So where's the exclusive scoop in that, I hear you ask, (in maybe slightly disappointed tones)?
Well, let's just say I have a bit of a never-told-before insider's view of how things really happened all those years ago....
That wedding will be thirty years gone this July--so long ago that it qualifies as ancient history really. I guess I can write about how I was more closely involved than most now. And this week, when my old friend's son is getting married to the woman he loves with (not quite) all the fanfare and pomp that went with his parents' seems like the appropriate time to do so for the very first time. So you are getting a Royal Wedding Exclusive really--see, I never disappoint my loyal readers!
On 24th February 1981, a beautiful young woman called Lady Diana Spencer got engaged. To the Prince of Wales. So far, so public knowledge....
Now we'll skip right to the part where postman John rapped on the kitchen window of my parents' house one early June morning with a big grin on his face. "Got something here I think you'll want to open, Lucy," he said, handing over two large stiff cream envelopes both addressed to me. One had heavy black italic writing and was stamped in royal purple with 'Lord Chamberlain, St James's Palace' and a discreet purple crown. The other was marked 'The Master of the Household' and had a small round and becrowned EIIR in the bottom left corner.
|Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011|
'The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh...' said the first, once I'd managed to find a sharp knife and slit it open with my slightly shaky hands.
'The Master of the Household is commanded by her Majesty...' said the second.
And so it was that a scruffy, impoverished young Edinburgh University student found that, like Cinderella, a fairy godmother (in the shape of a future princess) had waved a magic wand and invited her not only to be one of the 2,600 guests at the wedding of the century, but also to the very exclusive celebration ball at Buckingham Palace two days before. Tiaras could be worn by ladies if so desired, said the rather scary dress instructions enclosed. No worry there for me--I didn't desire, didn't have one and was advised that flowers would do. Decorations and Orders could be worn by gentlemen. That was no problem either. But then there was a strict mention of Long Kid Gloves.
Long Kid Gloves. I distinctly remember that was when I started to panic. Where did one beg, borrow or steal Long Kid Gloves from? Hearing of my predicament, a lady in the village came to the rescue, and lent me her precious pair, secreted in tissue paper since her own Presentation at Court circa 1925. Then there was The Ball Dress. That was Disaster Number One. I took all the money I had left from my student grant (not much) to London with me--and promptly had my bag stolen. In Fortnum and Mason's. I've never felt quite the same about the place since. Luckily my Real Godmother (small as a fairy but rather more solid) came to the rescue, and whisked me off to a tiny dressmaker in South Molton Street. She insisted, being rather old-fashioned, that pink was the colour for gels orf to the Palace. So pink it was. Rather a lot of pink as you see. I felt like a rose-coloured ship in full sail. With added petals.
|Photograph copyright Lucy Coats 2011|
Monday 27th July 1981 was hot and sultry. My long chestnutty hair was pouffed and plaited and teased and pinned within an inch of its life by the Hampshire hairdresser. Sprayed too, for the first time ever, so it stayed pristine and perfect for the night to come. There were several of us in the car on the way to the palace, dresses squashed together so tight the petticoats squeaked--the others were chattering excitedly, but all I remember is feeling awe and terror as we drove past the saluting guardsmen, through Those Gates, and swept round and under the columns of the inner portico. There was a queue of guests lining the long double sweep of red-carpeted stair with its ornate curving balustrade. At the top waited an imposing line of royals, arrayed in glittering jewels, silks and satins, with small diamond-framed family portraits pinned to their shoulders on incongruously faded scraps of silken ribbon. The tiaras, crowns, medals and Orders were out in force everywhere, but I was otherwise engaged, concentrating frantically on The Curtsey as I reached the top of the stairs. Now comes the tale of Disaster Number Two...but you'll have to come back tomorrow to find out What Happened Next!
Click Here for Part 2 The Palace Ball
Click Here for Part 3 St Paul's Cathedral