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‘Funk the wedding’: How royal wedding fever (and an anti-monarchy music festival) gripped Hackney in 1981 for Charles and Di’s wedding

PUBLISHED: 11:31 18 May 2018 | UPDATED: 12:10 18 May 2018

Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981

Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981

hackney archives

As Meghan and Harry prepare to get hitched, Emma Bartholomew looks back at how Hackney celebrated his mum and dad’s royal nuptials, with street parties, majorettes – and an anti-monarchist festival in Clissold Park that was delicately called Funk The Wedding

Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981

Prince Harry might well have beaten his father in terms of media hype surrounding his choice of partner.

But there’s no getting away from the fact that Charles and Di’s wedding gripped the whole of the UK with royal fever.

With merchandising like the plastic Union Jack wedding flags – one of which has been donated to Hackney Museum’s collection – to the well-wishes of publicans taking up a whole page in the 12-page celebration pull-out in the Hackney Gazette, the royal couple in 1981 really were the talk of the town.

The Gazette reported on the royal wedding celebrationsThe Gazette reported on the royal wedding celebrations

“People with all viewpoints on the monarchy will be taking the opportunity presented by the marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer to live it up a little,” predicted the Gazette in its bumper “tribute to a young couple whose fairytale romance has captured the imagination of millions”.

It went on: “Although an exceptionally privileged pair, it cannot have been easy for them to have lived through an engagement in the full blinding glare of world interest.”

The Gazette conceded: But despite it all, the prince and his bride to be have remained an endearing couple who have won the hearts of most of us.”

Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981

In fact, the wedding “could not have taken place at a better time”.

“Although there have been quite a few minor quibbles, the monarchy still holds a tremendous sway over the British people, and we have not seen such an outburst of delighted patriotism since the SAS successfully stormed the Iranian embassy,” we reported. “If the occasion involves an extra day’s holiday and an excuse for lots of pageantry, so much the better.”

Filling up a page were messages of congratuations from publicans like Pam and Tony from the Pembury Tavern, and Michael and his staff from the Prince of Wales in Lea Bridge Road, who all paid for an ad in the paper to say they “would like to raise their glasses to Prince Charles and Lady Di”.

Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981

The supplement also included a minute-by-minute timetable of the day, starting at 10.05am when junior members of the royal family were set to leave St James’ Palace by car, a royal crossword, a feature about royal honeymoons and a royal star cast which predicted: “The stars are indeed looking good for Charles and Diana.”

On the big day, flags and bunting were hung up in the streets for scores of street parties organised by tenants and residents associations and other right royal rave-ups.

“A day off work, a healthy dose of sunshine and a carnival atmosphere turned the royal wedding day into the grandest occasion since the Jubilee,” reported the Gazette afterwards.

Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981Street parties were held in Hackney for the royal wedding in 1981

“Throughout the morning and most of the afternoon too, the streets were almost deserted while people were glued to their TV sets for the spectacular marriage service and procession along the Mall.”

As soon as the royal couple finished waving to the massive crowds from the balcony at Buckingham Palace, Hackney folk took to the streets in their thousands.

The smallest street party of the day was held at Pemberton Place opposite the Lansdowne Club in Mare Street where just six kids tucking into the nosh were immortalised in the Gazette’s spread of party pictures.

The Gazette reported on the royal wedding celebrationsThe Gazette reported on the royal wedding celebrations

Parties were also put on in Bramshaw Road, Kenton Road, there was a fancy dress parade in Morland Mews and parents joined in with disco dancing at the Charles Street party in Hoxton. Majorettes came along to Dalston’s Mountford Estate.

“Whole estates were a sea of red, white and blue Union Jacks in almost every window and there were pictures of Charles and Di all over the place.”

Publican Jim Westell handed out free drinks at the Crown in Whiston Road, Haggerston, to customers on the day in exchange for a Di and Charles picture, and 5p off any drink if they dressed in red, white and blue.

The Gazette reported on the royal wedding celebrationsThe Gazette reported on the royal wedding celebrations

But the biggest single crowd of the day was at Clissold Park where 3,000 people flocked to the spectacular “Funk The Wedding” anti-monarchist funk, rock and reggae pop concert.

Organised by Rock Against Racism, the funk, rock and reggae music festival had stalls highlighting issues like racism, government cuts, unemployment and the H Block hunger strikers, while speakers on stage “took a strong anti-monarchist stance”.

“For most people, though, the music was the message – and they had probably all watched the royal event on TV earlier in the day anyway,” the Gazette claimed.

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