My parents got married in the Eighties. It was a lavish affair – a church service at St George’s, Hanover Square, followed by a reception at Claridge’s with all their friends and family. My mother’s dress was by David Emanuel: a champagne duchess satin confection with a 15ft train and a long silk tulle veil. Total perfection. I’ve always known that that was what I wanted – a big white wedding with all the trimmings.
I became engaged in November 2019 – a time when no one had ever uttered the words self-isolation or Zoom. First on my planning agenda was ‘when’: my grandparents were heaping on pressure for a 2020 wedding – ‘We will be dead soon,’ said one, and while summer was far too imminent, December seemed perfect. I have a penchant for all things Christmas and the vision of my guests draped in furs and diamonds, surrounded by a forest of twinkly Christmas trees, was right on the money.
Next up was ‘where’. I have a fair amount of experience with wedding venues: in a past life I played the saxophone in a band – the Saloon Stars; they are the best of the best (and of course are booked to play at my reception). One of the most memorable moments was at Dominic West’s wedding to Catherine FitzGerald when the groom got up on stage and played a duet with me on his clarinet. It was playing with the Saloon Stars that I discovered that while marquees are idyllic – think Arthur Guinness and Hannah Weiland’s boho Wiltshire wedding – the whimsical romance can somewhat collapse in a blustery storm, and therefore a December wedding at home was ruled out.
We quickly decided on Cowdray House, the beautiful West Sussex stately owned by Viscount Cowdray. While the plush interiors were alluring, it was the wheelchair accessibility – for my father – and the late alcohol licence – for my reprobate friends – that won me over.
In a few months, however, Covid swept across the world and the UK was in lockdown. By spring, parties were out of the question; but it was still unthinkable that Covid restrictions would impact our December wedding and in that vein, my fiancé Will Vanderspar and I continued planning.
By September 2020, the second wave seemed imminent and our 130-person extravaganza was almost certainly off the cards. At this point, I still didn’t have a dress as the stores had been closed. In the summer, my mother, sister and I had flights booked to Athens to meet with the glamorous Greek couturier Celia Kritharioti – but the flights were cancelled.
We spoke about the possibility of a micro-wedding – Chelsea Old Town Hall was the place for it in 2020, and while Irene Forte’s low-key nuptials were rather chic, I feared the ostentatious gown and abundance of glittering jewellery that I envisioned wearing would look a trifle silly on the King’s Road. And so Willy and I remained stoically committed to our original plan and postponed the wedding to December 2021.
A year and a half on from our engagement, having seen countless friends cancel, postpone or reduce the size of their weddings, we are tackling planning once more.
This time around, we are consulting the experts. Who better to seek advice from than Tom Freud, the founder of Atom Events, the ultra-high-end events planner that was responsible for Claudia Schiffer’s 2002 wedding to film producer Matthew Vaughn. Tom is reassuringly optimistic about December. As a general rule, his advice is to allow for a three-month buffer following a country’s expected end-of-lockdown date. ‘We won’t do events in the first three months to allow for drift,’ he explains. He is less positive about destination weddings. As long as a country can spontaneously close its borders or introduce radical curfews or quarantine laws without warning, his view is that a wedding abroad is hugely risky.
I also give Johnny Roxburgh a phone call. The royal events guru is now recommending Scotland to English clients looking to put on the sort of experiential destination wedding of which he is the master. ‘Take helicopters and go somewhere like Islay,’ he suggests. ‘On Islay, there’s golf and whisky tasting, and Gordon Campbell Gray has a fantastic hotel with a wonderful spa. You can spend a night there and then be driven by handsome kilted chauffeurs in Land Rovers across to The Fife Arms, in Braemar, where you could have a cèilidh and the pre-wedding dinner. I can imagine an autumn night, with everyone dancing around a roaring fire and having lobster.’
One other gem of advice that Johnny gave me was to put a little silk bag of sweets (non-sticky and without wrappers) under the pew of every bridesmaid and page boy in the church in the hope that they will sit quietly and perfectly still throughout the service.
During the pandemic, the Maldives has been the hot ticket for the wealthy craving ‘normal’ mask-free life. Guests are met at the jetty wearing full PPE and taken straight to their villa where they are given a Covid test. Upon receiving a negative result, the mask comes off and you are free to holiday without distancing restrictions. I talk to Emma Gold, founder of GSP Events, to see if this concept could work for a wedding day scenario. Emma suggests creating a luxurious Covid testing area for guests on arrival. ‘Give them a quick lateral flow test, provide a little entertainment and a glass of champagne, and if they are clear they head on in.’ This was an option Kim Kardashian West took for her controversial 40th birthday party in Polynesia.
Alternatively, I could organise for tests to be delivered to everyone the week before the wedding, or even send someone to administer the tests. At the last event Tom organised, they did just that. The event was scheduled to start at 7pm, and at 3pm, Tom dispatched an army of operatives to the home of every guest, staff member and performer to conduct a Covid test. Come 21 June, the need for extreme measures may be a thing of the past, but in times of such uncertainty, these are genuinely the conversations my family are having. At present, the government has not given any indication as to when masks will stop being mandatory. And therefore at the very least, to avoid the horror of having disposable blue masks littered throughout our precious wedding photos, I am tempted to provide guests with a chic alternative. London-based design company Contrado can hand-make fully bespoke options.
Finally, the question of finances. Like most couples, Willy and I have a finite budget and therefore simply cannot afford for large chunks of it to be lost due to sudden changes in Covid protocol or suppliers going bankrupt (sadly, something several friends of mine experienced last year). In normal circumstances, I would ring-fence our budget with a robust wedding insurance policy, but most brokers will no longer insure for weddings. John Lewis Finance, for example, has typically been a trusted safety net for engaged couples, but since March 2020 it has stopped selling new policies and has ‘no plans to restart’ their insurance provision.
Tom explains that for any aspect of our plans that involves committing 10 per cent of the budget, we will certainly undertake ‘a financial exercise’. This could be requesting a letter from the relevant company’s accountant ensuring that their client is in good financial standing, and will be for the next year.
Uncertainty and ever changing social restrictions are just some of the issues that engaged couples are grappling with. However, as Johnny reminded me, ‘Your wedding is meant to be fun, and planning your wedding is meant to be fun. It’s not meant to be a rollercoaster of anxiety.’ And so, with six months to go, Willy and I are cautiously, but optimistically, continuing with our plans for the big white winter wedding, and having as much fun as possible in the process.
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