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Charles and Diana married 40 years ago, for better or for worse




In London, on July 29, 1981, Prince Charles, eldest son of Elizabeth II, married the shy and blushing Diana Spencer. A “wedding of the century” celebrated with pomp and followed by millions of people, which will turn into tragedy. For better and for worse.

For the best

These weddings give rise to a big popular festival. Several days before, thousands of people camped along the three kilometers which connect the Buckingham Palace to the Saint-Paul Cathedral to hope to see the nuptial procession. “All the businesses have set themselves up to the royal hour: windows filled with tricolors and exhibiting several portraits of the couple”, reports AFP for this event celebrated in the greatest pomp.

A thousand armed police officers and nearly 2,000 mounted and military police are responsible for security, the most important device since World War II.

At 10:35 am, “an ovation, mixed with enthusiastic whistles, greeted the appearance, at the gates of Buckingham Palace, of the carriage of Prince Charles in the uniform of a captain of the Royal Navy”, describes AFP. Along the way, hundreds of thousands of people shout for joy waving British flags and 750 million of them watch the historic event around the world in front of their televisions.

The front cover of the Telegram of July 30, 1981. (Le Télégramme)

To clamors, Diana arrives at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the arm of her father, Count Spencer. Main subject of debate in the press the days preceding the ceremony, her crinoline dress is extended by a splendid white train more than seven meters long. Inside, under the high stone arches, 2,500 handpicked guests are present, including Nancy Reagan, in pale pink, the King of Tonga, seated in his carved wooden armchair, and the brand new French president. François Mitterrand.

Charles and Diana married 40 years ago, for better or for worse
Diana’s wedding dress is on display in London this summer as part of a ‘royal style’ exhibition. (Justin Tallis / AFP)

At the moment of the exchange of consents before the Archbishop of Canterbury, the voice of the future king trembles and it is almost in a whisper that his two words resound: “I will”. Betrayed by nervousness, Diana accidentally reverses Charles’s first names. The Duke of Cornwall then passes the golden wedding ring of Wales to the little finger of his young wife’s left hand, in accordance with Anglican tradition that only the woman wears a ring. Upon their return to Buckingham Palace, the crowd capsizes with happiness when they exchange a stealthy kiss on the balcony.

Barely 20 years old, Diana Spencer, a shy young aristocrat, brings a blow of fresh in the British royal family. “Dressed in ivory white, almost disappearing in a multitude of gathers, ruffles, mother-of-pearl sequins, pearls and crinoline”, the young woman embodies both the fairytale princess and a certain modernity.

Charles and Diana married 40 years ago, for better or for worse
The style of Princess Diana (here in 1988) has been emulated. (Patrick Rivière / AFP)

Her haircut, the famous “Diana” haircut, was in great demand in hairdressing salons. Ultra-photogenic and empathetic, Lady Di will fascinate crowds.

With this marriage, Prince Charles, 32 years old, some of whom have had many conquests, joins in and can finally hope to give an heir to the British crown. In June 1982, Diana gave birth to their first son, William. Two years later Harry was born.

For the worst: disenchantment, infidelities, divorce

Although initially presented as a fairy tale, the wedding is actually completely arranged. During the televised interview formalizing the couple’s engagement, the British journalist asked Charles if he was in love. Embarrassed response from the person, who already did not augur well: “It all depends on what we call being in love”

They are so different. He embodies the monarchy, austere and cold, when Diana seduces the public. But her public image hides a wounded woman: she knows that her husband remains in love with her childhood sweetheart, Camilla Parker Bowles, whom she nicknames the “Rottweiler”. Their relationship quickly turns to chaos, between infidelities respective accounts and settling of scores in the press. They divorced in 1996.

The tragic death of Diana in Paris in 1997, at the age of 36, in a car accident with his new love, the rich Egyptian heir Dodi Al-Fayed, arouses worldwide emotion.

Charles and Diana married 40 years ago, for better or for worse
On January 1, 2021, Diana would have turned 60. His admirers, still numerous today, celebrated this anniversary. (Daniel Leal-Olivas / AFP)

Charles will marry Camilla for a second marriage in 2005 in a discreet civil ceremony. Far from the great pomp of 1981.

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