'Champagne Charlie,' Di's Dashing Brother, Takes a Bride Decked In...Gold
Of course, after flouting aristocratic tradition with an abbreviated, two-month engagement, Di's fair-haired sibling and his lady love might have been expected to offer some nuptial surprises. But if their courtship was thoroughly modern, their wedding was a well-orchestrated journey back to a more romantic past. The sable-trimmed, gold lace-and-silk, Russian-style dress reflected a mid-18th-century theme that extended from the burgundy-sashed, beige silk page-boy suit worn by Prince Harry to Victoria's old-fashioned bouquet of roses and hedgerow flowers. Apparently, the woman Fleet Street callously labeled Miss Nobody has a flair for style and a strong sense of history—two essential qualities for an aristocrat's wife.
If short of the pomp and circumstance associated with royal events, the wedding nonetheless cost Viscount Althorp's father, Earl Spencer, an estimated $160,000 (Victoria's parents contributed a smaller sum). But the master of the 100-room, 8,500-acre Althorp estate smiled magnanimously when he arrived, nearly an hour before the bride, with his second wife, Raine. Charlie Althorp, accompanied by his best man, gem dealer Darius Guppy, also smiled, but when asked how nervous he was, gave a tight-lipped reply: "Very nervous." Those nerves probably weren't calmed by the appearance of the only royal guests—Charles, Diana and Wills (Harry came later, with the other young attendants).
The bride's contingent had less commotion to contend with. When Victoria's mother, Elly, a magistrate, waved to the crowd, no one recognized her. The cheers went instead to the groom's stepgrandmother, romance novelist Barbara Cartland, who, decked out in her signature pink, entered a church she described as "absolutely packed, there wasn't a seat left." Strains of Mozart soothed the 250 guests waiting for the bride and her father, a director of Britain's Civil Aviation Authority, to arrive a fashionable 20 minutes late.
When the 45-minute ceremony got underway, Victoria and her father were followed down the aisle by Prince Harry, 5, Alexander Fellowes, 6, and his sister, Eleanor, 4 (offspring of Diana's sister Lady Jane Fellowes), and Emily McCorquodale, 6 (daughter of Diana's sister Lady Sarah McCorquodale). The tots were attired in reproductions of costumes worn by Spencer children in Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough portraits that hang in Althorp House. "They couldn't have been sweeter," Cartland said.
But it was Victoria's outfit that drew the most attention. Perched on her head was the Spencer family tiara, an arc of diamond leaves and flowers that Diana and her two sisters had also worn at their weddings. Resemblance to those previous brides, however, stopped with the gold dress. Even its London designer, Tomasz Starzewski, had predicted, "People will love it or hate it," and by afternoon's end, one crabby British tabloid was labeling the gown "vulgar" and "appalling." Those who saw the dress up close were of another mind. "She was very pretty in gold," said Cartland. "It was clever."
Charles and Di and front-toothless Wills (now too old to attend a bride) were the first to leave the church. Charlie and Vicky emerged soon after and, according to a report in the tabloid The People, the first words the bride said to her husband were, "Come on, kiss me." Harry, who walked alongside the couple tossing rose petals, commented, "He's done enough of that," and then hopped in a car with his maternal grandmother, Frances Shand-Kydd. Everyone set off for nearby Althorp House, where an additional 200 guests waited to fete the newlyweds with champagne at a supper of jumbo shrimp, sausage rolls and tea sandwiches. "There were masses and masses of charming young men who I'm sure were at Oxford with Charles," said Cartland. "And masses of people who were obviously her friends," she added, referring to Victoria's more bohemian chums.
Prince Charles ducked out early to attend a royal party in Denmark, but Di and the little princes stayed on, and the reception continued until 8. Later in the evening, a pall was cast over the joyous occasion when a car driven by Lady Jane Fellowes overturned on a dangerous patch of road. Fortunately neither Lady Jane nor her three children were injured. "My heart jumped when I was told there was an accident," said Earl Spencer. "The thought of such a tragedy after a wonderful, happy family day was too much."
Charlie and Victoria took off the next morning for a honeymoon rumored to be somewhere in the Seychelles, leaving in their wake much speculation about the impetuous lovebirds. Many questioned how the former good-time boy known as Champagne Charlie and his high-fashion model wife, who was a fixture on the New York club scene when she modeled for the Click agency in 1984, would settle into the lifestyle of the landed gentry. Victoria and the earl-in-waiting, who stands to inherit a $78 million fortune, will live in a five-bedroom house, the Falconry, on the Althorp estate a mile from Althorp House. They will also keep Charlie's London bachelor pad. Viscount Althorp plans to continue his job as a correspondent for the Today show. Victoria, who has described her move close to the royal spotlight as "terrifying," will probably stop modeling and busy herself decorating her two residences. She registered her Wedgwood Athlone Blue china pattern ($235 a five-piece place setting) and Rattail silver pattern ($145 a seven-piece setting) at London's General Trading Company, one of Diana's Sloane Ranger haunts.
If the gold dress proved visionary, Victoria's concept of marriage was not. "All I want to do is look after Charles," said the viscountess of her future lot. "That will be my new job."
—Mary H.J. Farrell, Laura Sanderson Healy and Janine Di Giovanni in London