Get us to the church on time: Industry needs big weddings to return

Boris Johnson has named the day, and asked friends to save the date. He and Carrie have announced they’re marrying in July next year. Bring out the bunting!

Except that, while of course I wish the best for the couple, the mere mention of wedding plans nowadays brings me out in hives.

For the past 18 months, my partner Chris and I have been hoping to get married.

A survey last September estimated that more than 132,000 couples had postponed weddings in 2020. Many will have delayed moving house or starting a family until after their big day

But at every turn it seems, we’ve been stymied by Covid, lockdown rules and the overbearing limit on guest numbers.

Our first attempt at walking down the aisle last September was cancelled, and now our second – due to take place next month – is on a knife-edge because of fears about the Indian variant and the government stricture that you can have only 30 guests.

Countless couples are in a far worse position than us.

You need only read the streams of comments on Twitter to get a sense of how desperate people are. 

‘I cannot explain how worried I am over this variant that might postpone my wedding again for the sixth time,’ wrote one woman. ‘I just want to get on with my life.’

Another said: ‘I can’t deal with this stress. We’ve moved our wedding four times. We aren’t doing it again. There is no reason not to ease lockdown.’

A survey in September estimated more than 132,000 couples had already postponed weddings in 2020. 

Many will have delayed moving house or starting a family until after their big day, only for the date to be pushed back and back.

Others will be hugely out of pocket after losing hefty deposits or being forced to change their plans at the last minute. Meanwhile the wedding industry – worth £14.7 billion to the UK economy every year – is on its knees.

The same survey suggested that caterers, florists, dressmakers and many more had lost £5.3 billion.

One might hope, now he has turned his attention to his own nuptials, that Mr Johnson will finally stop unfairly penalising people getting married.

Some chance. On Monday, the Government delayed its promised review of wedding arrangements.

So we still do not know if normal guest numbers will be allowed after so-called Freedom Day on June 21, when all Covid restrictions were meant to be removed.

And that puts our own plans in jeopardy once again.

Lack of key support has cost me £35,000

Wedding pianist Zoe Alexandria, 34, has lost around £35,000 worth of income during the pandemic

Wedding pianist Zoe Alexandria, 34, has lost around £35,000 worth of income during the pandemic 

Wedding pianist  Zoe Alexandria, 34, has lost around £35,000 worth of income during the pandemic. 

The mother of two from Essex says theGovernment has shown ‘no compassion’ for those in the wedding industry or the arts. 

She is starting to fill her diary now, but says she will never recoup her losses. ‘There has been zero care shown to those in the industry,’ she says.

 ‘The Government looked after most people but excluded some of us. ‘It’s not like I can just work twice as hard this year when I have two children. And there is still a lot of uncertainty.

‘I’m just having to book everything and let myself get excited – and if I’m disappointed, I’m disappointed.’ Zoe wasn’t eligible for self-employed support as she operates as a limited company, but she did furlough herself.

However, while on furlough she couldn’t access full-time payments as the rules meant she wasn’t allowed to do any work for her company — including contacting clients. 

She later put herself on part-time, flexible furlough and took a mortgage payment holiday. At one point, she worried whether she could afford to eat after feeding her children. 

Zoe, who has played for the BBC, adds: ‘I’m struggling to feel excited for Boris Johnson and his wedding next year.’ 

Chris and I were always set on having a big party. We booked our wedding (for the second time) for June 24, long before Boris Johnson’s roadmap to Freedom Day was published. We had thought it was far enough in advance to ensure we could invite everyone.

So when Mr Johnson warned earlier this month that freedom on June 21 might not happen after all, because of the Indian variant, I burst into tears of frustration.

We’ve tried to put on a brave face, but the not-knowing is now really taking its toll.

My nerves are shredded — and Chris and I are sick of having the same what-if conversations that go round and round in circles.

We are already haemorrhaging money and every time we pay for something – bridesmaids’ dresses, wedding rings, decorations, place name cards, even confetti -we have a horrible sinking feeling it could all be for a day that doesn’t happen. 

And soon we will be chased by the venue for our final payment -for guests we don’t even know can attend.

I’ve had sleepless nights fretting over which of our friends and family we may have to uninvite if restrictions remain in place. 

And I worry about what further delay could mean for my grandparents, in their late 80s. They themselves have said it could be the last time the whole family is all together.

 Our takings fell 80% in lockdown

Cash crisis: Wedding photographer Amber Leach

Cash crisis: Wedding photographer Amber Leach

Photographer Amber Leach has seen her income plummet by 80 per cent since the start of the pandemic.

The mother of three and her five associate photographers usually turn over a six-figure sum each year. 

Over a busy 12 months, they can photograph up to 80 weddings.

But since March last year, just a dozen of their bookings have gone ahead. And Amber has had to refund £18,000 to couples who have cancelled their big days.

Amber, 39, says: ‘It has been very upsetting. I’ve had brides ringing up in tears because they’ve had to postpone their wedding for the third time.’

Her company, Liberty Pearl Photo & Film Collective, has received around £13,000 in council grants. But Amber’s family have had to rely on her husband Jesse’s income as a manager at an organic food company to get by.

In the meantime, she has been taking on shoots for marketing companies to top up the family’s finances.

‘It has been a very tough time, and at one point it did feel very bleak in the wedding industry,’ she says.  

We had planned to get married on September 11, 2020, at a converted barn in Surrey.

By the time the first lockdown hit in March of that year, we had paid a hefty deposit for the venue, booked the registrar, a photographer – and I’d even bought my dress.

But by mid-April, it seemed obvious big weddings were unlikely to be back on by September, so we began begging the venue to let us postpone. It took two stressful months but eventually we were offered our new date this June.

A Thursday instead of a Friday, but it was either that or a Tuesday in February, so we grabbed it.

From the beginning, we said that the most important thing to us was to be able to invite everyone we loved.

After losing my mum and sister to cancer six years ago, it took me a long time to get to a place where I could even consider getting married without them. The last two occasions when my family all came altogether were funerals.

This day wasn’t just for me and Chris – it was for everyone, to help us all heal and move forward.

With a new date in the diary, we even managed a trip to Turkey for what should have been our honeymoon in September. And when Boris announced his roadmap in February, we were ecstatic.

But then the Indian variant came along – and the doubt and uncertainty has come back.

What makes the ordeal so much worse is that weddings are being singled out. Football crowds can return to stadiums, nightclubs have been filled with people and the Brit Awards went ahead with a live audience of 4,500.

Yet weddings in England are still limited to a miserly total of 30 guests. It doesn’t make sense.

£40,000 at risk with celebration in France 

Millie and Chris Chea were planning to get married in France in July 2020, just months after the pandemic struck. 

They tried to rearrange their big day twice, but eventually chose to go ahead with a small, Covid-safe ceremony in late December. 

They are still hoping to have their big celebration in France with around 70 guests in September this year. 

Millie and Chris Chea (pictured last Christmas) had to abandon plans to get married in France and settle for a small, covid-friendly in late December

Millie and Chris Chea (pictured last Christmas) had to abandon plans to get married in France and settle for a small, covid-friendly in late December

If that doesn’t go ahead, they risk losing £40,000, and their guests will lose hundreds of pounds in hotels and flights. 

Millie, 31, a personal trainer from Surrey, says: ‘I cannot explain the emotional trauma the Government has caused engaged couples. 

‘It’s not even just the couples — it’s all the venues and caterers and everybody involved. The rules are constantly changing and there has been such a lack of clarity. 

‘It makes me so angry to see live sports events going ahead when there’s still so much uncertainty around weddings. 

‘My guests lost out on a lot of money last time. Now, we’re having to ask them to rebook in September, but we don’t know what the rules will be then.’  

For those getting married in a church, it must be galling.

If Sunday services can go ahead with no limit providing there is social distancing, I can’t see why the same rules can’t apply to church weddings. 

Ministers have removed the cap on funerals, thanks to a campaign by the Mail, so why not with weddings? 

In our case, all the guests we’ve invited who are ‘vulnerable’ have received both vaccinations, and most others will have been jabbed at least once by then, too.

The Government is forever lauding the efficacy of the vaccines – do they not work as well when you’re attending a wedding? And with free testing on the NHS, it would be easy enough to ask guests to take a test beforehand to show they are free of the virus.

In Scotland, the limit has been increased to 50 – and in Wales, too, if you tie the knot outside, as we plan to if the weather holds.

We have no idea what we will do if we cannot go ahead as planned. If the cap on guests is under 100 we just cannot justify paying for such a big venue – but we stand to lose thousands of pounds if we cancel this close to the date.

And there is no guarantee our insurance will cover the loss.

In February, Money Mail reported how one insurer had offered a couple just £13,000 towards a £27,000 claim. 

And many won’t even have insurance, as most providers pulled their cover from sale the moment Covid hit.

Even if we do get our money back, there is little chance of finding another date. The enormous backlog means that next year is almost fully booked.

Unlike Boris Johnson, thousands of us do not have the luxury of being able to postpone the big day for more than a year.

It is simply not fair of the PM and his Government to keep us in this state of purgatory ahead of one of the most important days of our lives.

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