Apparently, Meghan Markle wants to do a speech at her wedding and everybody seems to have an opinion on it. Couples have been breaking wedding traditions for a while now, and women were able to speak long before weddings were even invented, so it seems odd that people would find this decision so controversial. My husband and I got married in 2016, and we broke a lot of wedding traditions. Hearing this about the next royal wedding has made me reflect on the choices we made for our own wedding and the thought processes behind them.
Even before we got engaged, I knew I wanted to do a wedding speech. I couldn’t imagine having all my friends and family gathered in one room and not stand up to thank them for being there, or thank my bridesmaids for being the amazing humans that they are, or thank our parents for all their support, or raise a toast to the future my husband and I would share together. I also wanted to celebrate our journey so far, to talk about how we met, and what I thought of him after our initial encounter at Leeds festival, when he drew a Craig David goatee on my face and we fell in love over pizza. I wanted to reflect on all the travel we’d done together, how happy he makes me, and all the things I love about him. So, with slightly trembling hands but a confident heart, I stood up and did a wedding speech...and it felt brilliant. As well as the more traditional speeches, my husband’s mum did a speech too and it was met with rapturous applause. If the bride’s dad gets to shower the newlyweds with blessings, why shouldn’t mothers do the same?
I also knew that I didn’t want to change my surname after we got married. We talked about all the options: Rene taking my name, me taking his, going double-barrelled, coming up with a hybrid of the two, or a new name altogether. But the fact of the matter was, the idea of having a brand-new name after 30-something years just felt a bit weird to us both. My name has been with me since the year dot. I graduated (twice) with that name, I learnt to drive with that name, I carried my passport and travelled all over the world with that name, I got my first job with that name and I met my husband with that name. Losing it after all those years felt like losing a little piece of me. Other women don’t feel like that, and they’re happy to take their husband’s name. Some people feel it’s more important to share one family name regardless of what it is. I get that. But for me, as much as I wanted to get married, having the same surname as each other didn’t add any extra value to our relationship. I felt stronger in keeping my own name, and so did he, so that’s what we decided to do.
Other traditions we ignored were less ground-breaking but just made sense to us at the time. We offered M&S finger sandwiches instead of fancy canapés; we had a Hare Krishna buffet as our wedding feast, not only because it’s our favourite food, but as vegetarians, it felt important to put on a meat-free day. We did a slightly ridiculous first dance to our favourite song because we felt awkward about doing a slow shuffle while everybody watched. We didn’t spend lots of money on fancy cars taking us to and from the venues; my bridesmaids and I got a taxi to the wedding because it was 5 minutes around the corner, and then Rene and I travelled with all our guests to the reception on the London bus we’d hired because we didn’t want to miss out on all the fun. We then went backpacking for 3 months for our honeymoon instead of 2 weeks of luxury in the Maldives. People thought taking sleeper trains across India and staying in $10 a night hotels was bonkers, but we couldn’t imagine honeymooning any other way.
Other friends have broken wedding traditions in their own way too; brides and mothers have done speeches; mothers have walked their daughters down the aisle; two friends walked down the aisle together; one couple got married in an old Victorian swimming pool; another friend got up and sang instead of doing a first dance, while her husband played guitar. They were all uniquely touching in their own way.
We made other decisions that were definitely steeped in tradition. I wore a white wedding dress and carried a bouquet, my dad walked me down the aisle, Rene had been the one to propose to me 18 months before (albeit with a pizza!), and we took pretty traditional vows. These decisions could have been made differently, but we felt that they were right for what we wanted. The dress I fell in love with happened to be white, I asked my dad to walk me down the aisle simply because I wanted him by my side, the vows weren’t allowed to be too ‘out there’ because they had to be legally binding. And that was all fine, because we wanted to keep those bits, and we’d put a personal spin on the things that mattered to us.
I don’t regret a single thing about our wedding, or the decisions we made as a couple. The Wedding Rule Book is a thing of the past, and people are enjoying the freedom it brings. They’ve realised that it’s their damn wedding and they'll speak, or breakdance or eat pizza if they want to. Whether you keep things traditional, throw a few conventions out the window, or go completely off-piste, you have to make sure that the choice is yours. You only get one go at it.
I hope that Meghan Markle does do a speech on the big day, if that’s what she wants to do. It’ll certainly pave the way for others to do the same. If she's interested, I can also teach her some moves.