Chelsea's ground rules for her big day

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The secrecy and exclusivity of the former first daughter's wedding is tantalising the United States

It is a drama that has all of Washington agog this summer, shrouded in intrigue and deliberate secrecy. Murky issues of calendar and geography have at last been narrowed down, although this has nothing to do with engaging the enemy in Afghanistan but rather with an engagement of the marital kind.

Bit by tantalising bit, details of the upcoming wedding of Chelsea Clinton, the former first daughter, to her long-time boyfriend (and son of a convicted fraudster), Marc Mezvinsky, have begun to seep out.

Clear your diary for Saturday 31 July, please. Or don't bother, because your invitation didn't just get lost in the post, it's never coming.

Chelsea, who was just 12 when her father, Bill Clinton, was first elected President of the United States and who turned 30 this year, long ago read the riot act to him and to her mother, Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State. This is not going to turn into a free fest for anyone who ever gave them a campaign dollar.

The placing by Chelsea of a 400-guest limit on the affair is one of a few new insights into the fast-accelerating arrangements revealed by social writer Doree Shafrir in the latest issue of New York magazine and discussed on CBS.

That is a big wedding but by no means a huge one. And all those registered as friends of the bride must be personally known to her. No Democrat Party stiffs, then.

Of course, the services of a wedding planner have been solicited. He is Bryan Rafanelli of Boston, who has served as a fundraiser for the Clintons in that town in the past and whose partner ran Hillary Clinton's very effective gay and lesbian outreach during her ill-fated 2008 presidential effort.

Presumably it is Chelsea herself who decides on the designer of her wedding dress. We won't mention the unkind internet postings about the usefulness or otherwise of her mother in this department. Days ago the buzz was Oscar de la Renta. Now we are hearing Vera Wang is the preferred seamstress.

Nothing seems to be consuming more oxygen, however, than the matter of location. When rumours erupted last August that the happy couple were on the brink of tying the knot then, all eyes were on the mansion home of Ted Danson, the actor and Clinton family pal, on Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. He denied it and apparently the island has since been ruled out as too hard to get to.

The famous traffic miseries that beset the Hamptons, a playground of the rich and well connected at the far end of Long Island, means it has been removed from venue possibilities. Rather, we learn, the nuptials will take place somewhere in upstate New York that is no more than a three-hour car ride from Manhattan.

Such is the concern for discretion that even those who are to attend as guests do not yet know where they will be going. "The wedding planner will contact each guest directly a week in advance and let them know where it is," one family fundraising friend revealed.

Asked recently by a CNN political reporter whether negotiations to settle final arrangements for her daughter's wedding were as treacherous as those for Middle East peace, Hillary Clinton replied, "I'd probably call it a draw about now." Her husband, meanwhile, has allegedly been put on notice that if he is to give his daughter away, he had better lose some weight first.

"She doesn't think I'm in shape," the former president told CBS. "You know, she told me the other day, she said, 'Dad, the only thing you gotta do is walk me down the aisle and you gotta look good.' So I said, 'Well, what's your definition?' And she said: 'Oh, about 15 pounds.' So I'm about halfway home."

By the time he arrived in South Africa for the World Cup last weekend, he had added another item to his father-of-the-bride checklist. "I am going to try not to cry, because this isn't about me, it's about her.

"And if I am crying, then it becomes partly about me and I don't even want to be mentioned in the story except that I didn't stumble walking down the aisle."

Nothing is more sensitive than the small matter of the groom's father and his past. Marc Mezvinsky, a 32-year-old banker at Goldman Sachs, is the son of a former Democratic Congressman from Iowa, Ed Mezvinsky. His mother is Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky, who also served in Congress.

By rights the groom would be Democratic royalty but for the conviction of Ed Mezvinsky in 2002 on charges of defrauding friends and relatives – including his own mother-in-law – out of millions in phoney investment schemes. After six years in prison, he was released in 2008 but remains on parole. If he attends the wedding ceremony, Ed, who also suffers from bi-polar disorder, may not be at the reception.

That Chelsea and Marc would at some point do the decent deed was an open secret long before they finally sent an email to friends and family a little after Thanksgiving last November. There had been the rumours of a Danson Mansion wedding last August, after all.

They first met as schoolchildren in Washington DC and their paths crossed again at Stanford University in California. Reportedly, they didn't begin dating romantically until five years ago, however.

"We're sorry for the mass email," the joyous missive began, "but we wanted to wish everyone a belated Happy Thanksgiving! We also wanted to share that we are engaged! We didn't get married this past summer despite the stories to the contrary, but we are looking toward next summer and hope you all will be there to celebrate with us. Happy Holidays! Chelsea & Marc."

Allegedly, everything will transpire beneath the canvas of a banqueting tent and not just because they are scenic. A canopy will ensure nothing will be captured by snooping paparazzi cameras in helicopters above.

And we assume there will be no money-making deal with OK! or any other magazine for exclusive access.

Possible venues could include the field near Woodstock where Bob Dylan once headlined in that most famous of flower-power festivals – the father of the bride was once a hippy, of course – or perhaps, more prosaically, the garden of Cottage Clinton in Westchester County.

That way it will be a short haul home to bed in Manhattan for the guests when the last cork is popped and America's third most famous White House daughter – Malia and Sasha Obama share the mantle today – will have been given away.

First daughters: Presidential seal of approval

Tricia Nixon

The only first daughter to have her nuptials in the Rose Garden, she married Edward Ridley Finch Cox in June 1971 during the Vietnam War, and danced with her father to "Thank Heaven for Little Girls".

Amy Carter

Chose not to have her father give her away when she wed James Wentzel in September 1996 in Plains, Georgia.

Jenna Bush

Married Henry Hager in May 2008 at her father's ranch in Crawford, Texas. Her twin Barbara was the lone bridesmaid; half the 200 guests were family.

The Clinton dos (and don'ts)

Guests If you don't know Chelsea personally, you're off the list. Attendance has been capped at 400. Will her mum's boss, President Barack Obama, make the cut?

Location, location, location It's all about the secrecy, darling. Each guest will be personally contacted by the wedding planner a week before the big day to be told where the nuptials will be held.

Surroundings A banqueting tent is thought to have been chosen to protect the happy couple from helicopter-borne paparazzi.

Father of the bride Bill has to lose 15 pounds so he looks good walking his only child down the aisle.

Father of the groom It remains to be seen whether Ed Mezvinsky, the former Congressman who went to jail for fraud, will be attending.

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