‘I never even thought I wanted a traditional wedding. Then mine was cancelled because of coronavirus’

Harriet Hall
·6-min read

It was a Monday night when we realised we wanted to have a wedding. We had been engaged for two months, together for six years and had known we would marry one another since the first heady weeks of July 2013 when we met.

I’d never dreamed of getting married. Big weddings were always something other people did. They were for people who had grown up dreaming of being laced into a silk satin gown and walked down the aisle by their father or who swooned over diamonds and gilded rickety wooden chairs. I found the patriarchal traditions that danced around weddings like bunting in the wind rather sinister. Painted signs, paper doilies and jam jars filled with wildflowers were too cookie-cutter saccharine for me, and the idea of spending thousands of pounds on a one-day event that looked like everyone else’s felt bonkers to a member of the generation that had been air-dropped into the 2008 recession.

But we wanted to cement our relationship and to cast off the juvenile-sounding girlfriend/boyfriend monikers and the awkwardly utilitarian “partner” classification. We wanted to protect one another.

We discussed doing something low-key in London with just our closest friends in tow: a local venue followed by a pub reception, but soon discovered – after visiting an empty space under a railway arch that was charging a small fortune for hire – that the phrase “affordable wedding” is as oxymoronic as the one “small crowd”. Yet, the more we talked about our plans with married friends, the more we heard the sentence: “It’s expensive but there’s really nothing like standing in a room filled with everyone you love.” With friends and family spanning the globe in Australia, Copenhagen, Greece, Hong Kong, New York and LA, that phrase kept returning to our minds.

And so, like a pair of love drunk fools, we abandoned our better judgment and allowed ourselves to get swept up in the excitement, forking out an eyewatering deposit on a venue for a wedding of 50 people (which quickly became 90 as we pre-empted family politics). We leaned fully in to wedding mania – and we loved it.

Soon our evenings and weekends were dominated with poring over spreadsheets, learning calligraphy so we could make our invitations by hand and merrily clicking on Pinterest boards that were everything we’d once thought we hated. We went to wedding fairs and didn’t retch when asked to wear stickers saying “bride and groom to be” and beamed when vendors congratulated us as if they hadn’t done the same to 249 people before us that same day.

As midnight struck on 31 December, we whispered in one another’s ears ‘2020 will be our year’...

We began proudly scrimping and saving, turning down social events and adopting a scrupulous packed lunch schedule. We cancelled our streaming, newspaper and music subscriptions and ensured birthday and Christmas presents were wedding-only – small sacrifices to ensure our friends and family had the best day.

The final nail in my wedding-hating coffin came when my mother and I went to a bridal shop “for a laugh” and ended up with her weeping into her glass of prosecco and me standing in a white gown imagining my fiancee’s expression when he saw me in it. For all the horrors of bridal shopping, there’s nothing quite like slipping into a dress designed purely to make you look like a goddess for making you fall hook, line and sinker for the lot of it.

The wedding industry is among many sectors to be affected by the pandemic (Getty)
The wedding industry is among many sectors to be affected by the pandemic (Getty)

As midnight struck on 31 December, we whispered in one another’s ears “2020 will be our year”. And as the winter months wore on, the wedding was five months, four months – then suddenly just three months away. I began to furiously scrawl down ideas in the little wedding notebook I had been given for Christmas at an increasingly frenzied rate, I stressed over the minutiae and we danced nervously in the living room to our chosen possible first dance tracks to see how it might feel on the night. We started to get the first real jitters of excitement.

We were deep in our self-interested reverie when, on 7 January, Chinese authorities identified a novel coronavirus. Later that week we went to our food tasting and bickered over which starters we liked. When Italy went into lockdown in late February, I was still in denial and dithering over earrings. Weddings in early spring began to get crossed out of the diary.

How awful for them, we thought, while secretly exhaling that ours remained safely in June.

It’s surprisingly easy to unravel a year’s worth of work, unpicking the seams and dismantling each composite part

On 11 March the World Health Organisation declared Covid-19 a global pandemic. The superficiality of table plans and napkin shades began to fade to the backs of our minds; the future of our loved ones, the economy and society came sharply into view. What once felt so important to us now seemed completely trivial.

It wasn’t a surprise when we got the email from our venue that they’d be closing until July – a month after our wedding – but it still felt like a punch in the gut. The day had felt like a light at the end of an increasingly long and meandering tunnel and Boris Johnson’s proclamation that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time” made the thought of having all our people in the same room feel ever more poignant. I thought back to friends’ weddings that had passed joyfully without glitch.

This week, we began the process of getting in touch with insurers and cancelling everything. I don’t expect it to take long; it’s surprisingly easy to unravel a year’s worth of work, unpicking the seams and dismantling each composite part. Our suppliers, whose entire business and livelihoods are under threat, have been enormously kind to us – and we hope to still work with them. Now, we must decide if we should rearrange and throw all our hope into another date – but looking into the future feels impossible.

Five years ago while on a trip to Vegas, we had almost gotten married, but wimped out last minute when we saw the sad Little White Chapel standing hungover on the strip. Now we wish we had, because bridal bouquets and buttonholes feel so terribly unimportant now. Ultimately, we’ve had to accept that the wedding day we do eventually get may look very different from the one we had planned just a few weeks ago – but then again so, I expect, will everything.

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