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.
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.
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.”
“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.