Exclusive: Say Yes to the Dress UK’s David Emanuel on Diana’s wedding gown, mothers in law and consulting cats

As wedding-gown reality show Say Yes to the Dress comes to the UK, BT TV speaks to the royal dress designer as he takes on his toughest challenge yet…

In 1981, David Emanuel went from little-known fashion designer to worldwide star overnight.

The minute that Princess Diana walked down the aisle in St Paul’s Cathedral enwrapped in taffeta, antique lace and with a 25-foot train, David’s place in history was secured.

Even though it was 35 years ago, David still remembers the day fondly when BT TV calls him for a chat.

“It was such a joyous occasion,” he recalls. “She was on great form, I just realised over the years looking back that I was the last one to whisper something to her before she went down the aisle.

“Immediately I had to be whisked back to Buckingham Palace to be in the throne room ready for when she came back to do the pictures and then one of the nicest things is that she rang and said ‘Hello, thank you so much. I loved it, Prince Charles loved it, the whole family loved it’. It was a lovely day, and a happy day.”

Say Yes to the Dress

Describing the designing of the dress for the Princess-in-waiting, David describes the whole process as “fairly straightforward”.

“It’s a world away from what I’m dealing with now on Say Yes to the Dress…” he adds.

David is undertaking quite possibly his biggest challenge yet on the brand new TLC series. The show, a UK version of the hit American series of the same name, sees brides coming to David for some much-needed help as they struggle to find their dream dress for their big day.

But, as David explains, finding the perfect dress is positively straightforward compared to the drama that the bride’s friends and family bring with them to the fitting.

Say Yes to the Dress

“I don’t think you need an entourage, honestly,” he insists. “Invariably they come in and they’re looking for dresses for themselves and not the bride. They’re selecting what might look good on them! And really, some of the mothers want their daughters to look like what they looked like on their wedding day – what’s that about?” he exclaims with a gasp.

One moment that causes chaos in David’s fitting is when a dad discovers that his daughter has a secret sleeve of tattoos that covers her entire arm – something she’s managed to hide from him for years.

“Everybody knew about this completely tattooed arm, thoroughly inked – and the only person who didn’t know was the father. He was there at the appointment and you could see the rage! He had no idea. So I had to break it to him.

Say Yes to the Dress

“I thought the poor sod was going to have a heart attack but he pulled through. I think he was completely shell-shocked and almost in tears – but in the end they were tears of happiness. But the bride apparently said in the dressing room to the girl – the people I work with – ‘I think I’m going to get it when I get home’”.

While filming the show, David admits to being completely surprised by just how low the confidence of the brides was.

“Their confidence is invariably completely knocked by either their mother or their future mother-in-law or their best friend or their maid of honour,” he explains.

“And I’m still shocked by that, because it should be a pleasurable experience when you’re looking for a dress. My job is to make sure they look great!

“I focus on the girl and say ‘it’s nice, it’s not fabulous but it will be’, and you go through the process until you find a dress. And you know – once they walk out, their eyes light up. They go ‘golly!’. Done. It’s lovely actually!”

Say Yes to the Dress

Often, the dress is just the beginning. David has discovered many of the brides on his show also have an extravagant theme for their big day – from Harry Potter to a pet cat.

“We had one girl coming in,” he says. “She links up her phone with her cat, and I’m looking at the cat and she’s showing herself, in the gown, talking to the cat… I had to deal with that!”

David’s do’s and don’ts for buying a wedding dress

1. Don’t over-shop

“I had one bride the other day – she was completely and utterly over-shopped. She’d been to four different stores and tried on over 100 dresses. I was like ‘hang on, this is ridiculous’ – you shouldn’t need to do that!”

2. Don’t have a set idea of what you want

“I think the biggest mistake is having a very set idea. I would like to say most brides should at least scan the bridal magazines or go online and come saying ‘I think that’, rather than ‘it has to be that’.

3. Do have a dress you can move in

“The hot thing at the moment is what I call a Jessica Rabbit dress – a slinky, moulded gown, tight to the hips and then a fishtail. Well, that’s great. And then I say to the brides: ‘Do you want to dance at your wedding? Try sitting down!’ You’re in this gown all day, is that what you want?’ One thing I try to do is give tricks – but it’s very difficult, I understand.”

4. Do enhance the best bits and you camouflage the bad bits

“If you have a set idea, that’s always difficult. ‘It’s got to be a fishtail’. Nothing’s got to be anything. With a gown, to make a girl feel great, it needs to enhance. You enhance the best bits and you camouflage the bad bits.”

Say Yes to the Dress begins on Friday August 12 at 9pm on TLC

Photo credit: TLC UK

BT TV customers - Watch now on the BT Player

More from BT

Exclusives and Behind the Scenes