The real story behind Princess Diana’s wedding dress

Such a great story...

It went down in history as one of fashion’s most iconic dresses ever, but what was it really like to walk down the aisle in 1981 with the whole nation watching your every move, as Princess Diana did all those years ago?

Was she nervous? Was she happy with her dress? And how did she prepare for the big day? Our sister site, Woman's Own, chatted to designer David Emanuel, who co-designed her wedding dress with now ex-wife Elizabeth, about what it was like to help Diana into what was to become perhaps her most defining dress.

“It was a magical time and she was a magical girl,” he mused. “The thing about that dress was, it had to be young, it had to be pretty. She was going in as Lady Diana Spencer, but coming out as the Princess of Wales.”

With most dress fittings, the bride usually brings an entourage, but when Diana appeared, it was just her, alone. The whole designing process was very low key, without the drama one might expect designing for such a high profile client.

Credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

“Diana rang up like anybody else and made an appointment to try my dress designs – she initially had three or four gowns made for formal occasions.

“The first time the public saw her in one of my gowns they were quite shocked. As a kindergarten teacher, so people were used to seeing her in pretty blouses and pleated skirts. Then she got out of the limousine in a taffater Emanuel gown and that’s when everybody said ‘oh my goodness, she looks like a movie star’.

“Then suddenly out of the blue, this phone call came in to the studio and asked if we would do the honour of making her wedding dress, then it all happened very quickly.

Credit: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

We can imagine, with so much riding on the occasion, that Diana was rather nervous when the big day came around.

“On the day we had everything laid out. Diana in one room, the bridesmaids in another. It was a very early start. Barbara Daley was there doing her make up, all while her hair was in rollers. At the time she was called shy Di and if she said anything, she did blush. She was just magical, very special.

“I remember that Diana was sat in Clarence House watching a tiny portable TV, and out of the window the guards were marching by. It was hair and make up done then a split-second fit into the dress.

“There was a moment when I remember saying to Diana ‘did you check the hook?’ under her petticoat, and I then had visions of her dress falling apart down the aisle!

Credit: David Levenson/Getty Images

“The only thing to do was to get under the dress and sort it out, and as I resurfaced I just heard ‘David, have you met the Queen Mother?’ and I went bright pink!”

With the threat of a wardrobe malfunction eliminated, Diana was ready to make history.

“She glided down the stairs,” David reminisced. “It was a magical moment when her father looked up at her and said ‘Diana, you look beautiful.’”

And what did David think of Kate’s dress?

“I liked Kate Middleton’s dress – I thought she looked wonderful. What blew me away is that when she got out of the car she looked so confident, different to Diana. But Diana was a lot younger, of course. She looked regal. As it was McQueen, I was concerned it would be a bit over the top, but it looked lovely.”

Senior Digital Writer

Amy is Senior Digital Writer across Woman & Home, GoodTo and Woman, writing about everything from celebrity news to health, fashion and beauty features. When she isn't obsessing over the latest dress drop from Marks & Spencer, you'll most likely find Amy out running, or with a cup of tea in hand ready to dive into a gripping new Netflix series.