Windsor v Windsor; Royal couple take first step to divorce

The judge adjusted his yellowing wig for what might have been another ordinary day's business in the divorce courts - a nurse, a housewife, a railway signal engineer and a serving prisoner were among the petitioners on his list.

But then history was made as the clerk came to the 31st case and read out, in the same steady voice, the names of their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Wales.

As the sun streamed through into the small, pale green room, and 29 journalists packed the usually empty public benches, it seemed more like the perfect day for a wedding. But 15 years on, the famously tortured marriage of the heir to the throne, was finally being undone in Court One at Somerset House, London.

For a fee of pounds 80, the couple, who like all the other petitioners were not in court, were granted a decree nisi. In six weeks and one day, Prince Charles, who initiated the divorce proceedings on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences", will apply for the decree to be made absolute and for an additional pounds 20, the fairytale will be officially declared null and void.

Despite their historic status, the proceedings yesterday lasted a mere three minutes. Senior District Judge Gerald Angel has acquired a unique royal role in recent years, having also given Princess Anne, Camilla Parker- Bowles and the Duke and Duchess of York their divorces in the same court room.

Robin West, the manager of the Family Division of the High Court, based at Somerset House, which processes 9,000 divorces a year, summed up the mechanics of the procedure: "To all intents and purposes, it's a bit of a non-event."

It was impossible not to recall that perfect summer's day 15 years ago, the somewhat lengthier ceremony at St Paul's Cathedral, watched by 100 million people, and the famous image of the smiling wedding party, while thousands lined the streets to take part in the royal fantasy.

Instead, yesterday's event cemented the royal couple less cheerfully as a mirror of the nation - dysfunctional and unhappy. The reasons given by the other 30 petitioners on the case-list for the breakdown of their marriages echoed many of the Wales's experiences.

One poignantly described the horrors of an unhappy marriage: "I still suffer from nightmares about the respondent. I am still nervous, lacking in self-esteem and depressed because of the respondent's cruel behaviour towards me. I was prescribed Prozac and other anti-depressants."

A husband had petitioned for divorce on the basis of his wife's unreasonably lively social life. He said: "The respondent behaved badly, ie staying out late at night and drinking heavily. Tension grew between us and she left in July 1992. I have not heard of her ever since."

In circumstances that reflected the Waleses until 1993, when they formally separated, one couple said: "We have lived separate lives in the same home for some time." Another wife explained how her husband told her he had been staying with a woman in Ivory Coast, by whom he had had two children.

Perhaps the only real difference between the royal couple and the other petitioners was their divorce settlement. Princess Diana will receive pounds 1m for each year of her marriage to Prince Charles, but her appearance as HRH on the court list may be the last time, since she is to relinquish the title.

The Princess was at Kensington Palace yesterday, and is expected to go on holiday to France with the Duchess of York this week with their children, while the Prince was in Asia, watching a military parade as part of the Sultan of Brunei's 50th birthday celebrations.

For passers-by who paused outside Somerset House and recalled their street parties for the royal wedding, there was little left to celebrate. Judith Woodford, 53, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, said: "It did seem like a fairytale then, we were so excited, and now it's all over."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'