Diana and Charles: A look back to other royal wedding that captivated the world

Prince Charles and his bride, Diana, Princess of Wales, on the way out of St. Paul's Cathedral at the end of their wedding ceremony on July 29, 1981 in London. (AP Photo)
Prince Charles and his bride, Diana, Princess of Wales, on the way out of St. Paul's Cathedral at the end of their wedding ceremony on July 29, 1981 in London. (AP Photo)

By Claudine Zap

A fairy-tale romance between a prince and his princess-to-be. A sparkling sapphire and diamond engagement ring. A wedding watched around the world. Sounds like the royal wedding of Kate and Will. But actually, this royal wedding took place 30 years ago: On July 29, 1981, Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer. In many ways, it was the wedding that changed the world. Here, a look at the legacy.

Diana arrived in a glass, horse-drawn coach. The couple married at St. Paul's Cathedral in front of 3,500 guests. Outside, a crowd of 600,000 well-wishers filled the streets. And a global audience of 750 million tuned in to watch the wedding on TV -- the largest ever for such an event.

The 20-year-old bride wore an elaborate Emmanuel design with a 25-foot-long train (that was copied for years after she appeared in it), and memorably flubbed her 32-year-old groom's name when saying her vows, calling him Philip Charles instead of Charles Philip.

After the ceremony, the two emerged on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and kissed for the wildly enthusiastic throngs below.

The event marked the beginning of their lives together -- the start of a new popularity for the monarchy and a focus on Diana as style icon to be wildly imitated and adored. The romance with the "people's princess" lasted long after the marriage had collapsed.

Related: Prince William and Kate Middleton honor Diana's memory

Meanwhile, as Diana, Princess of Wales, the blushing bride became a global celebrity. Bob Houston, publisher of Royalty Monthly magazine, called the '80s the "decade of Diana." And added, "Diana was the spearhead of the American invasion of Britain, the celebrity culture."

Royal historian Hugo Vickers remembered how Diana changed the monarchy. Speaking on the phone from his home in Hampshire, England, he said, "Diana had a particular gift. She was brilliant in her way. She really did have a certain magnetism."

Following a disastrous public divorce, and Diana's subsequent shocking death in a car accident in 1997 when she was only 36, the world watched as her two sons, princes William and Harry, followed mournfully behind her casket.

During her lifetime, the media was mad for Diana, following her every movement, and some even blamed the tabloid press for the car crash that led to her untimely death. This at a time pre-Internet; before Facebook or Twitter or the 24-hour news cycle.

The interest in the royals was re-ignited when Prince William, about to turn 29 and in the Royal Air Force, married his longtime girlfriend, Kate Middleton, 29, in the spring.

From the start, William kept his mum in mind. When the prince announced he was marrying his on-again, off-again love who he had met in college, Catherine Middleton was wearing Diana's engagement ring.

The devoted son said at the time, "It's my way of making sure my mother didn't miss out on today and the excitement and the fact we are going to spend the rest of our lives together."

William approached marriage with caution, perhaps having learned the lesson of his mother's youthful engagement. Royals expert Carolyn Harris of Queens University in Canada noted the differences in an email, writing, "Charles and Diana did not know each other very well when they were married and there was a large age difference between them. During their early married life, they found they had few common interests."

Harris added, "In contrast, William and Kate had the opportunity to become friends, then date for a long period of time before their marriage so they had the opportunity to establish their personal relationship before having to perform royal duties as a couple."

The two seem to be masters at handling the press, saying little in public and revealing as few details as necessary about their lives. For example, Kate's wedding dress designer was successfully kept a secret until she made her appearance dressed in a stunning Sarah Burton design for Alexander McQueen on the day of her wedding.

The 30th anniversary of Charles and Diana's wedding will certainly be on many people's minds. As Vickers mused, "That was a very special, happy day, whatever happened afterward can't take that away. It's a tragedy how it all turned out."