As the average cost of nuptials reaches £25,000.... a big wedding is the quickest way to the divorce court
By ESTHER RANTZEN - More by this author »
Last updated at 23:53pm on 29th August 2007 Comments
Maybe we British are not the most brilliant tennis players, maybe our cricket is sometimes feeble, but there is one summer sport we excel at - competitive weddings.
If putting on the biggest, grandest, glitziest weddings were an Olympic sport, we'd take the gold medal every time.
Figures show that most of us attend four weddings a year, and most of them have happened over the past three months.
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Jordan and Peter Andre's lavish wedding helped set the celebrity trend for splashing out on the big day
So we've all had ample opportunity to compare one with another. And that's the problem.
Brides - and their mothers - have become so competitive that hugely expensive weddings are now the norm.
Maybe this trend is one reason that while we excel at putting on opulent weddings, we are hopeless at making those marriages stick.
Look at the evidence.
As a nation, we are saving less money than ever, and that applies to our newlyweds most of all.
We spend as if there is no tomorrow.
Even though the bride and groom may be moving into their first house together, and bracing themselves against higher mortgages and a fearsome rise in property prices, they are happy to blow their nest- egg and even go deeply into debt to pay for an extravagant wedding.
The price of the average confetti-fest rises each year, until it towers over the British newlyweds like some monstrous three-tiered cake.
One survey concluded that the average cost of a wedding is £25,000. That's about the same as the average national annual income.
Of that gigantic sum, the cheapest bit is actually getting hitched - at £3.50 for a wedding certificate.
Maybe if the Chancellor hoiked that up to £350, and banned any bride from spending more than £500 on the rest, he'd deter all the daft conspicuous expenditure and we'd end up with more couples who invest greater energy in their relationship than they do in the place settings at their wedding.
So-called celebrities haven't helped; nor have the magazines that salivate over every detail of the wealth they squander.
Every time a footballer's girlfriend turns into a wife, she demands the whole Cinderella transformation, the Swarovski diamonds, the massively uplifted cleavage, the 30ft train, the chocolate fountains and rivers of champagne.
And where she goes, the fans follow, in their horse-drawn open carriages, along red carpets strewn with rose petals. It's nauseating.
We guests have our own bills to face. There's the outfit, the transport, and the accommodation. And, of course, the wedding present: £50 on average for a friend, rising to £70 for members of our family.
And at four weddings a year, that's quite an investment we make in other people's grand weddings.
The problem is that grandeur can paper over some very serious cracks.
A friend of mine, Anne, a clever, talented woman, a few years ago rebounded from a long relationship which had broken her heart, straight into a wedding with another man.
This was because, she confided to me: "I wanted to have my day as the fairy on the top of the Christmas tree. I had dreamed about it when I was a little girl. Now I felt I deserved it."
On the day, she looked the perfect bride; tall and elegant, with more silk-covered buttons running down her spine than I've ever seen.
Alas, her bridegroom deceived and deserted her a year after the honeymoon.
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The biggest wedding of the lot, but it ended in tears
Now she's alone, juggling the needs of her small daughter with her demanding career in the City.
If Anne, a highly intelligent company director, had been clear-eyed, if she'd considered making a life with this man after a quick, functional wedding ceremony with her friends - instead of the billowing marquee with all the village there to goggle - I don't believe she would ever have committed herself to such a bounder.
But, bruised by a broken relationship, dazzled by her dream of a glamorous wedding day, she could not see the truth. Alas, the subsequent marriage was a nightmare.
Another friend of mine, Jasmine, had the perfect wedding - at a vastly inflated cost.
The countryhouse hotel was awash with champagne, we all danced until dawn, and to immortalise the day she hired a professional make-up artist and the wedding photographer of the year.
Now, the photos are all she has to remember Paul by.
By an unfortunate chance I showed a picture of them dancing together on one of my TV programmes, and among the viewers was Valerie, the other fiancČe he'd just proposed to.
Furious, Valerie rang Paul's family while he was on his honeymoon. Meanwhile, Paul and Jasmine spent the week in Mauritius unaware of the rows ahead.
When they arrived at the airport to fly home, Paul rang his family to confirm their transport and was told the bad news.
He rejoined Jasmine, she cuddled up to him and asked: 'Any regrets, darling?'
"Just the one," he said. "I should have told you about Valerie."
His father had described the rage that awaited him in England, so he'd paused at the check-in to change their seat allocation, and Jasmine spent the flight back to Heathrow alone, in floods of tears, sitting beside two mystified strangers.
My wedding in 1978 was much cheaper, and fortunately not quite so dramatic.
I organised the whole event in three weeks, and I remember discussing the sparkling white wine with the caterer.
"You mean champagne, madam," he said.
"I mean white wine," I said firmly.
My dress was pretty, and useful.
It was peacock blue and I wore it many times afterwards - how many other brides can say that about the ridiculous confections they pay thousands of pounds for?
The register office was around the corner from our home, and the honeymoon was a weekend in a pretty hotel ten miles away. We weren't sitting on purple thrones, no doves took flight.
But we had all our family and friends around us, and the marriage lasted 22 years.
And that's when we gave our bank manager apoplexy by deciding to bless our marriage with a religious ceremony.
Unashamedly, I admit that was a lavish event.
Our son Joshua was our best man, our daughters Rebecca and Emily were our bridesmaids, I wore a Catherine Walker couture dress and a Philip Somerville hat, Desi, my late husband, wore an exquisite morning suit with an embroidered waistcoat.
A glorious soprano sang Desi's favourite September Song as we walked back down the aisle.
I didn't regret a penny of it.
Once again, we were surrounded by our family and friends, but this time we were making a public statement about decades of commitment; and above all, we were celebrating.
It wasn't about status, or competition, or flaunting our capacity to give a party.
It was not about a wedding; it was about a long, happy marriage which had already succeeded.
And surely if you want to throw a big party, that's the best reason of all - not just because you want more white ponies pulling your carriage than everyone else.