Ye olde British wedding wows Americans

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The Independent Online
GUESTS at the wedding of William Saxby, an estate agent, and Flora O'Connor, a nurse, at Holy Trinity Church, Brompton, London, last Saturday, were taken aback. Filming them, close enough to record every whisper, every breath, was a team from the US television network CBS. 'Atmosphere, atmosphere, boys,' shouted the cameraman. 'I don't want dialogue, I want the hats.'

Hats, he explained later, are the latest American fad. Thanks to the success of the film Four Weddings and a Funeral, Americans are clamouring for the spectacle of traditional British weddings.

Since the film, which stars Hugh Grant and Andie MacDowell (in a large hat), took pounds 47m at the US box office, smart London churches have been overwhelmed by requests from Americans to attend an English wedding - or even to re-enact their own, in tails.

St Paul's, Knightsbridge, is a favourite, both because of its well-known location - and its proximity to the Franklin Hotel, probably the closest London resemblance to the country inn where MacDowell and Grant end up in bed.

'The number of Americans who want to stay here has shot up since the film,' explains its Old Etonian owner, David Naylor-Leyland, 38. 'I think it's because it is so very traditional, with four-poster beds, and it has, most unusually for a city, a garden. You wake up to tweeting birds rather than traffic.'

Meanwhile, St Paul's has received a burst of enquiries from newly-wed Americans asking if they can be blessed - in wedding dress with a full congregation and a service exactly like a traditional marriage, without a signing of the register. 'So far we haven't agreed to it,' explained a spokeswoman, 'but the demand is so great I expect we shall.'

There are also requests from a more ignorant element who want to get married there and assume they can have the ceremony in any church they like. 'For legal reasons this is simply impossible,' said a St Paul's clergyman. 'They have to live in the parish, or at least be on the electoral register.'

Apparently, smart Americans already talk as though a British-style marriage is second nature. A spokeswoman for Party Planners - the catering firm run by Lady Elizabeth Anson, the Queen's cousin - said American clients would never admit to the novelty of the proceedings.

'We've done three American weddings in the past month,' she said. 'One was at Magdalen College, Oxford, followed by a reception at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons. All the guests flew over specially - but if the idea came from the film, nobody was letting on.'

To be correctly attired is, of course, a most important factor in the proceedings, and according to Colin Woodhead of Moss Bros the Americans are fanatical about such matters. 'We get faxes weeks in advance detailing precise measurements,' he explains. 'But already, shops over there are starting to hire out tails as well as tuxedos. Details can be found in their equivalent of Country Life magazine, Town and Country.'

Strangely, country weddings have not taken off in quite the same fashion - despite the fact that two of the nuptials in Four Weddings are in rural settings. That Luton Hoo, a Bedfordshire stately home available for hire, should currently be in receivership, is sad testimony to this. 'Americans like to have the sophistication of London simultaneously with the aura of the countryside,' said a London-based hotel publicist, Nigel Massey, 'which is why there has been no significant rise in country hotel bookings'.

So, other than the hats, what is it about British nuptials that Americans find so appealing? According to Ali Svenson, an American who got married in the US but who has lived here for three years, it is primarily an aesthetic thing. 'The Americans simply do not have the churches or the settings with the history and tradition that the British have.'

Most fundamental, however, is the indomitable American aspiration to 'chase your dream'. They want to get married the British way . . . so they cross the Atlantic to do so.

There is however one aspect of Four Weddings and a Funeral that the visitors have so far chosen not to emulate.

Despite a surge of interest in the poems of W H Auden, whose 'Funeral Blues' is read aloud following the one death in the film, the traditional British funeral has as yet found no imitators.

(Photograph omitted)