Wedding in New York

Easy, cheap, stress-free: these are not words normally associated with wedding planning. But an increasing number of British couples are finding that holy trinity by getting married in one particular city: New York.

With its iconic skyline and famous landmarks, the Big Apple has an aesthetic appeal which is matched by its easy access (a direct six hour flight) and even easier logistics; all you need to get married there is a license from the City Clerk’s Marriage Bureau, which can be picked up a minimum of 24 hours before.

Rebecca Balcombe, 24, married her husband Neil in New York last May, in front of close friends and family. “We got engaged in Egypt in a hot air balloon. So we don’t do things normally!” she says. Reluctant to spend £50 a head in Britain with the obligation to invite a wider circle of guests than they would truly like, the idea of getting married abroad appealed to them immediately. Once they’d decided on New York – “We’d never been and we always wanted to go” – a spot of internet research was all it took to set things up. “We literally Googled New York weddings and there are so many different wedding sites out here.” They found a minister and a photographer, booked a hotel in Times Square, a local restaurant for the reception and arranged their ceremony to take place in Shakespeare’s Garden, Central Park, all without leaving home. “It was unbelievably easy to arrange,” says Rebecca.

Alex Bartosiak-Smith and husband John had a similar experience when they got married in Central Park 18 months ago. “It was never going to be traditional. We wanted to do it for ourselves. It was the most important day for us, not for anyone else,” says John.

They invited just five guests to New York, a city they already knew and loved, for an intimate ceremony on Gapstow bridge against the backdrop of the Plaza hotel, followed by lunch at Central Park’s Boathouse and, later, cocktails in a rooftop bar at The Peninsular.

The couples picked their rings and outfits in Britain, while everything else was arranged over the phone or internet. “I just phoned up some restaurants from home and booked them, simple as that. It was no stress,” says Alex. Hair, make-up and flowers were all organised in New York after the couple arrived a week beforehand. So determined were they to have a stress-free time that they even splashed out on business class flights.

John adds: “Whenever we go on holiday Alex does a lot of research. So the wedding was almost a holiday but with a bit of extra work to do.”

For both couples becoming husband and wife in New York met their expectations in every way. “I wouldn’t change a thing,” says Rebecca. And, as the location automatically kept guest numbers down, the total cost was nothing like the £21,000 average price of a wedding in the UK. Rebecca and Neil spent around £9,000, including flights and seven nights in New York for three people (their other guests paid their own way). With some UK venues charging up to £5,000 even before you add the cost of catering, that may explain why many couples are attracted to the advantages offered by New York. If you really want to keep things simple you can even have a civil ceremony in the Manhattan Marriage Bureau itself for just $25.

Photographer Brian Friedman has taken the wedding photos for over a hundred British couples marrying in New York over the past two years, and understands the appeal of his hometown. “I think they are as fascinated with New York as I would be with London or Paris. A lot of people want a maybe more intimate, special affair. They don’t want to have 200 people, there may be some politics involved that they want to have a smaller get together. There’s a little bit of a financial advantage too.”

Having carved out this particular niche, Friedman sees it as his responsibility as a New Yorker to ensure his British clients have a successful wedding: “When you do weddings where the couples are local, you don’t help them as much as other people. But these guys come from 3,000 miles away, I felt like I want to take care of these people.”

He adds: “It’s a great juxtaposition to put British people into the New York city landscape, and because I’ve grown up in New York I think I am able to do that. I see things out of the corner of my eye, I see a cab or a bus or a sign that I know they will love. It came naturally.”

Getting married over the Atlantic has certainly pleased his clients, but what about their families? “Everyone was really supportive of us. If they couldn’t come it was acceptable, because it was a lot of money. But we knew that the important people were going to be there,” says Rebecca. “When we got home, a month after, we had a party for all our friends and family so we got the best of both worlds really.”

And the best advantage of marrying in New York? You’re already on your honeymoon.

By Caroline Bishop

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