Inside Sarah Ferguson And Prince Andrew's Royal Wedding Day

On July 23, 1986, Queen Elizabeth's second son, Prince Andrew, and then-editor Sarah Ferguson tied the knot at Westminster Abbey after less than a year of being engaged. As you may have guessed, the event was packed with eager fans from all over the nation and revered by romantics all around the world for its spectacular show of splendor. We're talking carriages, thousands of flowers, high fashion, and all the royal fanfare.

Though the two separated only a few years later and eventually divorced, the Duchess of York has since spoken fondly of the day. "We had a very beautiful wedding," she stated at a 2013 literary festival. "He's still my handsome prince [and] he'll always be my handsome prince."

If you haven't seen this royal wedding, or you weren't old enough to enjoy it properly, now's your chance to immerse yourself! Take a trip down memory lane and explore Sarah's unique dress design, the monarchy's wedding traditions, and the general chaos of the day.

It was a hugely popular event

British royal weddings have always intrigued the masses, and they've only been getting more popular each go-around. In the United States, viewing parties have become common practice, to the point of inspiring how-to guides. You may have even stayed up all night just to catch the opening ceremony of Prince William and Catherine's wedding in 2011 or woke up early to watch Prince Harry and Meghan Markle exchange vows in 2018. Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's wedding was no exception to the hype, despite taking place decades earlier.

According to the BBC, the 1986 ceremony attracted around 500 million viewers worldwide — an impressive number even by modern standards. The same article reported that Westminster Abbey was packed with nearly 2,000 wedding guests. Imagine that catering bill.

After the ceremony, roughly 100,000 people gathered at Buckingham Palace to catch a glimpse of the new Duke and Duchess of York kiss publicly for the first time on the balcony. The moment appeared to belong to the people as much as it did to the royal couple themselves!

Sarah's wedding dress was full of symbolism

If you live for the royal fashion scene, you're going to love Sarah Ferguson's '80s chic wedding dress. "It was amazingly boned, like a corset," she wrote in her memoir, "My Story." "We'd chosen duchess satin because it is the creamiest material in the world. ... It is smooth as glass and hangs beautifully without a single bulge." As for her 20-foot veil and 17-foot train, she joked, were not as easy to manage.

Sewn into the dress were several important coats of arms, including thistles and bumblebees and thistles for her family, and an anchor, likely to represent Prince Andrew's navy background (via The Mirror). On her head, she wore a gardenia flower crown in honor of her husband-to-be's favorite flower, she wrote in her memoir. It's clear from her special customizations that she did everything she could to tie herself to the prince.

The world became obsessed with the woman known as Fergie

Around the time of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew's wedding, "Fergie fever" ran rampant. Just before the July wedding, The New York Times published a story about the rising fame of Fergie, as the papers of the day called her. "She likes horses, swimming, tennis, champagne, spinach soufflés, Trivial Pursuit, the Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, the high-grade pulp novels of Jilly Cooper, and Philip Morris cigarettes," journalist Steve Lohr wrote. "For months, the full arsenal of Fleet Street scribes and photographers have been trained on the striking 26-year-old redheaded woman with the bubbly personality, Rubenesque figure and lively past."

People became fascinated with Sarah to the point of obsession and absurdity. According to The New York Times, Sarah Ferguson merch and news flooded the market. Just a couple of hours after the wedding, replicas of her dress were hitting the market, per the book "Semiotics and Communications." Similarly, when Madame Tussaud's unveiled a wax figure of Sarah, one photographer rushed to get measurements of the figure's hips, which had apparently used its muse's true measurements, per The Washington Post. Yikes.

They had all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect of a royal wedding

From the moment the soon-to-be bride and groom embarked for Westminster Abbey, their every appearance was followed by traditional ceremony, opulent décor, and royal indulgence. The royal family took to the streets in their best horse-drawn carriages, and it was quite a spectacle to behold. 

The Los Angeles Times described the church as being filled with tens of thousands of flowers that perfectly coordinated with Sarah Ferguson's wedding gown. Reportedly, the newlywed's carriage was also decorated with 24,000 rose petals. That's a lot of florals.

A number of traditional hymns, prayers, and readings were performed over the course of the ceremony. After the service, guests headed to Buckingham Palace for the reception, which featured a four-course meal of a traditional egg dish called Oeufs Drumkilbo, a rack of lamb, a crown of spinach with mushrooms, and strawberries with clotted cream for dessert.

Celebrities were in attendance

As the ceremonial heads of state, members of the British royal family often brush shoulders with world leaders, movie stars, and other high-profile public figures in the course of fulfilling their royal duties. It comes as no surprise then that each royal wedding, including Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's big day, was full of familiar, famous faces. On the more official end of things, at least 17 royals from other countries made an appearance at the ceremony. Among the crowds of friends and family members, then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. First Lady Nancy Reagan were spotted by the BBC

The Los Angeles Times also reported actor Michael Caine and famous pianist Elton John were in attendance. Interestingly, both of these men were knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, and John continues to make appearances with the royals (he performed at Harry and Meghan's wedding reception in 2018).

Sarah said her wedding day was 'the happiest day' of her life

As fiancées should be, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson were very much in love on their magical day. Ahead of the ceremony, the bride-to-be said she dashed away nerves by channeling her love for Andrew. "All I could think about was my perfect groom, awaiting me with pride, so fantastically good looking in his gold-braided uniform, sword hung at his side," she described in "My Story." She later told Daily Mail, "July 23, 1986, was the happiest day of my life."

For his part, the prince couldn't wait to get a glimpse of his bride once the music started at the church. In archival footage of the event, Andrew is seen keeping his eyes fixed on the aisle waiting for her. Once he finally saw her, he smiled and held eye contact with her until she met him at the altar. On their way back down the aisle at the end of the ceremony, they smiled and talked with one another while holding hands, glowing with happiness.

She nervously bungled her wedding vows, just like Princess Diana

Public speaking is not for the faint of heart. When the world is watching, or judging, as they do during royal weddings, one small stutter can easily become the gossip of the day. Despite her best efforts to avoid messing up her vows, Sarah stumbled over her groom's middle name when the time came. According to her memoir, nerves got the best of her. "I stayed calm — I was anesthetized, really — right up to when [Archbishop] Robert Runcie looked at me with his big eyes to lead me through my vows," she wrote. "In that moment, the immensity of it all pierced my cloud of cool. My nerves kicked in."

Sarah's royal blunder was very similar to Princess Diana's mishap during her wedding ceremony five years earlier. Apparently, she said then-Prince Charles' names out of order when she recited her vows, which People attributed to her nervousness.

Sarah became the Duchess of York and took on the work that came with the title

After the bride and groom exchanged vows, they were made the Duke and Duchess of York by Queen Elizabeth II. Sarah, once a commoner, was now closer to the crown than the queen's own sister and daughter. "In a trice, I had become Princess Andrew and Duchess of York, as well as Countess of Inverness and Baroness of Killyleagh," she wrote in her memoir, "My Story." "In the order of royal precedence," she continued, "I now outranked Anne and Margaret; among the women, I would stand fourth behind the Queen, the Queen Mother and the Princess of Wales."

As a new duchess, Sarah was expected to take part in some of the thousands of public events the royal family attends yearly, which is a hefty responsibility for someone who'd just turned 26 years old. We're definitely impressed with how well she handled the pressure.

Her engagement ring and wedding band were positively royal

The Duchess of York received two beautiful rings from Prince Andrew — her engagement ring and her gold wedding band. Apart from being gorgeous, each ring has a meaningful history. Her engagement ring features a Burmese ruby, inspired by Sarah's fiery hair color, and a ring of diamonds (via People). It was reportedly created by Garrard, a jeweler that has produced other pieces for the royal family, and was worth at least £25,000 ($30,000) in its day (via Hello Magazine).

By contrast, Andrew and Sarah's wedding bands were only made with one material — gold. The two rings, along with the other wedding bands worn by the royal family, were all crafted out of the same chunk of generations-old Welsh gold. "The queen on her 60th birthday, she got gifted a kilogram of this Welsh gold and she's been slowly chipping away at it with all these wedding rings ever since," Bethany Fenn, an industry expert, told CBS News. How cool!

She put a modern twist on royal wedding traditions

Arguably the best moment of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson's wedding was the dramatic reveal of the bride's hidden tiara. After the service, she had the gardenia headdress removed to reveal the sparkling band beneath, which she had borrowed from the queen. "It was my time to be Cinderella," Sarah later recalled of the moment in her memoir, "My Story." Wearing floral crowns, or wreaths, and tiaras are Windsor family wedding traditions, but neither had previously been used together, making the combination even more memorable.

The Duchess of York also brought a unique bouquet with her to Westminster Abbey. Her flowers included the traditional myrtle adornments but in an S shape rather than the usual rounded or cascading design. Myrtle, which is known for its association with love and happiness, was first popularized by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert, according to the royal family's official website. Leave it to Fergie to come up with some clever redesigns of old family favorites.

The newlyweds received thousands of gifts – including a house

In her memoir, Sarah Ferguson described how she and Prince Andrew were showered with gifts. "Presents poured in from all over the world — two thousand by the end, so many that they were stored in the palace ballroom, which is roughly the size of Madison Square Garden. It took four people to catalogue and organize the gifts."

Apparently, the new duchess attempted to write all of the thank-you notes herself before seeking help, which is incredibly sweet. "I did insist that each letter be written properly by the palace staff and signed by me," she added. "I hate not returning someone's thoughtfulness in kind."

In addition to the presents they recieved from fans and guests, the newlyweds received a next-level gift from Queen Elizabeth II herself. According to Hello! magazine, the queen had the Sunnyhill Park estate in Berkshire built for Prince Andrew and his new bride. That's one heck of a wedding gift!

Princess Diana was there, rocking a killer outfit as usual

Did you know Diana Spencer and Sarah Ferguson actually knew each other before they were royalty? The two had been friends as teenagers and were also related as fourth cousins. So it came as no surprise that the late Princess of Wales wanted to check up on her longtime friend on her wedding day.

Diana, who was known for making fashion statements, attended the wedding in an eye-catching blue polka dot dress and a matching hat. She sat with King Charles III (then Prince Charles) and next to the Queen Mother for the ceremony and she was one of the last people the newlyweds saw as they left Buckingham Palace. She also helped Prince Edward load up the royal carriage with rose petals before the couple departed. In between all the fuss, she was also responsible for keeping an eye on Princes William and Harry, who were only 4 and 2 years old, respectively, at the time.

From start to finish, there wasn't a dull moment (or a moment alone)

As most brides have been told, you probably won't remember much of your big day because you'll be too exhausted, too stressed and too busy during the actual event. As it happens, Sarah Ferguson lived through this herself. "So much happened on my wedding day, and so little would I remember," she chronicled in her book, "My Story." What she does remember is the relentless all-night clamor of superfans outside of her window and the resulting migraine that started her day. "I slept for two hours; it is not easy to sleep with people calling your name."

From then on out, she didn't have a moment alone or a moment to rest. Just before the ceremony, throngs of people packed into the streets to watch her carriage ride to the church. For the rest of the day, it was all crowds and guests. The reception breakfast was more intimate but still included 120 guests, according to the Los Angeles Times. Even when the Duke and Duchess of York were finally able to escape to their honeymoon, they weren't truly alone. "We were having dinner on the royal yacht, HM Yacht Brittania," she explained in her memoir. "Serenading us from below was the royal marines band, complete to the last tuba, two dozen men marching up and down." What a marathon day!

Prince Edward pranked the couple on their big day

Though most of the wedding went off without a hitch, there were some funny moments. The first one came from Queen Elizabeth II herself, surprisingly. Though she was known for her prim and proper seriousness, her inner grandma instincts apparently kicked in when young Prince William (yes, the Prince William) went running after the newlyweds' carriage (via People). She could be seen grabbing his hand and pulling him back away from the wheels. Whew, close call!

The second silly moment came from Prince Andrew's brother, Prince Edward, who wanted to leave the couple with one final joke before they left for their honeymoon. On their final ride of the day, Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson were accompanied by a giant teddy bear, which Edward had placed in the back of the carriage. Apparently, Edward also wrote the message "phone home" below a satellite dish he attached to their ride, which was likely a reference to the movie "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" released four years earlier (via Los Angeles Times). It's clearly an inside joke, so we may never really know its meaning, but it's hilarious all the same. What's a little brother (or brother-in-law) for if not to prank everyone?