Princess Diana: A minute by minute guide to the Royal Wedding

Princess Diana: A minute by minute guide to the Royal Wedding
Princess Diana: A minute by minute guide to the Royal Wedding

In glorious July sunshine, the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, 40 years ago this month, provided Britain with a rare blast of celebration during a difficult summer.

Nearly ten per cent of the British workforce was unemployed, interest rates were over 14 per cent, and both were rising. There had been four months of sporadic rioting across England, in places such as Brixton, South London, Handsworth in Birmingham, and Liverpool’s Toxteth. The Government was locked in a battle with Irish Republican hunger strikers – six of whom, including Bobby Sands, had died.

On July 29, 1981, more than 600,000 people lined the streets of London. The wedding reached a global TV audience of 750 million viewers in 74 countries, including 28.4 million in Britain. In the words of one of the bridesmaids, India Hicks, ‘everyone was looking for a fairy tale’.

On July 29, 1981, more than 600,000 people lined the streets of London. The wedding reached a global TV audience of 750 million viewers in 74 countries, including 28.4 million in Britain. In the words of one of the bridesmaids, India Hicks, ‘everyone was looking for a fairy tale’

On July 29, 1981, more than 600,000 people lined the streets of London. The wedding reached a global TV audience of 750 million viewers in 74 countries, including 28.4 million in Britain. In the words of one of the bridesmaids, India Hicks, ‘everyone was looking for a fairy tale’

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Tuesday, July 28, 1981 

The night before

Half a million people gather in London’s Hyde Park for a Royal fireworks display. Thousands more have set up camps along the route to St Paul’s Cathedral. Fourteen-year-old David Cameron [who was to become Prime Minister 29 years later] arrived at 10am to bag a good spot in The Mall and set up camp overnight.

In Liverpool, much smaller crowds are collecting on the streets of Toxteth, where, after a three-week lull, tensions have resurfaced over economic decline and policing techniques. In Belfast, families of the hunger strikers want to avoid more deaths and request a meeting with the leading Republican Gerry Adams, while Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher again insists the deaths are the sole responsibility of the IRA.

At Edgbaston cricket ground in Birmingham, the pitch is ready for the Fourth Test in the Ashes series. England had just defied 500-1 odds to beat Australia at Headingley in one of the most memorable matches in cricketing history.

At Buckingham Palace, the Queen is hosting dinner for 90 international dignitaries.

7.30pm At Clarence House, the Queen Mother and Lady Fermoy, Diana’s grandmother, watch Dad’s Army on TV. In another room, Diana is dining with her sister, Jane. Ten years later, Diana revealed to her biographer Andrew Morton that she ‘had a very bad fit of bulimia,’ adding: ‘I ate everything I could possibly find.’ Charles has sent over ‘a very nice signet ring’ with a note: ‘I’m 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 ’em dead.’

In Belfast, Gerry Adams promises hunger strikers’ families that he’ll recommend a suspension of the protest to allow time to assess reforms at the Maze Prison, where the protest is taking place, offered by the Thatcher government.

The 1981 Royal Wedding provided a moment of happiness for a nation facing economic and social problems

The 1981 Royal Wedding provided a moment of happiness for a nation facing economic and social problems 

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9.25pm Darkness falls and the life-size model of the front of Buckingham Palace as it was in 1749 casts a golden glow over Hyde Park. Bus-loads of dignitaries arrive from the Queen’s banquet along a route illuminated by Scouts holding burning torches. Nancy Reagan, travelling without her US President husband Ronald, is accompanied by Prince Andrew. Raymond Baxter, commentating on the night’s events for the BBC, reels off the names of the royalty and international leaders entering the Royal Stand. India Hicks, Earl Mountbatten’s 13-year-old granddaughter, is brimming with excitement about being a bridesmaid. In Clarence House, yards from the crowds camping on The Mall, Diana is, she confides, feeling ‘as sick as a parrot.’

9.55pm Prince Charles lights the fuse to ignite the first bonfire of the hundreds that will be form a chain across Britain. A vast screen shows Diana’s younger brother, Eton schoolboy Charles Spencer, lighting the bonfire at her childhood home of Althorp, Northamptonshire.

10.10pm Antique cannons fire a salute and five marching bands play Handel’s 1749 work Music For The Royal Fireworks. The windows of the Palace facade gleam like stained glass and rockets explode into the air, showering coloured stars.

11pm The firework display closes with a vast, spinning ‘sun’, trailing bright flares. The Queen and her immediate family are whisked away. An excited Miranda Brett, 16, is in the crowd with her first-ever boyfriend, Frank, but she’s lost him in the crush. She says: ‘It was the first time I’d been in such a huge crowd. At Hyde Park Corner, the traffic couldn’t pass and although someone shouted “Let the car through”, no one would.’

Lady Pamela Hicks is worrying how she’ll be able to drive home and get her daughter India to bed in good time. Princess Margaret suggests India can stay with her and her daughter, the chief bridesmaid, Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, at Kensington Palace.

Diana, in Clarence House, can’t get to sleep and goes downstairs where Backstairs Billy, aka the Queen Mother’s Steward, William Tallon, offers her a drink. She chooses orange juice.

Then she spots his bicycle, leaps on it and cycles around in circles, ringing the bell and singing: ‘I’m going to marry the Prince of Wales tomorrow!’

Welwishers, including this Arsenal fan, left, lined the streets of the route on the day before the wedding

Welwishers, including this Arsenal fan, left, lined the streets of the route on the day before the wedding

In Toxteth, a 23-year-old disabled man called David Moore is visiting his friends and encounters a crowd near Falkner Square that is being dispersed by a police Land Rover. Local resident Yusuf recalls everyone throwing stones at the vehicle, hoping to stop it, as they race out of the way. Moore can’t run because of his limp and is hit by the Land Rover. Yusuf says the police officer in charge immediately calls an ambulance. But as soon as Moore is driven to hospital, ‘the riot starts up again’ and ambulanceman David Sullivan later revealed: ‘We tried to get this lad away as fast as we could. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it.’

Midnight In Buckingham Palace, Prince Charles is looking out from a window with the Queen’s Lady-in-Waiting, Lady Susan Hussey. Down at the end of the Mall around the Victoria Monument, police officers remove their helmets and are doing the Hokey Cokey with the crowds. Finally, Miranda Brett finds her boyfriend and they are dancing in The Mall.

Now at Kensington Palace, India Hicks has been given a small, chilly bedroom when there is a knock at the door. Princess Margaret is standing there in her nightie, offering a toothbrush. India reckons it is the Queen’s sister’s own toothbrush. A mile away, Diana is in her Clarence House bedroom, finding it hard to sleep with the noise of the singing crowds.

Wednesday, July 29 

The Wedding Day

5am Last night’s warm evening has long turned cold in The Mall. Miranda and Frank are in their sleeping bags on the grass of St James’s Park, listening to music on her Sony Walkman. She’s beginning to feel bored.

Diana awakens. She feels ‘very, very calm, deathly calm’, confessing later: ‘I felt I was a lamb to the slaughter. I knew it and couldn’t do anything about it.’

6am Street cleaners sweep the roads between Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral.

7am Hairdresser Kevin Shanley and make-up artist Barbara Daly arrive at Clarence House. Five thousand police and military officers line up along the two-mile route. The crowds are unaware that one in ten officers is armed, including some disguised as carriage footmen. Sharpshooters are stationed on the rooftops to defend against a possible IRA attack.

7.45am The bridesmaids arrive at Clarence House. India Hicks remembers it as ‘organised mayhem, really wonderful – the hustle and bustle of a bride’. Diana’s hair has been done and she is wearing her Spencer family diamond – and jeans. She watches ITV’s wedding day coverage on a small, portable television and shoos anyone who gets in the way of her viewing. In the breaks, they all sing along to the Cornetto adverts.

Princess Diana and Prince Charles appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the wedding

Princess Diana and Prince Charles appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace after the wedding 

8am Across the country, preparations for street parties begin: Union Jack bunting is threaded between lampposts. Trestle tables are collected from church halls. In Driffield Gardens, Tonbridge, Kent, residents mow the communal grass. Children are trimming the edges with scissors.

9am In Clarence House, the bridesmaids are dressed and join Princess Margaret and the Queen Mother to admire Diana in her wedding dress. Everyone laughs as the designer, David Emanuel, suddenly emerges from beneath her voluminous skirt. He’s been hooking her petticoat. Diana introduces him to the Queen Mother.

Diana applies a dab of her favourite scent, Quelques Fleurs, on her wrists but

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