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Why Charles and Diana's 1981 wedding was a 'day to cherish'


Thirty-five years ago today, the Prince and Princess of Wales's wedding was heralded as a fairy-tale event. A decade later, their union would end dramatically in what the Queen came to call an "annus horribilis" for the Royal Family. But in 1981, the eyes and hearts of the world were set on St. Paul's Cathedral for one of the 20th century's most famous marriages. Here's how Jeffrey Simpson, then The Globe's correspondent in London, described the spectacle.

Somewhere in heaven, Sir Christopher Wren must be smiling.

The architect of St. Paul's Cathedral designed his masterpiece for the glory of God and country, and yesterday's royal wedding did a full measure of justice to his dream.

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From the majesty of the music to the inspiration of the religious observance, it was a day to cherish for the lucky 3,100 people inside the cathedral.

The scene inside St. Paul's Cathedral.

The scene inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.


The couple drive in the 1902 State Postillion Landau along Fleet Street back to Buckingham Palace after their wedding. ASSOCIATED PRESS

The guests arrived early, just as they had been asked to do. Presidents and prime ministers, governors-general and first ladies, nobility and commoners, churchmen and laity – they were all in their places an hour before a fanfare of trumpets heralded the arrival of the future Princess of Wales.

Thirty-five minutes before the bride arrived, the reigning monarchs of seven European states walked to their places up the 211 metres (697 feet) of red carpeting. None of their royal houses can match the pomp and circumstance of the House of Windsor, so they looked quite ordinary compared to the splendor of the Queen and her family.

As if by design, the Queen and the other women in the Royal Family wore sharply contrasting colors: the Queen was dressed in pale aquamarine with two strands of pearls; the Queen Mother in pale green silk with an ostrich-feathered hat; Princess Margaret in salmon, and Princess Anne in orange-yellow with a hat that looked like a tropical salad.

Prince Philip, who looked as delighted as the Queen, wore his blue naval uniform, adorned with campaign medals, the Garter Star and sash, the Thistle Star and the Order of Merit around his neck.


When Prince Charles arrived, "supported" by his two brothers Prince Andrew and Prince Edward, he smiled broadly at his parents. He was wearing the full dress uniform of a Royal Navy commander, offset by the blue sash of the Order of the Garter. Around his neck hung the medal of the Great Master of the Order of the Bath. And his chest was bedecked by medals: The Order of the Garter, the Order of the Thistle, the Coronation Medal and the Jubilee Medal.

Prince Charles and his bride had both wanted a wedding full of music. Accordingly, St. Paul's resounded to the sounds of Handel, Elgar, Purcell, Britten and others.

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Nothing compared with the rendition of God Save the Queen, specially arranged for the wedding by Sir David Willcocks, director of the Royal Academy of Music. The cathedral quite simply resonated with the combined sounds of orchestra, choirs and guests' voices singing two verses of the royal anthem.

Around the perimeter of the interior stood representatives of three regiments, resplendent in scarlet tunics. Each time the Queen rose, they snapped to attention.

In the first row sat lesser members of the Royal Family – an assortment of duchesses, earls and dukes, who had been driven to the cathedral in coaches used for the Queen's procession.

Behind them were assembled foreign and domestic dignitaries, including all the governors-general from the Commonwealth. Governor-General Edward Schreyer and his wife Lily, who wore an orange-rust dress with a string of pearls, represented Canada.

There were also prime ministers, presidents and royalty from all over the world: Pierre Trudeau of Canada, Francois Mitterrand of France, the Crown Prince of Japan, Princess Maha Chakri of Thailand, the Crown Prince and Princess of Jordan, the Prince and Princess of Nepal and Prince Hans Adam of the tiny European principality of Liechtenstein.

Apart from these dignitaries, most of the audience consisted of friends and acquaintances of the royal couple. Both had wanted as many friends as possible at their wedding.

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As she arrived, Lady Diana was still showing a few signs of nervousness. Her smiles were a bit forced and she mixed up the order of the Prince of Wales' four Christian names in repeating her vows. But when she had completed the vows, Prince Charles whispered "well done." When she emerged from signing the registry and headed down the centre aisle with Prince Charles, the new Princess of Wales looked much more relaxed than when she had arrived. By then, her veil had been lifted and she nodded and smiled at friends she recognized in the congregation.

Throughout the service, the royal couple could clearly hear the cheers from the thousands outside who showed their approval at key points during the service. Loudspeakers had been erected outside the cathedral and in front of Buckingham Palace for the assembled multitudes to hear the service.

When the couple exchanged vows, when the Archbishop of Canterbury proclaimed them man and wife and when the orchestra struck up God Save the Queen, the cheers from outside the cathedral could be heard inside.

After one such cheer, Lady Diana turned to Prince Charles and smiled from beneath her veil.

Diana, Princess of Wales, waves to onlookers while boarding the train at Waterloo Station in London as she and Prince Charles, set off on their honeymoon. ASSOCIATED PRESS

British Cabinet ministers, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher dressed in bright royal blue, were present, seated behind the foreign dignitaries. The Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas, represented the Government in the service, reading the lesson from Corinthians I ("and now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.") He was preceded into the cathedral by the gold Commons mace which rests on the clerk's table when Parliament is in session – the symbol of the Queen and Parliament assembled.

The Most Rev. Robert Runcie, the Archbishop of Canterbury who married the couple, delivered an address in which he said the wedding was the "stuff of which fairy tales are made." In fairy tales, marriage is the consummation of courtship, but for Christians, marriage is the beginning of the adventure of life together, the archbishop said. "All couples are royal couples on their wedding day," he said, adding that he hoped the love of the people would lighten the "burden we lay upon them." In keeping with the ecumenical nature of the service, prayers were read by representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, the Chuch of Scotland and the Free Church Federal Council.

Similarly, since St. Paul's stands in the City of London, the Lord Mayor of the city greeted the Queen on the steps of the cathedral and led her down the centre aisle. He was bearing the 3 1/2-foot pearl sword, the traditional symbol of the Lord Mayor's authority given over to the Queen whenever she arrives in the city.


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