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Why the micro wedding is here to stay

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 04/03/2021 Anna Tyzack
A couple, just married -  Anna List Brain © Anna List Brain A couple, just married -  Anna List Brain

How small is too small for a wedding? Since the start of the pandemic, even the most mega of weddings have been micro-sized due to Covid restrictions, challenging Britain’s £10 billion-per-year wedding industry to prove that bijou – be that 30 guests, 15 or just six – can also be beautiful.

While big weddings will hopefully be back on the cards from June, according to the Government’s roadmap plans, experts believe the less-is-more trend will continue regardless, inspired by the stylish yet scaled back celebrations of 2020.

“The pandemic is going to change the face of weddings,” confirms wedding planner Jen Hencher-Hoogeveen ­(weddingplanningbyjen.com). She organised her own micro wedding last autumn and adds: “People don’t necessarily want to have a big gathering; they want it to be an intimate meeting of their closest friends.”

Already the Instagram hashtag #microwedding has more than 277,000 posts, while wedding inspiration sites such as rockmywedding.co.uk are inundated with photographs and blog posts about very small celebrations.     

Venues across the country are adapting to much smaller receptions, creating more intimate spaces and offering more in the way of gourmet food and experiences suitable for smaller parties. “The emphasis changes: instead of a big knees-up, the focus can be on music and eating. We have a chill-out area with a fire pit under twinkly lights, a carousel, a cosy Mediterranean courtyard and barns for intimate dinners,” explains Anna List Brain, of Preston Court in Kent (prestoncourt.co.uk). 

A smaller wedding doesn’t necessarily mean using less of the venue, she adds. “If you’re not forking out for food for 100 people, you can spend your budget on novel things, which reflect your own personality and interests. A micro wedding can be even more special.” 

Freed from the conventions that accompany a traditional ceremony, brides are being more creative about what they wear, adds wedding dress designer Lisa Redman (lisaredman.com), opting for shorter, more relaxed designs. “A skirt and top, for example, that can be worn with different items in the future,” she says.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Meghan Markle and Prince Harry kissing on the steps of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle following their wedding - Danny Lawson/PA Wire © Provided by The Telegraph Meghan Markle and Prince Harry kissing on the steps of St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle following their wedding - Danny Lawson/PA Wire

Research shows that in 2018, an average wedding cost £30,355 and had just over 100 guests. While many couples will appreciate the smaller costs associated with a micro wedding (as well as not having to invite distant relatives out of a sense of obligation), Hencher-Hoogeveen’s clients are looking to spend the same budget, creating a one-off experience for their closest friends and family. “I’m setting up a small reception for a couple in a glass house,” she says. “It’s empty at the moment, so we’re renting a jungle of plants to go in it, as well as dried flowers for the tables. It’s so much fun creating these spaces and they change the way your guests interact on the day.” 

List Brain expects the trend for micro weddings to continue as the pandemic forces couples to consider what really matters to them. “A small wedding can be less pressured, while also being meaningful and memorable,” she says. “Covid has shown us that you don’t have to invite everyone you know to your wedding for it to be a special day. With a micro wedding, you don’t have to invite all those plus-ones and have a 10-minute conversation with someone you’ve never met. The weight is lifted off your shoulders.”

Mr and Mrs Hencher-Hoogeveen

The international micro wedding

Jennifer, 30, a wedding planner, and Lasse, 31, were planning a festival-style wedding at Wilderness (wildernessweddings.co.uk) in Kent in June 2021 

a person standing in front of a fence: The couple © Provided by The Telegraph The couple

Lasse and I live in Amsterdam but when we got engaged in 2019 we immediately started planning a big knees-up in the English countryside for summer 2021. I’m British but my parents live in China, Lasse’s family are Dutch and 90 per cent of our friends live overseas; we chose Wilderness as somewhere we could spend a whole weekend celebrating together with food cooked on open fires and glamping. 

When Covid struck, we knew immediately that most of our friends wouldn’t make it, so we moved the date to August 2022. We didn’t want to wait so long to be married, though, so in September we went to a register office in Amsterdam. It sounds unromantic, particularly as only six people could be there – us, Lasse’s parents and our sisters – but the whole day was so memorable, particularly given my sister had come over from England, even though it meant she had to quarantine for two weeks when she returned 36 hours later. I wore a white dress and I carried a bouquet but we didn’t exchange rings; we decided to save this precious moment until our bigger celebration. We set up a video call from our laptop, so my parents and other family members in France and the USA could watch us getting married; it was amazing seeing them all dressed up and drinking champagne even though it was the middle of the night in their time zones. 

After the ceremony, we stepped out into the street to find a band playing, which Lasse’s parents had arranged as a surprise. It was a beautiful sunny day and we danced in the streets with strangers, and then enjoyed a delicious, long lunch at a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

For honeymoon, our plan has always been to head to Burning Man festival in the USA but we had a mini-moon in Maastricht for five days. There were more surprises here: our family and friends had arranged for there to be rose petals on the bed and champagne in the hotel room, and they’d booked meals for us. We felt inundated with love and the feeling continued when we arrived home to find our post box overflowing with cards. The whole experience inspired me to quit my job and become a wedding planner myself. 

Mr and Mr Locke-Locke

The celebrity micro wedding

Ollie, 33, a television personality, and Gareth, 31, a clothing company director, were planning an overseas wedding for up to 250 people in 2020

a person standing in front of a building: The Locke-Lockes' wedding - Handout © Provided by The Telegraph The Locke-Lockes' wedding - Handout

Gareth proposed to me by the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Park Gardens in 2018. We dreamed of marrying in the Alps or Italy or the South of France with up to 250 of our friends but when it became clear that Covid wasn’t going to blow over, we had to get realistic. 

We wanted to be married and weddings have taken place throughout history in times of great hardship. We just had to be pragmatic. After several date changes, we planned to marry in November at the Natural History Museum in London, only for another lockdown to be announced. Either we brought our wedding forward by two weeks and married before the new lockdown or we postponed again. We decided to go ahead, even though we only had 48 hours. It was a monumental rush. I didn’t even have time to wash my hair; I was still taking phone calls in the shower, moments before I had to leave, and then the Rolls-Royce that was meant to collect me got stuck in traffic and I had to hail a black cab. 

Binky [fellow Made in Chelsea cast member, Alexandra Felstead], my maid of honour, was also stuck in traffic, as was my father, who never made it to the wedding. I don’t regret it at all though; there was something Dickensian about the ceremony: everyone was there beneath the blue whale in masks (matching black silk) with the spirit of Charles Darwin watching over us. As there were so few of us, we filled the space with large trees; we said our vows an hour before Britain went into lockdown and I was in bed by 10pm with a mint tea. I was exhausted and still hung-over from the reception, which we’d held the previous evening at the Bluebird restaurant, to ensure we didn’t break the curfew. It was so touching that our friends, such as Ella Eyre and Pearl Mackie, cancelled everything to be there but it was tough having so few invitations; two friends haven’t spoken to me since. 

I thought we’d have another wedding when the pandemic is over but I don’t think we will. It was so special and intimate; Gareth and I still sit in bed congratulating ourselves on what we pulled off. It wasn’t the wedding we wanted but it was exactly how it should have been: our grandchildren will look at the pictures and think, “Wow, they got married in the midst of a pandemic in one of the most famous buildings in the world; that’s pretty rock ’n’ roll.”

Mr and Mrs Oteng

The country house micro wedding

Oyinda, 30, a business insights manager, and Kofi, 35, an investment banker, were due to have a traditional Nigerian ceremony in Lagos in June 2020 and a London wedding for 140 people in August 2020

a woman standing in a park: Oyinda and Kobi - Jeff Gilbert © Provided by The Telegraph Oyinda and Kobi - Jeff Gilbert

Kofi: When our UK wedding was cancelled for a second time last autumn, we decided to get the legal part done; with all the anxiety of constantly moving dates, it seemed the right thing to do given the uncertainty. As opposed to having a conventional register office in London, we canvassed our original list of venues, and discovered Euridge Manor in Wiltshire could marry us the following Saturday. We thought about it for a moment and then decided to go for it, even though it meant organising a wedding from scratch in five days! We found a photographer, caterer, and Oyinda scrambled through Asos for a wedding dress. We were still sorting out the music on the way there in the car. It was an emotional decision, as although my parents could be there, Oyinda’s were still in Lagos, and she was taking such a big life step without them. They were supportive and we streamed the ceremony on Zoom, which they loved. We had to adjust our mindsets but the priority was getting married and the fact we were able to cement our union in a beautiful setting, amid all the adversity, felt like a really positive achievement.

Oyinda: The entire day went to plan. After the ceremony we had drinks and canapés and photographs and at 3.30pm on the dot we were on our way back to London. We arrived home and said, “Wait, did that just happen?” but we don’t regret it one bit. We’ll still do the traditional ceremony in Nigeria but I don’t feel pressure to have a big white wedding any more. By stripping it back and identifying what was truly important to us as a couple, we had our perfect wedding day.

Mr and Mrs O'Riordan-Rowell

The town hall micro wedding

Journalist Marie and her partner of 20 years, Ben, had planned to combine a secret wedding with a big birthday bash last year

a group of people standing in front of a building: The wedding © Provided by The Telegraph The wedding

Perhaps as a relic of having awful acne well into my 30s, I’ve always been too shy to dream of being a bride, of being the centre of everyone’s gaze for a whole day. The mere idea brought me out in hives.

My partner, Ben, knew about my shyness (“And yet you’re not… quiet”), and so the proposition, when it came, was: “Look, we can just do it in a register office, on a Monday morning, if necessary. Two witnesses, then we all go to the pub. It’ll be just like a 1950s wedding!” I said yes.

While I am shy, I do like a party. It was my idea to link our nuptials to my forthcoming big birthday in April. We would get wed, secretly, in the morning and then just announce it at the party. The genius of my idea was that, instead of making a speech, I would just hold up my hand and blush prettily. Everybody would cheer.

“But, if you get married, however discreetly,” said Ben, “and then have a huge party, isn’t that a big wedding? So we’d need to invite your family, including Auntie Delma, and everyone from Ireland, and my family…” From which moment, it was like trying to unstir coffee. And now our new plan looked like this: register office for 16 people; lunch – chic – for 30 close family and friends; free-for-all in our local pub (capacity 120). Everyone said yes to the pub. (Oh, gawd…) Then Ben kept forgetting who was in on the secret. People were planning to fly in from Australia, Dublin, New York. We’d need a wedding cake (Roger would make it); live music (an Irish fiddle band was booked); a DJ (“Don’t mess about with playlists…”); a wedding photographer (please God, no); children’s entertainment… I had created a hybrid monster, neither wedding nor fun.

And then the pandemic hit. I spent my birthday on Zoom – can I say relieved? – with Ben coughing weakly on the sofa, a situation that continued for some months. But apart from Ben’s (very) long Covid – he believes he had it three times – we had a good lockdown. But there’s something about not knowing what’s around the bend, when everything is round the bend, that focuses your mind, and we realised we really did love each other and did want to get married. (Before Ben got Covid a fourth time.)

Aug 15: the most romantic email of my life, asking if I wanted to get married. Chelsea Register Office had had a cancellation on Sept 24, at 10.40am. Its smallest room; four guests (masked); hand sanitisation before and after exchange of rings; music from own phones, self-operated; no singing (droplets). Reader, I indicated my consent. My family would be marooned in Ireland; Ben’s mother, 83, shielding; the rules were changing daily, and practically nobody could come, but we’d have to make the best of it.

Sept 24, Wedding Mk III? Instead of the predicted drizzle, the day is warmly sunny. Charlotte, my matron of honour, does my make-up from a YouTube video. Kiki, our long-standing lodger but also top stylist, does my hair. On the King’s Road, there is the perfect café to meet our (four) guests but then other friends arrive just to stand outside. We are all amazed to be out, together, dressed up, in the sunshine. Inside, our officials, Anne and Lawrence, sound warm behind visors and masks. Ben, trying to be clever and to avoid the phone thing, has asked one guest to bring a guitar to strum gently. 

The service is very sweet and short. I keep giggling at the masks. And then something I hadn’t expected: we are allowed to exit by the front door town hall steps. Confetti may be thrown. Ben and I are held back, and when we emerge, our guitarist launches into an exuberant version of Van Morrison’s Marie’s Wedding. Everyone sings, Kiki capers about throwing confetti, people are crying. It is such a scene, passers-by stop, vans hoot, bus passengers wave and give thumbs-up, somebody across the road takes pictures. We have all been starved of joy for so long, it just erupts.

Afterwards we have Guinness on the pub terrace (tables of six) near our house. Then, lunch at Covid-secure Chez Bruce in a private room (14). It is all just effortlessly chic, fun and delicious, and Bruce tells us to make as much noise as we like. 

The rest of the day was perfect. I even made a speech. You try to have a small, discreet wedding and, of course, in a pandemic, it all goes right.

Mr and Mrs Brewster

The winter micro wedding

Emily, 30, and Tom, 31, were supposed to be marrying at Wyresdale Park in Lancashire in May 2020

a person sitting on a wooden bench: Emily and Tom Brewster - Paul Cooper © Provided by The Telegraph Emily and Tom Brewster - Paul Cooper

When our wedding day was postponed from May until December, it was a double disappointment as I’d spent the past two years planning a summer wedding. Wyresdale Park has beautiful outdoor spaces and glamping, I’d chosen a summery wedding dress and the bridesmaids were wearing peach summer dresses with delicate high heels. Another disappointment was that we’d been planning to start trying for a baby after we were married; we decided not to wait any longer and to see what happened.

As December approached, and we realised we’d have to chop down our guest list to 15 people, we discussed postponing again; we’d already paid in full for the venue and it didn’t make sense to take 15 guests for the same price as 150. In the end we decided to marry in church and postpone our big celebrations until next year. I felt as if we’d been waiting long enough and, in August, I discovered I was pregnant, which was an extra push for us to get married. I embraced the cold and wore a long sleeved dress and a fluffy coat, and we didn’t go overboard on decorations as it’s expensive having two weddings. I felt anxious in the run-up to the ceremony about picking up Covid or having to self-isolate, and I worried that the church would seem empty with so few guests. 

But on the day itself, we were so overwhelmed with happiness and love, with our nearest and dearest beside us, that it didn’t feel like we were missing out on anything. The only slight disappointment was that it was too risky for my grandmother to be there. 

I’d say to anyone planning to get married this year that small weddings can be just as magical; in fact, if we’d had just a few more of our friends there, I don’t think we’d be repeating anything in the future.

Mr and Mrs Holding 

The summer garden micro wedding 

Olivia, 33, head of brands for luxury fashion marketplace Farfetch, and James, 35, managing director at creative digital agency, Multivitamin/ Little Vitamin, were supposed to be married at Owlpen Manor, Stroud in July 2020. 

a group of people standing in front of a building: James and Olivia at their wedding - derwoodphotography 2015 © Provided by The Telegraph James and Olivia at their wedding - derwoodphotography 2015

After James proposed in August 2018 we immediately started planning a wedding in the Gloucestershire countryside, near to where we both grew up. After much searching, we found the perfect wedding venue at Owlpen Manor, which has a church on site and a beautiful new wooden pole barn, and we set a date for July 2020.

As the pandemic unfolded, however, and it became clear that our big wedding wouldn’t be going ahead, we opted to do something on a much smaller scale at James’s family’s local church, which is also where my grandmother got married. After speaking to our original florist and caterers, we planned a small party in James’s parents’ garden, which is walking distance from the church. We kept the same rustic theme and although we had to scrap the larger features we were planning, we had beautiful table decorations and the garden was in full bloom.

It was a completely different day to the one I imagined but if anything it turned out better. Originally just close family were invited but a fortnight beforehand, the rules relaxed and we were able to have up to 30 guests. There were definitely people missing but the ceremony was heart-warming and intimate, in a church that means so much to our family. We live-streamed the ceremony to relations in Thailand, USA and Australia and we even recreated some of the pictures from my grandmother’s wedding day, which seems particularly poignant now as she passed away in November.  

The moment I walked into the church and saw 30 of our loved ones together, I knew we’d made the right decision. Most of the weddings we were meant to go to last year were cancelled but I’m so pleased we went ahead because it’s heavy and emotional and so disheartening not knowing when it’s going to happen. 

As there was no cover in the garden, when the heavens opened at 10 pm our guests had to call it quits but James, as a surprise, had transformed his father’s garage into an amazing disco with lights and posters to hide the tools, which meant we could have our first dance. 

Mr and Mrs Shipp to be

The micro wedding that is yet to happen 

Robyn Charles, 24, physiotherapist and Nick Shipp, 29, engineer, were to be married at Kingston Maurward in Dorset in June 2020 

a man and a dog posing for the camera: Robyn and Nick in Dorset - Christopher Pledger © Provided by The Telegraph Robyn and Nick in Dorset - Christopher Pledger

Nick surprised me by proposing on Christmas Day four years ago, just after I started university. We decided to wait until I’d graduated to get married; we set a date for the end of June 2020 and started planning a wedding for 240 people. We both have big families and I’m half Caribbean, so it was always going to be a massive party. Everything was falling into place; we’d found the perfect venue, Kingston Maurward near Dorchester where we used to go as kids, with gorgeous gardens overlooking a lake; we’d made up the invitations; I working out in the gym with my mum; the hen party was booked and we were starting to think about the seating plan. We’d even booked taxis, so our guests wouldn’t have to worry about how they were going to get home. I was envisaging walking into the ceremony under a canopy of blossom trees and seeing all my friends.

When Covid came along, we rebooked provisionally for August, and the invitations were printed a second time. I was devastated when the new date had to be cancelled, too; we opted to delay for another year, which was so disappointing but I wanted people to be able to enjoy themselves without wearing a mask.

I’m so relieved that our wedding will now take place in May this year with 30 guests. Even if it was just with our parents, we were going to go for it. Nick’s been so supportive throughout but I couldn’t cope with the disappointment of postponing again; I just want to be husband and wife and to start getting on with married life. The most important thing for me is to have my closest relations there when my father walks me down the aisle. Dad and I have a plan to enter the ceremony in our own unique way and whatever shape my wedding takes, we’ll do this. 

10 top venues for a bijou wedding

1. Kinkell Byre, St Andrews

A converted barn on a coastal farm, with spectacular sea views (kinkellbyre.com).

2. The House of St Barnabas, Soho

A consecrated chapel, Georgian house and garden in the midst of Soho, featuring art by Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst (hosb.org.uk). 

a group of people standing in front of a building: The House of St Barnabas - Will Patrick © Provided by The Telegraph The House of St Barnabas - Will Patrick

3. Samlesbury Hall, Lancashire 

A 700-year-old stately home featuring an Italianate courtyard, festoon-lit tennis lawn, and hamlet of shepherd’s huts (samlesburyhall.co.uk).  

4. The Stack, Trelion, Cornwall 

A 19th-century former engine house in the heart of Poldark country (uniquehomestays.com). 

5. Treetops, Umberleigh, Devon

An intimate treehouse in the rolling Devon landscape, for weddings of up to 10 people (treetopescape.co.uk). 

6. Cley Windmill, Holt, Norfolk

An enchanting windmill with sweeping views of the Cley Marshes out towards the North Sea. The venue is able to cater for weddings up to 28 people (cleywindmill.co.uk). 

a group of people sitting in front of a building: Cley Windmill - Karen Fuller © Provided by The Telegraph Cley Windmill - Karen Fuller

7. The Mirror Room, Portmeirion

An intimate space for 14 guests in the Hotel Portmeirion, with floor to ceiling windows and views over the Dwyryd Estuary (portmeirion.wales).

8. Petersham Nurseries, Richmond 

An oasis of calm for 40 guests on the outskirts of London with seasonal menus with produce from Haye Farm in Devon (petershamnurseries.com).

9. Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh 

Choose between the Cullen Suite, a Regency room, for up to 40 guests, or the New Library, which is lined with books and has a grand fireplace at each end (rcpe.ac.uk).

a dining room table in front of a building: Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh © Provided by The Telegraph Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh

10. Nether Winchendon House, Buckinghamshire 

A romantic Tudor manor house in seven acres of gardens, surrounded by 600 acres of parkland (nwhouse.co.uk).

a large stone building with grass in front of a house: Nether Winchendon House © Provided by The Telegraph Nether Winchendon House
15 tips for hosting a small wedding

1. Go wild with your venue

A micro wedding opens up a world of unique spaces that wouldn’t work for a larger wedding: cafés, bars, parks, galleries and glamping sites – or even your back garden. 

2. Don’t stress over your guest list 

Set yourself a limit and stick to it. The stricter you are on numbers, the less pressure there is to invite people you don’t like or know very well. 

3. Make the most of your venue

If there is a lot of outdoor space, set up lawn games or hire a photo booth and move benches into scenic spots for deep, meaningful conversations. 

4. Invest in the detail

Lighting, floristry, fabrics, seating, table decorations; the fewer people there are to feed, the more you can invest in the aesthetics of your wedding. 

5. Hire a wedding planner

Just because your wedding is small, doesn’t mean to say it isn’t stressful to organise. A wedding planner will coordinate the day, so you can focus on having fun rather than the practicalities. 

6. Create a chill-out area

Relax with your guests after the ceremony, preferably by a fire pit with some live music.

7. Swap the dance floor for an entertainer

Micro weddings are all about experiences; and you can always dance under the stars later on. 

8. Shift the day back an hour

This will give you more time to get ready, then have a twilight ceremony, saying your vows as the sun sets.

a person with a sunset in the background: Bride and groom - E+/aldomurillo © Provided by The Telegraph Bride and groom - E+/aldomurillo

9. Set out a timeline 

Ensure the day is filled with activities, entertainment and reflective moments. Draw up a list or a poster to keep your guests in the loop.

10. Get out your pen 

With fewer guests, you can add personal touches by sending handwritten invitations and leaving personalised place cards and favours on the table.

11. Be sensitive about seating

A round table brings a smaller party together, as does a U-shaped table arrangement; also consider separating couples, at least for part of the meal. 

12. Eat (and drink) for Britain

Go all-out with the menu, be it a Michelin star-style dinner, an Argentinian asado or a food truck. 

13. Invest in your photographer

You’ll still want great pictures to admire in years to come. 

14. Set up a virtual element

Invite absent guests to watch on Zoom. 

15. Don’t feel obliged to have a first dance or a wedding cake or a three-course wedding breakfast. 

A micro wedding can be as informal as you like. 

Wedding season 2021

1. From March 8, weddings may have a capacity of six people

2. From April 12, weddings may have 15 guests

3. From May 17, the number of guests may rise to 30. 

4. From June 21, there should be no legal limits on social contact at weddings 

Has 2020 changed your idea of the ideal wedding? Have you been inspired by the stylish yet scaled back celebrations we have seen this year? Let us know in the comments below.

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