This really is the big one. Marriage is up there with birth and death. The happiest day of your life, blah-blah, but also the occasion when the Scrabble letters of Fate get shaken right up. Lives will be changed, vendettas sparked, whole estates won and lost.
Today, let’s face it, even the throne of Britain is up for grabs. A lifetime’s nerves, apprehensions, dreams and insecurities will come to a head in a few short hours. As we beam bibulously at these suddenly intimate strangers, crackling tension threatens to erupt. That is why wedding movies are always so funny. There are huge stakes for which to play. It takes a cool head to ensure that those stakes aren’t driven through someone’s heart.
And there’s a newer hazard. All will be clinically recorded, from every possible angle, forever. On our own wedding video, as one elderly female relation stomps out of shot, the mild-mannered vicar is heard to remark ‘I truly thought that, as I grew older, Christian charity would come more easily to me’. (What it was she’d just said, we never did find out.)
There are various paths through the minefield. One can go for a colossally expensive London hotel, guaranteeing that the event will be impeccably run, socially correct and (whisper who dares) a tad anonymous. You also run the risk of a swirly carpet. There is the Caribbean fantasy, in which the bride perspires beneath an arch of wilting bougainvillea in front of a priest she’s never met. This I have witnessed, together with (at the edge of frame) topless sun-bathers oiling up disinterestedly. It’s not a picture I can recommend.
Hiring a stately is lovely, but it takes some cheek to pit your own little moment of history against all that. As for the Themed Wedding, God help us all. Nothing dates as quickly in photographs as ‘period’ costume. Consider: do you want to look like an amdram panto, really? Till death do you part?
Accept from the outset that the whole day will be like herding cats. The shorter the distance participants have to stagger between episodes, the less can go wrong. In brief: you need a jolly good reason not to do it the traditional way. Out of the bride’s parents’ (or richer relation’s) house, into the church that lies within walking distance, and back to a marquee on the lawn.
The overwhelming concern, of course, is cost. But here is the good news. Eff-off displays of mullah are so last decade. You’re no longer expected to stump up what it would take to marry Venice to the Adriatic. Huge wedding-planning industries have sprung up in the US, with ghastly accretions such as flower girls and ring-bearers clamouring for outlay. Ignore their blandishments. The paradox is, the more you spend, the more anodyne a wedding becomes.
Instead, do as much as you can yourself. It will make the day more memorable, more relaxed, and fuller of love. Imbue it with local colour. Your guests have journeyed a long way, so give them the full-on tourist experience. A long lead-in is crucial if preparations are not to become fraught. I don’t mean those revoltingly coy ‘Keep The Date Free’ cards. Grasp the nettle and send out proper invitations way in advance. Long enough for the B-list to think they were A. Long enough to plant a cutting border, and book out the cheap nearby motel. (Yes, really. Guests will already be forking out a good deal, and will spend hardly any sentient time in their rooms. Let them enjoy the ironic Alan Partridge adventure.)
Invite all the family, both sides. We all have relations who are socially unacceptable. Asking them nonetheless will be lauded as a reflection of your sweet nature. Ask even the exes. Better that they are the ones who make the decision whether or not to attend. Otherwise, you’ll get that first wife who pitched up uninvited and dumped her filthy children in the front pew, loudly announcing: ‘Daddy’s whore is going to look after you now.’ True story.
Unless they’re in regimental uniform, don’t put the ushers in matching outfits. They’ll look like a naff ad in a chain-store window. Morning suits are best, provided they’re black, but allow model’s own choice of tie and waistcoat. Individuality makes for charm. Do be especially wary of kilts. Kilts can go either way. Too immaculate, and they look suburban. Grunged up a little oh wow!
Yes, do invite children. It’s not fair to lumber young parents with child-care issues for a whole weekend. However, make it clear that the little darlings’ role is to be adorably visible after the ceremony, but completely inaudible during. Hire an entertainer to keep them amused during the reception, but book him two hours earlier to run a treasure hunt in the churchyard during the service itself.
Nor should you, continuing the old actor’s advice, try working with animals. Remember that poor YouTube bride in her runaway carriage? At another unfortunate occasion, white doves were released as the cake was cut. One flew into an uncle’s nose, broke it, and was killed. Don’t laugh.
For the reception, adopt the ethos of the farmer’s market: locally sourced, and in season. The village musicians who remember the bride as a little girl will outshine the most glittering society orchestra. Rather than huge formal displays of hothouse lilies trailing a gigantic carbon footprint, loop swags of cheap greenery, and call it a fertility symbol. Constant Champagne doesn’t
really slake thirst, it just gives you a headache, if only at the bank. Switch halfway to a really delicious, flowery and not-too-alchoholic cup based on the local perry (in the West Country) or hock (in the South).
Don’t trap guests for hours at small tables with the same people. Offer substantial canapés as starters before everybody sits down, to allow people to flirt, reminisce and recriminate for as long as possible. Then, long tables laden with generous plats de la région to be passed round, to engender camaraderie and cut down on the bill for staff. No pudding: there’s cake. And, as the dancing begins, put out huge ashets of the county’s cheeses to keep people going all evening.
Have the best man vetted remorselessly, and, if you have the least misgivings, send him back. The best man, you can explain, is not the best friend, simply the most reliable. At one recent wedding, the chosen chap was going through gender reassignment, and nobody could take their eyes off his breasts during his speech. At another, the best man so hated the bride that he bribed the driver to lock the doors and take her, not to the church, but to rural Wisconsin.
Things will go wrong, of course they will, but if it’s all charmingly relaxed, you will gaily laugh. (Although not perhaps, I grant you, at another recent wedding at which the bride died during the first dance. True story.)
How to behave, whatever your role
Bride You are about to be papped remorselessly for hours on end. Don’t smoke. Don’t drink unless seated. Don’t chew. Come to think of it, once you’ve said ‘I do’, don’t even talk. Simply fulfil your role as the passive repository of other people’s fantasies. And, when choosing your dress, and those of your attendants, remember that the camera really does add 10lb
Groom Don’t book a long-distance honey-moon. You’ll both be shattered enough without jetlag and mosquito-bites to contend with. Go somewhere that doesn’t require air travel, but with a good spa and proper sheets. Sidmouth is terribly pretty
Best Man Three minutes. Then shut up
Mother of the Bride (MOB) Hair up. It’s not your place to attempt to be considered hot, so go for elegant
Father of the Bride (FOB) Cry. They’ll find it touching. If you can’t access your sensitive side, think of the bill
Mother of the Groom (MOG) If you can’t think of anything nice to say…
Father of the Groom (FOG) Lots of public displays of gallantry to the MOG, please, even if only to soothe the FOB’s misgivings
Ushers When the vicar asks for any just cause or impediment, do not shout out, as one groomsman did, ‘She can’t cook!’
Junior bridesmaids No make-up. Absolutely no sunbeds. That also goes for laser-peel treatment
Senior bridesmaids Try to remember that there are children and old people present
Guests Your task is simple: to dress stylishly, dance appropriately, and bring gifts. If the happy couple have been shacked up since university, and already own everything they need, it might be
better to contribute to the wedding itself. Offer to pay for the choristers, or better still, for a hamburger van to come and cook breakfast