I’ve never been a fan of the formalities of a traditional British wedding; the division of guests at the ceremony based on whose ‘side’ they are on; the pre-planned and almost always unbearingly uncomfortable speeches; the seemingly endless lulls after dinner before the party gets started (by which time you’re usually past the point of actually wanting to party) and the drawn-out, staged photoshoots singling out various guests dependant on how they know the bridal party i.e. long lost aunties, girl gangs from uni, boy gangs from uni and couples met while travelling, etc, etc.
I’ve also always found it totally ironic how much stress, confrontation, financial strain and anxiety can be caused by a single event, which is, in fact, supposed to bring so much happiness, love and contentment. Bizarre, non?
We tried to make our own wedding non-conventional, eliminating all of the above bugbears and opting for a daytime pool party in Ibiza with best friends, bowl food, DJs and definitely no staged photography. Even this paired-back wedding, however, took months to plan and cost thousands to execute. It was a beautiful day, but I couldn’t help thinking at the time how we could’ve made it even more simple and more intimate. More about just us and the commitment we were making to each other.
Fast forward ten years and we’re in Greece with our two boys, my parents, my niece, Hattie (23) and her boyfriend, Max (25). The trip was planned as a celebration for my 40th birthday, my dad’s belated retirement and Hattie and Max’s impending departure to move abroad to distant shores. Our Grecian resort is stunning - white sands, crystal clear shallows and lush greenery all around. Oh, and a gorgeous, tiny, stone-built Greek church. Perfect for a cute, impromptu wedding!
It’s now Tuesday, day four of our ten-day trip when Hattie comes booming into our hotel room with news. “Guess what! Max and I have just enquired about whether we can get married in the little church here before we go home.” Her face illuminated with sheer love and excitement. Her and Max have been together for just under a year. They met at work in a hotel and haven’t spent a night apart since. They are the perfect character and emotional balance for each other - Hattie is confident, talkative and impulsive. Max is modest, calm and rational. Both, quite obviously, smitten in love and perfect for the other.
Hattie gushes about how Max had suggested the idea earlier and how they immediately went to enquire at the hotel reception whether it could be possible. With only 6 days left in Greece and only 1 English- speaking, legal registrar in the area, the chances seemed slim to me, but I tried to stay optimistic as not to dampen their ever-so-hopeful spirits. We were sworn not to tell a soul, not even my parents, until we had further news about whether the hotel could make it happen in time. We drank a cocktail and celebrated the sheer thought of it nonetheless!
The next morning, I wake up to a single WhatsApp message: “The wedding is on! Clear your diary for Friday!”
My parents are thrilled. They have pretty much brought Hattie up as their own daughter since birth, and my dad, 81 years’ young, is totally made up that he will get to give her away at the altar. Mum, the practical one, makes a list of the things we need to sort out in the next 48 hours – a dress for Hattie, a shirt for Max, two rings, some flowers, nail varnish, a photographer, a hairdresser and something fun to do after the ceremony.
That afternoon, we head into Afitos, the cutest Greek chocolate box town, to search for our wedding essentials. Hattie finds her dress in literally the first shop we look in. It’s perfect; a long, white, silk Grecian slip with a low back and gold chain detail to highlight her beautifully tanned and slender back. It’s been handmade by a local Greek designer and with a price tag of only €180, it’s hands-down one of the most beautiful wedding gowns I’ve ever seen on.
The dress is a bit long, so the shop owner walks us down the street to her friend’s shop who pins the dress and promises to have it shortened and ready to pick up in just one hour for a further €20! We laugh at how if this was the UK, we would be made to wait weeks for even a dress fitting, followed by a further few weeks (or months) to have any amends made, followed by a bill that would make your heart stop momentarily. With most modern brides spending an average of around £2,000 on their wedding dress (a dress that will have a lifespan of a maximum of around 8 hours) it’s no wonder their quest for perfection always seems so drawn out and stressful. Completely the opposite to the experience we have just had.
While in town, we also pick up things like nude nail varnish, two wedding bands (they were 20 Euros each from a local jeweller) and a white linen shirt for Max from a friendly boutique. Now the shopping is complete, we find a picture-perfect balcony to sit on, overlooking the main square, and enjoy a local beer, olives and family chit-chat.
Back at the hotel, the concierge connects Hattie to Anna Wolfhart – the resort’s resident wedding planner. And so, the WhatsApp wedding planning begins! Anna enquires as to whether Hattie and Max would prefer to meet up in person to discuss a few details for the wedding or whether they are happy to confirm everything via WhatsApp. They opt for the latter. Why waste a precious hour of sunbathing after all when you can plan direct from your sun lounger?
Within a short period of WhatsApping back and forth, the timings have been decided, the flowers have been ordered, a cake has been chosen and the photographer has been booked! Plus, Anna has booked Hattie in with the hotel’s hairdresser on Friday morning. She will do her own makeup. It’s as simple as that.
Everything is calm and chilled. We spend Thursday sunbathing by the pool, talking about normal things and eating Tzatziki. No one is stressed and there is nothing else to sort out. As we chill together on the sun lounges, I struggle to get the notion out of my mind how most couples spend around eighteen months planning their wedding day, whereas we just managed to plan one in a day! Surely, there must be a catch?
Negative. No catch at all. Whatsoever. The wedding ceremony is magical. Totally relaxed, intimate and romantic. Hattie’s hair is simple and just the way she likes it. Her makeup is natural and glowing. No need to endure the hours of bridal make-up or caked-on hairspray that other brides do. Her flowers are made up of lavender and local wild white flowers, and cost only €50. And, they were delivered to her by golf buggy 3 minutes before she walked down the aisle. She isn’t flustered in the slightest. After all, as long as Max shows up, what is there to fluster about?
And, of course, Max does show up. He looks dashingly handsome in his linen shirt and khaki chinos (the same ones he wore two nights ago at dinner) and my seven-year-old looks adorable as the world’s youngest ever best man. The church is undressed but beautiful in its natural glory. The registrar is casual and cheery. It’s all just so perfect. As far as weddings go, it’s my absolute favourite one ever. No doubt about it.
As the nuptials come to an end, we toast with champagne and have a little dance to the songs on the playlist that Hattie uploaded to Spotify the previous day. We pop back our hotel rooms, whip off our wedding attire and head straight back out in our shorts and tees for an early evening catamaran ride to watch the sun set as we sip rosé, laugh together and watch as the boys played endless games of hide and seek with the boat crew in the cabin.
The whole wedding cost a total of €1250 Euros, took a maximum of 2 hours’ worth of WhatsApp planning and a half day of shopping. What it created was a lifetime of special memories, a union of two beautiful souls and some serious questioning about how I could now ever go to another wedding without wishing it was exactly the same as this one.
I'm sure there was a little bit of Greek luck that helped with the registrar being available at the right time and Hattie finding her dream dress straight away. However, compare this to the months or even years’ worth of planning, meetings, tears, debate, drama, falling out, paying out and stressing out that many couples go through, and I think I know which one I would recommend.
Getting married? Tempted for something simpler than the average? You should be. Just think of all the things you could be doing instead of plowing round those wedding shows, arguing with your partner about whether he can invite Steve from work or not, and trying to tame the inner Bridezilla you never knew you had in you. Not to mention enjoying the thousands of pounds you won’t have spent trying to please people you don’t really care that much about!