Planning an English country wedding | Part 8: The Happy Ending

Final instalment of the series by Country Life bride Annunciata Elwes (née Walton) on the highs and lows of wedding planning.

A humble checklist for brides:

  • Do have nice, helpful parents
  • Do involve the groom in most of the decision making (not all)
  • Do invite gypsies, they’re perfectly charming and they bring gifts
  • Do make a speech – after all, it’s your wedding too
  • Don’t underestimate the length of time required for the line up, particularly if you have a garrulous mother
  • Lastly, for the love of St Bride, don’t walk into a lamppost a week before your wedding

It’s 7.45am, my face is covered in blood and I’m giving banshees the world over a run for their money. I was fine a minute ago. If you count hobbling home hunched over like Quasimodo so as not to get blood on your clothes as fine. Walking into the lamppost hurt like hell, though as always when I hit my head (yes, it’s happened before) it was the hideous thwacking noise I registered first, before the pain kicked in.

Once home and in the bathroom, I catch sight of my bloodied visage and immediately feel worse. ‘Jamieeee!’ I wail. In my head, I see flashing images of how awful I will look in a wedding dress with a big gash on my head. A year’s worth of wedding planning has been for nothing if I turn up all stitched up and cross-eyed like Frankenstein’s monster – this is enough to bring anyone to tears.

The groom appears, bleary eyed, and starts cleaning the blood off my face, as I choke on sobs. With his other hand, he continues eating his toast. He doesn’t say much. I wonder if he’s fully awake. Perhaps I cry a little louder.

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Slowly, he finishes a mouthful and speaks: ‘Annie, stop crying. You’re upsetting me.’ So much for heroism. My Lancelot later shows an inappropriate amount of glee at being termed a ‘responsible adult’, who must accompany me to get my butterfly stitches. We are SO not mature enough for marriage.

It turns out that no one in the entire Farnborough Business Park possesses a freezer, so I spend the next few days at my desk with one of those inexplicably clever bags of water that turn into ice when you squash them strapped to my head. Photographic evidence of this spectacle does exist. I’m not sharing it.

A week later and I’m still crying. This time it’s the morning of the wedding. I’ve barely slept and have a splitting headache. ‘I don’t want to get married today,’ I announce. ‘I want to stay in bed and cry.’ My father pats my hand and wanders off to find breakfast. Men and their stomachs.

© Annie Tempest at

The preceding week has not been so bad. I’ve been at home, running a small sweatshop consisting of my aged parents and dopey fiancé, with the occasional visit from an unhelpful brother or two with chaotic children in tow. My mother, who has pulled the short straw in having the nicest handwriting, lovingly writes 160 names on the table plan, which I decorate with leaves and flowers in watercolour.

My mother and I handwrite 160 names on 160 labels with 160 table names on the back. These are tied to 160 pineapples, which are painstakingly assembled on the wall, in alphabetical order, in front of Leighton Hall. ‘This wall was made to have 160 pineapples lined up on it,’ declares exhausted owner Suzie Reynolds, admiring her handiwork. ‘Don’t ever ask me to do it again.’

Jamie and I have selected 16 amusing anecdotes from our lives for the names of the tables: ‘Escape from Shap Abbey’, ‘The Knighting of the Loin’, ‘Wars of the Roses’ and such. He creates comic little caricatures of us for each and I use watercolours to illustrate borders and titles. Together, we paint 32 signs (16 double-sided). This may seem a mad thing to do in the run up to a wedding, but it is actually incredibly therapeutic.

The day dawns. It starts with a rueful survey of the scar on my forehead and the shadows under my eyes as my mother blithely eats scrambled eggs in her dressing gown and my father reads his book in the garden like its any other day. Seemingly five minutes later, I’m a married woman and back from the party of a lifetime.

That’s how it goes. In the blink of an eye. I hadn’t realised how different the wedding experience would be when I am one of the people at the centre of it. One’s own wedding is nothing like other people’s weddings. When I think of it now, it’s a blur of flowers, flying pineapples and fireworks. And nerves. So much nervousness – the hideous experience of walking down the aisle, the loveliness of the service, a moment of respite in a green-painted, garland-bedecked, horse-drawn gypsy caravan, the relief of having all duties done, the delirium of the dance floor with friends and family.

I feel that mine and Jamie’s ‘happy ending’ began a long time ago – we did, after all, meet seven years ago. But a wedding is more of a happy beginning in my view. I didn’t need an extravagant party to kick-start anything. But it has been a wonderful (and yes, stressful) chapter of our lives.

So here’s to many more happy beginnings. We might not recognise them when they arrive and things won’t always go to plan. But if I know anything, it’s that a sense of humour is imperative – and a rip-roaring party never hurts.

Yours sincerely,

Mrs Elwes

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