With Days to Go, Princess Diana Nearly Called Off Her Wedding to Prince Charles—Until This Key Player Intervened

“As far as Diana was concerned, the royal wedding was off.”

Prince Charles and Princess Diana
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Shortly before her July 29, 1981, wedding to Prince Charles, Diana Spencer didn’t just have slightly cold feet—they were frozen solid blocks of ice. In the leadup to their wedding, Diana learned that Charles was still in love with a woman you may have heard of named Camilla Parker-Bowles (now Queen Camilla), and royal expert Ingrid Seward writes in her new book that Diana would have called off the wedding entirely if not for the intervention of her father, Earl Spencer.

Princess Diana on her 1981 wedding day

The wedding was described as a fairytale, but the couple was miles and miles apart emotionally

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Seward, in her new book My Mother and I, writes that there was “a month to go until she married the heir to the throne” when Diana attended Prince Andrew’s 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle, where, naturally, she hoped to dance with her fiancé Charles. As Elton John performed at the soiree, Charles “spent the entire evening dutifully working the room and making sure he spoke with as many people as possible,” Seward wrote, per People. “Diana was in despair. Her fiancé had been away in America for most of the previous week, yet he clearly had no desire to dance with her. Feeling emotionally drained, she threw herself into dancing frantically with one man after another—and finally just dancing by herself.”

John performed at the party in June 1981 (even though Andrew’s birthday is in February) and described the event in his 2019 memoir Me as “the world’s quietest disco,” explaining that nobody wanted to offend Queen Elizabeth. 

Prince Charles and Princess Diana at Balmoral

Charles and Diana in 1981, the year they married

(Image credit: Getty Images)

At one point during the evening, footman Mark Simpson spotted Diana “looking exhausted and lost in her thoughts yet still moving in slow, rhythmic time to some tune in her head,” Seward writes. Diana then made her way to her father’s home in Northamptonshire at around 5:30 a.m. after the party, feeling “distraught, flustered, angry, and had no intention of ever going back,” Seward continues. “As far as Diana was concerned, the royal wedding was off. But when she explained her decision to her father, Earl Spencer, he was appalled. After calming her down, he pointed out it would be an act of gross discourtesy to break off her engagement to the future king so close to the wedding.”

Seward continues “And, anyway, wasn’t it was she’d always wanted? Didn’t she remember him telling her that she should only marry a man she loved—and her firm reply: ‘That is what I am doing’? Diana wasn’t immediately convinced.” But, Seward writes, eventually, after “gusts of tears and spells of indecision,” Diana “allowed her father to talk her ‘round.”

Princess Diana on her 1981 wedding day

The royal wedding was watched by 750 million people across 74 countries

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“She couldn’t deny that she still wanted to be the Princess of Wales,” Seward writes. “And, at 19, she was young enough to still believe in happy endings, despite what her instincts had told her on that terrible night.”

My Mother and I tells the story of now King Charles and his mother, the late Queen Elizabeth, and hits shelves on February 15. 

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.