When Alice*, 30, got engaged to her loving partner Oliver* she expected some rocky moments, but she never imagined the lengths her difficult mother-in-law would go to in an attempt to ruin her wedding day.
As told to Kate Graham
The second I saw Sophie’s* face, I knew something was dreadfully wrong. Surely it wasn’t normal to be given such a big hug by your wedding planner?
My stomach lurched as she ushered my fiancé Oliver and I to our seats, and again I saw Sophie’s face flit from sympathy to panic and back again. 'Something very weird is happening here,' I thought, my own panic rising.
At first, Oliver was oblivious to the atmosphere, asking about the bedrooms we’d booked as part of the wedding package. "Make sure my mum’s room is tidy," he joked, "She can be a bit of a madam!"
As soon as Sophie replied, "Actually, I’ve spoken to your mum" it was like cold water running through my veins. My mind ran from one nightmare scenario to the next, wondering what on earth she'd done now.
"Well," Sophie continued, clearly trying to be as calm as possible, "She tried to cancel your wedding." In that moment it felt like the whole world had stopped.
Oliver and I met on our first day at university and eight months later this sweet, gorgeous guy and I admitted that we liked each other. "My parents are coming up for my birthday," he said. "I’d love for you to meet them."
I was more intrigued than nervous. But when I sat down at the restaurant, I was shocked. They were like overgrown children, telling loud, vulgar stories that embarrassed Oliver.
His mum Naomi* was clearly the dominant one of the pair. She bombarded me with questions about my dad, who she’d discovered was very wealthy.
"How many houses does he have?" she asked, clearly fascinated by the subject. "How many cars does he drive?"
Even though my parents had divorced when I was little and my dad didn’t support me financially, she didn’t ask a single thing about my mum.
"Are you okay?" I asked Oliver as we walked back. I wanted him to know I supported him. "Are they always like that?"
"No, they were really well behaved today," he replied to my absolute shock. "I’m really happy." I didn’t know what to say.
We called my mother-in-law to tell her we were engaged. 'That’s interesting,' she replied in a completely flat voice
I was only 18, too young to think much about his parents. We were madly in love and that’s what mattered.
But by the time we graduated two years later, seeing them, especially Naomi, was a big struggle. It was always the same immaturity, and a badgering of Oliver that I came to realise was actually bullying. They both drank a lot which always made things worse.
My mum loved Oliver, and when he wanted to come to my family Christmas one year, Naomi was furious. I suspect she felt that she was losing power over him.
Aftermath of the proposal
We’d been together five years when Oliver took me to a beautiful, deserted UK beach and proposed. I felt like I was floating.
We called Naomi from the car to tell her the good news. "That’s interesting," she replied in a completely flat voice. "Did I tell you your sister has gone on a spa trip?"
It was pathetic. 'What a child,' I thought, seeing Oliver’s crestfallen face. 'She can’t be happy for her son for even five minutes. She didn’t even say congratulations!'
Inside were worries of my own. Marrying Oliver meant always having Naomi in my life. 'But I love him,' I thought. 'It'll be worth it.'
"Let’s go and see your parents," I said, trying my best to be positive. "We can be polite before the wedding. I want them to be happy, to feel part of it all."
The trip went well for once. We talked about what Oliver’s sister could wear as a bridesmaid. 'Maybe it’ll be okay after all,' I thought, letting myself relax a little.
A nasty row
Until two weeks later. We’d found a lovely venue, which had availability in three months’ time. We decided to go for it.
All hell broke loose. The date wasn’t a problem for Naomi. She was furious that we were having the wedding near our home, and not near hers.
Hearing her scream and shout, then put the phone down on us, I felt something shift inside me.
'You can’t be happy for your amazing son,' I thought, anger welling up. 'You can’t celebrate the life he’s made. You want this all to be about you!' I was furious at what they were doing to the man I loved.
It completely ruined what should have been a joyous time. I couldn’t cope with wedding dress shopping because I knew I’d have to invite Naomi. Instead, I bought a dress from Ebay. I refused to have a hen do for the same reason. I knew it would be impossible to celebrate with her there.
There she was, stood next to her son, in a white shift dress with a sweeping white net veil covering half her face. She was dressed as a bride
I felt blank inside, mechanically going through the motions. But even with all Naomi’s drama, I wasn’t prepared for the bombshell from our wedding planner.
"She called me asking for the best bedroom in the venue," Sophie explained. "When I told her that that was obviously the bridal suite, and then the cottage was where the bride’s grandma was staying, she was furious."
"A few minutes later, she called again, from the same number. In a strange voice she pretended to be you, Alice, saying that she was cancelling the whole thing."
I was torn between horror, laughter and total mortification. Of course, Sophie knew it was Naomi and, when she said so, Naomi hung up.
Oliver looked like he was going to be sick. I began apologising profusely to Sophie, who was amazing. As a wedding planner she’d seen some insane things, but this was unheard of.
Trying to sabotage the wedding
At first, Oliver didn’t want to call Naomi, saying, "I just want to pretend this didn’t happen." I took a breath. "That’s not an option for me at this point," I replied.
To start with, Naomi denied it all. It wasn’t until later that day, when Oliver knew Naomi would have had a drink and was more likely to spill the truth, that he called again.
There was no apology, just a declaration that we shouldn’t be getting married there anyway. I was furious. How dare she do this to us? I wanted to scream but made myself walk into another room.
Every bride has pre-wedding nerves and mine were all about Naomi. I didn’t know if she would show up at all and, if she did, how she would behave. The worry overshadowed the excitement I felt about finally marrying the man I loved.
But despite my mind racing with all the possible things Naomi might do, I never imagined what would come next.
My mother-in-law was awful throughout our wedding day. No smiles or congratulations. She just sat there fuming
As my dad walked me down the aisle, I saw her. 'Why is Naomi standing right next to Oliver?' I thought. 'She should be in her seat.' Then I looked again. 'And what on earth is she wearing?'
There Naomi was, in a white shift dress, a white fascinator with a sweeping white net veil that covered half of her face. She was dressed as a bride! I was so shocked I actually laughed. I was beyond a trauma response at that point, the situation was so ridiculous that in the spilt-second I saw her I decided, 'I’m going to laugh about this, marry your son and have an incredible day.'
In a strange way it was validating. Here, for everyone to see, she had come to her son’s wedding dressed as a bride. 'I’m not going crazy,' I thought, as people stared at her in amazement. 'Everyone else can see it too.'
The big day
Naomi was awful throughout the day. No smiles or congratulations. At the wedding breakfast I’d deliberately placed her where she wouldn’t be facing me and Oliver. But she rearranged the table plan so that she was right in our eyeline, and then sat fuming.
One of my best friends, who’d had a few drinks by then, came over announcing loudly, 'The photographer is looking for the bride. But only the young one.' I could’ve hugged her.
Despite everything, Oliver and I had a wonderful day, with so much joy and laughter. It was as if, after all that worry, now the day was here I was just determined to enjoy it. In fact we didn’t even notice that Naomi went by 4pm as we partied into the night.
The next morning, when we should have been in a newlywed bubble, we discovered she’d run up a £400 hotel bill and vanished
Sadly, the drama wasn’t over. The next morning, when we should have been in a newlywed bubble, we discovered she’d run up a £400 bill and vanished.
On our honeymoon she kept harassing Oliver to the point that he was having panic attacks. In the end he threw his phone down some steps, smashing it.
In the years since we got married, my relationship with Naomi didn’t recover. I started therapy and realised that I was traumatised by what had happened. Oliver and I can’t even celebrate our wedding anniversary, it was just too triggering. Now when friends announce an engagement my first reaction isn’t congratulations, it’s to ask, "Are you okay?"
Oliver and I can’t even celebrate our wedding anniversary, it's too triggering
For my own sake I can’t see Naomi. Oliver hasn’t seen her in four years, when she continued to act appallingly.
But he is the kindest, most loving person and I know he wishes that he could have a healthy relationship with her. So, if that ever changed and he wanted to try again in the future, that would be okay with me. I understand that he will always be her son.
Now, when a wedding photo crops up on Facebook, I want to go back in time, run up to myself and shout "Elope!" But despite all the drama, I love Oliver with all my heart. Everything we’ve been through has only made us stronger.
*All names have been changed