Eloping: the road to wedded bliss
Walking down the aisle in a big white dress with all eyes on you? It’s the stuff of nightmares for some. Much better to run away, writes Caroline Bishop.
Poor Wills and Kate. Like Charles and Diana before them, their forthcoming wedding is set to be a media frenzy, in which every element of the no doubt lavish affair (austerity wedding buffet notwithstanding) will be analysed and commented on by everyone from that man Nicholas Witchell to Fearne Cotton, Cat Deeley and Dancing On Ice presenter Philip Schofield. And unlike their forebears, this 21st century wedding will be at the mercy of social media, where every bead of sweat, unfortunate facial expression and wilting petal of the bridal bouquet will be twitpic’d and blogged about by the general public. It’s not surprising that even Wills, who must be used to being in the media glare by now, has already admitted to some pre-wedding jitters.
Princess fantasies aside, would any couple really want that pressure? Even the most bridezilla of women, who demands perfection of her country house white wedding for 200 guests, might wither under such scrutiny. As for those of us who already shudder at the thought of marrying in the traditional limelight-hogging manner, Wills and Kate’s impending nuptials inspire both admiration and horror. Westminster Abbey? A golden coach? An estimated two billion watching on the TV? If they can survive the day with a smile in place they’ll be doing well.
Frankly, all this imposed wedding fever is enough to make some of us normal, commoner couples rebel entirely and go down the other, increasingly popular route to wedded bliss: elopement.
Gone are the days when eloping meant running off to Gretna Green with your teenage boyfriend and a fiver in your pocket. These days an altogether more grown-up style of elopement is in fashion. A Mintel study in February 2011 showed the number of British couples getting married abroad has risen by 27% since 2005. And that doesn’t have to mean a tacky chapel in Vegas like Britney and K-Fed (though if that’s your bag, fair play to you). But it does mean a smaller do, less stress and a holiday to boot: what’s not to like?
Getting married on home turf is a mighty undertaking. It involves spreadsheets, table layouts complicated by family politics, bridesmaid tantrums, unwanted parental control-freakery and obsessive reading of the weather reports. Most of that can be immediately binned when deciding to marry on foreign shores. It’s a great excuse to invite fewer people – those honorary aunts and friends’ other halves you don’t actually like – after all, you couldn’t possibly ask them to pay for a flight and take time off work. What’s more, bridesmaids are no longer obligatory (for the same reasons), you’ve depowered your parents by choosing a location they’re not familiar with and the weather – if you pick the right destination – is pretty much guaranteed. That’s not to mention cost; given you’re dramatically downsizing the wedding breakfast, getting married abroad is actually cheaper than staying home. According to Mintel, the average cost of an overseas wedding last year was £6,585, around a third of the cost of UK nuptials. Bonus.
Who is it good for?
Anyone for whom the thought of walking down an aisle in a white dress is the stuff of nightmares rather than childhood dreams; those with politically complicated families; couples seeking a stress-free experience. 21st century eloping doesn’t have to mean cutting close family and friends out of proceedings but if you do want to take the minimalist route, running off to foreign shores is the easiest way to do it. Kim Morgan, a teacher from Cardiff, married her husband Al on the Big Island, Hawaii, with no guests; their wedding organiser and photographer doubled up as witnesses. “We had already been together for 14 years and were never very interested in the idea of a traditional wedding,” says Kim. “We also love travelling and to combine a wedding and an opportunity of going to a beautiful place on holiday was too good to pass up.” The result was a stress-free experience and a chance to spend some quality time together. “The ceremony was lovely, it took place in a beautiful garden near the beach at sunset but it did feel a bit surreal. We had a romantic meal afterwards, sitting outside in the tropical breeze by candlelight.”
Where to go?
The net is a good place to start for ideas. Canada was the most popular destination on www.marryabroad.co.uk last year, with India and Sri Lanka making the top ten. The Eurozone is looking a tad pricey these days so a farther flung destination may work out cheaper overall, despite the more expensive flights. Europe’s also a little close in today’s world of low-cost airlines, so if you really want to have an excuse to keep numbers down, think exotic. “The great thing about inviting fewer people is the event can be more luxurious,” says Charlotte Hand, director of marryabroad.co.uk. “The decision making process regarding the whole big day will be so much easier too.”
Some places are easier to get married in than others, so do your research (up to date legalities can be found on marryabroad.co.uk and fco.gov.uk). The red tape in some European countries such as France and Spain might threaten to undo all the de-stressing benefits of eloping in the first place, while the Caribbean, Gibraltar and Cyprus (not to mention Vegas) are much less paperwork-heavy.
How do you elope?
To make things a doddle, secure a wedding planner in your chosen destination, says Hand. “She will know local suppliers and will save you money and time by sourcing everything herself.”
“In Hawaii the wedding organiser sorted everything out for us and even got us an upgrade to a beach cabana rather than a standard room in the hotel,” adds Kim. “To complete the formalities we had to visit the registrar two days in advance but it didn't take long.”
However if you’d rather not have a wedding planner, it only takes a bit more time and organisation to do things yourself. Once you’ve picked a location, indulge in a spot of Googling and your wedding is but a couple of mouse clicks away. That’s what Alex and John Bartosiak-Smith did when deciding to get married in New York. “It was really, really easy to organise. We just went online and found an officiant who looked cool. In terms of a photographer, I saw a photograph online and it was a couple in the middle of Times Square and I just thought, whoever took that photograph, I’m going to find him.”
With a guest list of just seven, organising a reception was a doddle. “I just phoned up some restaurants from home and booked them, simple as that,” says Alex. In other words, eloping is organising a holiday with a few extras thrown in.
What are the consequences?
Granted, keeping things small and running off to foreign shores is bound to miff some people in your life, but if they’re really good friends they should be happy for you. Anyone who isn’t... well, just think of it as a social spring clean. The harder person to veto is your 90-year-old granny who can’t fly to Australia/India/Canada. For that, Hand has a nifty solution: “We would suggest to couples to arrange for their wedding to be streamed live to a computer back at home, so no one feels left out.” Some also have a party in the UK at a later date, but frankly, that seems to negate the whole principle of running away in the first place.
Fewer guests also means fewer gifts, so if you’re looking to stock your marital home, eloping probably isn’t for you. But if you’re the type to enjoy a trip round John Lewis zapping table cloths and Le Creuset ramekins, then you’re probably not looking for a fuss-free, non-traditional wedding anyway. Those who are, however, will return from their wedding and honeymoon rolled into one (another cash saver) with a great photo album, a golden tan and that inner zen that comes from having a relaxing spell in the sun. The dent in your bank balance is significantly smaller than it would have been if getting hitched in the UK – if you really want those ramekins, you can buy them yourself – and, best of all, your simple, streamlined wedding abroad means you probably spent more time on the day with the one person you’re meant to be hanging out with, your new spouse.