So, you’re getting married, eh? Months, maybe years, spent wondering if this person is ‘the one’, or at least ‘a one’, to hold on to. You pictured the wedding, read up on divorce statistics, ignored the financial implications, and paid ever closer attention to how well their parents have aged. Until, eventually, romance reached its tipping point.
Then your rom-com education then kicked in. The proposal had to be perfect. You were at your creative best: researching, spying and cosying up to their mates, in order to come up with a moment that they’d remember for the rest of their life. Or you casually suggested at 3am through a mouthful of grease and dead chicken. Either way, they only went and said yes! And now…
… the spreadsheets.
Oh yeah, the spreadsheets. Welcome to ‘wedmin’. No more romance; not until you do the kissy bit in front of everyone. For the next few months it’s budgeting, visiting, picking, arguing and compromising. The phrase ‘you can’t choose your family’ will go right out the window, as you cull aunts and reject cousins from the guest list. It’s like ‘Nam, man. I know, because last year I was there. But like all battles, you can win with the right tactics. So, here I bequeath you my wisdom, some tips I picked up along the way. I’ve bled so you don’t have to. In fact, you can flourish and plan a wedding that will make you feel like a total boss.
BE A LANDLORD FOR A DAY
Unless you’ve managed to transcend the physical boundaries of the Universe, you’ll need a venue for your wedding. Once upon a time, a couple would simply be bound in matrimony by a shaman, through the process of crushing a goat’s skull with a rock. Simple times. Then we moved onto the now-classic ‘church and reception’ model, still popular today and adapted for heathens to the ‘registry office and reception’ option.
The most important word, for you, is ‘reception’. This is your sphere of influence. Where you can marry is limited, but the world is your oyster when it comes to getting your funk on. Want to hire Wembley stadium? Recreate the cantina in Mos Eisley? Doable – if you’ve got sufficient credits.
Most people opt for a hotel or a venue (known these days as a ‘space’), but MY ADVICE: live every man’s dream and have your own pub for the day. Plenty are available. They do food, they have all the booze and won’t run out of it. Plus you get to scream, “Get aaaht. Yer barred!” at that uncle you never really liked because he’s not your real uncle, just your aunt’s special friend.
A good shout is to look pubs in businessy areas that don’t open on weekends. 150 people eating and drinking to excess is bonus business for them. There are loads in London around The City. We had ours at St Bart’s Brewery in Smithfield; good beer, great food, no bother, and they’re used to spilled pints and sausage roll fingers interfering with the upholstery.
PUT ON A SHOW
Things people judge at a wedding: the food, your clothes, the entertainment, the toilets. Things they’ll all talk about after a wedding: how drunk they were, people having sex, the entertainment. In this wedding Venn diagram, only one element sits in both circles: the entertainment. Which is just great, because this is where you can really splatter things with your identity. You’re putting on a show that screams YOU. In the plural, of course.
There is much to consider. Do you want background music while people loiter pre-meal? If so, is that a playlist, a jazz quartet or hiring Charlotte Church to whistle TV theme tunes for two hours? How about a magician? Magicians are cool and impressive, as long as none of your guests believes in witchcraft.
But the big show is the evening entertainment. It’s the finale, top of the bill, the headline act. And as such, it can also be bloody expensive: professional bands and DJs don’t come cheap. This may tempt you to cut corners, but tread carefully. You’ll need to hire equipment and know how to set it up. Creating a playlist means predicting the minute-by-minute mood of the crowd and adds a ton of work to your already weighty load. And getting your mate(s) to spin the wheels of steel/press things on an iPod, relies on your friends having both talent and the ability to stay sober.
MY ADVICE: If you have no such faith (hello!), or even if you do, investing in someone who knows how to read a dance floor, will cater to your tastes, and will tidy up after themselves, is a wise move. We hired DJ Rich S, a man whose Soundcloud sample impressed us with its inclusion of Ant & Dec, and he didn’t let us down.
NB. I include speeches as part of the entertainment, but I’m buggered if I’m taking responsibility for that. My only tip: people will forgive almost anything.
CREATE YOUR OWN PHOTO-SHOOT
A picture paints a thousand words, but when it comes to weddings, it need only spell out one of five: joy, affection, glamour, drunk, and drunkest. Choosing your wedding photographer is almost as important as choosing your spouse. If there’s risk in relying on a mate to DJ, relying on a mate or, far worse, a hashtag, for your photos is instigating immediate divorce proceedings. You need to go pro, not GoPro. So, MY ADVICE: Decide on the style you want, find a photographer who fits that style, and find the money to pay them, because in the years (maybe days) to come, the photos are the only way you or anyone else will be able to remember a damned thing about the wedding. And not only that, they’ll only record the good bits, so the images that live on will make your wobbly first dance look like a Vogue shoot.
We wanted a ‘reportage’ style shoot. Natural, like, rather than too much gurning and 37 different configurations of group shot, which made former BBC photojournalist Sharron Gibson ideal – as the images on this article prove. She may have witnessed some atrocities at our wedding, but at least she didn’t take photos of them.
LOOK A MILLION BUCKS (BUT SPEND LESS)
Oh, this is so much fun. If the rest of your wedding planning is stressful, buying a suit will be your happy place – and I cannot emphasise how happy. MY ADVICE: go bespoke. In terms of boosting self-confidence, it’s way better than beer or any kind of validation from a colleague or loved one. It hasn’t yet been scientifically proven, but in my experience, a bespoke suit doesn’t make you feel taller, it actually makes you taller (don’t worry, the tailor takes that into account with their measurements).
The joy of going in, being measured, being asked about cloth and cut and pockets and monograms and lapels and myriad other factors you never even think about when buying off the peg, is drug-like. Then your suit arrives, like a little sartorial Christmas. You try it on and one of two things happens: it fits like no item of clothing has ever fitted you before, or it doesn’t quite fit, it goes away for a few days, then it comes back and fits like no item of clothing has ever fitted you before. Oh, and while you’re at it, get a tailored shirt, too. It’s like having your clothes painted on.
I know what you’re thinking. I know exactly what you’re thinking at all times, in fact, but right now you’re thinking: “A bespoke suit will cost an arm and a leg, which perversely means that it’ll need less material, but still.” Well, that’s not the case anymore. Thank the internet and globalisation and other such advancements for the fact that you can now get a very good suit made, not cheaply, but affordably. I got mine made by Edit Suits, who began in Singapore and now have offices in Mayfair and near Liverpool Street station – and, if you live or work in London’s zones one or two, they will come to you. They guarantee your best-fitting suit ever; a suit that could cost as little as £399 (and once they have your measurements, you can order online). And there’s no drop in quality, not one inch. They would not let me leave unless I was 100% happy. Which I was, with a deep navy three-piece. And as you can see from the photographs, I looked the bomb.
GET THE WEDDING NIGHT RIGHT
Wash your mind out with carbolic acid, you revolting sex person. I’m not talking about how you do ‘the other’; I’m talking about making your first night of matrimony glamourous and special. You may not think it matters, you may just think it’s a place to sleep, shag and shower, but you’d be wrong. When you find yourself with your forehead pressed against a vending machine, weeping because your Hula Hoops are clinging on to their shelf for dear life and no amount of shoulder-barging will shift them, you’ll regret going budget. When you rise and face the prospect of washing your hair under a stream weaker than an old man’s piss, before heading downstairs for machine coffee and a ‘continental’ breakfast limited to a mini box of corn flakes and some individually-packaged ginger nuts, you’ll hate yourself cutting corners. This is one drop you should definitely add to the huge ocean of expense.
The advice: go boutique. Big, swanky hotels are great, but unless you’re planning on staying there for a few nights, you’re not going to get any use out of the gym, restaurants, on-demand pornography, or that laundry service where they fold your underpants. Get yourself a gorgeous-yet-petite place to stay: fewer rooms = a more personal touch. You'll know this, but Mr & Mrs Smith is a great place to start. We stayed at the Zetter Townhouse (conveniently a seven-minute walk from our reception) and they couldn’t have been lovelier. They also have a really, really good in-room snacks and drinks, which, no matter how much cake you’ve eaten, you will crave. No Hula Hoops, mind.
It’s also worth talking to nearby hotels and negotiating a discount for guests. They’ll often hold rooms more than long enough for great aunt Fanny to ask her neighbour’s teenage kid to enter an online code. Often they’ll let you use the code over the phone (not telegram, though). We managed to bagsy 20 rooms in the local Malmaison (an even-more-convenient four-minute walk from the reception) at a bargain price. It also makes the obligatory morning farewells a lot easier and, importantly, quicker.
BE A PREMIER LEAGUE MANAGER
I don’t mean you should sign up to something that’s lucrative in the short term, yet stressful, ageing, and inherently without stability or a long-term future. I mean you need to become the Boss. The Gaffer, without the gaffs. MY ADVICE: you need to strike the balance between delegation and micro-managing. You need to trust the pros (see above), but also have an eye for detail. Because it’s the details – or possibly pyrotechnics – that will set your wedding apart, make it your own. So, look to stamp your authority and personality on things like the menu, invites, place names and your website (yes, you should have a website: a one-stop shop for all your guests needs and questions, a handy gatherer of data like addresses and dietary requirements, and a really good place to stick a gift list or PayPal link, so that people can shower you with generosity). You want your wedding to have a ’brand identity’, from food to fonts. That sentence makes me want to puke, but trust me, you’ll thank me for it.
You also need to pick a team. Ushers are invaluable. They’re your friends and it’s amazing how much friends will up their game to help your wedding go smoothly. It was only when I saw the wedding photos that I realised half of what my lot had done (beyond even the carefully detailed instructions and ‘duty spreadsheet’ I’d micro-managed the arse off). Get friends and family involved elsewhere, too. Know someone who can bake? That’ll cut a few hundred quid off the bill. My mum, sister-in-law and mother-in-law baked two huge cakes and a ton of buns and brownies. All as good, probably better, than you’d get commercially. And all with that extra ingredient: love. Aw. My dad and a friend, both graphic designers, helped produce our invites and table plan.
Know any musicians? One friend played guitar at the ceremony, while we also got my brother-in-law’s covers band to play a 75-minute set before the DJ. We paid them, frankly, pittance (pittance and eternal gratitude).
It’s not exploitation – they will love it. It’s a huge honour. It just happens to be one that saves you a shedload money.
Finally, there’s your skipper, your Best Man. This tends to be a gut decision. You’ll stare into their eyes and know who’s up to the job. And if you’re really torn, some people have two best men – you might want the comedian and the straight man, the maverick and the steady ship. Luckily, mine came in one perfectly-formed package.
Importantly, don’t forget to thank the people who helped you. Our mums got perfume, the musicians got engraved silver plectrums, while I bought my dad and my best man personalised pens and wallets from Penheaven (because who doesn’t like pens and wallets?). They were a bit miffed that the wallets were empty, but on the whole, very chuffed.
JUST BLOODY ENJOY IT
That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? OK, this isn’t really wedding planning; this is finally letting go of the planning. Go out the night before, have a couple of beers to aid sleep, and accept that there’s bugger all you can do now. What happens the next day is in the lap of the gods, my friend. Get up in the morning, maybe go for a jog or pop to the gym to burn off any nerves, get a good breakfast in you, get that lovely suit on and stride out with a smile on your visage. Your best man will be with you every step of the way, geeing you along, remembering anything you might have forgotten, getting you where you need to be.
And when you get there, you’re going to see your girlfriend/boyfriend (for a few minutes more) looking more radiant, more vivid, more beautiful than you’ve ever seen them. And all around you will be people who wish you nothing but the very best of days and lives. Your own army of cheerleaders, who will all have a great time themselves. Just go with the flow and take it all in.
MY ADVICE: Don’t forget to spend some time with the other person whose wedding it is. It’s easy to get swept up with being a host, and you’ll feel like you’ve hardly spoken to anyone (I can barely remember talking to my parents) even though everyone comes to speak to you. But take ten minutes together, find a quiet vantage point, hold hands and survey what really is the best day of your lives.
Andrew Dickens is still married.