Planning an English country wedding | Part 7: The Frontispiece

Join Country Life’s Annunciata Walton from engagement through to ‘I do’, as she tracks the highs and lows of planning a rural wedding up north (from London).

My mother has had ‘a new idea’ for the Country Life ‘Girl in Pearls’ page. ‘Mother of the Girl in Pearls,’ she announces, holding her bejewelled paws aloft.

She has recently bought a new string of pearls – ‘baroque, fabulous’ – which will later make an appearance at the wedding and brings her collection to just over a mile in length and of various hues.

I’m ignoring her.

‘I could look very new and impressive,’ she adds emphatically. ‘It could start a trend!’

Whithurst Park. Credit: Tim Imrie-Tait/Country Life Picture Library

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Luckily, my mother will have nothing to do with it, but the Frontispiece seems obligatory. For one thing, I work at Country Life and clearly my weekly headshot is not enough – there must be a full page of me and only me. Secondly, why would anyone turn down the opportunity to be professionally made up and photographed at a stunning location of my choice? I am very likely never to get the opportunity again. Plus, as I look like a lop-sided toddler in most photographs, I could use the professional help.

One moderately sunny April morning, I find myself at the beautiful Whithurst Park, home of Richard and Rick, a heavenly pair. Jenny Packham, Temperley and Beulah London have lent me dresses for the occasion, and Laurence Coste a collection of big, bold and beautiful earrings (how I love the journalistic perks), and I’ve been paired up with the talented Chris Allerton, he of the iconic naked-but-for-a-fur-wrap and underwater Girls in Pearls, to name a few. No pressure then. I’m sure me in a frock by a window in West Sussex is his least adventurous commission to date, but he is sweet, interspersing direction with compliments.

Soon I’m leaning awkwardly on the window ledge, with my arms twisted across each other in a way that feels like a straightjacket but somehow looks natural through the lens. After a brief problem when my top lip starts twitching – it happens when I fake-smile sometimes (awkward) – I’m totally at my ease. Cleverly, Chris orchestrates the pose so that the engagement ring is front and centre. I’m told to think about my future husband and look wistfully out of the window, but this is impossible. I settle for trying not to laugh while watching Stella, the Sardinian rescue dog, gently amble about on the gravel below.

An hour later, I am to be found by the lake, trying not to fall off a pontoon, in a long pink dress and a flower crown, leaning against an oar with all the nonchalance of a turkey at Christmas. The lighting is beautiful and the staging superb, but thankfully, when he sees the photos, Mark, our editor, agrees that ‘the red dress pictures are best’ – and it’s his choice, as with all our Frontispieces.

planning an english country wedding

My lady-in-red photo is published in our beautiful April 26 wedding special, which makes waves in the press for its call for restraint over what has become ‘the nuptial equivalent of an arms race’. The issue also includes an article by me on why one-day weddings are far superior to three-day bonanzas, mostly because I get sleepy if I have to do three things in a row—don’t worry, I promise not to subject anyone to more than one big blow out when the time comes.

I’d like to say the Frontispiece is my last major task before The Wedding, but it feels like there are 101 challenges ahead. Luckily for me, there is another enchanting Jenny Packham dress in my future…

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To be continued… look out for the next instalment as Annie plans her English country wedding, delving into a world of dress-shopping, venues, flowers, bridesmaids, intensive decision-making, cake-eating, wine-tasting and much, much more.