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Royal Wedding (1981)

Wednesday 29 July 1981 (UK)

“I just absolutely thought I was the luckiest girl in the world” Diana later said of her wedding day.

Around the globe, over 700 million television viewers were wedding guests in their own living rooms as the 20 year old fairytale Princess descended from a glass coach to marry Charles, her Prince.

ITV’s biggest-ever outside broadcast began with Andrew Gardner, Selina Scott, Alastair Burnet and Ronald Allison at breakfast time. As crowds gathered along the processional route from Buckingham Palace to St Paul’s Cathedral, cameras and reporters set the scene – Judith Chalmers at the Palace, Leonard Parkin at Clarence House (from where Diana left in the Glass Coach), Carol Barnes at Trafalgar Square and Martyn Lewis at St Paul’s.


More than 40 cameras covered the procession to St Paul’s, the service itself, the return journey, the appearance on the Palace balcony and the departure on honeymoon of Prince Charles and his new bride.

Meanwhile, the Goodyear airship Europa transmitted exclusive aerial pictures from 1,000 feet with reporter Alastair Stewart.

About 39 million people enjoyed a good cry in Britain, and the spectacle was beamed to 74 countries. The wedding led to a doubling of the sales of video recorders. Around 3 million VCRs were busily taping the scenes of the couple at St Paul’s.

American networks paid up to £2,000 to place their cameras in desirable windows in the streets along the route to the cathedral. CBS paid £8,000 to use someone’s balcony.

Three women on palantype machines (the phonetically operated ones usually used to record court proceedings) created instant subtitles for the deaf. This was the first time the technique had been tried for a long broadcast, and the operators’ royal wedding day nerves caused a few giggles and some grievous bodily harm to the English language;

‘Lady Dja na foamed out of the glass coach wearing hundreds of jarts of veil, a tiny bodies and a gate big skirt’ the wording went, while Princess Anne was ‘wearing an amasing outfit. Very sump. Shs flat a big firll down the sid’.

Good for her . . .

Despite the 7.5 metre train on Diana’s wedding dress (created by David and Elizabeth Emanuel), the nuptials had common touches; The nervous bride stumbled over the groom’s name; his brothers hung a ‘Just Married’ sign on the back of the honeymoon coach . . . and amongst the traditional souvenirs available to celebrate the event, were some novelties – One mug had a handle formed by one of Charles’ ears.

Diana later said the whole event was “so humble-making, making all these thousands of people happy”. Unfortunately, the saturation media coverage afforded to Diana’s wedding was to stay with her throughout her (ultimately very short) life.

Diana’s untimely death in a (still controversial) car accident in Paris in 1997 and her subsequent funeral on 6 September were the final instalments in the media circus that commenced on 29 July 1981 at St Paul’s Cathedral.