LISTEN: John Henely takes us back to the day Prince Charles married Lady Dianna Spencer
Before the sun rose on the day of Wednesday 29th July 1981, much of the nation was already awake with crowds gathering on every street in Central London, vendors and notable guests gathering in the city, the bride, Lady Diana Spencer nervously waiting for the big moment to say ‘I Do’ to her prince and Police Officer, John Henely, who woke at 4am to have a ‘big breakfast’ before taking his place in the historic day.
“It was a Wednesday, a bank holiday so the crowds were quite huge. It started off about 4 o clock in the morning. It was a long day but very enjoyable day.
“We were all bussed down to Battersea Park and had a big breakfast and then we went up to Argyle Street, a little street off of The Strand, basically deployed to keep an eye on the crowd and keep everybody happy while we were there.”
Following years of speculation in the press, the country came together as one to celebrate the fact their future king had found his bride in the beautiful Lady Diana Spencer.
Worldwide events in 1981 had paid their toll on the mood of the nation. In March of that year, Bobby Sands started his hunger strike in Northern Ireland, in the United States, President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest in an attempted assassination and closer to home, the Brixton Riots took place.
The mood was tense, and everyone was glad for this day – one day to celebrate and toast to the future.
A crowd of millions gathered in the London streets and broadcasters prepared to transmit the route to and from the ceremony as well as those key Royal wedding moments we all love to see.
John meanwhile was keeping an eye on his assigned area and engaging in the party atmosphere with the crowd.
“It was absolutely brilliant, people were very happy – very joyful.
“We lifted the children over the crowd barrier so they could sit on the pavement and hopefully have a little chat with their new friends.
“There was quite some time before anything was going to happen so what I did was get them to sing some songs or play ‘I spy’ just keep them entertained.
“All of a sudden I said ‘oh what’s that noise?’, we all looked up and it was the horses coming up from the Lifeguards – they were the first ones that got deployed up.
“Then the horse drawn coaches came up so they all stood up and waved their little flags and cheered and jumped up and down.
“Everybody went into St Pauls Cathedral so we got a short break where we could go and get a cup of tea or something.
“When we came back, the open top carriage went by and then – as she then became – Princess Diana and Prince Charles. They were no more than three yards from me, and she looked absolutely gorgeous I must admit.”
Whilst the bride and groom tucked into their five-foot tall, 225-pound (102kg) wedding cake, John and the rest of the assembled police officers relaxed for the first time that day lounging in St James’ Park.
“There was a massive great big marquee set up to have refreshments
“One of the memories I’ve got, there must have been about 1000 police officers lying down in St James’ Park eating food and having a cup of tea or coffee and all of a sudden a couple of mums come along with kids in push chairs and one of the little girls asked “Mummy, why are all these Police Men and Women here?” a few of us looked at each other and all started singing words to tune ‘If you go down to the park today you’ll see police men and women having a picnic’ and it spread right across the park.
“It’s fantastic memories, it’s something that will live with me forever.
“It was an absolutely brilliant day. It really really was.
“I have quite a number of photographs that people took and gave to me so that’s quite a good memory and every now and then I’ll dig them out and show people.
“It brings back memories for folks and that’s one thing I enjoy.
“Children are absolutely mesmerised by it all. They really get involved and want to ask questions and that basically transfers our heritage if that’s the right word to the young folk and I thoroughly enjoy doing things like that.”
John is now retired and living in Pitlochry where he is a community councillor. He will never forget the happy memories of that magical day 40 years ago and we, as a community, are lucky to have retired Officer Henely in our area – and maybe to catch up with him to hear more stories and see some photos in person.