Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Royal Wedding, July 29th, 1981

Thirty years ago the world was watching the fairy tale wedding of Prince Charles and the Lady Diana Spencer. 600.000 people filled the streets of London to get a glimpse of the happy couple and all the pomp and circumstance surrounding their big day,

The couple were married at St Paul's Cathedral before an invited congregation of 3,500 and an estimated global TV audience of 750 million - making it the most popular programme ever broadcast at the time.

A send-off into a fairy tale life to end all fairy tales, the watchers thought. Nobody foresaw the storm clouds gathering quite so quickly or the catastrophic shipwreck ahead.

Britons enjoyed a national holiday to mark the occasion, that is, most Britons did, but there were many people working on the day to keep essential services going. Then there were those whose services were only of importance to the organisers of the wedding itself, an army of helpers, official and unofficial, among them the musicians. Court jesters have come and gone, there are no jugglers, tumblers, players any longer, but there must be musicians.

Prince Charles was Patron of the Orchestra of The Royal Opera House. Beloved had played for him and the Royal Family many times before then, so playing at St. Paul's Cathedral was no big deal, even though this was a proper State occasion.  For a seasoned professional any gig is just that, a gig.  Or so they would like to make you believe.

The musicians entered the Cathedral by the tradesmen's entrance, in this case by the North Crypt doors and had to be at their station in a side chapel before the proceedings began.

They were playing a full programme of music long before the ceremony started at 11 o'clock, throughout the many processions, from the Ecclesiastical Procession, via the Procession of Foreign Crowned Heads, The Queen's Procession,
The Procession of the Bridegroom,  and the Procession of the Bride.
Beloved saw little of the processions and nothing of the actual marriage service. All he has are the

official programmes, the Order of Service for the Ceremony itself, and the Ceremonial from the moment the Street Liners were in place (these are officials, NOT the populace), and the carriages began to leave  Buckingham Palace, to the moment the carriages returned. The Ceremonial runs to 32 pages and ends with the Bride and Bridegroom leaving the Grand Entrance in a semi-State Landau, accompanied by a Travelling Escort of the Household Cavalry, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Parker Bowles,  ( we all know what happened to him), Blues and Royals. at 4.00 p.m. (here the programme allows itself the first sign of a slip) "approximately".

What he did see was Kiri Te Kanawa (now 'Dame') in 'that' outfit, singing "Let The Bright Seraphim" from Haendel's "Samson". The Band thought she did well but also generally accepted that she could have chosen a less unfortunate outfit.
Just in case anyone thinks this must have been a profitable gig for the musicians, they are wrong. Prince Charles decided that all future royalties on the music, every penny coming from film, TV, CDs, and all other Rights worldwide, in perpetuity,  should go to a Charity of his choosing.

He didn't even ask them.

We met him (and Diana) at a Royal Garden Party years later, neither Beloved nor I remembered to complain.


  1. Hello:
    You may not be at all surprised to learn that we were not one of the 600,000 lining the streets nor, indeed, were we one of the 750 million watching that wedding on television - not having a television then, nor in all the years since then. Not that we are against television at all, it is simply that life in the real world has so much to offer.

    What you say here is, of course, of interest for it documents a piece of social history from the viewpoint at the time of an 'insider'. So revealing about the royalties. Such grand gestures are, in our opinion, usually made by those best able to afford them. You would have thought that the Prince of Wales would, with his apparent interest in music, have had some idea of how poorly paid musicians generally are.

    And the garden party! Well.....!

  2. This is fascinating! The bit about LTC Andrew Parker-Bowles is particularly choice. Now let's hope that this bridegroom pays his musicians well.

  3. Oh what I'd give to meet Prince Charles. I like him, despite the pomposity and entitlement. Pun intended. I think sometimes the world needs the grandeur of such events, even though it appears to be a foolish spending of money, especially this time around. I'm so glad you shared your own experiences. A garden party with the royals would be very interesting.

  4. I often feel sorry for the people who have to arrive at such events hours beforehand. No 'comfort breaks' and no clear view of proceedings either. Quite a memory to enjoy, though perhaps not for the same reasons as others.

  5. I wasn't in the worldwide audience then and don't plan to watch this one coming up either. However, I thought then and still do that Diana's wedding dress was just awful.

  6. So, did you get an invite to this wedding? Since you rub elbows with royalty!

  7. i remember mostly my moms fascination with the wedding and it being on the tele...thanks for the bit of behind the scenes...ugh on the musicians but at least it went to charity...or maybe i should ask which one...hmm...

  8. way back when i remember been at a street party and eating lots of food.
    This Friday i'll watch it on tv.. i'm not a royalist but love real life on tv.. maybe because i'm nosey ;-)

  9. And I wonder what people will remember in another thirty years? :)

  10. An interesting perspective on all the pomp and circumstance 30 years ago. Were you and your DH together at that time? Quite amazing to think of all the behind the scenes labour that was required then, and now, to get married in the style to which they are accustommed. And where will you be Friday morn Friko?

  11. I got over the Royals long ago -- but I did keep a scrapbook of Elizabeth's coronation way back then and agitate (successfully) for my grandparents to buy their first television so we could watch the event.

    Still, I wouldn't turn down an invitation -- must pop down to check the mail...

  12. Hey Friko (from one game old girl to another hehe) I think that outfit of Dame Kiri Te Kanawa is rather fetching. At least you'd never forget it! I bet you never imagined getting lost in Welshpool! Did you see last night's Shrop Star. Apparently some folks are getting very abusive towards the bright sparks who altered all the traffic system.
    Wonder why?

  13. Nice account of a memorable event, from a musician's point of view. I've had my arm twisted to watch Friday's big occasion. I'd rather have a return trip to the dentist.

    Strange thing, our relationship with Royalty. They turn up when you least expect them. But for a very senior police officer, I would have walked straight into Princess Anne, while she was visiting the University of Southampton. And, for a surreal couple of minutes, I once found myself waiting to turn right as the Queen was passing by. Her car stopped and we had very brief eye contact. I wonder if she remembers that moment.

  14. Fascinating, Friko. All kinds of things we might never have known, if not for you.
    Dreadful to know Charles didn't ask the musicians if they would like to donate their wages to His Highness's pet charity. (Do you suppose Camilla was his pet charity?)
    Diana's dress was designed for a fairy-tale princess, so it looked like a Walt Disney original, but Dame Kiri's dress was a farce. If the royals could take away the musicians' wages without permission, you'd think they'd have been able to influence the singer's outfit.
    I'm quite indignant about the musicians, because my father was a musician, although not at the same level as your Beloved, so no Royals ever stole his money.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  15. Musicians often take the short end of the stick. I am not overly surprised that they never received royalties from their performance, but I hope that these days they might be better-protected by the legal system.

    Still, I am fascinated by your description of that royal wedding. It was a true spectacle, and all quite royal and magical, if only for a very brief time.

  16. Would you ever part with those souvenirs? I wouldn't. I enjoyed the inside story. Thank you.

  17. friko - you know that i am not a cynical person but the "fairytale" of charles and diana was created for the masses and then media accentuated . . . am i the only one who saw the disconnect right from the start? it all seemed so contrived and unreal. i was not surprised at the "revelations" that emerged afterwards. steven

  18. "Court jesters have come and gone, there are no jugglers, tumblers, players any longer, but there must be musicians." Let us hope so--t'would have been nice if Prince Charles understood a little better how they making their living, eh?

  19. May time and life treat the new ones kind.

  20. Oh Friko what a great story. I don't remember if I watched that wedding or not. Probably not since I had 6 kiddos going here and there and everywhere.

  21. Friko, all in all, what a unique experience that must have been been for the Scraper! Did you get to sit in the orchestra pit? Or in some cordoned off area for the spouses? I thought St. Paul's was magnificent--they say the acoustics are brilliant. This current marriage doesn't seem so regal. I guess all things change. Did you see The King's Speech? Now that was royalty!

  22. Once again you amaze with your participation in history, dear Friko!

    Warm Aloha from Honolulu

    Comfort Spiral




  23. What an interesting "behind the scenes" have participated in any form for such an occasion must be be memorable and music is such a vital part of a ceremony.
    Every time I see a photo of Princess Diana, I feel saddened. Such an incredible life to be taken so young. Thank you for sharing this part of your history with us.

  24. Friko, it's good to have this behind the scenes on this particular bit of history. Isn't it true that every one of the Big glamorous stories have got so many ingredients and that those ingredients are rarely disclosed?

    For many centuries, don't you think?

    Still, I would hold on to those documents.

    This Friday I am on the late shift at the shop, and so might just set my alarm for an early tv switch on, then look for a while, switch the tv off, and get some more sleep before going out to do my own gig.

    Once again, you've introduced a topic that we can talk about when we do sit down at that table and have a cup or glass.


  25. I was having a caesarean at the time (no , we didn't call her Diana) . This time I'll be working , since it's not a holiday in Holland . Never mind , when their child gets married I should still be alert enough to watch it in the residents lounge of whatever old peoples home I'm parked in .
    ( The snaffling of royalties doesn't surprise me . He was a rather clueless young man . )

  26. Thanks Friko for the story. it confirms that Charlie is an arrogant prig (that was close) who deserves his Camilla Toilet-Bowles!
    We got the Magna Carta to stop royals taking from us without asking, but I see he hasn;t read it... but it was only the musicians and they were having a good time anyway!

  27. What an experience and what a story. I hope this marriage turns out to be happier. I can't think of anything worse than marrying into royalty.

  28. Weren't you the lucky ducks. I have never met any royalty, but my Aunt Lois once played her harp for the Pope (she was a nun).

    I worked on Capital Hill but never met the President. My son and his wife, just arrived from Spain, came to town to visit us, and were standing in line at the White House and invited in to meet the King of Spain and hear him and Bush speak. They looked Spanish I suppose.

  29. Thanks for that inside story - I remember Di and Charles' wedding very well. Todays events were modest in comparisan, perhaps reflecting the troubled economic climate we are all caught in. Anyway the music was good, so thanks and for sharing this.

  30. Fascinating! I remember watching Diana and Charles' wedding all agog (Kiri te Kanawa never even registered--sorry). William and Kate's was vastly different, and this time I did notice the music. I hope the marriage turns out differently, too.

    How cool to have been part of the festivities in '81 and to have met them!


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