Unveiled: Thirty years of big, fat celebrity weddings

From Diana's royal puffball to Meg Matthews' Walkers-crisps canapes, the last 30 years have belonged to the big, fat celebrity wedding. Charlotte Sinclair talks to the people who made it all happen
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online

In 1981, as Britain was in the midst of a biting recession, Lady Diana Spencer married Prince Charles, while the world watched.

Elizabeth Emanuel, designer

"Until Diana's dress, wedding gowns had been uniformly the same: white, ankle-length, A-line, long-sleeved. We brought the wedding dress into high fashion. Diana was introduced to us by Vogue; she didn't yet have her own sense of style, but she loved the very theatrical, fairy-tale dresses we made. When she asked us to make her wedding dress, it was life-changing. She told us to be secretive, but there were no instructions from Buckingham Palace, no protocol.

There was so much speculation in the press after she wore a gown of ours to an official dinner, the Palace was forced to make an announcement through Reuters. The whole world went mad. There were photographers at the studio constantly and we had to take on security. We left false trails for the tabloids in the rubbish bins and we locked the dress in a trunk every night. We even made a spare dress in case our real design was leaked.

On the day itself we realised this wasn't just a wedding dress, it was a moment in history. We dressed her at Clarence House, with the bridesmaids and the Queen Mother. Diana was excited but very calm. There was a moment, waiting for the coach, when we all stood in total silence for what seemed like an age. Then she stepped into the carriage and the crowds went mad."

Nicky Haslam, interior designer and writer

"Princess Diana's wedding was extraordinary because it was a royal wedding. One thinks of watching the coronation on newsreels, there's this incredible formality to it, which doesn't exist now. It was certainly very traditional. There was a ball afterwards, given by the Queen, but Prince Charles and Princess Diana weren't there. In those days, the bride and groom left after their reception and went on honeymoon. To give a dance the night of your wedding was seen as incredibly bad form. The last thing you wanted was the bride getting reeling drunk so she couldn't consummate her marriage."

Bruce Oldfield, designer

"The Eighties was a showy decade. I made a dress for an Australian bride in 1984. We had three appointments and each time she said the sketches weren't quite right, until she finally said, 'You've missed the point. We want our guests to know we've spent an absolute bloody fortune and that this is Australia's royal wedding!'.

Even three or four years after Diana's fairy-princess dress, wedding gowns were changing to suit the times. This Australian bride wanted the full skirt, but also to be able to detach parts of the dress to reveal her very good figure; there were moves afoot to sex up wedding dresses."

Rob Van Helden, florist

"I started my business in 1986. Back then, carnations and chrysanthemums were standard wedding flowers, now they're so unfashionable, as is the way flowers were arranged then – all mixed together in one big vase. People certainly didn't spend money on flowers. Weddings followed a simple routine: ceremony, reception, meal, dancing. The wedding party sat on a long table and the dance floor was in front of them. Now the DJ is flown in from Ibiza and there's a secret nightclub revealed behind a curtain at the back of the marquee."

In the nineties, influenced by a growing culture of conspicuous consumption, weddings became more extravagant and individualised, assisted by changes in the law, in 1995, that meant civil ceremonies could now take place in castles, hotels or stately homes.

Meg Matthews

"Noel [Gallagher] and I were going to get married on Valentine's Day, 1997, on a barge in Little Venice, but it got leaked to The Sun so we had to cancel it. Noel said, 'Leave it to me'. We went and had our suits tailored at Daniel James in Savile Row (I had an amazing white suit modelled on the one Bianca Jagger wore to marry Mick, and a hat with a veil).

Noel said, 'The car is picking us up in the morning. We're going to get married. You can't tell anyone'. I remember passing Kate [Moss] on the stairs in the morning – she was living with us at the time – and I was carrying a huge hat box in my arms. I thought it was so obvious, but she didn't clock it.

I knew we were going to Las Vegas, but it was still a secret operation. Noel and I flew there via Phoenix. My mum and dad flew via Chicago. Noel's mum, Peggy, came via somewhere else. We all met up at the Liberace suite in Caesar's Palace at midnight, got dressed, then went to the Little Chapel of the West to get married. They played The Beatles, there was a beautiful big cake, flowers – and bottles and bottles of chilled Cristal. Even Walkers crisps. It was about four in the morning by this time, then we all went for steak and eggs and hit the blackjack tables. It was so much fun, just us, our family and Noel's manager and his wife.

There was all this rubbish printed about Noel being so drunk he couldn't remember his wedding, but he wasn't even drinking. I drank the Cristal! For our honeymoon, we went to New York. Everyone flew out – Dan Macmillan, Kate, DJ Shadow, we were all in our suite, partying. It wasn't about going away to a tropical island for a week – tradition wasn't in our heads. It was 1997, Oasis were at the peak of their career. It was rock'n'roll!"

Kate Halfpenny, bridal designer

"There were so many divorces happening in the late Eighties and early Nineties, marriage just wasn't as popular as it had been. Minimalism was in fashion so you had brides like Jemima Khan, in her elegant dress and jacket, or Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy in her simple white sheath dress."

Rob Van Helden

"My first huge, huge wedding was that of Prince Pavlos of Greece, in 1995. I had never seen a wedding like it. It went on for four days and there were 1,200 guests. In the Nineties, flowers became a luxury business. The flower world became like the chef world. You had your celebrity chefs and your celebrity floral designers. "

Phillipa Lepley, bridal designer

"The fabrics got ever more sophisticated in the Nineties. Those slubby silk dupions, or rough taffetas, were out. The look was cleaner, straighter – though brides still wore sleeves, which is not the case now."

The new millennium. After the recession of the late Nineties, a bullish economy was reflected in a rise in the average wedding costs, (from £10k in the 1980s, to £15k today), giving rise to a new wedding industry, worth millions of pounds – an industry which was quick to capitalise on the new laws regarding civil partnerships, passed in 2005, for gay couples, celebrated memorably by the wedding of Sir Elton John to David Furnish.

Alice du Parq, Brides Magazine

"Martha Stewart launched her magazine in the US in 1994. It took a few years but by the beginning of the Noughties, her influence was being felt in the UK, too. Here was a new way to do weddings – personalised, bespoke, hyper-individualised – which focused on making a visual impression. Couples began to create a continuous theme between the venue, flowers, cake, bridesmaids, cocktail and table décor."

Fiona Leahy, event planner

"A lot of upscale, modern weddings are a form of branding – they're a way for a couple to impart and share with guests their personal taste. The first wedding I organised was for Dita Von Teese and Marilyn Manson. Their stamp was on everything. It wasn't all plastic bats and striptease, it was chic, and quite Victorian in style. Couples are far more imaginative now with their weddings – especially since there's no pressure to get married at home. Huge numbers of couples now marry abroad, in France, Italy, Barbados."

Bruce Oldfield

"Everything has become more casual in our society, so of course couples want their wedding to be less formal, just as every generation wants less formality than the previous generation. It's an easing up of the rigours – which, in a bride, means not having to have a veil over her face, or wear a tiara. Now a wedding is as much about the ceremony as it is about dancing and having a good time with friends."

Nicky Haslam

"People clap in church now when the couple kiss. It's a completely new invention. You never had guests taking cameras into the church, taking pictures of the bride as she walked up the aisle. Nor would you have brides in strapless dresses in the church. Weddings have become more of a public spectacle. They're more a reason for everyone to get pissed. And they go on far too long – some are seven-hour marathons."

Kate Halfpenny

"No bride wants that strapless, A-line dress that was so popular five years ago. Very few brides want a corset, either, because there is now this obsession with being comfortable on your wedding day. Veils have become very unpopular, they're seen as too old-fashioned. Which is funny because vintage has been, for the past 10 years, a huge trend in fashion.

Some mothers of the bride I see absolutely adore the vintage dresses I make, because they remind them of what they wore themselves on their wedding day. Others hate them for the exact same reason. Although, brides are older now (and some onto their second or third marriages) so their mothers have far less say in what they wear – I've dressed brides for synagogue ceremonies who were definitely showing cleavage."

Alice du Parq

"Princess Diana was just 20 when she got married. It's rare for a bride to be that young now – the average bride in the UK is 34. Today's 20-year-old is carving out a career, or finishing university, dating, and figuring out the type of woman she wants to be. She's not thinking about being someone's wife. Most couples live together for years before they decide to marry. It means that wedding lists have changed, too: people already have the kettle and toaster by the time they walk down the aisle. "

Tom Konig Oppenheimer, co-owner of PR firm, The Communications Store

"When the civil partnership law changed we initially didn't want to get married – Adam and I have been together for 14 years, we didn't feel the need. But then we thought, actually, it's an honour, especially because, for decades, our type couldn't be recognised like that. It was a first for everyone, including us.

We'd never been to a gay wedding so we made it up from scratch. We married at Chelsea registry office, then we had 130 for dinner at Tramp's. I was working with Abercrombie & Fitch at the time; I thought, if we're going to be gay, we might as well be really gay, so we got the Abercrombie male models to come and serve vodka, semi-naked. I had recently 'won' Thandie Newton at an auction – so she sang after dinner. Simon Sebag Montefiore wrote the evening up for The Spectator (God knows what they thought) and Vogue covered it too – it was the first time they'd featured a gay wedding. It was a lovely, joyous night."

As the decade progressed, celebrity coverage became all-pervasive; couples could now imitate the weddings they saw in glossy magazines. And with the advance of the internet into our lives, couples could now access vast amounts of information – locations, flowers, food, themes – making the choice in how they wed almost infinite.

Rob Van Helden

"I've done a few footballers' and celebrity weddings that have been covered in Hello!. You have to keep the flowers under sheets to stop the paparazzi at the door from spying. Brides often come to me with pictures of Hollywood weddings – though they don't realise quite how much those American florists charge. With the vast scope of magazines and the internet, there's so much more choice, and brides have become more choosy. It's no coincidence that the term, Bridezilla, has come about."

Fiona Leahy

"The internet has made weddings more egalitarian. Unless you were royalty you wouldn't have your own monogram on your wedding invitation. Now, with computer-generated software, you can make your own. It's given couples more freedom to be individual and creative. It follows from the way we live now: we blog, we Tweet. It's all about self-definition."

Weddings became increasingly lavish, until, in 2007, the credit crunch strikes.

Rob Van Helden

"The build-up of spending power, up till 2007, was incredible. It was all about more, more, more, and, 'God, did you go to that wedding where there were 20,000 white roses?'. Then we were all brought back down to earth. People have started to believe in the elegance of a wedding, the simplicity. That less is more. It's all about a more relaxed sensibility at weddings now."

Fiona Leahy

"At a wedding in the Middle East, I organised, as favours for the guests, mahogany boxes containing individual perfume bottles from Henry Jacques in Paris, worth £500 each. Another occasion, I had to track down albino peacocks for an all-white themed reception. I've had to fly wedding cakes, business class, in their own seats, and send a driver to France to pick up foie gras for a wedding in Scotland. But I'm finding fewer people want to be ostentatious in that way now. People still want to be opulent, but in a less showy manner."

Bruce Oldfield

"I opened my shop in Beauchamp Place in late 2009. The first six months were very, very quiet. People were tightening their belts, downscaling their weddings. There was suddenly something vulgar about spending masses of money on a single day."

Vicky Ward, writer

"I wrote a book about Lehman Brothers. In August 2008, a senior-level banker at the firm had rented the biggest, most expensive house in St Tropez for his wedding. It was filled with his bride and all their guests, including those he'd flown over from the States at great expense, not least the photographer, Terry Richardson, who was there to take their wedding pictures. But where was the groom? Stuck in New York with a broken leg, and the shit about to hit the fan at Lehman's. No one in that office was going anywhere. In the end he got the red eye over to France, hobbled up the aisle – still wearing the clothes he flew in – saidhis vows, then got straight back on a plane and went home. God only knows how much money was wasted. Lehman's went down on 15 September. Talk about wedding of the moment."

In reaction to the extravagance, and in line with Britain's growing eco-awareness, weddings moved towards more low-key celebrations. Mimicking the bohemian atmosphere of a music festival – or the traditional village fête – country weddings became all the rage.

Kate Halfpenny

"The press say that I'm making Kate Moss's wedding dress – I'm not. I wouldn't be surprised if she had a quintessentially English wedding, teepees in an apple orchard, fairy lights, but with a rock'n'roll party edge. That kind of English wedding feels more modern than hiring the Dorchester and a sit-down dinner for 150."

On 29 april, Prince William will marry Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey.

Vicky Ward

"I think it's admirable William and Kate are conscious of austerity Britain, but this wedding is important for the world. No one will replace Diana, but Kate is the fairy tale again. There's no obscure, 'Whatever love is', with this couple, they really do seem to be in love. And everyone wants a wedding that reflects that. We're in need of a fairy tale."

Bruce Oldfield

"Royal weddings tend to be predictable, and this one will be predictable in so far as there are things that have to be done, in ways that are set. But there will certainly be some surprises. We're making quite a lot of things for the bridal party. People are going for it – hat makers are busy, shoemakers are busy, glove makers are busy. No one does a wedding like the English."

Comments