By: Cornelia Powell
In British tradition, wedding vows are a morning affair, and if we were to catch the first glimpse of the beautiful bride, we needed to be “front and center” very early. My friends and I were a little old for a slumber party, but as we gathered in our pajamas at 4 a.m. in front of my clunky television in Atlanta, Georgia, the anticipation and giddiness was “ageless.” It was July 29, 1981, and like millions of people around the world, we prepared to watch the royal wedding of Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, Prince of Wales. (We even had snacks to match the occasion: scones with homemade fig jam and Earl Grey tea with lemon—perhaps to not only feed our early morning hunger, but also some inherent dreams of being a princess.)
As the world welcomes a new “princess” today, we are reminded of another celebrated royal wedding almost four decades ago. It was a landmark event broadcast in 74 countries and watched around the world by over 750 million people—including me and my pajama-party friends!
The moment Diana stepped out of that fairy-tale-inspired glass coach on her wedding morning with endless yards of silk train magically materializing with her—”like seeing a butterfly emerge from its chrysalis,” her gown designers wrote later—she had us hook, line and sinker. Princess Diana did not invent our fascination with royalty, nevertheless, her wedding ushered in a whole new ballgame—and the world was never quite the same.
As the first worldwide media spectacular, and probably the defining event of the eighties—a decade in which style so often trumped substance—the glittering happening brought ceremonial weddings back in style almost overnight. It resurrected the bridal industry from the social upheavals of the previous two decades and set the pace for a new era of fancy wedding hoopla: elaborate designer gowns; staged over-the-top productions; refined Martha Stewart details; and the wedding as a “consumer rite.” (Sound familiar?)
Since the same media blitz followed Diana and Charles’ soap-opera marriage and thorny divorce, many people became wary of fairy tales and princesses. However, the endearing William and Kate, with their dignity and realness, made us fall in love all over again! And, of course, the royal buzz was on once more last fall when charming Prince Harry and lovely Meghan Markle announced their engagement. But there were and are differences.
Like her now sister-in-law Kate Middleton, Meghan is not “blue-blooded” (not even British, yet that will change after she marries the prince), but like what attracted William to Kate, Meghan has other qualities that were more important to Harry. Thanks in part to the princes’ mother cracking open the staid and out-of-touch British monarchy, revealing how “dynastic duty” has little to do with love and happiness, and, to insure they didn’t get boxed-in by the past, insisting her sons have the grounding of real-world experience. All of which helped to free William and Harry to choose to marry from their true heart’s desire. (Tweaking a quote from journalist extraordinaire Tina Brown, who has covered the weddings of Charles and Diana, William and Kate, and now Harry and Meghan: “Everything Diana had wished for her sons has come to pass. They each found the woman who would bring them the personal contentment she lacked.”)
So not only is the return to elegant wedding pageantry part of Diana’s legacy, but her most lasting legacy just maybe Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle—and the more egalitarian world available to them as the two young women bring their confident, modern, compassionate and open-minded “princessdom” to a world ready for some genuine graciousness. Thank heavens for royal weddings! Tea, anyone? ~
[Excerpts from The End of the Fairy-Tale Bride: For Better or Worse, How Princess Diana Rescued the Great White Wedding … a book for anyone who likes their wedding pageantry tossed with a little fashion history and princess brides! Available on Amazon. www.CorneliaPowell.com]
Wedding Folklorist, Fashion Historian, Author & Guest Speaker
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