My Telegraph piece about weddings.17th May 2017
Pippa Middleton’s getting married on Saturday. You may have missed it IF YOU’VE BEEN LIVING ON THE MOON. I went to the pub last night and a friend of mine, a man, went ‘Oooh, have you seen she’s got an orangery from Belgium for £100,000?’ I mean. Have we all lost our minds? Anyway, here’s my bit fanning the madness – a big piece about weddings for the Telegraph last weekend.
I am not married but I’ve been to 37822 weddings in the past few years. London weddings, country weddings, foreign weddings, both my parents’ second weddings. Even a sham wedding in Bermondsey for an ex-boyfriend’s colleague who was marrying his Indian flatmate for a visa. I am a wedding jedi. It sounds like a boast but it’s not meant to. I’m not that popular. It’s just the law these days that anyone aged between 25 and 37 spends every single summer weekend at a wedding.
Because weddings have taken growth hormones and gone all Lance Armstrong. Bigger. Madder. More competitive. My mother laments the old days, pre-1980s, when the tradition, at least for the British middle classes, was to have a wedding ceremony in a church, then a tea party. Glass of champagne, cucumber sandwich, slice of fruit cake so dense you could brain someone with it and then everybody shoved off. Job done.
But you wouldn’t get away with that today. What, no evening party? No dancing? No fireworks? As if. You need all of that now. Plus a castle and a videographer and the annual floral export of the Netherlands. When Pippa Middleton gets married next weekend there will almost certainly be a designer dress, a band, a photo booth and possibly a role for her cocker spaniel, Rafa.
Lovely, I know, when friends get married. Lovely lovely lovely. And I am not averse to a good party. There is just the creeping sense that weddings are about showing off. A milestone used not only to celebrate for richer for poorer and all that, but to prove your own popularity.
‘How many people are you having?’ one bride will ask another.
‘Oh, not that many. 160 or so,’ she will reply. ‘You?’
The other bride will shrug. ‘About 220 or so I think. The trouble is Pete’s family are enormous.’
I went to a barbecue not long ago where two fully-grown women, apparently blessed with all their faculties, spent half an hour discussing what colour napkin rings they should have at their respective weddings. And I don’t want to be one of those preachy people who bangs on about starving children in Africa but, guys, there literally are starving children in Africa. No one cares whether you have pink napkin rings or blue napkin rings or whether you go full anarchy and dispense with napkins rings altogether. (Quite weird I’m not married yet, given how open-minded and tolerant I am?)
So here’s my guide to the New Wedding Season. See you at a wedding this summer. I’ll be the one dribbling Espresso martinis on myself in the corner.
The bride will be in a white dress from Jenny Packham or Alice Temperley. Probably a white dress that resembles Kate Middleton’s wedding dress – lace sleeves, nipped-in waist, full silk skirt. Middle class girls are very into this Eleanor of Aquitaine look. Meringues have been out since Four Weddings and a Funeral. Female guests will be wearing a vibrant outfit from Sandro, Reiss or Whistles. Female guests aged 50 above will be wearing a hat from John Lewis they found in the back of their cupboard. There will be fewer hats on younger guests. Fascinators are a tiny bit common. It’s increasingly popular at Sloaney weddings for girls to stick some sort of flower in their hair – a rose, for example – or wear some sort of floral headband. Cressida Bonas, Prince Harry’s ex-girlfriend, nails this boho look.
If it’s a country wedding, the men will be in morning suits. If you’re doing a registry office number in London, it’ll be suits. No brown shoes, please. Occasionally you will have a waggish groom who decides he wants to jazz up his outfit by writing on the bottom of his brogues, as my friend Henry did when he got married last September. The word ‘HELP’ was written on the sole of his left shoe, and the word ‘ME’ was written on the right one. So when Henry and his bride knelt at the altar, the congregation had a good view of his SOS call. Such larks.
NEW FOR 2017: At Bridal Fashion Week in New York last month, Oscar de la Renta and Jenny Packham sent models in ivory wedding jumpsuits down the catwalk. A banging idea if you want to shock your new mother-in-law.
It will probably still be in a church even though the bride and groom aren’t much into God. Hymns will include Praise My Soul The King Of Heaven and I Vow To Thee My Country. There will be two readings – the one from Corinthians about clashing cymbals and then a non-religious one. Either the passage from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin that starts ‘Love is a temporary madness.’ Alternatively, as at four of the weddings I went to last year, it will be an Edward Monkton poem called ‘A lovely little dinousaur.’ A small baby will wail at the back of the church. A bored page boy will pick his nose and wipe his finger on his shorts. (NB. It is grander to have small pageboys and bridesmaids than grown-up bridesmaids. ‘Bridesmaids’. Not ‘flower girls’ unless you are at a wedding in America.) The vicar will make a short address about love in modern times and how wonderful it is that the couple before him, who he only met a few months ago, are so well-suited to one another. Everything will round off with a rendition of Jerusalem. Single guests will use church as an opportunity to check out who else in the congregation is attractive and also single.
NEW FOR 2017: You may perform an instant citizen’s arrest on anyone grumbling about clapping in church. Get with the programme, Grandpa.
CAN I INSTAGRAM IT?
Depends. You will doubtless have received a 50-page invitation for this wedding and this will probably include a few lines on the ‘social media policy’. Some invitations now ask that guests refrain from uploading any photos to social media. Other invitations will arrive with a ready-made hashtag – #theponsonbysmythes – and explicitly encourage guests to Instagram their wedding as much as possible. As ever, the usual rules apply with drunk posting. Be aware that what may seem amusing at midnight is probably less funny at 9am the following morning.
NEW FOR 2017: Charging Bars. Not even joking. An area at a wedding where guests can recharge their phones.
Potluck here. Sometimes brilliant; often not. You normally have at least two hours of mingling and drinking champagne between the end of the ceremony and sitting down for dinner. But I’ve known weddings where this gap has been more like four hours and I sat down for dinner so drunk I’d forgotten my own name. If you’re lucky, the speeches will once you’ve all sat just before dinner so you can give your legs a rest and waiters can mingle among you topping up your champagne glasses. If you’re unlucky, speeches will be held just before dinner while you’re still standing and you will finish your glass of champagne within the first three minutes. Father of the bride goes first, then the groom, then the best man. Increasingly, the bride will make a speech which I applaud (as long as I’m sitting down) because it’s 2017 and – HURRAH – everyone’s realised women can handle a few minutes of public speaking. At some weddings, there will be several best men and they will have written an embarrassing double act which drags on for ages. Boring because by this point everyone is approaching critical hunger levels.
NEW FOR 2017: Speeches will get even longer, with various parties using the opportunity to raise their political concerns.
As I mentioned in my Modern Manners column last weekend, canapes are vital at weddings. They form the ballast between church and dinner, when you will drink circa 71 glasses of champagne. But fighting for a canape at a wedding can be like fighting for a bag of rice from a UN helicopter so find out where the trays of food are coming from; station yourself near that area. Do not move. For dinner, the tables will be named after places the bride and groom have been on holiday and you will spend half an hour trying to locate ‘Val d’Isere.’ Once you’ve found your place and sat down, you might not even notice what you’re eating because you’re so pissed but it will probably be some sort of chicken or lamb. Or beef. Anyway, who cares about food by this point? More wine please!
NEW FOR 2017: More food coming out at midnight as wedding parties go on later. At a wedding I recently went to, bowls of chorizo macaroni cheese came out at 1am and, I am afraid to say, I went at them like a Labrador that’s snuck into the larder.
Champagne before dinner. Wine over dinner. On the table, there may be small bottles of homemade sloe gin or sloe vodka. These will be so strong they leave you blind for several hours. Expresso martinis are now often served with a brownie for pudding to perk everyone up for a spell of Barry White on the dancefloor.
NEW FOR 2017: Unicorn-themed cocktails. Sorry.
No longer fruit cake. Now more likely sponge or made from cheese. A pile of cupcakes is terribly TOWIE. Especially useful if a tray of cake or cheese board is left out as the night progresses, so whenever you’re having a sugar dip on the dance floor you can cram in another piece. Towards the end of any wedding, I can always be found hovering around the cheese board. Which might explain why I never end up snogging anyone on the dancefloor.
NEW FOR 2017: Cakes made of stacked doughnuts. Don’t blame me. The Americans started it.
Whether to a band or a DJ, the first dance is mostly excruciating. Excruciating for the bride and groom, even though they might have had dancing lessons beforehand; excruciating for everyone watching, knowing that they’ve got to rush on any second and start pelvic thrusting to Everything by Michael Buble. I tend to become overly enthusiastic at songs like ‘Don’t Stop’ Believin’ and anything by Queen, kick my shoes off and later find my foot impaled with shards of broken glass. Keeping your shoes on at all times is sensible.
NEW FOR 2017: A massive upsurge in people picking Ed Sheeran for their first dance.
Photo booths are now a legal obligation at weddings and come with a fancy-dress box so you can put on colourful wigs and oversized sunglasses. The lighting tends to be marvellously flattering in these photo booths so even if you’ve spilled 46 espresso martinis all over you, you are pleased with the results and stick them up on your fridge when you get home. At least one photographer is de rigeur but videographers are another popular extra – so every little detail of the day is recorded. From shots of the bride getting ready in her dressing gown that morning, to guests arriving at the church, to the point at which male guests remove their ties and knot them around their heads on the dancefloor, leaping around as if auditioning for the Bullingdon Club.
NEW FOR 2017: Tribute acts. David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen will be huge.
CARRIAGES AT MIDNIGHT
Still used as a phrase on wedding invitations as if we’re living in Georgian England and everyone is retiring to their B&Bs in a horse-drawn barouche. Even if you are cold and tired, do not steal someone else’s taxi. I spent two hours shivering on the verge of a strawberry farm in Hull last December because other wedding guests, even more drunk than me if you can imagine such a thing, kept taking the taxis we ordered back to the local Holiday Inn. I was so cold I wasn’t sure I’d survive the wait, but my friend Emma plucked the remaining block of stilton off the cheeseboard so we at least had a picnic to keep spirits up.
NEW FOR 2017: Not getting carriages at all, horse-drawn or otherwise, and sleeping in pre-booked teepees at the wedding venue. Bring your earplugs.
LUNCH THE NEXT DAY
If the wedding has been at the bride’s childhood house in the Home Counties, there will be a lunch party the day after the wedding. And this always seems like a good idea when you RSVP, but my advice is say no. You will wake up on Sunday morning with the sort of hangover which makes you question all your life choices and want to go home and lie on your sofa.
NEW FOR 2017: Remembering to say no to lunch the next day.
I used to be one of those irritating guests who thought ‘I’m not going to buy a present from the list, because I want to give my friends something special, not a set of placemats.’ I never bought anything from the list and would take months to choose a different, more personal present to the bride and groom. I generally went for a picture for their wall. When my friends Matt and Vix got married, I found a vintage, 1920s photo of Oxford, where they met, and framed it. But I forgot to give it to them until two years after their wedding. These days, I’ve recognised how lacklustre my admin abilities are so I buy a set of placemats off the list. Quicker. Easier. And it’s what the bride and groom actually want.
NEW FOR 2017: Amazon’s Wedding List service, launched last year, for thrillingly-discounted Le Creuset.
THANK YOU LETTERS
Tricky these days because it’s rare that the bride’s parents have paid for everything. If in doubt, I tend to be a total creep and write to the bride and groom and both sets of parents to thank them. Although I invariably forget to post the letters so they rattle around in my handbag for six or seven months.
NEW FOR 2017: Actually posting your thank you letters.
NB. A TIP FOR COUNTRY WEDDINGS
If you are going to a country wedding, book a taxi as soon as the invitation lands on your doormat, even if this is months in advance. Do not leave it until the morning of the wedding itself, find yourself astonished that Uber has not yet reached Norfolk, then ring the local cab firm demanding a taxi at midnight. I know. I’ve done this multiple times. Country cab firms have two cars driven by whiskery old men who want to be in bed by 1am. They get booked early. I slept in my car in a field after one wedding last summer, using my thin silk coat as a duvet. I felt like Captain Scott shivering on the Ross Ice Shelf, although Captain Scott probably wasn’t wearing a gold dress from Reiss.
Terribly jolly. All the 30-something guests will know each other from university drinking societies and be called things like Bongo and Wiffy. High hat count. There will be multiple page boys and bridesmaids in small silk outfits they wriggle in throughout the ceremony. The bride and groom will go away on the back of a tractor. The portaloos will be blocked by 9pm. Lots of snogging.
Chic and smaller than country weddings. Smaller hats, if any. Ideally held at the King’s Road registry office then everybody travels in a specially-hired London bus to the Chelsea Physic Garden or the Orangery at Kensington Palace for the reception. Anyone still standing at midnight will go on to a club, probably back on the King’s Road. Bliss because you don’t have to worry about a lack of taxis.
Mykonos/South of France/Provence
Everyone gets thoroughly over-excited about a foreign wedding because it’s often a three-day event, more carnival than a wedding, and it feels like you’re on holiday. Drinks the evening before the wedding, the wedding itself, some sort of brunch the day afterwards. The danger is overdoing it on the first night. I did this at a Thai wedding in February and then wished I was lying in bed throughout the beach ceremony the next day. There will be panama hats. Everyone will be sunburnt in the photographs. You avoid every other guest on the Sunday night flight back to Stansted.
Wear thermals. Wear a thick coat. Pack a woollen hat. This applies especially if it’s August.