A sweet slice of royal history is going up for auction later this month. On August 11, Dominic Winter Auctioneers will sell a 40-year-old piece of cake baked to celebrate Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding in 1981.
Topped with delicate white icing details and a sugar version of the royal coat of arms, the slice of marzipan weighs about 28 ounces. In the lot description, the British auction house notes that the decades-old dessert is “partly cracked” and has “slight damage to the shield of the crest” but otherwise appears to be well preserved.
Moyra Smith, a staff member at Clarence House and employee of Queen Elizabeth, mother of Elizabeth II, received the slice of cake as a gift around the time of the wedding. Instead of eating it, reports the Associated Press (AP), she carefully wrapped the delicacy and placed it in a floral cake tin with a handwritten label signed and dated to “29/7/81”: “Handle with Care—Prince Charles & Princess Diane’s [sic] Wedding Cake.”
In 2008, Smith’s family sold the (dubiously) edible heirloom to a collector for an undisclosed sum. Now on sale once again, the slice carries an estimate of $300 to $400 (£200 to £300), writes Rachel Pannett for the Washington Post.
Initially, a royal letter and a bottle of commemorative beer accompanied the cake. These items are not included in the upcoming sale, but the lot does feature an original 1981 sheaf detailing the wedding’s order of service and a royal wedding breakfast program.
“[The slice] appears to be in exactly the same good condition as when originally sold,” Chris Albury, a senior valuer at the auction house, tells the AP. “But we advise against eating it.”
Smith’s keepsake was most likely cut from one of the roughly two dozen cakes baked for the royal nuptials. Per the lot listing, the slice probably came from the side or top of a single-tier cake sent to Clarence House for the enjoyment of the queen mother’s staff.
As the New York Times reported in 1981, the Royal Navy School of Cookery designed the “official” cake eaten by the royal family and over 1,000 guests: an elaborate, 200-pound, 5-foot-tall fruitcake laced with rum. Corinthian Roman columns separated the cake’s five tiers, while decorations ranging from flowers to the couple’s initials adorned its sides, according to Eater’s Daniela Galarza and Dana Hatic.
This “fairytale” wedding kicked off Charles and Diana’s tumultuous, ill-fated marriage, which ended in a highly publicized 1996 divorce. Leading up to the wedding day, both parties expressed doubts about the union, according to various biographies and later accounts. In 2017, previously unreleased tapes published in a Channel 4 broadcast found Diana describing the wedding as “the worst day of my life,” as Victoria Ward reported for the Telegraph at the time.
The princess’ outspoken humanitarian work, glamorous fashion savvy and tragic death in a 1997 car crash cemented her legacy as a pop culture icon. Items related to Diana’s life continue to attract widespread public attention: Her wedding dress, for instance, is on display for the first time in 25 years in a much-anticipated exhibition at Kensington Place. And, reports Rachel Trent for CNN, a car that Charles gave to Diana as an engagement present recently sold for more than $72,000 (£52,000).
In 2017, Florida man John Hoatson told the Tampa Bay Times’ Christopher Spata that he owned a piece of the 1981 wedding fruitcake. An avid collector of Diana memorabilia, Hoatson also claimed to own a sample of the fabric used to make her wedding dress and a bar of soap once used by the princess to wash her hands.
When asked if he would try to eat his slice of wedding cake, Hoatson replied, “No, and everyone asks me that.”
He added, “[I]t’s 36-year-old fruitcake, and it looks really bad.”