Diana's dress of the century: Mystery of the back-up wedding gown that vanished, how her waist shrank five inches in six months and a secret message in her shoes

The atmosphere, recalls Elizabeth Emanuel, was electric, even at six o’clock in the morning. ‘Crowds were already amassing outside and we had to drive past the barricades, which made us feel terribly important.

‘When we got inside Clarence House, where Diana had been living since her engagement to Charles, all the bridal party were there.

‘Everyone was singing along to the adverts on TV, drinking orange juice and eating biscuits, and watching the festivities.

‘I remember Judith Chalmers, who was presenting the BBC coverage, wondering what the dress would look like — and thinking: “We know!” ’

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Spectacular: Princess Diana is seen leaving St Paul's Cathedral in her wedding dress designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel. It was the commission of a lifetime for the young designers to make the dress of the century

Spectacular: Princess Diana is seen leaving St Paul's Cathedral in her wedding dress designed by Elizabeth and David Emanuel. It was the commission of a lifetime to make the dress of the century

For designers Elizabeth and David Emanuel, in their late 20s and not long out of fashion school, it was a career-defining moment.

Months earlier, in March 1981, Buckingham Palace had announced, to widespread surprise, that the Emanuels had been asked to design the dress Lady Diana Spencer would wear to marry Prince Charles.

It was the commission of a lifetime to make the dress of the century. And now, here they were, just hours from seeing Diana become a Princess in their history-making creation.

The dress had been delivered to Clarence House from their London studio the day before. Now, while Diana had her make-up and hair done, Elizabeth and David shook out the frothy lace and metres of silk.

Proceedings ran to a tight schedule: the Emanuels were given clipboards with to-do lists and palace aides ran around issuing orders about when things were supposed to happen.

When the time came, they were ushered into a bedroom to dress the bride. First, Diana put on her petticoat, then her shoes, and finally the dress. Just as she was gazing at herself in the mirror, Elizabeth panicked that she hadn’t done up the fastening on the petticoat, and David had to crawl underneath the skirts to check.

‘It had a double hook to make sure it didn’t fall off,’ she explains. ‘We wanted her to feel comfortable, but it also had to be secure.’

Just at that moment, the Queen Mother popped in to say hello to the bride, leaving David very flustered indeed.

PERFUME DISASTER SHE HID FROM WORLD 

Diana was a fan of strong, almost masculine, perfumes and she never left home without a spritz of Diorissimo by Dior. But for her big day she chose something different: Quelques Fleurs, a delicate blend of rose, jasmine and tuberose, created in 1912 by chic Parisian perfume house Houbigant.

But having applied the scent to her neck and wrists, a nervous Diana then proceeded to spill a few drops on the front of her pristine dress.

‘Liz and David Emanuel never found out about it,’ explains make-up artist Barbara Daly. ‘She said to me: “They’ll kill me.” I said: “They’ll never know, there’s so much fabric it will evaporate.” She said: “Do you think if I just tuck the front in they’ll never notice?”

And I said: “Yes, absolutely.”’ So, scrunching the damp fabric up in her hands, Diana made her way into the carriage and hoped for the best.

But the journey to St Paul’s was shorter than she realised, and there was still a tell-tale patch on the dress.

As she emerged from the carriage, she kept the damp fabric tightly clasped in her hand. Thankfully, her huge, trailing bouquet covered all manner of sins — and no one knew.

Meanwhile, she had that train, the longest in royal history, to contend with. ‘We wanted her to look like no princess had ever looked before,’ says Elizabeth Emanuel. ‘So we set out to discover the length of the longest royal wedding dress train there’d been, and discovered it was 23ft. We joked that we could go one better — in fact, two feet better — and make one that was 25ft. She loved the idea.’

The biggest problem was finding a space large enough for fitting it. The Brook Street studio was too cramped, so Diana drove the Emanuels to the Palace, where they were given Princess Anne’s bedroom as a makeshift fitting room. They laid the calico mock-up of the train out in the corridor and all three marvelled at the sight. Diana practised walking up and down, gliding over the plush Palace carpet.

Having planned to make the train in the same silk as the dress, the Emanuels panicked that it was still too wide for the aisle at St Paul’s. Armed with tape measures, they organised a secret visit to the cathedral to measure up — and found it fitted exactly.

 

Once the bridesmaids were dressed, they helped escort the bridal party down the grand staircase and into the carriage, folding the enormous train, concertina-style — ‘like you would fold a bed sheet’ — to ensure it didn’t get crushed. It was a manoeuvre they’d spent hours practising.

Elizabeth and David then rushed to St Paul’s, accompanied by a police escort, so they could arrive before the bride. In her handbag, Elizabeth had packed a bottle of smelling salts and some sugar tablets, in case Diana felt faint, but in the end it was the designer who needed the sugar to calm her own nerves.

Standing to one side of the cathedral entrance, they anxiously peered out until cheering crowds announced the arrival of the carriage. But as they watched Diana climb the steps, the Emanuels’ hearts sank: the dress was noticeably crumpled.

‘I remember whispering to David: “Oh my God, it’s creased,”’ she says. ‘I thought: “We’ve got to straighten out that dress.”

‘In the tiny carriage, it had crumpled far more than we’d anticipated. We’d done a rehearsal, but not with her father, Earl Spencer, in the car, too — and he was quite a large man.

‘It was a hot day, there was so much volume in the net and she was nervous, so she kept grabbing hold of it in her hands. Fortunately, we knew the fabric would pull out — that’s why we were there.

‘When she came out of that carriage, it was the most wonderful vision I’d ever seen. She looked like a butterfly emerging from her chrysalis, unfurling her wings and about to fly. It was so romantic. Oddly, the imperfections seemed to make her even more beautiful.’ While the world watched on television, Elizabeth and David, with the help of the bridesmaids, smoothed out Diana’s dress, adjusted her veil and spread out that astonishing train.

As Lady Diana walked down the aisle to the strains of the Prince of Denmark’s March, the Emanuels were ushered to their seats.

Sitting behind a pillar, they could see little and didn’t witness the full splendour of their creation until they saw it on the evening news.

Halfway through the ceremony, they got a tap on the shoulder: it was time to make their way to the Palace, where they would greet the new Princess of Wales and prepare her for the photographs.

Elizabeth and David, equipped with pins and an emergency sewing kit, checked the dress and helped arrange the veil for the official wedding portraits, which were taken by Lord Lichfield.

‘One of the most amazing things was watching the balcony scene from behind,’ Elizabeth says.

‘It was a truly magical moment, being on the inside looking out as the crowds waved and cheered.’ By the time the couple returned to their studio in Mayfair, it was late. ‘It was eerily quiet,’ Elizabeth recalls. ‘We’d had this huge build-up and suddenly it was over.’

Around 6.30pm, just as the Emanuels were leaving the studio, the phone rang. To their surprise, it was Diana, thanking them one last time for making her dress. ‘It meant so much. There she was, exhausted on the evening of her wedding, taking the time to call us. But that was her all over.’

It wasn’t until the following day that, to her horror, Elizabeth remembered she had left a safety pin — temporarily fixing the petticoat in place — in the dress. Thankfully, under all the layers of net, tulle and silk, it had gone unnoticed by the thousands of wedding guests and millions of viewers worldwide.

The Emanuels’ relationship with Diana began on January 8, 1981, with a phone call to their tiny Brook Street showroom. Crouched on her hands and knees, Elizabeth was busy dressing a client, so she yelled to one of her assistants to take the call.

On the line was a new customer asking Elizabeth if she would make her a dress for a friend’s upcoming 21st birthday party. ‘Debra’ — as her name was mistakenly taken down — made an appointment for 2.30pm that afternoon.

Of course, ‘Debra’ was Diana, and when she arrived Elizabeth couldn’t believe her eyes.

‘I recognised her immediately. She’d been in the papers since she and Charles had started dating the previous year — but photographs didn’t do her justice. I was immediately stuck by her height, her beautiful blue eyes and that flawless complexion.’

Diana was just 19, and with that appointment began a lifelong love affair with fashion. Over the following months, Elizabeth and David (who are now divorced but continue to work separately as designers) made several outfits for her, as she found her feet in the spotlight and sought to transform herself from young, shy nursery teacher to the fiancee of Prince Charles — and, at that time, the future Queen of England.

After the birthday gown came a pale pink, high-necked chiffon blouse, borrowed by the fashion team at Vogue magazine for a romantic shoot with Diana by Lord Snowdon, the publication of which coincided with her engagement.

Well-trained: Diana’s dress designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, suddenly panicked that the 25ft train they envisaged for Diana’s gown would be too wide for the aisle at St Paul’s. They quietly visited the cathedral, armed with tape measures, to check there wouldn’t be a hitch on the big day — luckily, it fitted perfectly

Well-trained: Diana’s dress designers, David and Elizabeth Emanuel, suddenly panicked that the 25ft train they envisaged for Diana’s gown would be too wide for the aisle at St Paul’s. They quietly visited the cathedral, armed with tape measures, to check there wouldn’t be a hitch on the big day — luckily, it fitted perfectly

Another outfit the Emanuels designed for Diana — perhaps the most iconic before the wedding dress — was a strapless, figure-hugging black taffeta ballgown which she wore to London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall to mark her first appearance as Prince Charles’s bride-to-be.

The next day, March 10, amid mounting speculation about who would design the royal wedding dress, the Palace announced that the Emanuels — whose taffeta creation had been splashed all over the papers — had won the contract that every designer in the country had been dreaming of. ‘We’d actually been asked by Diana herself the previous week, and she’d already been in for a chat,’ recalls Elizabeth, now 63 and with a studio of her own in upmarket Maida Vale.

Though the Emanuels’ fledgling business was doing well — clients included Bianca Jagger and the Duchess of Kent — nothing could compare to designing a royal wedding dress.

HOW DIANA FOLLOWED THE TRADITIONAL RHYME 

Something old . . .

Antique Carrickmacross lace, which had belonged to Queen Mary — wife of George V — was sewn into Diana’s dress to mark her link with history. On her wedding day in 2011, the Duchess of Cambridge wore lace from the same piece of fabric.

Something new . . .

Her beautiful bespoke gown was her ‘something new’.

Something borrowed . . .

Diana's two pieces of jewellery were both borrowed. On her head, she wore the sparkling Spencer tiara, a family heirloom dating from the 18th century and fashioned from hundreds of diamonds set in silver and mounted in gold.

The show-stopping leaf design featured stylised tulips, star shapes and scrolling foliage, swirling around a central heart. Feminine and romantic, it fitted perfectly with the fairytale theme of the wedding.

She wore it anchoring the main section of her veil, with her blusher veil attached separately to the front, to avoid it dragging over the top of her tiara.

Diana kept the veil down throughout the wedding ceremony, before asking her make-up artist to remove it when she had to sign the register.

Diana’s other borrowed jewels were her dazzling diamond earrings, huge pear-shaped pendants on loan from her mother for her daughter’s big day.

Something blue . . .

Elizabeth Emanuel sewed a tiny blue bow into Diana’s waistband, invisible to all but those who knew to look for it.

There was another pale blue bow on her silk garter.

The Emanuels also decided to put a tiny horseshoe, made from 18-carat Welsh gold and studded with white diamonds, created by jeweller Douglas Buchanan, into the label of her dress.

‘Nobody could see our private gift when the dress was being worn,’ says Elizabeth. ‘It was just there as a little token, a second good luck charm, from us to Diana.’

‘From the minute she asked us, we knew nothing was going to be the same,’ Elizabeth says.

But there was little time for celebration. Elizabeth’s imagination went into overdrive. There was no direction from the Palace — other than the overriding need for discretion — and even less from Diana herself, then still so new to the world of fashion.

‘I tracked down every book I could find on royal weddings from history: Queen Victoria; her daughter, Princess Beatrice; Queen Mary,’ she explains. ‘And I watched all my favourite old films: The Leopard, Gone With The Wind, Barry Lyndon. Inspiration came from everywhere.’

Elizabeth stuck cuttings and photographs into a large scrapbook, filled with romantic frills, flounces and fairytale bridal wear, which she still leafs through with pride today.

At Diana’s first wedding meeting, she tried on a series of sample dresses — everything from slinky Twenties-style gowns to huge, bouffant petticoats with satin skirts and boned bodices — to get an idea of what she liked.

She settled on a sample much like the finished look: a dress with a big skirt, tiny waist and soft frills round the sleeves and shoulders.

Next time they met, the trio sat on the floor, cross-legged, poring over around 50 sketches Elizabeth had based on Diana’s chosen silhouette. Diana had brought along her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, who rather sternly analysed the Emanuels’ offerings.

‘The carpet was covered in pencil drawings,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Diana and her mother both sat stunned and speechless for the first few minutes before they began examining the sketches.

‘We held our breath for what seemed like for ever — and finally they broke into smiles. It didn’t take long to pick the final design.’

They also settled on a colour: vintage-style, creamy ivory.

‘This was so flattering to her English rose complexion,’ Elizabeth explains. ‘I find that white lace tends to look cheap. Ivory enhanced Diana’s pale, natural beauty.’

The call went out to fabric producers, dressmakers and embroiderers nationwide that the Emanuels were looking for the raw materials for Diana’s dress — and phone calls and letters began flooding the studio with offers of British textiles, sequins, pearls and jewels.

But rather than getting to work straight away, their first task was more practical: security. Ever since the news had broken that the Emanuels would be responsible for the dress, their studio had been besieged by journalists, photographers and TV crews desperate for a scoop.

Elizabeth and David installed blinds on their windows and manoeuvred a heavy-duty safe in through the first-floor window of their little mews building so they could lock up sketches and fabric swatches overnight.

‘It sounds a bit over-the-top, but it really did seem like people would go to any lengths to find out what the dress looked like,’ Elizabeth says.

Another tactic was to give Diana a pseudonym. Throughout this period, they dubbed her ‘Debra’, in memory of that first phone call, or ‘Dorothy Cornwall’, a moniker that now seems oddly prophetic given the title of Charles’s second wife.

While there was constant hubbub outside the Emanuels’ studio, activity inside was even more frenzied. Having outsourced the making of the shoes and the bouquet, and commissioned silk weavers and lace manufacturers — all home-grown, family-run companies — the Emanuels were left to concentrate on fittings with Diana.

The process was relatively straightforward, in theory at least. Elizabeth’s sketch was turned into a pattern, which was cut out in calico — unbleached, unprocessed cotton — to make a mock-up of the dress, called a ‘toile’.

Diana came to the studio, often with her mother in tow, and tried on the toile. Hovering around her with scissors, pins and fabric marker, the Emanuels would fit the pattern around her body as she twirled, laughed and chatted about the big day.

‘She was always very ready to come to fittings,’ Elizabeth says. ‘And she never complained when we kept her standing in one position for hours.’

But the regular fittings were complicated by Diana’s persistent weight loss.

Don’t be nervous: Diana chats to five-year-old bridesmaid Clementine Hambro under the watchful eye of the Queen

Don’t be nervous: Diana chats to five-year-old bridesmaid Clementine Hambro under the watchful eye of the Queen

At her first session with the Emanuels back in January 1981, her waist measured 29 in — reasonably healthy for a slim, 5 ft 10 in girl. But between the announcement of her engagement in February and the wedding in July, her waistline seemed to shrink daily.

By the big day, it was a tiny 23.5 inches. ‘Every time she turned up for a fitting, she had lost more weight,’ reveals Elizabeth.

‘We put it down to nerves. But it did make it incredibly difficult for us to get on with making the dress. We had to keep taking the bodice in and changing the pattern. The last thing we wanted was to make it up in silk, then have to play around with that. Silk soon looks worn if you work it too much.’

There were five different versions of the bodice, each made to fit Diana’s dwindling figure, before the silk version was cut just weeks before the big day. ‘She was incredibly tiny by the end,’ says Elizabeth. ‘We literally sewed her into the dress. I suddenly got this fear of her train falling off as she was walking up the aisle. It would have been awful.’

Little did they — or the world — know that Diana’s shrinking waist marked the start of a battle with eating disorders that would plague her for the rest of her life.

In the end, she came in for as many as 15 fittings — Elizabeth lost count, there were so many — to make sure every detail was just right. The bodice and skirt were made of lustrous ivory silk taffeta, and the trim on the bodice, sleeves and edges of the skirt was lace, overlaid with 10,000 pearls and 3mm mother-of-pearl sequins.

A taffeta bow was placed where the halves of her collar met, mirrored by bows and frothy lace at the ends of her sleeves. Underneath, Diana wore a huge petticoat made from more than 90 metres of tulle, a lightweight starched netting, which had to be ‘trimmed’ into shape rather like a head of hair.

Radiant: An excited Diana travels from Clarence House to St Paul’s in the royal carriage, the Spencer tiara keeping her veil in place

Radiant: An excited Diana travels from Clarence House to St Paul’s in the royal carriage, the Spencer tiara keeping her veil in place

There were another 140 metres of tulle in the veil, as well as a spare petticoat and an extra silk skirt which could be fitted over the original ‘just in case she spilt something down herself on the day’. When they reached the final stages, it was all hands on deck.

Even so, the Emanuels began to worry that the intricate sequin-sewing was taking too long, so they called in a few favours: Elizabeth’s mother and the mother of their PA, Caroline Slocock, pitched in to help with the embroidery.

‘It was a real family affair. So much love went into that dress.’

Diana came for her final fitting a fortnight before the wedding — the first time she had laid eyes on the finished dress.

‘It was suddenly very real. She was just so excited — you could see it in her eyes.’

After a top-secret rehearsal at St Paul’s (minus the dress) on July 27, it was time to transport the gown to Clarence House.

‘We were so paranoid about it all going wrong in the final hours,’ says Elizabeth. ‘We didn’t trust anyone to drive us, so we hired a van. Even en route we were convinced we were being hijacked.

‘We drove into Albemarle Street and a big cart pulled across the road and blocked us in. We thought: “That’s it, it’s a heist.” But it was just the London traffic.’

Dress offloaded, the Emanuels returned to their studio, though they had to be back at Clarence House at 6am the next day. For the designer duo, the wedding represented an extraordinary achievement; a moment of high drama and excitement.

On August 6, they issued a bill for the dress to Diana’s mother, for 1,000 guineas, £1,050 at the time (£4,140 today) — a token sum, as Diana usually paid full price for her clothes. In fact, the dress was then valued at £9,000 — £35,500 today.

As a result of their discretion and the close friendship forged at one of the most momentous times of Diana’s life, the three remained close and the Emanuels continued to design dresses for royal tours.

‘The last time I saw her was at the auction of her dresses at Christie’s, two months before she died,’ says Elizabeth. ‘She seemed so happy. She’d grown up a lot since we first met her — that nervous, pretty young thing who had no idea about what suited her or what she liked to wear.

‘By the end, Diana understood she didn’t even have to say anything: her clothes spoke for her.

‘She was an icon.’

 

Mystery of the back-up dress that vanished

As well as creating The Dress, the Emanuels were charged with making two more: one exact copy to go on display at Madame Tussauds, and another secret back-up wedding dress — Diana’s second choice design — in case the real thing was discovered before the big day.

This second choice dress was very similar: a flattering, boned bodice, frilly sleeves and a full puffball skirt, but the design on the bodice was more of a V-shape, the sleeves were shorter and there was no lace edging on the skirt, making it altogether plainer.

‘It was only three-quarters finished — we simply didn’t have time to make it in its entirety, so none of the embroidery or finishing touches were done,’ says Elizabeth.

Wedding party: Charles and Diana with Princes Andrew and Edward (back row); pageboys Lord Nicholas Windsor (far left) and Edward van Cutsem; and bridesmaids (l-r) Clementine Hambro, Catherine Cameron, India Hicks, Sarah-Jane Gaselee and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones

Wedding party: Charles and Diana with Princes Andrew and Edward (back row); pageboys Lord Nicholas Windsor (far left) and Edward van Cutsem; and bridesmaids (l-r) Clementine Hambro, Catherine Cameron, India Hicks, Sarah-Jane Gaselee and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones

Astonishingly, she admits she doesn’t know what happened to the dress after the wedding.

‘It was hanging up in the studio for a long time, and then it disappeared. I don’t know if we sold it or put it into storage. It was such a busy time. I’m sure it’ll turn up in a bag one day!’

Meanwhile, after the ceremony was over, the High Street was flooded with copies of the Emanuels’ precious dress, the first of which appeared in Oxford Street shop windows at 3.30pm on the actual wedding day, just five hours after the press embargo on details of the gown and Elizabeth’s sketches was lifted.

Ordinary brides could get their hands on a Diana rip-off for as little as £439 at Debenhams. ‘There was so much embroidery and lace and detail in the original that the copies just couldn’t match up,’ says Elizabeth. ‘Of course, we knew they were going to do it, but they didn’t come close.’

THE SEVEN SEAMSTRESSES

Known as the ‘Emanuel ladies’, the designers’ team of seven seamstresses spent weeks on the dress. In particular, head seamstress Nina Missetzis and her second-in-command, Rose Hoey, dedicated themselves full-time to it.

‘Nina was Greek and couldn’t speak very good English,’ Elizabeth explains. ‘Even when she started with us, she was already quite elderly and slightly stooped with really long, bony hands — the result of the many years she had spent dressmaking. She was extremely meticulous and a real perfectionist, and would work long hours hunched up over the sewing machine.’

Nina, who has sadly now passed away, never forgot her first meeting with Princess Diana: ‘She was so sweet, so shy. When she first came to see me, she didn’t want to take off her clothes so I could take her measurements. I told her if she didn’t, the dress would be too big, so she did.

‘As I was pinning the pattern to her, I could tell it was very new to her, to be fitted. When she tried on the gown for the first time, she got very emotional and cried.’

Rose Hoey, meanwhile, recalled an exchange during the train fitting at the Palace in April.

‘I remember saying to Diana that it was amazing to think I was on the inside, having stood outside as a tourist so many times. She laughed and said we should go out on to the balcony and wave at all the people — and we did!’

Diana never forgot the devoted seamstresses who toiled day and night to perfect her dress.

Once, Elizabeth returned to the studio to find the Princess had sneaked up the stairs and into the attic where they were working to thank them personally for all their hard work. She even invited them to the wedding — ‘suddenly everyone needed a new frock!’ Elizabeth laughs.

HOME-GROWN MATERIALS

One of the most important factors for Elizabeth was the provenance of the dress materials.

‘As soon as the news was announced, the phone started ringing off the hook with weavers, fabric specialists and embroiderers offering everything under the sun,’ she explains. ‘Our main focus was to make it as British as possible.’

They sourced the lace from Roger Watson, a family-run firm in Nottingham, which supplied £1,000 worth of material for the waist, hem and train.

The detailing was inspired by Diana’s family coat of arms — featuring geometric shapes and scallop shells — and incorporated a square of antique Carrickmacross lace, an heirloom dating from the time of Queen Mary, donated by the Royal School of Needlework.

The silk came from Stephen Walters & Sons, a Suffolk weaver dating back to the 1700s, which has been run by the same family for ten generations.

‘I heard that the Emanuels had got the job and wrote to them the next day,’ explains David Walters, managing director at the time.

 

VICTORIAN FLOWER GIRL WHO INSPIRED BRIDESMAIDS 

A Victorian postcard provided the inspiration for the bridesmaids’ lace-trimmed dresses; the Emanuels’ sketches; and five-year-old Clementine Hambro in the finished frock

 

Eager to stick to the British theme, they plundered all the raw silk they could from worms at Lullingstone silk farm in Kent. Sadly, there wasn’t enough — 11,000 strands of raw silk were used — so they had to make up the difference with imported silk.

A team of 150 at Stephen Walters, which had also done Princess Anne’s wedding dress and the silk lining for the Queen’s Coronation robe, got to work immediately.

‘It’s a long-winded process,’ David explains. ‘You have to twist the threads, then dye it, then weave it on a loom. The weaving alone takes ten days; the whole thing took around eight weeks.’

Staff were sworn to secrecy and each worked on a different part of the dress so that no one knew what the finished design looked like. They produced two 41-metre rolls.

‘The Emanuels thought it was a good idea to have a back-up in case someone spilt coffee on it.’

The fabric itself was an ivory-coloured, heavyweight taffeta.

David recalls: ‘It had that crisp feel; proper crunchy taffeta, deliberately chosen for the look they wanted. The next time we saw it was on TV on the wedding day. We were all gathered round and when she got out of the car there was a collective gasp at how crushed it looked.

‘But it wasn’t a mistake — the Emanuels had wanted that fabric — and they soon straightened it out. The finished dress looked incredible. We felt very proud.’ Though David and his staff never met Diana, they presented her with a pretty wooden box containing the silk worms used to make the material for her dress.

Unfortunately, reveals Elizabeth, ‘they hatched not long afterwards — so we had to throw it away!’

THE BOISTEROUS BRIDESMAIDS

One of Elizabeth’s most treasured memories from that time is a bridesmaids’ fitting, when Lady Diana arrived at the studio accompanied by five boisterous girls on red roller-skates.

SECRET MESSAGE IN HER SHOES 

The day after the news of the wedding dress commission was announced, Elizabeth Emanuel phoned celebrity cobbler Clive Shilton — the darling of fashion magazines in the Seventies for his handmade shoes and handbags — and asked him to come and meet a ‘special client’.

Based in Covent Garden at the time, Clive made the short trip to Brook Street, where Diana was standing on a stool waiting to have her feet measured.

The bridal shoes with their handpainted soles

The bridal shoes with their handpainted soles

‘She was a very shy, sweet, smiley-eyed young girl,’ he recalls. ‘Her main concern was that she wouldn’t appear taller than Prince Charles, and because she was very tall — 5ft 10in — the shoes would have to have a low heel.’

Clive remains incredibly discreet and refuses to reveal the Princess’s shoe size (thought to be a 6.5). He began by making his own ‘last’ — the wooden mould around which shoes are made — as even this couldn’t be outsourced in case word got out. Though he never saw the dress, the Emanuels sent him the silk they were using, hoping he might be able to make the shoes from the same fabric.

‘It was too fine — it would have crumpled across the instep,’ he says. ‘Instead, the weavers came up with a heavier silk satin.

‘We then covered them in 542 sequins and 132 pearls.’

Clive devised various trims for the front of the shoes and presented them to Diana, who chose a heart-shaped design.

The shoes arches were painted with a secret romantic message: the letters ‘C’ and ‘D’

The shoes arches were painted with a secret romantic message: the letters ‘C’ and ‘D’

The soles were soft suede so she wouldn’t slip, and the arches were painted with a secret romantic message: the letters ‘C’ and ‘D’, entwined around a heart.

‘No one even saw the bottom of the shoes, but it was important to us that they looked fantastic,’ says Clive. ‘You would have seen much more of them if she’d tripped!’

From start to finish, it took six months to make the shoes, and every single person in Clive’s workshop, including the cleaner, helped put a tack or a spot of glue on the final pair.

Clive refuses to say how much Diana paid, but admits he charged ‘a basic price’.

Press reports from the time say there was a dispute over the bill, and her mother, Frances Shand Kydd, refused to pay.

No matter, however, as Clive sold one of the spare pairs at auction for £36,000 in 2011.

They proceeded to whizz around the room in their toile dresses, making Diana, Elizabeth and the seamstresses fall about laughing.

Diana’s five bridesmaids were: Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones (now Chatto), the eldest at 17 and Princess Margaret’s daughter; India Hicks, 13, Prince Charles’s goddaughter; Sarah-Jane Gaselee, 11, whose father was Charles’s horse trainer; Catherine Cameron, six, another goddaughter; and Clementine Hambro, a petite, blonde five-year-old and a pupil at the nursery where Diana worked. Inspired by a postcard she had been sent by a friend, depicting a Victorian flower girl with a ballerina-length dress, ribbon sash and pretty floral bouquet, Elizabeth had plenty of ideas for frocks.

‘Although we wanted to keep the style of the bridesmaids’ dresses romantic, historical and very pretty, like Diana’s own gown, we were also keen to make them a bit different from each other, as was appropriate for their different ages,’ Elizabeth explains.

All were made from the same colour silk as Diana’s dress, but of a slightly lighter weight, with fitted bodices, net petticoats and ruffled skirts trimmed with lace, tiny pearls and sequins.

While the two youngest had ruffled, flouncy styles, the two middle girls had more sophisticated collars — and Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones, the eldest, had a sleeker, straighter skirt.

Florist Edward Goodyear designed white and gold flower baskets for them to carry, with pretty floral circlets for the heads of the four youngest. Round their waists, each wore a gold silk sash, inspired by the Mountbatten roses in Diana’s bouquet, and on their feet were matching gold shoes.

India Hicks, now 49 and a former model with her own lifestyle brand, has said her first reaction on being asked to be a bridesmaid was one of ‘horror’. She recalled: ‘I was a tomboy from rural Oxfordshire, never out of jodhpurs. I was horrified — I was going to have to wear a dress.’

She first met Diana at a fitting and says she was ‘more like a head girl than a princess-in-waiting’.

‘Frill after frill, pin after pin, hour after hour, we stood silently . . . Although I found all those petticoats, puffed sleeves and bows hard to forgive, it was an intimate and informal time with Diana.’

Together with Sarah Armstrong-Jones, India was charged with the far-from-straightforward task of carrying Diana’s train. ‘Manipulating that much taffeta and antique lace in and out of the small state carriages posed considerable complications,’ she said.

‘We practised first with a long dust cloth tied to Diana’s waist. She stood patiently as we were shown how to fold and unfold the fabric.’ Having arrived at Clarence House at 7.30 am on the wedding day, the bridesmaids recall a fun, girly morning: Diana rushing around in a pair of old jeans, the Spencer tiara balanced on her head, smiling as she watched footage of herself on TV.

‘During one commercial break, an advert for Cornetto ice cream came on, and she started singing,’ India recalled. ‘Soon we all joined in. “Just one Cornnnneeetttoo” could be heard from the top floor.’

Clementine Hambro, known as the ‘sobbing bridesmaid’, after a photograph of Diana helping her up when she fell over and banged her head at the Palace became famous, remembers little — but she was only knee-high at the time.

‘Disappointingly,’ she says, ‘my recollections of the actual service are of achingly tired legs, of desperately wanting to sit down when we were not allowed to, and of doggedly staring at my little gold shoes . . . determined not to step on that magnificent train.’

After the ceremony, the bridesmaids relished travelling in the royal carriage past crowds throwing confetti that landed in the laps of their dresses.

Back at the Palace, the two eldest helped Diana change into her going-away outfit, and all five gathered to wave her off.

‘Though the Princess smiled all day, she was suffering from a crushing headache,’ revealed Sarah-Jane Gaselee — who admitted in 2015 that she ‘bitterly regretted’ selling her dress for £11,000. ‘As we stepped out on to the balcony, she complained her tiara was killing her, it was so heavy.’

PARASOL THAT WAS NEVER USED

The weather forecast for the wedding day wasn’t great — grey with a risk of showers, warned the BBC — and so Elizabeth felt it would be wise to have an umbrella to hand, just in case.

A month or so before the wedding, she nipped into Phillips auction house — a few doors down from the couple’s studio on Brook Street — and picked up a pair of antique silk parasols with wooden handles.

‘We covered them in white and ivory fabric — two colours so no one would know which matched her dress,’ explains Elizabeth.

‘They were then trimmed with the same lace as the dress and hand-embroidered with tiny pearls and sequins.’

On the morning of the royal wedding, the ivory parasol was tucked inside the carriage that would take the bride to St Paul’s — on Diana’s father’s side — so he could keep his daughter dry if the skies opened.

Mercifully, they didn’t; it turned out to be quite a dry, pleasant day and the parasol remained out of sight.

‘It was probably a good thing,’ laughs Elizabeth. ‘It was made of such light material that it certainly wasn’t waterproof — it wouldn’t have done her much good!’

The umbrella ended up being exhibited at Madame Tussauds along with the replica of Diana’s extraordinary dress.

 

Diana's high fashion honeymoon looks

Diana’s transformation from shy young Sloane to resplendent Princess complete, her honeymoon wardrobe was a chance to show just how ready she was to embrace her new public role.

Prince Charles had planned a sedate sojourn at Broadlands estate in Hampshire, followed by 14 days on a Mediterranean cruise, finishing at Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

Going away: Diana chose a cantaloupe-coloured Bellville Sassoon outfit teamed with Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a feathered John Boyd hat

Going away: Diana chose a cantaloupe-coloured Bellville Sassoon outfit teamed with Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a feathered John Boyd hat

Shorts and sweet: One memorable outfit by Japan’s Kenzo Takada was caught while Diana was on Britannia, a pintucked, cotton, balloon-sleeved blouse with matching Bermuda shorts.

Shorts and sweet: One memorable outfit by Japan’s Kenzo Takada was caught while Diana was on Britannia, a pintucked, cotton, balloon-sleeved blouse with matching Bermuda shorts.

The itinerary may not have been exciting, but Diana was determined to wow the world with a showstopping wardrobe. She planned her honeymoon with the help of Felicity Clark, then beauty editor at Vogue and a friend of her sister.

Diana chose a cantaloupe-coloured silk dress as her going-away outfit. Made by Bellville Sassoon, it was a classic ‘new bride’ look, teamed with Manolo Blahnik stilettos and a feathered John Boyd hat.

She flew to the Royal Yacht Britannia in a floral white silk dress by Donald Campbell and a cashmere coat from Courtenay House in Brook Street, Mayfair.

The young Princess looked relaxed and happy as she posed at the door of the plane at Southampton airport.

Flower power: Diana wore a Donald Campbell silk dress and cashmere coat from Courtenay House in Mayfair for a flight to the Royal Yacht Britannia as part of her honeymoon

Flower power: Diana wore a Donald Campbell silk dress and cashmere coat from Courtenay House in Mayfair for a flight to the Royal Yacht Britannia as part of her honeymoon

Cameras were banned on board Britannia, but one memorable outfit by Japan’s Kenzo Takada was caught: a pintucked, cotton, balloon-sleeved blouse with matching Bermuda shorts.

‘At the time of her marriage, she was very young very natural and romantic,’ Kenzo has said. ‘The image that I have of her has always been one of tenderness, colour and joie de vivre.’

 

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