Just back from a 48-hour, hen party bender in Cheltenham which has left me this evening, a Sunday evening, quite tired and emotionally needy on the sofa, weeping at Nanny McPhee. It reminded me about the below…
From Tatler’s January 2015 issue:
‘Morning,’ say chirpy colleagues on a Monday. ‘Nice weekend?’ ‘Sort of,’ I reply. ‘I spent it drinking luminous cocktails through a penis-shaped straw at a blowjob class before going to a friend’s house and being served penis-shaped canapés by men who were entirely naked apart from an apron. Then we went out for dinner dressed in neon-pink clothing and I ended up in a karaoke bar singing “Let It Go”, before vomiting into my handbag in the cab home.’
This is no longer my idea of fun. I am not sure it ever was. The painful truth is that the hen weekend, never a particularly edifying spectacle, has got wildly out of control. No longer do I want to spend £200 every weekend on penis-shaped tat. No longer do I want to make small talk with a generously oiled male stripper in someone’s sitting room. No longer do I want to look at my diary and see every Saturday blacked out until 2017. And if I ever have to play another game of Mr and Mrs, I will seriously consider making my next holiday booking at the Dignitas clinic.
It’s the Americans’ fault. In 1940, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt held what was referred to as a ‘hen party’, not for a bride but for ‘cabinet wives and ladies of the press’ at the White House. No plastic-willy whistles there, one suspects. It wasn’t until the Sixties and the sexual revolution that the ‘bachelorette party’ became more mainstream in the US, as the antithesis to the bridal shower. It was out with recipe swapping and dainty cups of tea – and in with alcohol and L-plates.
By the mid-Eighties, the craze had arrived here. In 1981, Diana, Princess of Wales, went without a hen night, but five years later she, Pamela Stephenson and Sarah Ferguson ended up in Annabel’s dressed as policewomen after failing to crash Prince Andrew’s stag party. The hen night has been getting more ridiculous, more time-consuming, more absurd and more vein-burstingly expensive ever since.
A macaroon/fascinator/cocktail-making class in London, followed by drinks and dinner in the private room of a restaurant on the King’s Road? Get real – that’s an entry-level hen these days. What’s more likely is a weekend at Babington House for 15 of the bride’s very dearest girlfriends. ‘It’ll only cost £400 a head!’ says one of 17,283 emails you will receive from a hateful perky adult bridesmaid.
If you’re very unlucky, you may be forced abroad, to St Tropez or Barcelona, perhaps (‘Such fun!’ promises the initial email), where you share a room with a total stranger and spend the weekend drunkenly weaving through the narrow streets, feeling suspiciously like a character from something you once watched on TV called World’s Worst Tourists. Although… have you ever tried to organise a hen yourself ? That’s a pretty good approximation of purgatory too. ‘I was sorting out a bowling-and-supper hen at the Ham Yard Hotel recently, and one woman – let’s call her Clarissa – wanted us to change location because she couldn’t play because she was pregnant and the balls were too heavy. And Viola wanted to come for dinner not drinks, so wanted to only pay half. And Isabella only wanted spirits not wine. F**k off, quite frankly,’ says one beleaguered matron of honour.
The problem is that this is all so terribly un-British. We’re not supposed to show off or make a spectacle of ourselves. British girls absolutely shouldn’t be found, like one recent bride in a Harrogate nightclub, dressed as a palm tree while a gay stripper slapped her face with his willy. ‘I still have no words,’ she says, several months on.
Others have ended with more serious injuries. One friend had to organise a hen night for a mixed group of British and American women, so opted for a night at the Torture Garden – ‘Europe’s largest fetish club’ – in Brixton because ‘the Americans claimed that British girls were tame’.
‘A few things went wrong,’ she says. ‘First, I thought I’d booked the “less intense” night, so imagine my surprise when – five minutes in – one of the bridesmaids, dressed as a murdered nurse, was being fingered by a man on a leash. I also got trapped in a cage with people having sex on top of it.’ The bride then broke a rib when another hen stood on her back to tighten her corset.
Frankly, breaking a rib might be preferable to playing hen-do games – particularly Mr and Mrs, where everyone giggles when the bride is asked about her favourite position. Or the knickers game, where everyone brings a pair of underwear for the bride to take on honeymoon and she has to guess who brought which. (Isn’t the premise of this a bit weird?) One friend only remembered she was supposed to be bringing pants when she was already on the train to Devon, so had to give the hen a pair of her own (they were clean).
Ultimately, it’s the expense of all this larking about in penis paraphernalia that’s so crazy. I do, of course, want to rejoice in the fact that one of my friends is getting married – although isn’t that what a wedding is for? The cost of which is another matter altogether. I just suspect we could all get a bit pissed and silly and STILL be left with money to feed and clothe ourselves for the rest of the year.
The best hen night I’ve ever been to involved a dozen of us getting drunk on tequila at Santo, an unfussy Mexican on Portobello Road, and dancing until 3am in ponchos. Much more fun than fellating a black latex dildo at a blowjob masterclass called Milky Moments while the mother of the bride looks on.