Festival of Love: Southbank Centre hopes to conduct 160 weddings in a weekend

Call-out for couples “gay or straight, young or old”

Arts Correspondent

The Southbank Centre is to celebrate its own summer of love by conducting more than a hundred weddings on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall over the course of one weekend.

After putting out the call for all interested couples – “gay or straight, young or old” – last month, 60 have already signed up for the service, with space for another 100 more.

It is believed to be the biggest such ceremony staged by a cultural organisation. Jude Kelly, artistic director at the Centre, said the idea followed the passing of legislation to allow same-sex marriage in the UK.

“I wanted us to celebrate it,” she said of the law that came into force last year, adding it was about strangers coming together “for a public expression of love”.

The so-called Big Wedding Weekend is the culmination of the Southbank’s Summer Festival of Love, a two-month programme of talks, art installations, music and comedy. It even includes a workshop on improving the audience’s flirting.

Ms Kelly was keen to point out that the marriages would not feel “like a mass-market moment”, adding “it’s such a crucial day”.

The ceremonies will be split into 20 couples and run for 90 minutes with all the couples coming down the aisle together.

Each couple will have their own moment with the registrar and recite their vows individually with a celebration of all of them at the end. Each couple can have over 80 guests. The Southbank will also provide a wedding breakfast with entertainment.

Teresa and Wendy had their first real date along the South Bank: “We don’t want a ‘usual’ wedding. A date which celebrates not just our love, but the love of so many other people, in so many varieties, could not be a better way to share with our children the importance of the day.”

Poppy, who is marrying Anthony after being together for 17 years, said the idea of sharing their special day with lots of other people “sounds just perfect, silly, fun, romantic and outrageously different”.

The other reason to promote marrying at the Southbank was the cost, the artistic director said. Couples deciding to get married on the weekend of 30 August will be charged just £1,000.

Ms Kelly said: “It is so unbelievably expensive to get married; crippling. We wanted to say: ‘Here’s this wonderful public building, an amazing iconic space. We can marry you for £1,000,’ and that’s got to be something worth thinking about.”

Every single registrar in Lambeth has been booked out, so the Southbank will be the only place to get married in the borough that weekend.

Richard and Gary said they had been waiting 15 years to get married, and were “delighted and amazed” when the law was changed and were looking forward to a wedding “in this wonderful institution”.

Malcolm and Marilyn said: “We are in our youthful 60s and would like to show our grandchildren – five between us – that love and marriage can be celebrated at any time in life and be fun for everyone.”

Ms Kelly said it was likely they would stage a similar ceremony next year after the interest for this summer’s event.

“Maybe, marriage needs to be reinvented a bit. There are some things you want to keep traditional, something old… well this is something new,” she added.

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