India Hicks was a bridesmaid at Charles and Diana’s wedding. Twenty years after the princess’s death, she shares her very personal memories
‘It was an iconic moment: Diana stepping out of the carriage, the world watching – and me, bent double, trying to de-wrinkle her dress’. India Hicks shares her unique behind-the-scenes perspective of the 1981 royal wedding.
Looking back through all the photographs, all I can think of is what on earth had I done? My worst hair day ever – seen by 750 million people. Just before the wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer on 29 July 1981, I thought chopping off my waist-length hair was an excellent idea. It was not.
When my godfather Prince Charles called to ask if I would like to be a bridesmaid, I was initially horrified. I was a 13-year-old tomboy, never out of jodhpurs, and I would have to wear a dress. Charles was a remarkable godfather, though – caring, considerate and involved – and I adored him; still do. So, despite my reservations about the dress, I glowed with pride to have been asked, especially as my mother, Lady Pamela Mountbatten, had been a bridesmaid at the wedding of the then Princess Elizabeth to Philip Mountbatten in 1947.
I met Diana for the first time at a dress fitting at the lily-strewn studio of the designers David and Elizabeth Emanuel. When we arrived, Diana was upstairs, where her dress was kept under lock and key. The windows of the building had been blocked out so that the press camped on rooftops across the street could not snap a shot of it, one of the most closely guarded fashion secrets in history.
After her fitting, Diana came downstairs to join the bridesmaids as we were measured. Frill after frill, pin after pin, hour after hour, we stood silently as the Emanuels’ creations were brought to life. Diana was warm and kind to me but focused mainly on the younger bridesmaids (Sarah-Jane Gaselee, 11, Catherine Cameron, six, and Clementine Hambro, five). Of course, she was really a child herself, innocent and slightly awkward.
I met Diana again during the rehearsals at St Paul’s Cathedral. She would practise walking down the aisle with a 25-foot-long sheet – the same length her train would be – tied around her waist with string, which we helped to manoeuvre. Never before had a royal bride walked that aisle with a train on such a scale.
As the weeks wore on, the frenzy over the wedding grew. The Government declared the day a public holiday and people prepared to celebrate with massive street parties. I was photographed for the cover of Tatler by the legendary fashion photographer Norman Parkinson, who came to my parents’ home in Oxfordshire with his entourage.
Diana was warm and kind to me. Of course, she was really a child herself, innocent and awkward
I recall an icy lunch following the photo shoot. My father (the interior designer David Hicks) had been asked by an assistant if he could lend them some electrical wire. ‘Do I look like an electrician?’ he retorted. And my mother was appalled that her innocent 13-year-old had been made up with eyeliner and provocative jewellery.
On the eve of the wedding, we joined members of the royal family, visiting dignitaries and film stars, including Princess Grace of Monaco, for the firework display in Hyde Park. The sky lit up across London as fireworks exploded in time to Handel’s ‘Music for the Royal Fireworks’, ending with a spectacular revolving sun 170 feet above ground, which shot out sparkling flares.
Hundreds of thousands of people had gathered in the city for what turned out to be an incredible party – but anyone who has experienced a street party like that knows that getting home afterwards is not so easy. The Queen was able to nip back to Buckingham Palace, but everyone else was pretty much stuck. Princess Margaret, mother of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, 17, the chief bridesmaid, sensed my mother’s concern about getting me to bed at a decent hour, so offered to take me back to her apartment at Kensington Palace for the night. My mother imagined I would sleep well in luxury and accepted the invitation. But instead of wasting a guest room on a scruffy 13-year-old, I was sensibly shown to a nanny’s room. As I climbed into bed, feeling somewhat alone, there was a tap at the door and Princess Margaret walked in, wearing her nightie, and offered to lend me her toothbrush, which I could hardly refuse.
The following morning Sarah and I rode in a sleek Daimler to Clarence House, the home of the Queen Mother, where Diana had spent the night. Scarlet-tail-coated footmen showed us upstairs to where Diana was having her hair done. Beside her on a tiny dressing table was a small television set, with rather grainy reception, so she could watch the wedding preparations going on across London, interspersed with images and stories of her past. If anyone stood in front of the screen – God forbid – she shooed them away so her view was unobstructed. It was a strange scene, this young, beautiful bride about to become the world’s most famous princess, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt with a dazzling tiara on her head, singing along to the TV commercial ‘Just One Cornetto’, which everyone, not just in the room but on the whole floor, joined in.
Just after 10am, Diana stepped out of her jeans and into her ivory silk taffeta wedding gown, to which the dramatic 25-foot train was attached. As she descended the grand staircase, she hesitated for a moment and turned to a footman to ask for a glass of water. Everyone waited in silence as she sipped from the glass, before her veil came down over her face and she stepped out into the waiting golden carriage. Her life was about to change for ever. History was in the making.
While Diana, accompanied by her father Earl Spencer, slowly made her way to St Paul’s, Sarah Armstrong-Jones and I were standing by in the chapel of St Michael and St George, one of the many smaller chapels inside the cathedral; the other younger bridesmaids, meanwhile, were being contained by fierce nannies, and the two not entirely reliable pageboys, Lord Nicholas Windsor, 11, and Edward van Cutsem, eight, dressed in immaculate naval uniforms, were idly standing by. (I saw Edward again recently, under very different circumstances, no longer a small boy with a threatening sword strapped to his belt.)
As the carriage drew closer we walked down the steps to help Diana out. It was at this point that we all recognised the terrible mistake of having Diana, her father, who was by no means a small man, and a voluminous train pushed into a small carriage. Her dress, train and father were completely crumpled. There are many significant images of that moment: Diana stepping out from the carriage, the world watching, the crowds cheering, the guards lining the steps – and me, bent double with my bottom in the air, trying as best as I could to de-wrinkle the situation.
It took Diana – on the shaky arm of her father, with five bridesmaids and two pages in attendance – three and a half minutes to walk up the aisle in front of the biggest ever gathering of European and foreign royals, an invited congregation of 3,500, plus that vast television audience.
I sat, munchkin-like, on a small red velvet stool, close to the King of Tonga, who relaxed in his specially commissioned oversized chair, which to me looked like a splendid throne, made to accommodate his impressive 35 stone. His wife, Queen Mata‘aho, passed snacks down the pew to me. In Tonga, rank is demonstrated by your size. We needed to keep eating.
The Archbishop of Canterbury led the traditional Church of England service, assisted by clergymen from many denominations. The bride’s nerves showed briefly when she mixed up Charles’s names, calling him Philip Charles, rather than Charles Philip. Inside that calm, consecrated cathedral one could hear a pin drop, but outside on the steps and in the streets the nation roared in jubilation. I only really remember my buttercup-yellow satin shoes pinching, as they were a size too small.
After the private signing of the register, the Prince and Princess of Wales walked back down the aisle to Elgar’s ‘Pomp and Circumstance’. I rode back to Buckingham Palace in a glass coach drawn by horses – an enchanting experience only slightly ruined by the tiny tears of my fellow bridesmaid Catherine Cameron, who turned out to be desperately allergic to horses and spent most of the journey miserably blowing her little nose on her petticoats.
My mother had spent much of her life waving to crowds, as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth and in India with her parents Lord and Lady Mountbatten, the last Viceroy and Vicerine. ‘You must wave,’ she warned me. ‘People don’t want to see you ride past without waving.’ I did my best, timid little waves to the joyous crowds lined up along the Mall, many of whom had camped out overnight to save the best spots.
The newlyweds took an open-top carriage to Buckingham Palace, where they emerged on the balcony to give the crowds the kiss they had been longing to see. I had been privileged enough to have been on that famous balcony several times before. My grandfather rode in the Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s birthday parade, every year, and afterwards we would join the royal family and enjoy homemade ‘lemon refresher’ and bowls of Smarties. But nothing could have prepared me for the sight of the crowds that day. We watched in awe as the micro navy-blue line of mounted police was forced to break rank as the swarming masses flooded through from the Mall to the gates of the palace, screaming joyously.
Patrick Lichfield took the wedding photographs. A first cousin once removed of the Queen’s, he was well practised at being around the royals and came armed with a whistle so he could keep the wedding party in line. Photo after photo was taken. Prince Andrew insisted on making jokes (I wish I could remember how rude they were). But finally, utterly exhausted from so many pictures, everyone collapsed on top of one other in laughter. All I could think of was that dress and veil wrinkling even more.
Finally, the wedding breakfast. Brill in lobster sauce, and chicken stuffed with lamb mousse was served. I ate the bread rolls. Strawberries and cream followed. At one point Diana picked up Clementine Hambro and sat her on her lap (more wrinkles). Clemmie had fallen in the long gallery before lunch and the Queen had bent down to help her up and rub her little flowered-wreathed head, and now Diana was making sure all was well.
Being royal, Charles had not one but two best men. Princes Andrew and Edward made speeches, light and witty, just as you imagine brothers would at a wedding. As soon as the cake had been cut, Diana, her sisters and the bridesmaids disappeared to help her change into her going-away outfit.
The mood was giggly and Diana gave us a kiss and a thank-you present: a pretty Halcyon Days pot commemorating the day. Inside were the cocoons of two silkworms that had spun the silk for her wedding dress. (A few weeks later, a rose from her bouquet arrived, set in glass to act as a paperweight, with a note of thanks in her schoolgirl writing.)
And then she was gone, to begin her honeymoon at my grandfather’s home, Broadlands, in Hampshire. She was whisked away across the Buckingham Palace courtyard with a ‘just married’ sign and empty Coke cans attached to the carriage by Andrew and Edward – raising smiles from the Queen, Queen Mother and Princess Margaret, who hotfooted it after them. It’s not often you see our sovereign, her mother and sister running across the palace courtyard – or running at all.
I have two terrible regrets from that day: the first was that while I was upstairs helping Diana change, the wedding cake was served and I missed it. However, 30-odd years later, an ardent Diana fan followed me to a speaking event I was giving and pushed through the throng to press into my hand a box and a note. Inside was a piece of that wedding cake, perfectly preserved.
My second regret was missing the grand ball hosted by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on the evening of the wedding. It was to be my first ball and even though it meant another dress and my toes were crushed from wearing the buttercup yellow shoes all day, I wanted to go. Just beforehand, I lay down on my mother’s bed to shut my eyes for a moment – and woke up the following morning having missed everything.
My mother’s royal bridesmaid dress and mine now hang in acrylic cases on the wall of my daughter’s bedroom. They have both been on display in museums and on tours around the world, but now rest side by side, happy to have been part of history, but just as happy to be quietly home.
Source: DAILYMAIL MAILONLINE
Tags: Princess Diana, Princess of Wales, Diana, Prince Charles, Wedding, Marriage, Pageboy, Flower Girl, Story, Buckingham Palace, Queen Mother, Sovereign