‘We don’t need no piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true’
Joni Mitchell, My Old Man, 1971
I think we can say conclusively that Joni Mitchell, when she wrote the above song at the back-end of the hippy era, had not been to the National Wedding Show. Because if she had done, her lyric, if accurately rendered, would read something more like:
We need a piece of paper from the city hall, keeping us tied and true, and we also need a fantastically expensive wedding, reception and honeymoon which will cost a small fortune, to show that we love each other.
Yes, I took a trip to the National Wedding Show at Olympia at the weekend. This is the place where that proposal, that down on one knee burbling of, ‘will you, my dear?’ turns into reality. The place where romance morphs into budgets and colour schemes and timelines. Where men realise what they have let themselves in for, and the women say, ‘don’t worry, just organise the music at the reception, and leave the rest to me.’
I wasn’t there because of any upcoming nuptials on my part. I was volunteering for Breakthrough Breast Cancer, for whom I also work. The people who organise the thing had generously given the charity a stand to promote our good cause. We spent our time chatting to the people about the various pins we had on offer which could be alternative wedding favours.
To give you some understanding of my level of innocence before attending on Sunday, I didn’t even know what a wedding favour was. For the unenlightened, they are the sugared almonds, or similar, that you get on the table when you sit down to a meal at a wedding. In the weddings I have attended, I have clearly scoffed the little blighters long before ascertaining that they are a traditional gesture of friendship from the happy couple.
The Wedding Fair was a bustling place, mostly with business-like mothers dragging their daughter and groom-to-be around, looking at dresses, places to get married, places to have receptions, caterers, the lot. It’s a place to gather ideas and start to scope out what’s out there.
Some were floating around the place, excited by the possibilities of it all. Others were utterly bewildered, finding out that, yes, even trifling things like confetti and cup cakes have got to be bought. And if you think you might struggle into the wedding dress of your dreams, there was even a Boot Camp to get you into shape.
There was some wonderfully novel sights to be seen down at the show. Opposite us was a heavy-set fellow from Scunthorpe who had a stand called Amazing Smile. This was offering a kind UV light treatment to the teeth, to whiten them, with prices starting at £89.99. I never knew such a product existed, and thought it preposterously expensive. But apparently this was very cheap and prices are usually in the hundreds of pounds. He did a roaring trade.
The Amazing Smile stand drew some interesting characters to it. Some of the ladies getting their gnashers done were in what you might call the Silvio Berlusconi class. But the biggest (in every way) customers were the Dream Boys. These are hen party specialists, appearing at various locations across the UK to do their show. Needless to say, they were all getting their teeth done, some quite possibly twice. It appears that the dream these boys were peddling was that of a group of men, quite possibly from Essex, with gym-built physiques and unnaturally whitened teeth, stripping down to the posing pouch. The show has been running for years, so it clearly works.
One of the blokes told us they support a different cancer charity each year, and have given tens of thousands to charity, including Breakthrough. So it appears that everyone is a winner.
By the end of Sunday, it had been a hard few days for many of the people working there. I saw models who had been doing the catwalk show hobbling about. Some of the stallholders were on autopilot – dreaming of being at home with their feet up.
When we tottered out of there, I wondered whether this modern obsession with highly elaborate, highly expensive weddings kills romance stone dead. I needed some sort of affirmation that people who get married aren’t just burdened by societal pressure and financial strain. On the cab back to the office, I prattled to the driver about the wedding show. He told me that it was the day of his ninth wedding anniversary, and he was out working.
Economics conquering love? Not a bit of it. He was taking his wife out for a meal the following day, he told me with a smile. A heartwarming tale to end a good, but rather unromantic day.