In my week

'Oh, my God,' said Lucy, 'it's Richard Branson. Again.' Turns out he's been following her as well
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The Independent Online
Richard Branson: either the guy's everywhere, or he's stalking me. He hasn't sent me any letters made of cut-out newsprint yet, but it's still disturbing when you can't go out for an innocent prowl without the bearded one making his presence known. One minute you're walking through some crowd, and the next a little knot forms in front of you and up he pops.

He did it again at the National Wedding Show. It was bad enough already being surrounded by nothing but couples and their pushchairs, fiancees and their mums, rank upon rank of Vaseline-smeared photos with oil-paint finish - but then a big door sesamed open. "Ooh, look," said Lucy, "there's a horse." It was indeed a horse. A white one or, for those in the know, a flea-bitten grey. Probably not the first horse in Olympia, but an unexpected sight none- theless. Then... "There's somebody on it," said Lucy. "He seems to be dressed like Davy Crockett." We shuffled among the rapidly forming knot, dazzled by the glare of lights bouncing off engagement rings. Then... "Oh, my God," said Lucy, "it's Richard Branson. Again." Turns out he's been following her, as well.

The National Wedding Show is a bit of a scream. For about five minutes. After that you start to get frou-frou overload. That and Bad Pun Fever. Seems that no firm that involves itself with the ghastly business of strapping some girlie into something she can't run away in, so the family can celebrate her sexual primacy can resist calling themselves by some monicker designed to raise a giggle, or the gorge, depending on your personality. I know what being surrounded by signs reading The Olde Bag Co Ltd, Brides of Paradise, Maid in Heaven, Love is in the Air balloon design and Choccywoccydoodah did to me. Virgin Brides seems mild in comparison.

Marriage and babies have this in common: everyone thinks that theirs was special. You know how parents believe that their vomit-encrusted blobs smell of roses? Married people do that about their weddings as well. You may not have been able to distinguish between their cream silk with the puffed sleeves and the skirt that looked like it had been dropped from a ladder and sewn up and the 15 others you saw that year, but it was a special dress. Little bits of net with sugared almonds in? Fights over the guest list? A toaster for each room in the house? A druid ceremony at dawn on the congested chalk member of the Cerne Abbas Giant? I've always thought that one of the advantages of being gay would be not having to go through all this. Evidently not. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation may have found that marriage is at its lowest level in 150 years, but that's because they're not counting the single-sex couples dressing up in tuxes and swearing to be supportive. Love, it seems, ain't really love until you've simpered in public.

And boy, they were simpering for England at Olympia. Imagine running a company that caters to weddings. You must have your simper tattooed on your face. There you are: PMT, fallen arches and trouble with the taxman, but when the bell pings, the smile has to come. "Oh, how lovely. Congratulations," you say as the 85th acned teenager of the day tells you she's signing up for the long haul. "You look bee- you-tiful," you lilt as she waddles meringue-like from the changing room; "five tiers with pink ribbons and a heart on the top? Gorgeous." And you note down the marital address so that in 9.9 years (Office of Population Censuses and Surveys) you can organise the divorce celebrations.

Down by the catwalk, where creations in tulle stalked on women who hadn't eaten in months, mums and daughters drifted with their arms round each other and sighed. We stood behind a couple. They wore matching nylon navy anoraks. She had her arm draped over his shoulders: from a distance it looked like affection; close up, you could tell from the tension in her neck that it was more clamp than cuddle. He had a fag cupped in his hand, glancing about him for security guards, then trod it out on the powder- blue carpet. Then a ballad that went something like "I've been kissed by a nose on the thing" came on and they swayed together, mouthing the lyrics. Sorry, but some practices should be confined to private spaces.

Then the cast of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers appeared, elbows flapping, and Branson was back. A trolley dolly in a Virgin Brides dress perched behind him, train trailing perilously below the horse's rear end. Flashbulbs popped. "Richard! Richard! Wave your hat!" cried the snappers. He waved his hat. "Get the girls to stand behind you and lift their skirts!" The last time I saw him, he perched on a mock- up Eurostar train at Disneyland and waved his conductor's hat. That was when I realised that it's not so much that he's following me, but that he'll do anything for a photocall. Remember: Margaret Thatcher wants you to Keep Britain Tidy. Lucy nudged me. "Let's just hope," she said, "they never launch Virgin Plumbing. He'd pose for that as well."

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