Wedding ceremonies: My big day

They're cheesy and ruinous and likely to end in tears, but we still love a good wedding. As 'Confetti' opens in cinemas, Liz Hoggard celebrates the start of the matrimonial season, while Lucy Bulmer talks to some real British eccentrics
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The Independent Online

'Whenever I hear the Wedding March," said the German poet Heinrich Heine, "it reminds me of the music played for soldiers before they go into battle." Heine may have been reflecting on the trials that await the happy couple, but he could just as well have been talking about their guests. As the season creeps up and we find ourselves yet again scraping the depths of our credit limits to show up to another stag or hen weekend in a far-flung capital, or as we sit through the third round of toasts in as many years for the same bride, cynicism can infect even the hardiest romantic.

It's so easy to knock weddings, the commercialism, the vol-au-vents, but aren't they just the most brilliant fun? Of course they're cheesy. But all human life is here as generations and classes collide, from great- aunts in hats to fractious teens and camp wedding planners. You are sure to drink too much. Your best friends will be wearing the same kind of dress, one, two sizes smaller. It will rain. All weekend. But when else in life do you get the opportunity to have all the people you love in one room for one day? It really is the very best kind of theatre.

The wedding film Confetti, which opens a week on Friday, is being hailed as the funniest British comedy in years. Starring the cream of improv, from Green Wing to Peep Show, it follows a glossy magazine's search for the Most Original Wedding of the Year.

The three couples fighting it out include old-fashioned romantics dressed for a Hollywood musical; a pair of tennis pros who recreate the Wimbledon final; and two naturists who are not prepared to cover up even to spare mum's blushes.

Confetti, filmed as a documentary-style reality show in the run-up to the Big Day, celebrates a great British institution. Director Debbie Isitt says she was inspired by the drama - and expense - of her sister's real-life wedding preparations. "I thought I'd do some research so I hit the internet and typed in 'weddings' and a whole new world opened up to me. I didn't get out of that world for about two years. I just completely fell in love with the whole industry, got on the chatrooms with all the brides and had such a good time."

From Father of the Bride to Muriel's Wedding, it's hard to fail with a wedding film. Whether it's a classic Cinderella story - neglected heroine gets her man - or an exercise in social comedy, we all want to grin and grimace along. Four Weddings and a Funeral brilliantly nailed that long hot summer when you seemed to spend every weekend watching near-strangers getting hitched.

To celebrate the beginning of the season, we bring you a four-page wedding special. Here we meet the real people who had weddings straight out of Confetti, while overleaf is our etiquette guide on how to survive the modern wedding, e-list and all.

Because the institution which so recently seemed to be declining into redundancy is proving stubbornly resistant. Every year more than half a million people take the plunge, and now gay couples have joined the party with civil partnerships. After decades of steady decline, the numbers getting married are growing again; up 1 per cent last year.

Why? Because we all love a good wedding. So go on, enjoy it.

'The last night of the show was a magical moment'

Susan and Gary McDonald married with the cast of 'Guys and Dolls' on stage at the George Square Theatre in Edinburgh

"It was Gary who came up with the idea of getting married on stage," said Susan. "We were choreographing a production of Guys and Dolls and one night, chatting to the cast at the pub after rehearsals, he suggested it. We were engaged anyway and both knew straightaway it was the right thing, the right occasion. Dance is so important to us. We met through dance 10 years ago and we've made it a central part of our lives. Yet before I met Gary, I'd more or less stopped altogether. I'd qualified as a dance teacher before I went to university, but then I got a job in IT, got married and had two children and just stopped. Then one night, when my marriage was breaking up, a friend took me along to a Ceroc class and there was Gary. Our relationship started off as a dance partnership - the romance came later - and in 1998, we started our own dance company. Guys and Dolls was the perfect production for a wedding: it's very romantic, all about lovers. It was the last night, and after the show we asked the audience if they wanted to stay. All of them did except for one. The whole cast came back on, with some friends and family and my two children, and a local united reformed minister married us. You get this special post-performance high when you're working on a show and for us it was a magical moment to get married. We had a reception the next day for 150 people. Loads of our guests came in swing costume and danced. It was the perfect way to start our married life."

'I felt like a princess all day, not just a bride'

Ceri and Simon Silk were married in Elizabethan dress at Lumley Castle near Durham

"I've always wanted a romantic, fairytale wedding and as a child I always loved castles," says Ceri. "The idea to theme the day came after five bottles of champagne on the night we got engaged. We sent out Elizabethan scrolls as invites, addressing everyone as Lord and Lady or Duke and Duchess. We also sent a list of fancy dress shops where guests could hire costumes. They cost £15 to £60, and some people said they spent less than they would have on an outfit for a normal wedding. We didn't make it optional; some friends said at first they wouldn't dress up, and we had to say well, sorry, you can't be with us on our big day then. But they all did in the end. My mum was dressed as Queen Elizabeth I, the registrar as a medieval scribe. Simon was dressed up like Walter Raleigh and I was a princess in a raspberry-pink gown. We had wine and mead in earthenware cups, lots of meat dishes and root vegetables. We finished off with a disco in the dungeon. Every wedding day is memorable , but to me this was almost like a fantasy but it was real. I felt like a princess all day - not just a bride, a princess."

'I find something spiritual about being underwater'

Gavin and Eileen Anderson got married in the shark tank at Deep Sea World in Edinburgh

"A few years before we got married, my church was converted into flats," says Gavin. "I'm a keen diver, and someone from Deep Sea World said, 'Why not have it here?' Eileen and I love diving and I am an underwater photographer, so it was combining the two most important things in my life: my wedding and my love of the sea. I find something very spiritual about being under water. We decided to take our vows in Europe's largest tunnel tank along with 3,500 fish and seven sand tiger sharks. We wanted to have as normal a service as possible so we had helmets with communication systems to speak to the minister, who was in the glass viewing tunnel. We wore diving suits adapted to look like wedding outfits. Eileen had a white dress attached to hers, white booties and a tiara, and a special underwater bouquet with weights attached. I felt exhilarated as we said our vows. Friends and family crammed into the tunnel. The whole day cost about £8,000. It was an unusual wedding but we didn't do it as a gimmick; to us it was a very personal and meaningful ceremony."

'We decided it would be nice to get married naked'

David and Susan Fowell were married in the nude at South Hants holiday naturists club

"We'd been naturists for a few years before the wedding," said David. "We're not exhibitionists; for me, naturism is a family thing. It's a lovely way of life, very open and honest. When Sue got breast cancer and had to have a mastectomy a few years after we met, being a naturist stood her in good stead because she was comfortable with her body. That's the naturist way - we accept ourselves, we're all natural with lumps, bumps, scars, you name it. When we decided it would be nice to get married naked, Sue thought it could help other women in her position not to feel bad about their bodies. We had a clothed ceremony at a register office, then went along to South Hants Country Club where we had a blessing, performed by a naturist vicar called Father Bowles, and a wonderful party. Some of our guests weren't naturists and came clothed, which the club decided was OK on this occasion. It was a shame that some family members, like my brother and our children from previous marriages, refused to come because of the nudity. But since then some of them have come to the club with us anyway.