x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Trouble over who to invite to wedding should not bother royal couple

The nightmare for most engaged couples – whom to omit from the wedding invitations – is not one likely to trouble Britain’s royal lovebirds, says Katie Boucher, given the space at their disposal. But not all couples are so lucky.

Most families have a certain amount of baggage, whether in feuding couples or disgraced relatives - but it is not the bride's job to carry it.
Most families have a certain amount of baggage, whether in feuding couples or disgraced relatives - but it is not the bride's job to carry it.

As any bride will know, one of the most stressful aspects of organising a wedding is the guest list. Spiralling costs mean that couples are often forced to omit friends or relatives, resulting in rows and recriminations.

Even for those who do manage to negotiate the invitations without causing offence, there's the seating plan, the speeches and, in some cases, reuniting divorced parents. Add to that the inevitable embarrassing relations (such as Kate Middleton's colourful uncle, Gary Goldsmith, with his very public revelations about the goings-on at his Spanish villa, while the less said about Fergie, the better) and the potential for fireworks is almost unlimited.

There are, of course, several other reasons why one might not envy Prince William and Middleton, who are due to tie the knot in less than a month: that their big moment, complete with stuttered "I do's" and mispronounced eighth names, will be beamed into billions of homes around the world; that every inch of Kate's dress, down to its last Swarovski crystal (you never know), will be judged and analysed by generations to come. And then there's the secrecy. Even the most timid of brides would, given half the chance, whip out her mood board and bore you rigid with the subtle tones of her centrepieces and the depth of the swags in her marquee. Poor Kate can't breathe a word to anyone.

Nonetheless, having a church the size of Westminster Abbey in London in which to conduct the marriage service and Buckingham Palace as the reception venue has its upsides, chief among these being that they can invite as many people as they like, so in terms of causing family rifts with the uninvited, there's unlikely to be a problem. About 1,900 will be present at the ceremony, including friends, family, leaders of the Queen's realms, and a tasteful sprinkling of celebrities (the Beckhams, Elton John and Paul McCartney all reportedly heard the thud of gilt-embossed card on their doormats when the invitations were sent out in February).

That's more than can be said for most weddings, and Katie Hammond, a marketing professional who lives in Abu Dhabi and has organised not only her own wedding in December 2009, but several for friends as well, has seen it all.

"I've been at a wedding where we've watched the mother of the bride walk through a flower bed in her heels in order to avoid having to speak to her ex-husband," says the mother of one, whose own wedding took place on a 90ft yacht in Sydney Harbour in front of 39 guests. Hosting the day on the other side of the world (she is from the UK) was, she says, a handy way of avoiding any awkwardness when it came to invitations. "It did make things very simple when it came to cousins I haven't seen for 15 years," she says. "If you get married miles away you don't feel any obligation to invite them."

In the UAE, where guest lists often exceed 1,000, more dramatic culling is sometimes required. "I'm doing a wedding in Abu Dhabi at the moment," says Sarah Feyling, owner of Couture Events, a Dubai-based event company. "They have 800 on the guest list but the ballroom will only hold 700 and the way they want the seating plan will only give them seating for 650, so I have said they need to cut 150."

Regardless of size, as the costs of weddings are increasingly borne by the couple as opposed to the bride's parents, in earlier tradition, so the invitations have become a frequent flash-point. For Emma, an Abu Dhabi-based lawyer, who got married in the UK in September 2008 - and who, neatly avoiding any further family battles, prefers to withhold her surname - it took an awkward conversation with her parents in order to wrest back control of the guest list.

"I think traditionally weddings were something the parents paid for and organised," she says. "The bride and groom turned up and were allowed a few friends but it was mostly the parents' friends who came. I had to explain to my parents that this was something my husband and I didn't want and that we would prefer them not to put in any money and we would do it our way. It was awkward and there were a few tears, but it all worked out fine. I'm glad we did that rather than have gone along with a wedding I wasn't happy with."

"If the parents are paying, you're stuck, in a way," says Hammond. "Had either set of parents offered to pay outright for our wedding then that would have put us in a tricky position. As it was, we paid for most of it ourselves and therefore decided how we wanted to do it."

Incidentally, the cost of William and Kate's day on April 29 will, according to The Daily Telegraph, be met by the families of both parties. "The royal family and the Middleton family will pay for the wedding - the church service, music, flowers, decoration, reception and honeymoon," Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, William's private secretary and the man in charge of organising the wedding, told the British newspaper.

So the guest list is sorted out; the costs have been allocated. But what can people do to ensure that the guests remain on their best behaviour on the day?

"Give the responsibility to someone else," advises Hammond. "I would always say the best man. Brief him carefully on who hates whom and one of his responsibilities should be to separate people and keep everyone in check."

"Having divorced parents on both sides made it a real balancing act," says Katrina Anderson, an Abu Dhabi marketing director who got married in 2001 in Brisbane. "We had to have four different tables for them. We had some very good friends who played defence if anything got too tight or too close. They could create diversions that would stop uncomfortable situations from arising."

With so many people to worry about, the couple's wishes often end up bottom of the list, says Hammond: "These days, in so many aspects of life, it's frowned on to be selfish. We're taught that we shouldn't put ourselves first and that we should always think of others. I'm sure that's the right mantra by which to live your life, but if there's one day when you say, 'this is about me', then it must be your wedding day."

Still, if you really can't leave a not-so-loved one off your list, at least Uncle Gary is guaranteed to be the life and soul of the party.

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