John Walsh: Tales of the City

'What would Jane Austen have made of the micro-management of Wayne and Coleen's big day?'
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The Independent Online

Chronic pessimists who complain that young people fail to value their parents' most lovingly cherished institutions – the monarchy, Des O'Connor, Antiques Roadshow – have had their suspicions confirmed by news that one British marriage in two now ends in divorce.

They can look at the number of children born out of wedlock, the decline in wedding frocks, the rise of pre-nuptial agreements and divorce specialists like Fiona Shackleton, and conclude that young folk don't take marriage seriously. But then, if they consider the example of Coleen McLoughlin, they will realise that some young folk take the institution very seriously indeed.

Well, the institution of weddings, anyway. Even the most yawning sceptic must be impressed by Coleen's cautious micro-management of her big day, 12 June, when she cleaves herself for life to the colourful and attractive sportsman Wayne Rooney.

God is in the details: the £2.5m magazine deal, the two-tier weddings in Italy and Liverpool, the troublesome relatives, the bride's stipulations about how much her fun-loving cousins may drink.

"This is a big deal for Coleen," remarked a sensitive friend. "She is even hoping to get the wedding into the American version of the glossy magazine, in the hope that it will launch her and Wayne as a major new celebrity couple there. She wants to launch Brand Rooney in the US, in the same way that Brand Beckham did."

Which is, of course, the dream of every young bride. Why, I'm sure if Jane Austen's best-loved book had gone on a bit longer, we'd have read something very similar...

"I wonder, my dear," said Mrs Bennett, "if I should wear the lilac taffeta to the ceremony in Portofino and the one in Croxteth. Or if I should change into a simple cream muslin for the Merseyside nuptials. What do you think?"

"I have spent five and sixty years without the slightest impulse to offer advice on ladies' fashions," said Mr Bennett. "It is a little late to start now. But who else is getting married apart from our Elizabeth?"

"Have you not heard?" cried his wife. "Lizzie insists on two weddings, one in a 16th-century Italian fortress, the other in a public house in Merseyside."

"In the name of Providence," gasped Mr Bennett. "Why embark on such a costly and divisive plan?"

"She is concerned," said Mrs Bennett, "about Mr Darcy's relatives. Some of them enjoy a reputation for unruliness. Excessive consumption of ale. Disarrayed clothing. Capacious vomiting. Unbridled fornication in the – "

"Stop!" cried Mr Bennett. "I cannot believe Darcy capable of such behaviour. Despite his initial stiffness, I warmed to him and hoped to welcome him as a son-in-law. And now you tell me..."

"It is not he who is the problem," said Mrs Bennett. "It is his cousins. There is Natalie, whose desire to secure a position as an undraped tableau in an artist's studio had led her to disrobe to her bloomers at social gatherings."

"Good heavens." Mr Bennett's cheeks had gone quite cerise.

"And there is her brother Stephen, who, as well as being an ostentatious lover of gentlemen, enjoys dressing in silk ballgowns, and copping off with scullery boys."

"Will he be wearing one in Portofino?" asked Mr Bennett, faintly.

"He is not invited. He will be joining the lower orders at the Pig & Scouser in Birkenhead."

"But, my dear," Mr Bennett persisted, "why does not Lizzie invite all the guests to just one nuptial event?"

"Because, my dear, of her contract with the journal."

"Forgive me," said her husband. "Which journal?"

"It is a popular journal entitled Very Well Then! which covers the lives of fashionable people in society. They have promised to give Lizzie and Mr Darcy 10,000 guineas for exclusive rights to report on their wedding."

"Good heavens," said Mr Bennett. "I am surprised they would find enough material in Lizzie and Darcy to make an article worth paying for."

"They are paying," said Mrs Bennett, "in the hope that people of fashion may attend, clad in loud and violently clashing attire, about which the fashion correspondent can make astringent and disobliging remarks."

"With which people of fashion are Elizabeth and Darcy intimate?"

"Oh they do not actually know them. But the people of fashion have promised to 'look in': Sir John Elton and David Ganymede, Sir Rodney Stewart and Lady Penny, Miss Jordan Breast and Sir Peter Andrew..."

"Enough," said her husband. "I have never heard of these people. I would rather be at the second party, away from the fashionable and the news-hounds."

"I fear," said his wife, "the press may attend that one too. Some of the Darcys have complained, so Lizzie has beseeched the editors to write about them."

"My dear!" Mr Bennett clutched his wife's arm in a frenzy. "That means our new in-laws' habitual behaviour, the puking and drinking and rutting et cetera, will be made public for all to see."

"Do not worry," his wife smiled. "Lizzie has taken the precaution of limiting the consumption of alcohol to no more than five bottles of White Lightning per guest."

"My word," said Mr Bennett, "our eldest daughter seems to have thought of everything. Although I cannot quite see what all this has to do with a celebration of a happy union between two young persons who love each other."

"I am surprised to find you so dull, Mr B," said Mrs Bennett with asperity. "It is not about celebrating a union. It is about launching Brand Darcy."