The other wedding of the century?
Tomorrow sees the long-awaited marriage of Ed Miliband and Justine Thornton. Richard Hall and Adam Sherwin help you get in the mood with a guide to the big day
Thursday 26 May 2011
Ed and Justine will follow a line of local celebrities through the doors of Langar Hall in Nottinghamshire to utter their vows. This dates back to the 1986 nuptials of Ken Kercheval, star of the US drama Dallas, who held his wedding reception there. More recently, the Tottenham Hotspur centre back Michael Dawson tied the knot there, as (going further back) did the actress Sarah Lancashire, known for her Coronation Street role as Raquel Watts, who brought with her a throng of soap stars of the late 1990s.
Langar Hall charges up to £25,000 for weekend marquee weddings, but the Milibands have opted for a smaller ceremony of around 50 people, costing about £5,500. The venue's owner Imogen Skirving said of the estate: "It's a very naturally pretty place, with lovely trees and parkland and it's quite small. We are able to give our guests privacy, which is what I think they are looking for." Built in 1837, the hall was once the home of Thomas Bayley, Ms Skirving's great grandfather, a coal magnate and the Liberal MP for Chesterfield from 1892 to 1906.
The locally-sourced menu includes steamed asparagus and lemon butter sauce as a starter; for the mains, roast saddle and chargrilled leg of Langar lamb, or grilled and stuffed aubergine with hummus and a mixed bean salad. Tradition is the order for dessert: knickerbocker glory, crème brulée or summer pudding. House wines at Langar Hall start from £20 a bottle, and the happy couple have also contributed 20 bottles of champagne for toasting – perhaps with the expectation that David would like to say a few kind words about his brother – at a total cost of £612.
Perhaps eager to avoid a political headache in choosing guests, Ed has been eager to emphasise the modest size of the wedding. He has described it as "small", whittling down the invites to include only family and "very close and old family friends".
The former Foreign Secretary David Miliband and his wife Louise are invited. One potential guest is Frances Osborne, wife of the Chancellor George Osborne, a close friend of Justine's since they studied together at Cambridge. The two went travelling together and remain chums. The former prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown are once again not invited. The Conservative Party will be represented by the proprietor Ms Skirving, who was a Tory councillor for a decade. As for the token "Pippa Middleton figure", alas, neither Ed Miliband's adviser, Polly Billington, nor his campaign organiser Rachel Kinnock, can make the big day.
As with the Duchess of Cambridge, Justine Thornton's dress will not be revealed until the day itself. She is understood to have made a more restrained choice than hiring the Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton. Justine's fashion choices for grand occasions – generally ridden with landmines for political spouses – have generally been well received. Stepping out at the royal wedding in April, the future Mrs Miliband wore a long dress of deep purple, accompanied by a matching suede jacket and hat; following Ed's election as Labour leader, she invested in a gamine new haircut and wardrobe, given the nod by fashion editors.
The best man
There will, as some media noted with relish, be no best man – despite Ed having been best man to his brother at his wedding 13 years ago. Ms Skirving explains: "I don't even think it'll be bridesmaids or too many people in there with them, just the registrar and the bride and groom and the witness. I don't know who the witness is, I would love to say it would be his brother, but I just don't know for sure."
Ms Skirving again: "I've got it written down here somewhere – I think the name was Hazel. They're definitely from the Rushcliffe register office."
The couple decided against having a wedding list. Guests who would like to send the couple a congratulatory token are asked to make a donation to charity. The beneficiaries will be the children's charity Barnardo's and Methodist Homes for the Aged, the Nottingham branch of which cared for Ms Thornton's grandmother for many years. Mr Miliband has already received one wedding gift. At the Christian Socialist Movement's 50th birthday party on Monday evening, he was presented with a framed drawing of the Christian socialist academic RH Tawney. One for the garden shed?
Although he describes himself as an atheist, Ed will acknowledge his Jewish heritage at the conclusion of the civil ceremony by taking part in the traditional wedding ritual of the "breaking of the glass" and stamping on a glass goblet wrapped in cloth. The ritual alludes to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70AD and also symbolises the fragility of the trust, commitment and love that make up a marriage.
The 'hag' do
A decidedly new mannish affair at the Miliband family home, with Justine in attendance (a joint hen and stag do – "hag do"). The night was low-key, and ultimately disappointing for paparazzi hoping to capture the Labour leader chilly and naked, chained to a lamppost. But Mr Miliband insisted that it would not be that dreary: "It won't be two Fabian Society lectures and half a pint of beer, as somebody suggested."
The street parties
The councils in areas most likely to see street parties on Ed and Justine's big day seemed ill-prepared for such an occurrence yesterday, only 48 hours before the nuptials. A spokeswoman for Doncaster Council, where Mr Miliband is an MP, said: "We have had no requests at present for street parties." Nor had the council yet received any applications to close streets for celebrations in Nottingham, Justine's home town and the nearest city to the ceremony.
A five-day trip to Europe; the happy couple will head off a day after the wedding. Our congratulations to them.
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