It is nearly June, which means two things: Wimbledon and weddings. The bank holiday weekend is traditionally the start of peak wedding season. For twenty and thirtysomethings, though not exclusively, the summer months from here on in can be one long round of Mr and Mrs games and fancy dress, marquees and Reiss dresses, first dances and “Come on Eileen”, eccentric B&Bs and hungover brunches.
This is no bad thing. Everyone loves a wedding. Even the bitterest churl cannot fail to be moved by the joyful sight of two people declaring their love and embarking on a life together. For the happy couple, it is the start of something new and exciting; for everyone else, it’s pretty much the same old very nice thing each time – a chance to drink all day and dance all night with friends and family.
And while attending the wedding of someone you hold dear is hard to beat, reading about the wedding of someone you have never met is its own particular pleasure. In general, the further removed one is from the couple in question, the more there is to pore over. For the amateur social anthropologist the wedding offers much to feast on – the seating plans, the speeches, the family dynamics.
Wedding etiquette – wediquette? – is an industry in itself, with endless manuals and magazines rehashing the rules about veil length and top hat height, even though they have not changed in centuries. Not that one needs a manual. Since everyone has been to a wedding, and many have had one, there are an awful lot of back-seat brides out there.
The national obsession with wediquette – and it is, I think, a particularly British trait – explains why Lady Weymouth’s Revenge made the papers yesterday, in the kind of episode that occasionally canters off the pages of Tatler to remind everyone else how weird the aristocracy is.
To recap, when Emma McQuiston, as was, married Viscount Weymouth last year, her in-laws-to-be boycotted the ceremony. Lord and Lady Bath were angry about their son removing a mural from the ancestral home, Longleat. One can only imagine how upsetting it must be to lose a mural from a wing one doesn’t live in, just like that. In any case, Lady W, who has insisted that the murals were not binned but were “carefully preserved” in storage, has now put on an exhibition at Longleat which features as its centrepiece her wedding dress and a full-length oil painting of herself as a bride. She has essentially restaged her big day and stuck it in her in-laws’ former sitting room, which is quite the comeback. It also has all the things that wedding-watchers like best in other people’s celebrations – familial tensions, vulgarity, revenge.
A fascination with the nuptials of strangers also explains why the news of a 25-year-old man breaking off his engagement to a 23-year-old woman made headlines around the world this week. There is no good time to call off an engagement, particularly not when the betrothed in question are Rory McIlroy and Caroline Wozniacki, world-beaters in golf and tennis respectively.
The sports stars began their relationship more than two years ago and, like many excitable twentysomethings with a giant profile, frequently lived it in the public eye, attending each other’s events, tweeting pictures of their nights out, their mornings in and, in January, their engagement. It followed that when they split, that too would be a public event. McIlroy called off the wedding just days after the invitations were sent out, realising that he was not ready to commit. It is a brave thing to call a halt before the wedding train truly gathers steam, even braver, arguably, when he knows that the world is watching.
The weddings and, as it turns out, non-weddings of sportspeople hold a certain fascination. Blame it on the Beckhams. Ever since their gaudy carnival of romantic commitment in 1999, complete with doves, thrones and matching white, then purple, outfits, watching footballers get married has been something of a national sport.
Like the Longleat spat, it’s a class thing, an excuse to gawp at how the other half lives. When it is two sports stars getting married, the intrigue doubles. Are they competitive? How do two champions learn to compromise? One hopes we will never find out. For all that an engagement or wedding is a public declaration of love, at its heart is a private contract that concerns only two people, however many others might be watching.