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On this day in 1981: Millions enthralled by fairytale wedding of Charles and Diana

© Globe Photos/mediapunch/Shutterstock Princess Diana and Prince Charles wave to the crowds on their big day in 1981
Princess Diana and Prince Charles wave to the crowds on their big day in 1981

It was the wedding of the century and the biggest TV event in history.

More than 750 million viewers around the world were glued to their screens to watch the Prince of Wales marry Lady Diana Spencer, the shy 20-year-old who was to later bless him with two sons, William and Harry.

Around two million spectators lined the streets of London to catch a glimpse of the Princess-to-be as she arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral.

She was met by her five bridesmaids and two page boys, her voluminous wedding dress spilling from the coach.

Created by Elizabeth and David Emanuel in taffeta and antique lace with 10,000 pearls, its 25ft train fanned out behind as she made the three-and-a-half minute walk down the aisle to the strains of Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary.

Prince Charles wore his full dress naval commander uniform and carried a dress sword tasselled in gold.

A total of 3,500 guests were inside the cathedral to witness the service conducted by the Most Reverend Robert Runcie, the then Archibishop of Canterbury and the Very Reverend Alan Webster, Dean of St Paul’s.

The sparkling event was followed by a wedding breakfast at Buckingham Palace where the couple waved to crowds from the balcony before thrilling them with a kiss.

Across the UK, street parties were held to celebrate and, as day turned to evening, fireworks exploded over Hyde Park. Up and down the country a hundred beacons were lit to mark the historic occasion. The newlyweds honeymooned on board the Royal Yacht Britannia for an 11-day Mediterranean cruise of Tunisia, Sardinia, Greece and Egypt, before flying to Scotland to join the royal family at Balmoral.

Despite the couple having known one another for several years – they first met in 1977 when Diana was 16 and Charles was dating her older sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale – their romance was a whirlwind affair. The first flicker was at a polo match in 1980.

Diana later joined the Prince for a sailing weekend on board the Royal Yacht, and again spent time with him at Balmoral where she met his family.

Several dates and only six months later, Charles popped the question. But they kept their engagement secret for the next few weeks. Diana is reported to have later claimed they had met only 13 times in total before announcing the engagement which became official on February 24 1981.

Their first son, Prince William, was born just short of a year after the couple’s wedding, in 1982.

Prince Harry followed two years later. But the royal couple’s joy was to be short-lived, and they separated in 1992.

In 1995 Princess Diana rocked the House of Windsor when, in an explosive Panorama interview watched by 21 million people, she talked frankly about her own and her husband’s affairs and questioned Charles’s suitability to be King. Their relationship ended in divorce on August 28 1996.

Tragically, almost a year later on August 31, 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales was mortally injured in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. She died in hospital. Her partner, Dodi Fayed, and Henri Paul,the driver of the car, died at the scene.

Her cherished sons were just 15 and 12. Her death sparked an outpouring of grief worldwide.