- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The bride wore a gold mini dress, the groom wore a baggy cream suit and the guests wore expressions of mild bemusement.
At the Prime Minister’s wedding celebration, Sweet Caroline had been chosen for the first dance as a romantic tribute to Caroline Johnson, better known as Carrie – but her husband seemed to think he was at an England football match, where the song has become a fan favourite.
His dad-dancing at the couple’s wedding celebration last weekend was more “let’s all have a disco”, as sports crowds chant, than “how can I hurt when holding you”, in the words of Neil Diamond’s song.
The moment, however, was entirely in keeping with the eccentricity of the whole event, held in the middle of a field where guests had no escape from the speeches, the South African street food or the bitching about Rishi Sunak.
It featured slut-drops, congas, rum punch, hay bales, a steel band and Jacob Rees-Mogg, but without an actual wedding for the guests to attend, it was an event that appeared not to know quite what it was trying to be.
About 200 people were invited to the bash, held more than a year after the couple married in a Catholic ceremony at Westminster Cathedral. However, when they got to the open-sided marquee in the Cotswolds from around 5.30pm last Saturday, there was precious little for them to do.
The event was supposed to have taken place at Chequers, the Prime Minister’s weekend retreat in Buckinghamshire, where guests could have breathed in the history of a house where presidents, prime ministers and monarchs have come and gone for more than a century.
But following criticism of the plan, the party was switched at the last minute to the Daylesford House estate of Tory donor Lord Bamford, in Gloucestershire, which might have explained the slightly threadbare nature of the arrangements.
A video of the happy couple’s first dance, published online on Friday, showed a sparse-looking audience in a cavernous marquee failing to answer Mrs Johnson’s invitations to join them, or even to sing along with the classic hit.
The Prime Minister, who had worn a charcoal suit on what was his third wedding day last year, struggled to pull off the Man From Del Monte look, wearing a cream suit with trousers that needed taking up and a jacket that appeared too long for his body.
Mrs Johnson, 34, had greeted guests earlier in the day wearing a £3,500 halter-neck Ruby wedding gown by Savannah Miller, the designer, which she had rented for £25 a day. However, by the time the first dance happened at 8.30pm, she had changed into a shimmering gold mini dress with a plunging neckline that was more disco diva than blushing bride.
Neither she nor the 58-year-old Prime Minister looked comfortable dancing in front of their guests. They may have been relieved when their two-year-old son Wilfred, dressed in a navy blue sailor suit, toddled across to them halfway through the dance and became the centre of attention, as he was twirled around on the hips of his parents.
According to the Prime Minister’s sister, Rachel Johnson, the evening did liven up after that. She described in an article for The Spectator magazine how “we all busted our best moves” – including the slut-drop, in which women “collapse to the floor like a broken deckchair”. While Ms Johnson, 56, said she struggled to get up off the floor, it was “not a challenge shared by my sister-in-law”.
Ms Johnson added: “She could win a Commonwealth gold hands-down in this particular high-risk dance move.”
Later, a barefooted Ms Johnson joined in with a conga and “ripped off a big toenail” for her troubles.
The event officially ended at 11.30pm, although many guests, with long journeys home, had already left by then.
Ms Johnson said the party was held in “a magical flower-filled field”, but other guests whispered that the party had the vibe of a failed pop festival, complete with portable lavatories.
Instead of tables and chairs, which were absent from the marquee, guests had to make do with sitting on hay bales, or standing up to eat their street food, which was served from trailers.
Grass-fed British beef boerewors rolls, masa corn tortilla tacos and smoked barbacoa lamb were cooked by Smoke and Braai, which specialises in South African-style barbecues. There was ice cream supplied by Dalton’s Dairy, a family-run firm from the Peak District.
Before the dancing, the guests were treated to a succession of speeches, starting with Ms Johnson, followed by Carrie Johnson – whose words were “full of affection” for her husband – and finishing with the Prime Minister himself, who stood with one hand in his trouser pocket and the other clutching A4 sheets of notes.
In a defiant and typically joke-filled speech, Mr Johnson told his guests that he had received “masses of letters to resign, mostly from my closest family”, according to The Times.
He went on: “There are many opportunities, which lead to disasters, and disasters can lead to new opportunities, including to opportunities for fresh disasters.”
He also described the mass ministerial resignations that forced him to resign as: “The greatest stitch-up since the Bayeux Tapestry.”
The guest list was light on parliamentarians, partly because so many of them had turned on the Prime Minister only days before. Only the most ultra-loyal Johnsonites received an invitation.
They included Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, and his wife Helena; Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary; Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary; Amanda Milling, the former party chairman; John Whittingdale, the former culture secretary, who once employed Mrs Johnson; Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister; Nigel Adams, the minister without portfolio; and Lord Goldsmith, a close friend of Mrs Johnson.
Waiting for them at the gates of the 18th century estate was the ever-present Steve Bray, better known as Stop Brexit Man, who spends every weekday outside Parliament protesting against Brexit and the Conservative government.
He held a banner which read: “Corrupt Tory Government. Liars, cheats and charlatans. Get them out now.”
Other guests included Holly Valance, the Australian actress and singer, who is married to the property developer Nick Candy; the Prime Minister’s father Stanley; Andrew Parsons, Mr Johnson’s official photographer, and his girlfriend Rhiannon Mills, the Sky News Royal correspondent; Mr Johnson’s sometime tennis partner Ross Kempsell, political director of Conservative Campaign Headquarters; and Dan Rosenfeld, the former Number 10 chief of staff.
As a former head of communications for the Conservatives, Mrs Johnson knows all about messaging. She was keen to put the word out that her dress was rented, because she is keen to promote sustainable fashion, and that the food on offer was eco-friendly because the catering firm buys its ingredients from local farmers.
But the messaging was somewhat undermined by the reality of the event. Guests arrived in a steady stream of Range Rovers, Rolls-Royces and other gas guzzlers, with some even arriving by helicopter.
By choosing to hold their party in such a rural location, the couple ensured that it had the largest possible carbon footprint. In only a matter of weeks, though, worrying about political mis-steps will cease to be much of a concern for them.