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Time Out, 8th June 2001

Time Out, 8th June 2001, Alternative Weddings

Alternative Weddings

If you fancy something different (and cheaper) than the usual canapés and knees-up to celebrate your wedding, read on...

Get the confetti and champagne out - the wedding season is just about to kick off.

Although weddings are usually great excuses for a knees-up, canapés, bubbly and 6ft cakes can dent a serious hole in your pocket. One recent survey in You and Your Wedding magazine totted the cost of the average wedding at a whopping £13,000. In addition, the lead up to the day is often fraught with tension as everyone involved tries to have their say about the best way to celebrate.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. If you’re trying to save money, or if you simply want to celebrate in a way that’s a little bit different from a traditional ’do’, there are now hundreds of organisations that can cater to your needs. With a little imagination and a spot of planning, you can celebrate your wedding with an event that’s unique, fun – and doesn’t break the bank. Here’s how.


Thanks to the 1994 Marriage Act, today’s couples have a choice of 2,500 approved civil premises in which to wed. As a result, traditional church ceremonies now account for little more than a third of the total. This is obviously good news for those of us looking for something a little bit different for that all-special day, but how do you go about sourcing the venue of your dreams?

This is where the web comes into its own, with wedding sites offering a plethora of directories that you can peruse at your leisure., which leads the field, is lovely to look at and full of good advice and information. Its venue search facility allows you to search the UK by area, and also do a search for overseas venues. Frustratingly, many of the places listed don’t have hyperlinks, so while you might find something that sounds intriguing you won’t necessarily be able to link through to more detailed information or images. Still, this is a very good way of setting about your research if you don’t expect it to do all the work for you.

Try also the more functional, but be aware that many telephone numbers are omitted.

For more wedding websites, see below.

If you’re really looking for something different, you can book a private capsule on the London Eye, where you can be pronounced man and wife 450ft above the Thames. Call 020 7654 0824/Fax 020 7654 0801/ for details.

Budget tip: Contact your local council for details of any stately homes or unusual properties that you could hire out more cheaply than private venues.

The Gear

For a more orthodox outfit, check out our Weddings section under Fashion. But before you even think about a dress, make sure you get yourself properly kitted out at Rigby & Peller, the royal warrant laden Knightsbridge undies stalwart – the right bra is a must if you’re to feel totally comfortable in your posh frock.

For a cheaper alternative to made-to-measure bras, try the new electronic bust measuring service at Marks & Spencer, which should fix you up with the perfect fit.


For those who are looking for something a little different, vintage clothes shops are good hunting ground. Camden’s Henry & Daughter actually specialises in antique wedding dresses, veils and other marital paraphernalia, including tiaras, stoles, corsets and bridesmaids’ dresses. Prices start at about £300-400, which is considerably less than the £720 that is the current average.

Another fine option is the Gallery of Antique Costume & Textiles in north Marylebone, a treasure trove of antique silk and lace from around the globe. The obvious drawbacks in looking for vintage robes is size: are you really going to squeeze into that itsy-bitsy 1920s Chinese sheath? The fragility of the old fabrics is also something to consider. But if you really fall for something, you can always either have it altered or use it as a template for a bespoke number.

For more vintage shops see our Retro and Secondhand section , which lists shops where you can pick up idiosyncratic but dressy gowns and accessories at reasonable prices.

Repairs and dry cleaning

See our Repairs & alterations listings for reputable companies; for dry-cleaning try a theatrical specialist such as Celebrity Cleaners or Upstage Theatrical Dry Cleaners, or Jeeves of Belgravia.


Mens wedding wear has always been uninspiring and lagged behind mainstream fashion, but style-conscious grooms are at last starting to break out of the mould, with experimentation in colour, texture and design. This season coloured linen suits (sky blue, cream, light silver) and bright shirts (lavenders, pinks and burnt orange) are big.

Adventurous males should check out Marc Wallace on New King’s Road.

For vintage items and accessories, try Bertie Wooster, High Society and Old Hat.

Budget tip: Dispensing with bridesmaids will significantly lighten your dress bill.


For a big-name beauty treat, Charles Worthington offers an all-inclusive bridal service that can be carried out either in one of his luxurious salons or at your home. Prices for a home session begin at £90 an hour.

Budget tip: The Rivage facial at House of Fraser is serious value for money. An hour’s serious pampering with delicious Rivage products, which contain natural minerals from the Dead Sea, costs just £20, and even that’s redeemable if you buy three products, which start at £10. The facial includes a shoulder massage. Book in advance.
House of Fraser Executive Beauty Suite, 318 Oxford Street, W1 (020 7529 4700) Oxford Circustube. Open Mon, Tue 10am-7pm, Wed-8pm, Thur 10am-9pm, Sat 9.30am-7pm, Sun 12noon-6pm (every other Sun only; call to check).

You can also try the London College of Beauty Therapy. At the beauty salon within this college you can have all kinds of treatments at a snip of their usual price. They offer manicures, hairdressing, facials (from £12), waxing and lots more. One word of warning: we have heard reports of a leg wax taking two hours which sounds a bit scary, so it’s maybe best to stick to the luxuries.
London College of Beauty Therapy, 47 Great Marlborough St, W1 (020 7208 1302) Oxford Circus tube. Open Mon-Fri 9.30am-7pm.

Another way to try out things cheaply is to go round the makeup counters in the big dept stores. Say you’re getting married and need some advice and they’ll give you free makeovers and samples galore. Selfridges is a good place to start.

Food & Drink

If you want something a little exotic, consider asking your favourite restaurant to provide the food: try a Thai wedding feast or other ethnic fare.

Vegetarians opting for the DIY option should check out Nava Atlas’s book Vegetarian Celebrations: Menus for Holidays and Other Festive Occasions (Little Brown & Co; about $13 on, which has an entire section on easy buffets for social occasions.

Budget tip: Offer guests Cava instead of Champagne, and either buy from a wine merchant (need some info/numbers – there was an old TO issue that featured this so I’ll have a look too) on a sale-or-return basis or bring booze over from the continent.


Flowers can be notoriously expensive if bought direct from regular flower shops. If you don’t mind waiting until the last minute for your decorations you can pick up plants and flowers at a fraction of shop prices at Columbia Road Market. Trays of 15 pansies cost around £5; cut flowers are great value with a huge lily bouquet costing £15. It’s also worth listening out for stallholders’ sudden on-the-spot discounts. You can also pick up a ’Columbia Carrier’ (£3), big enough to fit a couple of window boxes worth of goodies.

Budget tip: Candles are a much cheaper option than flowers. Price’s is the place to go if you’re looking to buy in bulk as there are lots of discounts on whole boxes. If you are thinking of bulk buying be warned, a car is essential as public transport is not great to this neck of the woods. The collection is pretty standard, but if you’re looking for bargains on simple table top candles and nightlights this is well worth a visit.


Honeymoons are one area of your wedding that positively benefit from the DIY route – as is the case with all other travel arranged via tour operators, prices for organised honeymoons are generally vastly inflated. With the wealth of information on the internet, and the vast range of guidebooks on offer, you’re far better to decide on your destination and then make your own plans, especially if you want to avoid the horror of Sandals-type couples resorts.

Those in search of utter privacy can surely go no better than a private island – Elite Vacations (020 8864 4431) offers five nights on Felicite in the Seychelles for about £3,500 (full board, including drinks, plus use of a yacht).

For something a little more low-key, the Landmark Trust (01628 825925) offers a host of self-catering breaks in romantic chateaux, lodges and follies.

Budget tip: For those on limited budgets, close to home need not be a limiting option. Hoseasons (01502 501010) offers a week sailing through the Norfolk Broads on the Love Boat (complete with four-poster, Jacuzzi, heart-shaped sofa, and fireplace) from £410 per couple, while Brighton’s small but perfectly formed Hotel Pelirocco (01273 327055) has a range of kinky rooms, including Lenny Beige’s Love Palace (with complimentary copy of The Joy of Sex), and Absolute Love (complete with heart-shaped headboard and velvet chaises-longues). Rooms start at £70 per night.


If the thought of all this organisation has brought you out in a cold sweat you should seriously considering hiring a wedding planner to shoulder the stress.

We’ve listed a select few, but your Yellow Pages should have contact details for ones in your area. Initial consultations should be free, so make sure you shop around to find a planner who’s on the same wavelength as you, and make sure you give them plenty of notice!

Design for Perfection, 01494 773911

Everything but the Groom, 020 7385 3531 Specialises in Afro-Caribbean weddings. Charges 10% of the overall cost of the wedding.

Matrimonio Wedding Coordinators, 020 8202 1259

Milestone Weddings, 020 8488 7223

Perry’s the Wedding Company, 020 8882 4011

The Wedding Design Studio, 01795 439970 A Kent-based company that takes your day in hand for a fixed fee of £995.

Weddings on the web

The web is awash with wedding-related sites, many of them excellent. Our advice is to settle down with a bottle of wine and notepad and let the inspiration wash over you. (the UK leader). (this site has an interesting themed venue search facility). (an attractive site with a good wedding directory). (everything for the modern Indian wedding, from aromatherapy regimes to traditional re-nuptial rituals).

Books & Magazines

The Which? Guide to Getting Married, £9.99 (for stockists call 0800 252100) is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of planning your wedding.

There is also a growing range of bridal magazines available from most newsagents, including You & Your Wedding. Vogue has a monthly Bridal Address Book towards the rear of the magazine, with a good range of out-of-London service providers.


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Helen Hitchcock
Milestone Weddings
Pogles Lodge, Royal Oak Country Park
Henfield West Sussex BN5 9AY England
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