The alarm on my bedside clock began blasting its obnoxious tone at 3:15 am. Half asleep I reached over and hit the snooze button, trying to remember why I had done this to myself. As a night owl, I was more likely to stay up until 3:00 am than get up at that time. It was July 1981. I had recently graduated from high school, and with a month to go before I began college, had no plans that day. I drifted back to sleep until the alarm sounded again. Turning it off, I got up and dressed.
The den was on the opposite side of the house from my parents and younger sister, so I could turn on the TV without waking them. I settled in on the red, green, and gold plaid sofa to watch every minute of the royal wedding of the Lady Diana Spencer and Charles, the Prince of Wales.
Cinderella was always my favorite fairy tale, the story of a lonely girl turned into a princess with some fairy-tale magic and the love of a prince. I felt much like her, overlooked by the boys I went to school with, and dreaming of catching the attention, and love, of my own “prince.” Reading romance novels fueled that desire, as did the news coverage leading up to the wedding, presenting it as a fairy tale come to life.
I loved the history and traditions of the British royal family, its titles, uniforms, and pomp and circumstance, captivating me. The news coverage in the weeks leading up to the ceremony talked of the romance and pageantry while showing scenes of London, a city I dreamed of visiting. Getting up at 3:30 in the morning seemed a small price to pay to experience this moment of history.
The newscasts filled the two hours preceding the ceremony with talk about Charles and Diana’s engagement, especially her sapphire and diamond ring, mention of the royalty, dignitaries and celebrities who would be attending, speculation about what Diana’s dress would look like, and a look back to when Princess Elizabeth married the Duke of Edinburgh in 1947, using her post-WWII rationing coupons to pay for her wedding dress.
Tens of thousands of people lined the route from Buckingham Palace to the Cathedral, many of them having camped out for days to get a prime location. The day was a national holiday and the weather cooperated providing the perfect opportunity for many to see the procession in person.
The guests arrived and entered St. Paul’s Cathedral as the Royal Family departed the Palace in their horse-drawn coaches. Finally, Diana and her father left Clarence House in the enclosed Glass Coach for the 20-minute journey to the Cathedral. She appeared shy and demure behind her veil, waving to the crowd and chatting with her father as they neared their destination. The coach pulled up to the Cathedral steps, and Diana emerged. Her wedding gown of ivory silk taffeta and antique lace featured a large ruffle framing the V-neckline, puffy elbow-length sleeves and a full skirt. Her 25-foot train was wrinkled after the ride in the coach, and she carried a massive bouquet that cascaded to her ankles. She looked every bit the fairy tale princess we thought her to be.
My mom and dad got up, surprised to see me awake so early on a summer morning. They ate breakfast then my dad left to begin his rural mail route. My mom watched from the kitchen window as she washed the dishes before joining me for the exchange of vows. Most memorable were when Diana and Charles each mixed up part of their vows, and when Diana did not promise to obey her husband, giving us a glimpse into a more modern woman behind her shy exterior.
The Prince and Princess of Wales left the church to ringing bells and more cheers from the crowd. Returning to Buckingham Palace in an open coach, they soon appeared on the balcony with the rest of the royal family to wave to the crowd. In the midst of it all, they surprised everyone with a kiss, beginning a new royal wedding tradition.
Little did I know that in a month I would meet the man I would marry two years later. Our wedding wasn’t anything like the royal wedding, yet I felt like a princess in my dress with a train trailing behind me. Instead of a crown, my long veil was attached to a wreath of flowers that encircled my head. It was a perfect day and I thought we were beginning a wonderful life together.
Five years after our wedding, we flew into Heathrow airport to begin a year of living in England. We spent much of our first day in London groggily wandering the streets, trying to find our way from one tourist site to another, seeing in person the places I had dreamed of seeing for years. As we walked down the Mall from Buckingham Palace, passing Clarence House, I was struck by how grand the royal residences were, and how large the city was. Later, I rode the Underground to Sloane Square, walking the places that the Princess had before the world knew who she was.
Sadly, their marriage ended in divorce as did mine. Happily ever after, it turns out, doesn’t happen because you are in love and have a fancy wedding. It takes a lot of hard work, patience, open communication and commitment to see it through. And even then, it may not be enough. People change, priorities shift and sometimes it may be best to end the misery and go separate ways.
Thirty-seven years later, I’m not the naive teenager I was on that July morning. I no longer read romance novels or dream of a “prince” to give me a better life. I have been lucky enough to know couples who had good and strong marriages, who married for love and kept it alive through the years. They give me hope that even if it doesn’t look like the fairy tales I read as a child, there may indeed be happily ever after.
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