People often bemoan the shackles of marriage – and perhaps never more so since the start of lockdown – but really, the die is cast from Day One.
As things stand, weddings in England and Wales must take place in registered premises – a religious building, or a registry office, or a council-approved venue. These serious, frequently sombre, indoor venues set the tone for ceremonies steeped in rules that cover everything from where the opposing families sit to the vows that are taken. Tradition trumps spontaneity; rigidity marginalises individuality. Hardly a decent starting block for a Happy Ever After, is it?
Now, however, the Law Commission has recognised that current regulations are "no longer meeting the needs of many couples". It's put forward proposals to "give couples the freedom to choose the wedding venue they want and a ceremony that is meaningful for them." Outdoor weddings, in other words, could be coming soon to Blighty. (Yes, I know you've probably been to an outdoor wedding in Blighty already – but it wasn't official. In all likelihood, the couple nipped to the Registry Office the week before to get their certificate. Sorry to break the illusion.)
It's a smart move, given that 2021 is going to see a huge wedding backlog – but more than that, it's also the right thing to do. And I should know, because I had an outdoor wedding. An official one.
In my native Australia, we got all this sorted years ago. You need a licensed officiant, rather than a licensed location, to tie the knot. Growing up, I went to countless outdoor weddings as a guest – weddings in vineyards, on beaches, in gardens. In contrast, the photos I saw of weddings in my husband-to-be's English family looked a bit awkward and not really my idea of a good time.
So when it came to organising our own big day, we decided to do it the Aussie way: a casual, chilled-out, flip-flop shod ceremony, with a friend playing guitar and a setting of trees and water – all followed by a barbecue and games of cricket and boules. I mean, why not start as you started, and start as you mean to go on?
Here's what I've learned from my lifetime of outdoor big days...
1. You can personalise your day
Having the freedom to choose your wedding venue allows you to get married in a location that’s relevant to you – the park where you first met, the riverside spot where you first said 'I love you', the secluded beach where you saw your first sunset together (let's not get too personal here, OK?)
2. You can throw traditions out of the window
When weddings take place in conventional settings, it’s hard to break with convention. I was opposed to being walked down the aisle and ‘given away’ (I can walk unassisted and I’m not property, thanks) but would I have had the guts to follow my conviction in a church? Possibly not. By a lake, however? Easy.
You can also make the reception far more relaxed when it's outdoors. Table plans are a nightmare with divorced parents and family feuds. Speeches can be awkward. The answer? A barbecue or buffet set-up. Guests can sit, stand, or sprawl wherever they like.
3. You save so much money
According to Bridebook, the average cost of a wedding was £30,000 in 2018 – and that’s without the honeymoon. My wedding cost less than one-sixth of that, and I’m convinced that freedom of location is the reason. Deciding on an ‘approved’ venue takes time and, if you have to shop around, often money, too. Once you’re committed, plans are easily taken out of your hands: the chosen venue has its ‘helpful guidelines,’ and its ‘preferred partners.’ Before you know it, the 200 naff chair covers that you never knew needed (I promise you don’t need them) have whacked £600 on to your bill, and you spend your wedding day crying when one of them is crooked or stained.
Bridezillas are not born; they’re made by the wedding industry.
4. Your guests will be happy (or happier)
Sadly, the days of thinking that someone is grateful to be invited to your wedding are over – especially when it’s been estimated that attendance costs the average guest close to £400. To them, it's all a costly palaver to share the joy of your love for one day only.
Breaking with tradition in terms of venue has a knock-on effect: guests dress more for a party than a wedding, and they leave their attitude at the non-existent door. They’re more relaxed about kids. They’re not hobbling in uncomfortable shoes or getting neck-crick from daft hats. It’s more fun – for everyone.
5. People have opinions
Ugh, opinions. Irritating at the best of times – even more so when it’s a (supposedly personal) wedding. Even if the legal requirements of UK unions are changed, there will be naysayers. The ‘not in my day-ers’, the ‘in the eyes of God-ers’, the ‘but what about my special hat-ers.’ Breaking with tradition is not always easy. The relative who asked me to confirm arrangements for the ‘real wedding’ we’d be having in a church is probably not my biggest fan.
6. The weather will dominate conversation (more than usual)
Some of the reasons why people love a destination wedding are climate-driven. Yet even overseas, blue skies aren’t guaranteed. Cue a massive thunderstorm the night before my Australian lakeside ceremony… and some very nervous Britons.
You know all of those people kicking themselves for not buying shares in sanitiser manufacturers before the pandemic? Watch them invest in marquee and chimenea companies if new UK wedding laws come through.
7. You're inundated with choices
Some people freeze like a rabbit in the headlights when presented with an opportunity to imagine or create. Some people simply like having things set out as clearly defined options. Breaking from norms means … well, who knows? Anything is possible! And if that sounds overwhelming to you, or doesn’t fit in with your lifestyle, or just seems like one more (several more) decisions that need to be made in a busy modern life, then perhaps a registered venue and established ways will make life easier.