Once upon a time, there was a fairytale. I was just a little girl when it was told but like many who lived through it, I still find a resonance in that strange summer day when once upon a time met, briefly, happy every after.
On July 29th 1981, the world stopped to watch a prince wed his princess. Even the archbishop who married them was so involved in the dream that had sprung up around them that he pronounced their story a fairytale just after he pronounced them husband and wife.
It’s little wonder. In the weeks and months before the royal wedding of Prince Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, the romance that would see the heir to the throne finally marry had taken over everyday life.
For those who only know this story in hindsight, with its tattered and tragic ending, it might seem madness that so many failed to see the seemingly obvious problems in the relationship at the heart of the wedding. But at the time, the long awaited marriage of a king in waiting to a beautiful bride and the promise of a new royal family that would become the image of the modern monarchy was heady in the extreme.
It was also omnipresent. Every day was filled with romantic images of the couple from papers charting their every move to shops slowly filling to the brim with souvenirs carrying images of the smiling lovers. You couldn’t help but fall in love with the idea because every day brought another encouragement to dream. It’s no wonder. It was a contrast to the growing unemployment and pressure for strikes which were the other dominant theme across the UK.
The thing I remember most is Woolworths, another once loved integral part of British life. We had a jumbo Woolies in our town and in the months running up to the wedding, the shelves nearest to the door became a cornucopia of royal romance. Paper plates, paper napkins, posters, biscuit tins, pennants and bunting flags, all carrying bright images of Charles and Diana.
And then there were the lollipops. They were huge, round, either bright red or bright blue and covered in white icing that read ‘Royal Wedding, July 29 1981’. They were the ultimate treat. My teeth might not thank me for them now but I still remember the real gratitude and genuine excitement when my Mum bought one each for me and my sister on a few occasions as the big day approached.
My other abiding memory is a poster of Prince Charles bought, again, from Woolies. My Mum said she wanted us to always remember this one big day as it seemed so special and important. And so after we went to bed, the night before, she decorated our house with balloons and flags and posters. I shared a room with my sister and she decided to put a giant photo up on our door so the first thing we saw was linked to the wedding. Sadly, the poster she chose was an image of Charles, during his moustached phase, which, in the dim half light of the early morning of July 29th was, quite frankly, terrifying. To be fair, we still remember it.
Of course, like all memories, it changes with time. It becomes an idealised version of what went before. The same was true for the wedding which captivated millions around the world on that July day. We wanted a happy ending, we demanded a royal romance for the ages. In the early years, Charles and Diana’s love story seemed to reach the perfection of which so many dreamed. We all know how it ended but, four decades on, our recollections of that day and all it represented remain as evocative as we have made them for ourselves through the intervening years.
Once upon a time, there was a fairytale…..