Labeled the ‘wedding of the century’ Princess Diana’s wedding truly seemed like a fairytale. The entire world watched as a young Diana, only 20, married the next heir to the British throne, Prince Charles of Whales, 32 at the time.
The ceremony took place July 29, 1981 at St. Paul’s Cathedral with 3,500 guests in attendance. An estimated 2 million lined the royal wedding route from the Clarence House to the cathedral, with 4,000 police and 2,200 military officers to manage the excited crowds.
The crowd that lined the mall on Diana’s wedding day, via independent.co.uk
Prince Charles, 12 years her senior, was practically neighbors with Diana growing up. She lived close to Queen Elizabeth II and her family and grew up playing with Prince Andrew. Diana had encountered Charles numerous times but was too young to capture his interest. He had been linked to Diana’s elder sister, Sarah (Lady Sarah McCorquodale) but obviously, nothing became of it.
From a March 9, 1981 Time article:
Sarah claims credit for playing cupid to the couple, when she reintroduced the Prince to Diana at a 1977 shoot at Althorp. Charles remembers being struck by “what a very amusing and jolly—and attractive—16-year-old she was.” Diana thought the Prince was “pretty amazing.” Concluded Lady Sarah: “He met Miss Right and she met Mr. Right. They just clicked.”
When Charles reached his 30s he was under serious pressure to find a suitable bride. It wasn’t until the summer of 1980 that he gained serious interest in Diana. They were both guests at a country weekend.
While sitting together on a bale of hay at a friend’s barbecue in July he mentioned Mountbatten’s death, to which Diana replied that Charles had looked forlorn and in need of care during his uncle’s funeral. Soon, according to Charles’ chosen biographer, Jonathan Dimbleby, “without any apparent surge in feeling, he began to think seriously of her as a potential bride.” She accompanied the Prince on visits to Balmoral and Sandringham, eliciting enthusiastic responses from most of the Royal Family.
He had proposed, he said, over dinner for two in his third-floor quarters at Buckingham Palace, shortly before Diana’s Feb. 6 departure for a vacation in Australia. “I wanted to give Diana a chance to think about it—to think if it was going to be too awful. If she didn’t like the idea, she could say she didn’t. If she did, she could say that. But in fact she said . . .” Diana interrupted: “Yes, quite promptly. I never had any doubts about it.”
Diana’s iconic ring 18 carat sapphire ring surrounded by 14 diamonds cost $60,000. The ring was made by the then crown jewelers Garrard but unusually, for a member of the Royal Family, the ring was not unique and was, at the time, featured in Garrard’s jewelery collection.