Before I became a photographer I worked as wedding registrar for ten years. I conducted over 2000 weddings in that time, sometimes as many as eleven in one day. As you can imagine I was involved in some very interesting weddings and today I’d like to share one of my stories with you.
I interviewed the groom in the ceremony room prior to the ceremony starting. I’d married lots of couples in this room before but I’d never seen it decorated like this. There were thick white curtains from floor to ceiling all around the walls. The narrow aisle had lit candles running down either side of it. I knew that this was a warm room from previous ceremonies, but it was normally at its worst when all of the guests arrived. Today it was already sweltering.
The groom was standing nervously at the front of the room with a bright red face. He was wearing an ill fitting three piece suit. The waistcoat was padded. I was worried that by the time the ceremony started he would faint with the heat, never mind the emotional exhaustion that sometimes overcomes the couple getting married.
Grooms are often agitated or nervous before the ceremony so I always introduce myself and run the the ceremony so that they know exactly what is happening when. I also like to confirm that the arrangements are still in place for things like readings, the witnesses, the photographer, etc.
The groom knew none of the details at all. He didn’t know which vows he was saying, he didn’t know if there were any readings, never mind who was reading them and he had never met the photographer.
I knew I was in real trouble when I asked him what his occupation was. This is one of the details about the bride and groom that go in the register and onto the marriage certificate.
‘What’s that,’ he said. ‘What’s your occupation?’ I repeated. ‘What does that mean?’ I was confused. ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘I don’t get you.’ ‘What is your job?’ I asked. ‘Oh. I don’t work,’ he said.
‘What was your previous job?’ I asked. It’s common for people to be in between jobs so I’d normally put down their last employment in the Register. ‘I’ve never worked,’ he said.
‘Well have you trained for a job or got qualifications in a trade?’ ‘No. Nowt like that.’ ‘I can just put a line through the occupation box, unless there’s something, anything at all, you can suggest.’ ‘Nah, that’s,’ fine he said.
I left the groom in the ceremony room while I went outside to wait for the arrival of the bride. While I was waiting I chatted with the wedding co-ordinator. “He’s a character,’ I said. ‘This is going to be a long day,’ she replied. ‘They don’t seem to be your usual crowd,’ I said. ‘No. They paid £6000 for the whole wedding in cash. Twenty pound notes.’
The bride arrived in a horse drawn carriage. To this day I don’t know who was driving it, or if indeed there was anyone other than the bride inside. It was open topped and quite small, drawn by two white horses. The bride was big and her dress was even bigger. It overflowed the carriage on every side. The mounds of fabric were piled so high that I could only see the brides head.
The carriage came to a halt and the bride alighted. A slim step protruded from the side of the carriage and when the bride stood on it the whole carriage groaned and leant violently to the side. I thought the whole thing was going to tip over and flatten the poor bride. What made it worse was that she had both hands full trying to hold up her dress so that her feet could break free from all the layers of material.
The bride made the ground safely and the carriage sprung back into position. The horses looked visibly relieved.
I introduced myself to the bride. She was tall and powerfully built, like a South African rugby player who had stopped training and sat in his underpants eating tubs of ice cream all day, simmering in a pit of disillusionment. The waist was cinched in so tight that every bit of excess flab squirted out of the top of her dress as if someone had stood on a tube of toothpaste. Her cleavage started at her third chin and her boobs were so large they resembled a dead heat in a zeppelin race.
Her face naturally fell into a snarl, even when she wasn’t angry. I wondered what her face looked like when she was mad.
I asked the bride the same questions I asked her husband to be. She knew what an occupation was but she didn’t have one, had never had one and didn’t have any skills to get one. I put a line through the occupation box.
I ran through the ceremony with her and the reader had pulled out at the last minute. To be more precise, the bride had fallen out with her on the hen do and she was now not coming to the wedding at all. No one else volunteered so there was no reading at all now.
It was almost time to begin so I returned to the ceremony room. The guests had joined the groom in there and it was so hot it was like walking into an oven. The groom was puce. I asked the wedding co-ordinator to bring him a glass of water.
I stood at the front of the room waiting for the bride. I scanned the room. The men were all squirming in their suits, clearly unused to wearing them. They were also melting in the heat. They were were clearly outdoors types with weather-beaten skin, rough hands and broad shoulders. Most of them were bald with fat necks.
The women present all followed the same fashion. Their make-up was caked on so thick that their features were largely unidentifiable. They all had fat lips and busy hats. They were, without exception, all squeezed into revealing frocks two sizes too small. Flesh bulged out everywhere. I made a mental note to keep my eyes locked on the bride and groom during the ceremony so that I wouldn’t be distracted by a female guest crossing her legs in the front row.
The music started and the bride entered. It wasn’t the elegant glide down the aisle that she’d envisaged. There was so much fabric in the front of her dress that every time she took a step forward it got trapped under her foot and she had to stop to free it before she could move again. After this had happened three times the bride came up with an ingenious solution. She found that if she kicked her foot forward each time she took a step, it flicked the front of her dress out of the way and allowed her to plant her foot. A kick out with the other foot and she was moving.
So there was the bride, goose-stepping down the aisle like a soldier on parade. Her dress filled the aisle completely, so that her father on her arm had nowhere to stand. He trailed behind her like a lost child.
The bride’s flailing leg caught one of the lit candles in the aisle and knocked it over. I jumped forward to pull it out of the way. I had a vision of the bride being engulfed in flames as her dress caught fire. A shriek went up from the guests and a quick thinking lady hauled the candle out of the way, flashing me far more of her thigh than I’d ever wanted to see.
Miraculously the bride arrived at the front of the ceremony room unscathed. She gave the groom a deep, wet kiss. I began the ceremony.
I held it together until the groom had to repeat the declamatory words. He got mixed up when repeating his own name. To be fair he had a middle name as well as his first and last names. The guests began to laugh. He turned an even deeper shade of red and his hands began trembling. The bride, who may have sympathised with his nervousness, instead shouted at him to pull himself together. Her face crumpled into such a look of disgust I worried that he would expire on the spot.
The bride stumbled over the words she had to repeat too, but no-one laughed. Not a single person. They wouldn’t have dared.
The groom was sweating profusely and the tissue that I’d given him earlier was a sodden rag. He began to mop the sweat from his brow with the sleeves of his hired suit. The bride didn’t seem to mind. A bead of sweat was trickling down from her hairline, slowly making its way down her forehead. It was like the first rains on the savanna, forming a river to run through the dry and dusty plains of her make-up. The sweat, which I couldn’t take my eye off worked their way through the layers of her make-up like the Colorado river in the Grand Canyon. I didn’t dare look anywhere else, such as into her cavernous cleavage.
I came to the contractual words and the groom’s eyes began to fill up. The bride saw that he might start crying and her nostrils flared. She stopped blinking and looked at her fiancee. His tears disappeared.
They made it through to the end of the ceremony. The first kiss resembled a praying Mantis devouring its partner. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
While the couple were signing the register the photographer was preparing for his shots. ‘Good luck,’ I said. ‘I’ll need it,’ he said with resignation.
When the exit music started I directed the bride and groom up the aisle. With the bride taking up the entire aisle on her own, her new husband kept being pushed off into the guests seats as they left the room. The guests filed out after them and I followed.
I opened my jacket and loosened my tie. I was gulping in cool air. I was joined by the wedding co-ordinator. ‘You’ve only had this for an hour,’ she said. ‘I’ll be here until midnight.’