Dearly beloved: all rise for Elvis Presley

Novelty and thematic weddings in Nevada's chapels of love
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The Independent Travel

Bobbie-Jean?" urges the bouffant-haired minister in a loud stage whisper. A pretty Hawaiian bride smiles nervously. "I want you to put your arms round Billie-Joe ­ stare deep into his eyes ­ and say, 'Billie ­ I lurve you, I really do'."

A shimmering crescendo from the electric organ, and the floral garland round Bobbie-Jean's shoulders starts shaking. She is not nervous: just trying hard to control her giggling. Her fiancé Billie-Joe, as handsome as a cartoon hero, runs fingers through his GI haircut and joins in the laughter. Somewhere in the congregation an elderly woman weeps.

This is Las Vegas Boulevard on an airless Saturday afternoon, and business in the Little White Chapel is brisk. But then, here is a town as famed for uniting couples as it is for stripping single-minded gamblers of their hard-earned cash.

Last month, and further along the boulevard, multi-millionaire media tycoon Chris Evans married the teenage pop singer Billie Piper in the wood panelled Little Church of the West. They join a string of celebrity couples marrying here, spanning vintage romantics including Elvis Presley and Priscilla Beaulieu, to Meg Mathews and Noel Gallagher ­ not that either of those unions was exactly auspicious.

Never mind: getting married here is the thing to do. Overall, an estimated 115,000 couples choose to wed in Nevada each year ­ and with more specialist UK tour operators featuring all-in wedding packages, "quickie" Las Vegas weddings are becoming increasingly popular with British couples.

Part of the appeal of Las Vegas is the ease with which you can arrange a ceremony. Unlike other weddings abroad, there are no blood tests to be taken, no residency waiting period, no faxing of passport pages, birth certificates or, if relevant, decree absolutes in advance of travel. All it takes is a trip to the county clerk's marriage licence bureau at the courthouse (200 South. Third Street), with $35 (£24) in hard cash, and then you're free to tailor-make your own wacky wedding.

And the tackier the better. As well as the speed with which you can tie up the legalities, Las Vegas also appeals to fun-loving couples, simply because anything goes. With more than 60 wedding chapels in town performing 315 ceremonies a day, the problem lies in narrowing down the options. Choices include drive-in chapels where the ceremony takes three minutes and you don't even have to turn the car engine off, to themed ceremonies such as the Elvis Special during which a Presley look-alike serenades the newlyweds and then escorts them around town in his pink Cadillac. Popular, too, is the Godfather-themed Gangster Wedding, and Life Is A Beach, during which two tanned musclemen carry the bride down the aisle to the sounds of The Beach Boys.

Las Vegas "wedding queen" is Charlotte Richards. A twice-married ordained minister with a penchant for leopard skin and big hair, she officiates at nine of the more famous chapels in town. In a career that has spanned 40 years, she has performed ceremonies for Michael Jordan, Joan Collins, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, and blessed Mickey Rooney in holy matrimony four times. She insists: "I'm not into stardom; I'm into the Bible."

Charlotte is a dab hand at bizarre requests. Her Little White Chapel in the Sky ­ essentially a hot-air balloon that floats across the Nevada desert ­ will doubtlessly appeal to the Mile High Club brigade. She has presided over weddings on horseback, while a bride-to-be was in labour, at the bedside of a dying man, from the top of a water slide ­ she will even marry your pets.

Tacking a wedding on to a Las Vegas break represented an adventure holiday with a difference for Carol and Pete Conway. The Manchester-based couple opted for a Kuoni Red Rock Desert Wedding with an Elvis minister talking them through their vows. At just under £1,000, the ceremony included a chauffeured limousine transfer from their Las Vegas hotel to the canyon, flowers, the minister's fees, video and photographs.

"We're both keen rock-climbers," explains Carol. "And Red Rock Canyon had always been on our wish list of places to visit. You can actually get married while climbing, in all your gear, which seems a novel way to tie the knot, but I fancied the idea of wearing something girlie for a change."

Appropriate clothing, should you come over all romantic during a Vegas holiday, is not a problem. Either opt for the sarong and flip-flop Billie Piper look, or hire a satin meringue from the Rent-A-Dress & Tux Shop on Paradise Road.

For some celebrity couples a Las Vegas wedding represents a curse normally reserved for appearances in Hello! magazine. Doomed alumni of the town's love chapels include Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford, Jane Fonda and Roger Vadim, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, and Joan Collins and Peter Holm.

It is to be hoped that the Evans' pre-nuptial agreements are all in order ­ but it must be said that a Vegas wedding is more about entertainment than longevity.

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