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David Emanuel: The celebrities I dress have to behave - there is no nonsense with me

He famously designed Princess Diana's wedding gown in 1981 and has kitted out a host of famous faces over the years. But designer to the stars David Emanuel, host of the new Say Yes To The Dress UK, has plenty of time for 'regular' brides, too, as Gemma Dunn quickly finds out.

Published 03/08/2016

Dazzling designs: David Emanuel is bringing his expertise to television with Say Yes To The Dress
Dazzling designs: David Emanuel is bringing his expertise to television with Say Yes To The Dress
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Shirley Bassey
Madonna
Confident bride: the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding to Prince William
David in I’m a Celebrity...

It's been 35 years since the late Lady Diana Spencer wed Charles, the Prince of Wales, and few have fonder memories of the 1981 nuptials than the bride's acclaimed wedding dress designer, David Emanuel. "She was delinquent, delicious, wonderful, real and adorable," he gushes of the "people's princess", whose iconic ivory silk gown - complete with a 25ft train - was admired worldwide.

"She was simply young and fresh, and I wanted the dress to reflect that, but at the same time, she was going in as Lady Diana Spencer and coming out as the Princess of Wales.

"Every girl in the country had a vision of what a princess should look like, and of course the location - St Paul's Cathedral - was very grand," 63-year-old Emanuel continues, eyes lighting up, pushing back his trademark tangle of white hair as he speaks. "So if you did a subtle little number, it's not going to work to an audience of 700 billion people.

"As long as she was happy, I was happy," he adds. "It was a pleasure to do."

More than three decades on, he is clearly still proud of his role in Diana's historic big day, and has very fond memories - it's understandable he found news of her shock death, in 1997, difficult: "I was very upset, because she was so full of life and fun."

In 2006, A Dress For Diana - the book he penned with his now ex-wife Elizabeth Emanuel, with whom he has two children and who co-designed Diana's dress - was published, revealing their own magical version of the story.

"It was almost like a passport," he says, referring to the travel opportunities and famous women - Dame Shirley Bassey, Madonna and Dame Elizabeth Taylor - he's dressed as a result of his profile being boosted by the royal assignment. "And people have always said lovely things. It's gone down in history - the gown, Diana, everything."

So what did he think about the 2011 wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?

"I have to say, I thought Catherine looked lovely," he begins. "Talking about confidence, when she got out of that car, you knew she had confidence because she waited - did you notice that?" he continues enthusiastically. "She was waiting to go down, she waited until she was ready, and she took control."

But he's hesitant to comment on the Duchess' sister's big day (Pippa Middleton recently announced her engagement to hedge-fund millionaire James Matthews), instructing that "you should never compare two brides, or two women. Ever".

"She is very different (to Kate). I personally would put Pippa in something very soft, perhaps chiffon, with a train, because it's dramatic. Possibly a little lace bodice, soft and fluid; she's got a great shape.

"As long as it's the complete opposite of the Duchess of Cambridge's dress, then she stands a chance," he adds. "She's not a royal; she's not going to be a royal, and that's all I'm saying."

Unafraid to speak his mind and a master of his trade, it's little surprise Emanuel is set to shine as the leading man on TLC's upcoming British version of the popular US wedding series, Say Yes To The Dress.

"I'd seen the show in the States and I thought, 'How is this going to work here in the UK?' And I have to say, its better as it's more real. It's not just about money; it's about people. The frocks are the frocks, but behind all the frocks there's a real story, and the story is the people and the journey."

That said, a few things made him pause for thought, he admits.

"One of the things that threw me completely, however, was the lack of confidence among the brides. I could never understand it; why you would need five or six people to buy a wedding dress? But I realised these girls lacked confidence and were asking the mothers and their aunties," he says.

"Diana, she came in alone, and we talked through it and tried on some pieces before she very sweetly asked, 'Would you mind if I bring my mother in?'" he reveals. "And these girls are coming in with an entourage. It's just extraordinary to me."

But despite plenty of on-screen drama, from squabbling parents to a secret tattoo reveal, there's only one person that really matters - and that's the blushing bride-to-be.

"Whenever we film, I remind them, 'You're the star of the show, you come with me and I will help you look ravishing and beautiful, but don't be bullied'."

And while Emanuel has "enough patience for the entire world", the flamboyant presenter draws the line at diva demands, teasing that "the celebrities I dress have to behave - there's no nonsense with me. They get lectured if not."

As for bridezillas, he puts the term down to lack of confidence and insecurities: "I'm looking at a young woman, this is going to be the most important day of her life, hopefully, and all she wants is the support of her family and friends around her. So no, I don't deal with bridezillas."

And neither should the Welsh-born designer, who battled an aggressive form of prostate cancer back in 2012, have to.

"It's almost like I've been given a second chance," he confesses of his desire to live life to the full following his brush with the disease. "It sounds rather heavy that we take life for granted, but we do.

"Cancer makes you think, 'Wake up, live'. So when the next challenge came along, which was going into the jungle (Emanuel was runner-up to Westlife's Kian Egan in the 2013 series of I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here!), I thought, 'Wait, I am going to do this'.

"My world stopped for a while, but it's good to have challenges and push yourself. And something remarkable happened in there: I learnt it's mind over matter."

But don't expect to see the chirpy host on similar reality TV formats any time soon - although he confesses he quite fancies the idea of Strictly Come Dancing.

"I'm certainly not going to be hopping from one reality show to the next," he finishes. "I achieved what I set out to do, I survived, and that's it."

  • Say Yes To The Dress UK, TLC, Friday, August 12, 9pm

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