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The newlyweds tour of Wales and the moment the nation fell in love with Diana

I’ve been looking deep inside the archive at ITV News for a report tonight on the first royal tour for the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

On News at Ten, we are retracing some of the steps the 20-year-old Princess took in October 1981 as Diana and her new husband Prince Charles set off on a three day tour of Wales.

It was the moment when it became clear just how Britain had fallen in love with the new Princess.

The tour began on a small train platform in Shotton on Deeside and ended with Diana giving her first ever speech - part of it in Welsh - in Cardiff City Hall.

In the days in between, the newlyweds were greeted by huge crowds in Rhyl, Caernarfon, St Davids, Camarthen and Cardiff.

What became immediately clear was that Diana was being received like a fairytale princess.

It was like she had brought with her some magic dust which was quickly landing on everything around her: from the crowds of well-wishers to those struggling with mass unemployment at the time; from the dignitaries at every stop to the new mothers and babies in a hospital maternity ward.

  • ITV News archive footage of Charles and Diana's trip to Wales in 1981

Katherine Owen was waiting to see Diana in the grounds of Caernarfon Castle.

She recalls Diana’s “maternal instincts” as she worried for the then nine-year old Katherine and her group of girl guides waiting on that cold autumnal afternoon.

Eiriona Hughes simply recalls the excitement of her 11-year-old self waiting to see a “real princess”.

She was in the majorettes when Diana came to shake the freezing cold hands of Eirionna and the girls who had been standing in line for the past two hours.

Diana was 20 at the time, her husband was 32 - and had been on the royal stage for many years.

The Princess was something new: beautiful, shy, modern, caring.

It was something the country hadn’t seen for many years.

  • Diana meets well-wishers in 1981

And on this tour of Wales, it was clear Diana was doing a lot of good for the Royal Family. Its image was suddenly being reformed and refreshed by its newest member.

But even at that early stage you can start to identify, with the huge benefit of hindsight, the tensions which would later tear this marriage apart.

The crowds had come to see only one half of this couple. On the archive film, you can here them chant: “We want Princess Di!”

The clamour to shake hands with her was much greater than for him.

According to one newspaper report at the time, Prince Charles graciously acknowledged the desire of the crowds to see his wife: “There’s the person you’ve come to see,” he said to them.

It was an innocent and touching gesture - but today, we can identify it as one of the many tensions that grew in the years which followed into something much more serious.

Charles was good-humoured about his new wife's popularity. Credit: ITV News

Fast forward to another royal tour a decade later - the one to Korea in 1992 - and the couple were no longer able to keep those huge tensions private.

They body language said everything that words couldn’t: that this marriage was over.

Prime Minister John Major announced the separation of Charles and Diana a few days later in December 1992.

But back in October 1981, things were still very rosy.

Charles’ arm is pictured around the waist of his new wife. And Diana was clearly enjoying her new royal role.

Gordon Gray was the mace bearer at Cardiff City Hall when Diana was presented with the Freedom of the City at the end of the tour.

He told us how she jokingly galloped around a room on a chair to relax the atmosphere when the formalities were over.

By the 1992 tour of Korea tensions between the couple were clear. Credit: PA

It is nearly 36 years since that tour and in terms of royal history, it belongs to a completely different era.

This week we mark the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death in that car crash in Paris.

But Wales was where the nation’s love affair with Diana began.

Whatever your view on what happened next, whoever you blame for it (and there are many guilty parties), the 1981 tour of Wales was a moment of optimism for The Royal Family and for this newly married royal couple.