Don’t Tell The Bride

November 13th, 2014

by Leigh Chambers

Now I’m not averse to a bit of populist TV.  Indeed the two viewing highlights of my year are the Eurovision Song Contest (who doesn’t like a sequin or two?) and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (c’mon, celebrities eating witchetty grubs, what more could you want?) but even I had not watched Don’t Tell The Bride (BBC 3). I had seen the title as I’d scrolled through channels, searching for something to tickle the fancy, but never stopped, so when I got the call from the programme’s production office it was all a giant learning curve.


For those of you who may also be DTTB virgins, let me enlighten you.

The premise: Groom organises the wedding. Bride plays no part in the planning.

Practical Details: Groom has £12,000 to spend and three weeks to get it done. He must have no contact with the bride. The only thing she gets to veto is the dress which she tries on the day before the wedding.

Yeah, sounds good doesn’t it? What have I been doing all my viewing life? Witchetty grubs are so last year, darling.


DTTB has proved to be a bit of a hit and is now in its eighth series.  A quick look at past episodes will tell you why.  From grooms who spend all the money on the stag night to those who meticulously plan what they think is their bride’s idea of a perfect wedding (and guess what?) to those who just do what the hell they want (‘so she can really understand what it’s like to be in my head’), it’s compulsive – sometimes, car-crash – TV.


My groom, let’s call him Dave, didn’t quite put it like that when he called to ask if I would be his celebrant but the gist was clear.  He had three weeks to organise a wedding.  He was on Week 2.  Would I write and conduct the ceremony for he and his fiancée next week? Oh, and by the way, it was in a hot air balloon? Well, call it romantic, call it foolishness, call it mid-life crisis (if you dare) but reader, I married him.


I met Dave (enough teasing, that is his real name) at a coffee bar in Cambridge.  Harassed doesn’t even describe it.  Pleasingly, the show was doing what it said on the tin.  He hadn’t seen Elle, his fiancée, for two weeks.  The BBC had taken away his mobile phone and given him another, which they were monitoring to check he didn’t call Elle, and a camera crew had been with him continuously. Poor lad.


Over coffee, he told me about Elle.  How they had met at a friend’s party when she had insulted his tattoo, how he knew from the moment he saw her that he wanted to marry her and how she was the most special person in the world.  You see, even you’re melting now aren’t you? Any doubts I’d had were dispelled.  A man as much in love with a woman as any I’ve met.  Caught in a crazy TV show and trying to plan a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party themed reception, yes, but also sincere, devoted and serious.  We talked for about an hour, me asking all the usual questions I ask the bride and groom, the groom answering.


How to write a ceremony for two people when only one has contributed? I decided that the easiest thing would be to address the ceremony to Elle, pitch it as something that Dave and I had put together based on what he’d told me, and hope that she liked it because we’d done our best and he loved her.


Yes, he wanted readings.  Yes, he wanted handfasting.  Yes, he wanted music.  But with only a week to go and very little space in that balloon basket the readings and the music fast disappeared.  We kept the handfasting though and came up with a ceremony that was succinct but full of character, reflecting not only the bizarre circumstances in which they were going to find themselves on their wedding day, but also their unique relationship.  Elle sounded magnificent.  I was looking forward to meeting her.


On the day itself, she arrived in the grounds of Shuttleworth Agricultural College (where Dave had once studied) on the back of an American GI Jeep (she loves vintage) with at least six bridesmaids in tow (she has lots of best friends).  She was, said Dave, wearing the dress he had chosen for her.  A good start.


High fives all round to the Beeb who simply filmed what happened.  There was no ‘stand over there and look weepy,’ no ‘have an argument about this’.  I can’t vouch for the others in the series, of course, but what you see with David and Elle’s wedding is what happened.  No camera tricks or stage management.


It was snug in that balloon basket – me, Dave, Elle, a cameraman, a sound man and the balloon operator – but up we went. The balloon was tethered but we still climbed to about 100 feet and then bounced back down again, and then up and then down.  We rose and fell throughout the ceremony.  There’s a metaphor there somewhere.  Elle shivered in her strapless dress and the sound of the burner firing up every now and then meant I had to halt mid-sentence at various points.  But Dave and Elle’s joy at being reunited was undiminished and their pleasure in being together obvious.  And Elle was neither thrown off step by the hot air balloon or by the sight of the strange woman who would be marrying her.  Magnificent indeed.


The guests on the ground followed the ceremony via a video-link and another camera attached to what looked like a remote controlled mini-aeroplane circled around the balloon itself.  We heard cheers and laughter at the relevant moments and amidst the madness of it all, Dave and Elle held hands and declared their love.


When we landed, I gave them a fond farewell before they disappeared into the College itself to do the legal bit. As I was leaving, the programme’s producer chased after me to ask if I would sign the consent form for TV broadcast and, by the way, was I the celebrant who had married her friends Lucy and Ant last year? Yes, that was me. Aha. Small world.


Conclusions.  It may not have been every celebrant’s cup of tea but I had a ball.  It was an honour – as it always is – to share in a couple’s special day, and the love between Elle and Dave was as deep as the love between all the couples I marry.  Despite the bouncing balloon and the Tea Party awaiting them on the lawn, the seriousness of their intentions was never in question, and they enjoyed themselves too.


Goodness knows how much of me will end up in the final cut – perhaps just a voice or a hand. I wore my big green Happy Humanist badge in case the camera did pan my way.  It is clear, at least, I think that the wedding is not a civil wedding and who knows humanism may get a mention.  If so, that alone would be worth it.  If not, it was still worth it.  And not just because the hot air balloon was a blast.  Isn’t it always a pleasure to marry two people in love?  And not a witchetty grub in sight.