Why show-off weddings always end in tears: By a man who's been conducting them for ten years - and seen every catastrophe imaginable!
Bridal meltdowns, disappearing choirs, traumatised toddlers, monstrous mums and vintage blow-ups: I’ve seen them all in the years I’ve spent marrying people in church as a legally authorised celebrant.
That’s why I danced a jig for joy when Country Life magazine warned last week that the trend for super-expensive weddings has created the ‘nuptial equivalent of an arms race’.
For in my decade of marrying, I’ve learnt a very basic rule: the more elegantly simple (and cheap) the ceremony, the greater the guarantee that everything will go beautifully.
What I've learnt: For in my decade of marrying, I've learnt the more elegantly simple (and cheap) the ceremony, the greater the guarantee that everything will go beautifully
If the bride and her pals sort the dress and flowers, friends do the music and photos, and the family’s cook crafts the cake, the whole ceremony becomes a community of love.
By contrast, the couples who ignored my pleas for classy restraint often suffered as their over-planned nuptials flew off the rails.
They’d set themselves up to fail. Mega-costly weddings reduce bride and groom to a hyper-stressed mess. Their parents boil into cauldrons of rage at the merest hitch. The congregation’s role is reduced to mere bystanders at a peacock parade.
The more complexity one throws in, the more can go wrong. Families who set up their wedding as the ‘social event of the year’ provoke the gods of humility to throw thunderbolts.
After ten years of officiating, I’m hanging up my wedding-celebrant hat (newspaper journalism is less harrowing). So it’s time to reveal what goes wrong when it’s spend, spend, spend all the way up the aisle . . .
A wedding is an amazing thing: two people making a lifetime’s commitment. That’s not enough for some couples. They book an expensive musical act to push the wow- factor skywards.
‘Less is more,’ I warn them. ‘You’re the stars of this show. Let’s have no distractions.’
Nevertheless, I’ve had to sit through long, pointless ‘entertainment’ interludes that made me wonder if I were at a sacred ceremony or a cruise-liner cabaret. Does anyone really need an orchestra on stilts to add to the day?
At least those hired acts turned up, though.
When a 12-piece gospel choir failed to arrive at a ceremony, we suddenly had a packed church and no music.
I had to download their song-sheets from the internet, and borrow a guitar.
Looking like the worst kind of trendy, reggae-loving vicar, I had to sing the Bob Marley lyric: ‘Don’t worry about a thing, ’cause every little thing gonna be all right.’ Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling it…
The couples who ignored my pleas for classy restraint often suffered as their over-planned nuptials flew off the rails
As if a wedding day itself were not special enough, some people are convinced that it needs a ‘theme’ to make it properly special.
I try to hint to the couples: there is already a theme. The theme is that two people are going to exchange the most sacred and profound vows they will ever make in their lives, in front their families, loved ones and friends.
But no, it needs jazzing up — and everyone must buy or hire fancy dress. Even better if there is a comedy angle. I’ve seen Hawaiian hula wedding themes, Twenties gangsters, even sea creatures.
I can barely restrain myself from telling couples that, in years to come, people whose opinions you value are going to ask to see your wedding photos. How are you going to explain that?
There is always the threat of a meddling mother in the background, trying to up the ante, for fear that an elegantly restrained affair will reflect on her badly.
A monstrous mum may also fear that her child’s wedding will fail to be the star-spangled mega-ceremony that she always promised herself (if only she hadn’t married that useless man!)
One such lady, whose costly suggestions had been politely rebuffed, arrived an hour before the service to demand that I rip up the couple’s plans — to accommodate the seven-person film crew, complete with giant cameras, lights and sound-recording equipment, that she’d ordered as ‘a surprise’.
The real surprise was I banned the crew from the building.
Other mums have thought the ceremony a good opportunity to point out inadequacies in the dress, the planning or even the choice of partner. Ouch!
The many lovable mums I’ve met all know instinctively to sit at the front, wear a beautiful hat, and weep for joy from start to finish.
There’s a breed of groom who believes that splashing out shedloads of cash is much better than having to engage on any emotional level with their betrothal. Thus I’ve endured planning meetings with couples where the groom plays with his phone throughout and answers any question from me with: ‘Oh, that’s her decision, I’m just providing the funds’.
From experience, I know these are the very chaps who are guaranteed to start blubbing halfway through their vows. It’s the sudden shock of being struck by an emotion that gets them.
I TAKE THEE ... HIC!
Getting married is pressure enough without having to run around town at the last minute because the velvet cushion you bought for the rings clashes with the bride’s choice of bouquet.
All the hype can drive a man to drink. That’s why I tend to stand in the church doorway pre-ceremony and keep an eye on the pub across the road.
More than once I’ve had to drag out a groom having a meltdown before he sinks another double by explaining that I won’t marry anyone whom I consider inebriated.
By law, if anyone says their vows when drunk, they haven’t given proper consent, and the marriage is officially ‘voidable’. Hearing this sobers them up quickly.
If it can go wrong at a wedding, it will go wrong. It’s almost a basic law of science. That’s why I beg brides not to arrive in pre-war vintage cars.
The worst case was when a bride’s family hired a fleet of priceless Rolls-Royces. Each took its turn to break down on the short trip to the church. Those dead Rollers made the bride more than fashionably late. She was missing for two hours — a record in my experience.
By the time she arrived, guests were drifting off. You could almost hear the prosecco going flat at the reception.
I’m first to greet the bride on the big day. It’s almost always a pleasure — not least because 95 per cent of them arrive at the church door looking far too good to be married to any mortal man.
As for the others, I rather fear they set their minds on ‘that celebrity dress’, and are determined to get levered into it, regardless of shape, style or suitability.
As for tattoos poking out from underneath doily lace — well, call me old fashioned, but surely someone might have had the guts to drop a gentle hint or three?
They look cute on TV, but is your child really destined to be the next Bonnie Langford?
Behind the scenes, I’ve had the misfortune to watch cheery children reduced to weeping wrecks because they are forced to do a reading in front of 100 strangers, wearing new shoes that hurt.
If they don’t lock themselves in the toilet, their reading is inevitably mumbled at 100mph so that no one can hear it. But everyone says ‘Aaah . . .’ at the end.
Wasn’t child exploitation banned in the 1800s?
It’s bad luck for the bride and groom to glimpse each other on the morning of their nuptials. And that’s not mere superstition.
All the expense, hype and hysteria raise the couple’s emotions to a pitch beyond human endurance. Best keep them apart, or risk a titanic fallout.
Angry brides are not pretty. One stamped down the aisle in such a blur of red-faced fury that it made me frightened for the groom.
I knew the exact moment when our professional pianist glanced up to look at her, because his Wedding March suddenly went all Les Dawson.
The simplest, most romantic parts of the ceremony can be forgotten in the stampede to print invites on organic vellum and find centrepieces the size of suburban gardens for the reception tables.
Rings? Obvious, I thought, until one couple told me, at 4pm on the day before the event: ‘Oh, I thought you supplied them.’
And do the rings actually fit? Undersized jewellery once had me on the brink of calling the fire brigade for one poor bride.
When the ring finally was forced over a reddened knuckle, I declared with a sigh of relief: ‘Well that one’s going to stay on.’ The response from the pews was oddly muted.
I discovered later that I’d made my worst ever faux pas — it was her third marriage.
The kiss has also become a forgotten art in the rush to show off one’s spending power.
There is an optimum length of time for the wedding kiss. Couples do need to rehearse.
Instead, I’ve often seen the blink-and-you’ve-missed it embarrassed peck that makes the congregation wonder if the two really know each other. Worse still is the ‘get a room’ snog that makes mothers embarrassed and married men feel sad.
I’ve even seen startled couples do an emergency air-kiss. This usually prompts an ‘oh’ from the crowd, as though England have missed a penalty.