How Princess Diana reshaped the Royal Family

Princes William and Harry unveil new memorial commemorating the People’s Princess

Princess Diana
(Image credit: Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

Thirty-eight years ago today, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer were married at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The event marked a “high point in the popularity of the Royal Family” and was watched by a global audience of 750 million people in 74 countries, says the BBC. In the UK, 600,000 well-wishers lined the streets of London while 28.4 million watched on the BBC and ITV.

Diana was 20 when she married Charles, 32. Fifteen years later, the couple divorced - and one year after that, Diana died in a car crash in Paris, along with her lover Dodi Fayed.

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The wedding was one of the most scrutinised in the world - but almost four decades later, newspapers and broadcasters are still unearthing fresh behind-the-scenes details. Here are a few facts you may not have known about the 1981 royal wedding.

Diana was only allowed 100 guests

A new documentary, Charles and Di: The Truth Behind their Wedding, aired on Channel 5 at the weekend. It revealed that Diana was only allowed to invite 100 guests to the wedding, despite the full guest list in the Cathedral totalling 2,000. The claim was made by Mary Robertson, an American businesswoman who employed Diana as a nanny (on just over £4 an hour) before her engagement to Prince Charles. Despite Diana’s limited allocation, Robertson and her husband were invited to the wedding.

A whispered comment hinted at trouble

The Daily Mirror recalls this week that it ran a story five days before Charles and Diana were married, which hinted at trouble to come in the relationship. At a garden party for people with disabilities at Buckingham Palace, a Mirror journalist overheard Diana saying she had had a row with Charles.

Features writer John Edwards recalled Diana telling a member of the public: “There was a terrible row last night between Charles and me. It had been his stag party.”

Diana was in tears seven days before

Diana was left in tears a week before the wedding, according to biographer Christopher Wilson. She apparently “spotted a package with the name of Camilla on it on the desk of Prince Charles’s private secretary, Michael Colborne”, reports the Daily Express. “After insisting to see what was inside of it, Diana found a gold bracelet with the letter G and F engraved, the initials for the nicknames Charles and Camilla used for each other - Gladys and Fred,” said the newspaper.

Wilson told the Channel 5 documentary: “She was absolutely in tears, in a terrible state about it. It was clear that this was Prince Charles' farewell present to Camilla.”

Dress altered several times

Elizabeth Emanuel, who designed Diana’s wedding dress with her ex-husband David, said the Princess of Wales lost so much weight in the run-up to the wedding that they had to alter the dress several times. “Her waist was a size 23 at the end. She was tiny like a model,” said Emanuel.

Charles told friends his bride was ‘a child’

Saturday’s Channel 5 documentary also revealed that Charles told his friends shortly before the wedding that he was concerned about Diana’s youth. According to the Daily Express, he said: “She is exquisitely pretty, a perfect poppy. But she is a child.”

The Prince is said to have added: “She does not look old enough to be out of school, much less married.”

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Julia O'Driscoll is the engagement editor. She covers UK and world news, as well as writing lifestyle and travel features. She regularly appears on “The Week Unwrapped” podcast, and hosted The Week's short-form documentary podcast, “The Overview”. Julia was previously the content and social media editor at sustainability consultancy Eco-Age, where she interviewed prominent voices in sustainable fashion and climate movements. She has a master's in liberal arts from Bristol University, and spent a year studying at Charles University in Prague.