‘Oh my God, she looks beautiful,’ I blubbed into a handkerchief as my best friend’s bride walked down the aisle. So far, par for the course for a wedding attendee. The problem was, in the same hand that I was holding the handkerchief, I was also holding a ring, a ring I was due to hand over to Alex when his bride, Katie, reached us at the altar. She was wearing white lace and I wore a column dress like the bridesmaids, but in sage green to their rose pink, with green accents picked out in the groomsmen’s trim. But I hadn’t thought about pockets. Male best men have pockets for rings – and hankies.
Alex and I met aged 13, when our physics teacher decided to sit us boy-girl-boy-girl. With a shared love of heavy rock and surreal jokes, we were soon as thick as thieves. I’d always been a bit of a tomboy and as my female contemporaries were putting on make-up and trying to get into nightclubs, I was hanging out with Alex and our male friends, listening to Slipknot and practising for the garage band we unimaginatively named Black Rose. My hair was dyed odd colours, while, with Kurt Cobain-style long hair, Alex thought he looked rocky, we joked that he looked more like a member of Hanson.
In our 20s, as school friends drifted away, Alex and I remained close. By then, we lived in different parts of the country, but spoke regularly and made an annual pilgrimage to Glastonbury together. When we were both single during these years, friends would ask, ‘What about Alex? You get on so well.’ ‘God no!’ I’d reply, ‘I know all of his worst points.’ And it was true. Ours was more of a brother-sister relationship, and that was precious to me.
Our phone calls have always been light-hearted, so when Alex called one day in January 2019, in a serious tone, I was taken aback. ‘I’d be honoured if you’d be my best woman,’ he said, bashfully. Of course I accepted straight away.
He confided that he had bought the ring and planned to propose to Katie on a break to Venice, but as he was quite a traditional guy, I never thought he’d choose anything other than a male best man. I love Katie, who puts up with all of my and Alex’s teenage in-jokes – she and my fiancé Liam often roll their eyes when we launch into one of our skits.
From the outset though, I wasn’t sure about ‘best woman protocol’. Did Alex want me to opt out of the stag? ‘Of course not!’ he assured me. ‘It wouldn’t be the same if you weren’t there.’ In the end, his brother and I organised a weekend in Hamburg – with no strippers, but a lot of craft beer and rock music. We made Alex dress up in a wig and denim hot pants – it was a hoot.
As the wedding date approached, I was increasingly nervous. I’m known for crying at the drop of a hat, but I wanted to be the mickey-taking speech-giver: I thought Alex deserved the send-off he’d get from a best man.
The day of the ceremony was glorious and flowers bloomed in the walled garden of the Lincolnshire stately home where they said their vows. At the reception afterwards, my speech was full of banter and jokes, but as it drew to a close I could barely get my words out for the stream of tears. Yet as I glanced over at a similarly teary Katie and Alex, I realised that our tight bond was more important than living up to some best-man cliché. I wasn’t a perfect best man, I was Alex’s best woman.
Since then, I’ve asked Alex to return the favour when I get married in 2022. I’m still working on his title – bridesman? Man of honour? But the most important thing is that he’s there, next to me on our special day.
As told to Sally Howard