
After Charles’ proposal, Diana vacationed in Australia with her mother for a few weeks before returning to London, where the engagement was publicly announced. The interview with the two of them is by turns charming and stilted, capped off by Charles’ infamous answer when asked about being in love with Diana: “Whatever in love means.” Even early on, there were two sides to the two’s relationship, a public-facing side Diana and Charles hoped to maintain, and the reality of their complicated relationship. Diana was aware of Charles’ intimate relationship with his companion Camilla Parker Bowles and harbored serious doubts about the marriage.
📸 Sketches of Diana's dress
In spite of these reservations, Diana moved forward with the wedding and the avalanche of preparations to be made in the months leading up to the big day. For her wedding dress, Diana chose designers David and Elizabeth Emanual to fashion a massive ivory silk dress that had 10,000 pearls and a 25-foot train trailing behind her. Underneath, her silk shoes also boasted 132 pearls. To top it off, Diana chose to wear the Spencer family diamond tiara, which had been in her family for years. Perhaps with this decision, Diana hoped to display some independence against the intimidating royal family, to exert some control over the whole massive affair.
📸 Diana in the Glass Coach
Diana and Charles were married at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of London, much of the city assembled around the parade route between there and Buckingham Palace. Diana traveled through the city streets in the royal family’s Glass Coach, squeezed tightly in with her massive dress and accompanied by her father. London was ablaze with waving Union Jacks and confetti and of course the constant strobing of paparazzi cameras. Arriving at the cathedral, Diana’s massive train was unfurled, and she made her way slowly down the aisle and her soon to be husband.
📸 Charles and Diana kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace
📸 Diana and Charles on their honeymoon
Vows and a kiss were exchanged and Diana Spencer became Princess Diana. She and Charles traveled to Buckingham palace for their wedding reception before embarking on their honeymoon aboard the royal yacht Britannia for a two-week Mediterranean tour. Diana quickly dove into the overwhelming task of being a royal and representative of the United Kingdom. Yet what seemed to the world like a beautiful story would become much more complicated as the years passed. Despite the birth of their two sons, intense media pressure and infidelity drove the couple apart.
📸 Diana with an AIDs patient during her philanthropic work
Charles and Diana divorced on August 28th, 1996. Just one year later, on August 31st, 1997, Lady Diana died in a car crash while fleeing paparazzi in Paris. In the years since Diana's passing, there have been many books written about the relationship between the Prince and Lady Diana, as well as their own private lives as individuals. Given the myriad interests which swirl around the royal family, it is difficult to parse the truth from the opinion. If nothing else, their early years together and especially their wedding showed Diana trying her absolute hardest to make her relationship work in the face of staggering publicity and an archaic monarchy.
📸 Diana on her way to the altar
📸 The cake with its designer David Avery
The Wedding Cake
This specimen from Mini Museum comes from a slice of Diana and Charles’ wedding cake, a traditional fruit cake with cream cheese frosting. The layers of the official cake took 14 weeks to prepare, including an identical twin held in emergency reserve. Guests received two slices of cake, one to eat, and one for display as a souvenir. These pieces were sliced and placed into individual monogrammed boxes, put into larger, hand-painted boxes and finished with sugar paste icing to form the decorated layers of the cake.
The tradition of preparing cake slices in this fashion goes back generations, as has the tradition of selling and collecting these literal slices of history. Over the years, more slices from Diana and Charles’ cake have been auctioned or otherwise sold off, small souvenirs from one of the most famous weddings in history. Diana and Charles’ marriage may have collapsed, but for all the drama and gossip, there was a window of time when the fairytale image of the two of them held strong. Whatever came before or after, nothing can negate the beauty and grandeur of that wedding day, over forty years ago now.
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