THE BRIDE MAY HAVE BEEN THE QUEEN'S NIECE, but the wedding of Lady Sarah Armstrong-Jones to ex-actor and fellow artist Daniel Chatto was hardly a Windsor-like affair. Though high-glam Princess Margaret had invited 2,068 guests to witness her own wedding to Antony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, her daughter summoned just 200 friends and family members to St. Stephen Walbrook, a small, exquisite 17th-century church near St. Paul's, on July 14. There was no TV coverage, no glass coach and—best of all—no sense that the modest Sarah would ever find herself in the midst of a marital crisis.

Designated the Bohemian Wedding of the Year by the Daily Telegraph, the simple but elegant ceremony (which attracted both of the Waleses) reflected the couple's creative bent. The bride traded her painterly grunge wear for an understated Jasper Conran gown and a garland of honeysuckle. The impossibly handsome groom (whom Sarah met in India during a stint as a wardrobe assistant on the 1983 movie Heat and Dust) arrived early to greet friends including playwright Tom Stoppard and actor Alan Bates. And the 30-minute service (conducted before a circular altar carved by Henry Moore) was performed by the Rev. Dr. Chad Varah, 82, founder of the Samaritans and a pioneering sex therapist.

Odd touches aside, the wedding of the intensely private Chattos was pronounced a triumph of good taste by the London papers—a rare event for a clan notoriously short on dignity these days. (As Today put it, "If the royals were ever in need of a dignified new image, then this is it") Still, there was plenty for Windsor-watchers to gossip about. It did not escape notice that neither the Duchess of York nor haughty Princess Michael (one of Margaret's least favorite relations) was invited. Or that Prince Edward, 30, turned up with sweetheart Sophie Rhys-Jones, 29, who was resplendent in a short, pearl-gray skirt, matching tailcoat and top hat. Or that the mother of the bride was upstaged by her glamorous daughter-in-law, Viscountess Linley, 24, who wore a rakish Phillip Treacy hat, tight black skirt and cream jacket. Of course it was duly noted that the estranged Waleses kept their distance from one another. In her first appearance with Prince Charles since his public confession of adultery on June 29, Princess Diana arrived unescorted, wearing the navy coatdress she had chosen for D Day ceremonies on June 6. She waved briefly to the crowd of 1,000 or so, which greeted her with cheers. Shortly after she disappeared into the church, Charles arrived with the frail Queen Mother, 93. Inside, the Waleses sat in the same pew, separated by the Queen Mum, but said little to each other.

At 4 p.m., when the service was over, Di waited for her limo outside the church—chatting briefly with family members and ignoring Charles's limousine when it passed by. While the rest of the guests reconvened at the quietly stylish reception at the Queen Mum's residence, Clarence House, Diana tactfully returned home to Kensington Palace.

For their part the radiant newlyweds seemed blissfully unaware of such small intrigues. When they emerged from the church, Daniel, 37, and Sarah, 30, smiled broadly, posing long enough for photographers to take their picture, but ignoring entreaties to kiss for the cameras. "I'm very happy," said Sarah's father, Lord Snowdon (whose 14-year-old daughter, Lady Frances, by second wife Lucy Lindsay-Hogg, was a bridesmaid).

The Queen, who had given Sarah official permission to wed, was said to be "delighted" by the marriage, even though London has been abuzz with stories that Daniel was fathered out of wedlock by Robin Fox, a theatrical agent who died in 1971. Fox's widow, Angela, told The News of the World in 1988 that he had had an affair with Daniel's mother, Ros Chatto (now a theatrical agent), when she was his secretary in the 1950s and that "Daniel...was my husband's illegitimate son." While Ros (whose husband, Tom, an actor, died in 1982) never denied the reports, Snowdon demanded a public retraction from Angela Fox at the time. A week before the wedding, an apparently contrite Fox, now 81, declared her accusation to be "a joke," but by then, of course, the story was taken as gospel.

To many, the Queen's apparent lack of concern was ironic: In 1955 she had encouraged Margaret to forsake her first love, RAF Group Captain Peter Townsend, because he was divorced. Whether she has been made more tolerant by marital disasters in her own family or because she still regards Sarah (whom she took under her wing after Margaret's 1978 divorce) as a favorite, the Queen has never considered Chatto's parentage a problem.

While Sarah herself was born and raised in Kensington Palace, she now has little in common with her royal cousins. Thirteenth in line for the throne, she has been brought up as a commoner—albeit a privileged one. As Margaret herself once said, "My children aren't royal; they merely happen to have an aunt who is the Queen." (Still, Sarah gets on well with the Windsors, and Charles is a frequent guest at her house in Kensington.)

A steady, serene sort who has none of her mother's flamboyance, Sarah fit in easily at Bedales, a progressive school in Hampshire where her artistic talent was quickly recognized. Before finishing a six-year stint at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1991, she mounted a show in Knightsbridge, where her abstract landscapes sold for as much as $3,000.

By then, she and Chatto—a 1979 Oxford graduate whose six-year acting career began with a small role in Heat and Dust—were very much an item. Romance blossomed in 1986, four years after their first meeting, and the two were often spotted going to the theater or gallery-hopping. By 1989, Chatto had given up acting for art, and he staged his own successful show at the Cadogan gallery in 1992. These days, the two take painting trips together (in 1988, they trekked to Tuscany) and share a love of books and travel. "The general view among their crowd is that they have been very good for each other," notes The Daily Mail.

After the garden reception at Clarence House (which featured a cake baked at Buckingham Palace), the newlyweds left their royal relatives to their Laurent Perrier and snuck off to Heathrow. On their wedding night, Daniel and Sarah were bound for India, where they would cozily slip back into the state they love best—anonymity.

MICHELLE GREEN
TERRY SMITH in London

  • Contributors:
  • Terry Smith.