|A guide to modern marriage by Judith Woods
Forget sighting a humble swallow - these days, the first sign of a British summer must surely be the inaugural glimpse of a bright, feathered fascinator perched precariously atop the mother of the bride. And what a welcome vision it is.
Beware the rules of modern engagement
Every wedding dress tells a story
And the bride wore...
You can also forget the credit crunch, the mortgage quagmire and Labour's hara-kiri by autobiography - there are hats to be bought, for heaven's sake! And matching handbags!
Lumpen maids of honour (see above) must be shoehorned into unforgivably clingy satin, terrifying bridezillas now stalk House of Fraser, and you can scarcely negotiate Peter Jones without tripping over blissfully happy couples clutching gift lists and screaming dog's abuse at one another over Wedgwood versus Royal Worcester.
Yes, we may have lost our manufacturing industry, the Scots may run the Government and the Poles the country, but nowhere does weddings quite like us; the pomp, the circumstance, the morning coats and petty snobberies, in this at least we can still claim supremacy.
This year promises to deliver a vintage season, kicking off this weekend with the nuptials of the Princess Royal's son, Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly. Football royalty Wayne Rooney and Coleen McLoughlin follow in June.
Plus there's Sienna Miller's engagement to Rhys Ifans (after his third proposal), which will no doubt lead to the couple tying the knot somewhere achingly hip, in Marc Jacobs flipflops.
advertisementBrad and Angelina are planning to get hitched on a ?100 million luxury yacht, and even Sir Alan Sugar has been caught up in the outbreak of wedding fever and will tonight be charging his would-be apprentices with the task of wooing customers at a bridal show.
Organising a wedding is, of course, a social and logistical minefield. The conflicting demands of family and friends, budget and taste can easily lead to pre-matrimonial meltdown. So to help steer you through these perilous waters, The Daily Telegraph offers you a cut-out-and-keep guide to the Perfect Big Day.
A is for Abroad
An estimated 10 per cent of British couples marry abroad, although opinion is divided as to whether this is wonderfully romantic, or just cheapskate and selfish. Either way, it's a foolproof method of cutting back on the drinks bill and weeding out unwelcome guests.
Coleen McLoughlin and Wayne Rooney, both 22, judiciously plan to avoid a repeat of her 18th birthday party (when police were called after a brawl broke out between the Rooneys and McLoughlins) by holding their ceremony on the Italian Riviera.
The couple, who have a ?3 million budget, supplemented by a glossy magazine deal, will exchange vows in front of a modest group of 60 select guests in Portofino next month, and will later host a bigger party in Croxteth, Liverpool, where booze will be limited to reduce the chances of argy-bargy.
Hollywood A-listers Brad Pitt, 44, and Angelina Jolie, 32, are also planning a connubial getaway by marrying on a yacht owned by their close friend, Microsoft founder Paul Allen, as it cruises off the French Riviera. The 416ft yacht Octopus has twin helicopter pads, so guests can arrive in style. A no-fly zone enforced by the French authorities should also help deter wedding crashers.
B is for Bridesmaids
Cute is the rule of thumb here, so ideally, all bridesmaids should be under 3?ft tall; consider taking a height chart when visiting pushy relations whose offspring are angling for flower girl invitations.
Older bridesmaids are, inconveniently, never the same shape and size and either look absurd in matching flounces or upstage the bride by being prettier and thinner. Maids of honour tend to come across as tragic singletons, and are to be avoided at all costs.
C is for Canapés
Keep 'em bite-sized; we're so over juggling a champagne flute, an Anya Hindmarch tote and the other half of a caramelised onion crostino.
D is for Downsizing
Don't be embarrassed about cutting your wedding to fit your cloth. According to professional wedding planner and Wedding Bible author Sara Haywood, celebrity weddings have raised the bar so high that ordinary couples often plunge themselves into debt to compete.
"You should plan for your perfect wedding, not Posh Spice's," says Haywood. "If you're a local girl who should be marrying in the church hall but feel obliged to hire a stately home, then not only will it not reflect who you are, you'll end up hugely over budget."
E is for Email
Shockingly few people are polite enough to RSVP to wedding invitations these days, so bow to the inevitable and allow them to do so by email, as, sadly, you're far more likely to get a response.
F is for Friends
They may be keen to help, but use their artistic, photographic or musical skills at your peril. Imagine how you'll feel - and how your friendship will suffer - if the soloist sings flat and heads are cut off in the group shot. Employ a professional photographer; they get paid to be bossy and to organise family and guests so they look their best.
G is for Gift lists
Some couples regard these as vulgar, others as a godsend and others still as an excuse to be greedy. "People are aware that if they are invited to a wedding they will need to buy a present, so they won't think you common for having a gift list," says Jo Bryant, editor of The Debrett's Wedding Guide.
"It's also now pretty standard practice to include a gift list card with the invitation, so although it might once have been thought of as rude in effect to ask for a present before you even know if someone's attending, that's no longer the case.
David Cameron's wedding
"A well-established couple who already have a home together might ask for money rather than a gift, but not everyone feels comfortable about handing over cash which might get frittered away on Friday night at the pub. It's much better to put the money towards something, such as the honeymoon, so guests know where their gift is going."
H is for Hen Nights
Keep hen and stag parties low-key and tasteful. They don't need to involve helicopters, although clearly if you are Prince William, you feel free to leap into an RAF Chinook to ferry yourself and brother Harry to a stag do on the Isle of White.
The stag bash was that of their cousin Peter Phillips, and their enthusiasm rather odd, given that Prince William will not be going to the wedding, as he will be away on holiday.
Stag and hen weekends to Tallin or Rzeszow are de trop, no matter how cheap the beer, and don't even countenance printed group T-shirts bearing legends such as "Karen's Last Night of Freedom" or "Men Behaving Badly".
Beware too, of whom you invite. Coleen McLoughlin was recently upstaged at her hen weekend by her future mother-in-law, who had shed seven stone.
Weekends, moreover, are distinctly passé. Dinner in a stylish restaurant is a far classier way to celebrate, especially if you're getting married at the end of the summer, by which time your friends will be fast running out of holiday time, money and the will to live.
I is for Invitations
Just because you have a PC and printer, don't assume you can knock out 300 invitations in an evening.
"Invitations set the tone for your event so if you are planning an informal marquee in your parents' garden, then it's fine for them to be personal, or you can design them yourself, but it's very time-consuming if you do it properly," says Maia Morris of Brides Magazine.
"But if your wedding is very traditional, then you need the invitations to be professionally printed."
J is for Jugglers
Forget jugglers, casino tables, magicians and chocolate fountains.These smack of corporate functions and suggest that you don't get out much.
K is for Keeping in Mind it's Your Day
Don't allow parents to dictate arrangements, even if they are footing some or all of the bill.
One sneaky tactic is to give your mother (in-law) a project to keep her busy, such as organising the flowers, so she won't notice you haven't invited the neighbours you haven't seen since you were 12, or a raft of second cousins you'd be hard pushed to recognise in a police line-up.
L is for Love
Presumably this was the motivation behind getting married in the first place, so try to bear it in mind, as your stress levels soar in the run-up to the big day. To safeguard your sanity, have dinner with your fiancé once a week - and ban all talk of sugared almonds and buttonholes.
M is for Magazine Deal
Vulgar, vulgar, vulgar. But lucrative. Although de rigueur for the likes of Wayne and Coleen, it did cause raised eyebrows when Peter Phillips and his fiancée, the Canadian Autumn Kelly, sold coverage of their wedding to Hello! magazine for ?500,000. Both the Queen and Prince Phillip are said to be furious.
Whether Peter and Autumn's marriage can survive the curse of Hello! is another thorny issue. Post-Hello! splits include Bill Wyman and Mandy Smith, Ulrika Jonnson (after gushing wedding coverage with two different husbands), the Duke and Duchess of York, Earl and Countess Spencer. Wish them well.
N is for Name Change
In these liberated days, it's an act of downright rebellion for a bride to take her husband's name when they marry. It usually happens eventually for convenience' sake, when children come along, but declaring your intention up front will certainly be a talking point. Let relations discreetly know of your name change in advance, in case they are writing you a cheque.
O is for Organisation
Being organised is the key to a successful wedding. Keep all your paperwork together, including copies of emails, says Sara Haywood. "Get two large plastic boxes with lids from any hardware store. Label one 'Ceremony' and the other 'Reception', and put everything related to each in the appropriate box."
P is for Pre-nup
Almost eight out of 10 matrimonial lawyers say demand for prenuptial agreements has risen sharply over the past year. One factor has been the divorce of Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills, which cost an estimated ?10 million in legal fees.
Q R is for Quality Relations
Sadly you can't choose them, but you can decide not to invite the poor quality ones. "Our chatrooms (youandyourwedding.co.uk) are full of anguished brides wrestling with the issue of which family members to invite," says Maia Morris. "You shouldn't have to invite relatives you don't like, but you have to balance that against the repercussions."
S is for Speeches.
A good - or bad - best man's speech can make or break a wedding, so choose your closest friend wisely.
When handsome man-about-town Tim Jeffries married model Malin Johansson last month, his best man proceeded to tell the assembled guests how many women the groom had slept with: "I think Tim has been out on 2,193 dinner dates which, by my calculation of a hit rate of 70 per cent, means he had to drop his trousers 1,535 times." The bride's reaction is not recorded.
Ulrika Jonsson marries Lance Gerrard-Wright
T is for Table Plan
The top table is straight-forward, but there are few things more hellish than agonising about where to seat the dull, the dreary and the downright dreadful. Should you spread them out, thus diluting their influence, or place them at the same table?
"Old university chums will want to sit with each other, and it makes sense to group people who know each other, but otherwise, it's best to spread out guests who may be very quiet - or very noisy, as this reduces their impact," says Morris.
U is for Ushers
Peter Phillips turned down the Queen's offer of a dozen members of the Gentlemen at Arms as ushers - apparently he wanted to keep the ceremony low-key (other than the 350 guests and Hello! cameras).
But, deployed properly, ushers are crucial to the day's success. "The primary purpose of ushers is crowd control, and keeping the day flowing," says Jo Bryant. "They show people where to park, guide them to their places in the church and help elderly relatives to their seats. After the ceremony they assist in getting people to the reception venue."
V is for Vows
This is what the whole day is about, regardless of what crabby old Salman "women only get married for the frock" Rushdie says - now that his fourth marriage has fallen apart.
As fewer women pledge to "obey" their husbands, they promise to "comfort" them instead.
"The vows in the Church of England's Common Worship marriage service normally used by couples are 'to love, comfort, honour and protect and forsaking all others, being faithful for as long as we both shall live,' reflecting the Church's understanding of mutuality and equality between the couple," says Sue Burridge, the Church's marriage and family policy officer.
W is for Wedding Rings
The cost of wedding and engagement rings is rocketing, thanks to record gold and platinum prices. One shop in London's jewellery centre, Hatton Garden, recently reported the retail price of platinum rings had soared by 30 per cent in a single week.
Couples quoted a figure for a wedding band on Saturday are discovering the cost has risen by Monday, so carpe diem or pay the price.
X is for Exes
Should you invite former spouses and lovers? "Weddings aren't the time and place for social experimentation," says Jo Bryant. "Both the bride and groom must be agreed on whether an ex should be present."
Y is for Young Children
Another hugely divisive issue, this one. If you don't want children at your wedding, don't bow to pressure, but do let guests know well in advance, or they may assume their offspring are invited automatically.
Z is for zzzzz
Surveys show that more than 40 per cent of couples don't make love on their wedding nights, because they're too tired, so feel free to save the racy Myla underwear for the honeymoon, and wear something comfortable under your wedding dress.