We had been engaged for maybe three weeks before it became apparent I’d be the one throwing hysterical wedding-related hissy fits. In no time, I had turned from a reasonable sort of chap into a wailing, screaming princeling, demanding white-gloved waiters, palm trees and a grand entrance by vintage Rolls-Royce. Like the hideous creature that pops out of John Hurt in Alien, so groomzilla was born.
At least, this is according to my soon-to-be wife. My soon-to-be mother-in-law now refers to me as The Dauphin, and there was a tussle over zebras. My point was, why shouldn’t we have a few scattered around the lawn, serenely grazing in the background, as 500 of our closest friends awaited my arrival, I mean, our arrival?
Of course, it was all a joke, since like most British men I consider myself to be extremely laidback and could not care less about zebras. ‘You must do whatever you like’ is a phrase I think I use a lot. But something odd does happen when you embark on planning an event so far in the future. Most men of my age (I’m 33) don’t usually think more than a day or a week ahead. We make last-minute plans, partly because we can, partly because we have to — nobody else sticks to arrangements. I certainly don’t think about what might happen eight months away. Yet when in September we told wedding planners that we would marry in June, they’d gasp and say, ‘What, June 2016? That’s cutting it fine.’
So a wedding, like it or not, becomes a plughole towards which your life forms an inexorable vortex. (I mean that in the nicest possible way, darling.) You start to think: if everyone says your wedding is so important, then you might as well go all-out. No point spending a year planning a picnic — you might as well have zebras.
The reassuring thing is that I’m not alone. No sooner did I joke to friends that I was just as fussy as my fiancée (what a revolting word) about placement and whether we would have white or coloured spotlights at the post–wedding disco than their own groomzilla stories would tumble forth.
One senior magazine journalist told me her husband (a very successful businessman in his fifties) kept bursting into tears and turning puce if he didn’t get what he wanted, and insisted on a marquee big enough that, after dinner, a partition could be removed to reveal a secret dancefloor. Another found her fiancé more preoccupied with his clothes than she was with hers: he insisted on changing from his morning suit into a velvet smoking-jacket, and spent days fussing about the final alterations to his trousers. Normally, you can tackle such diva-ish behaviour with a simple putdown: ‘It’s not all about you, dear.’ But with a wedding, it is. All the attention can turn the most heterosexual groom into a bit of a queen, which is not what most brides signed up for.
Perhaps the birth of groomzilla is a by-product of gender equality. If you can have a feminist bride, grooms must be allowed to throw hissy fits. When a feminist friend in her mid-thirties got married recently, she made her own speech and marched herself down the aisle unaccompanied. She was not a chattel to be ‘given away’ by a man, was her reasoning, even though she loves her father. Nor did she wear white, feeling that to pretend she was a virgin was an Arthurian fantasy too far. Quite right.
By extension, I am exercising my right not to fulfil the alpha male stereotype. The wedding industry is such a revolting muddle of schmaltz and gendered assumptions that one must do what one can to subvert it. So there were just as many women at my stag do as there were men, though that made it no less boorish — it was a girl who brought the inflatable donkey complete with groaning voicebox. My fiancée was furious — but only because she wished she had thought to ask men to her hen.
In India, where marriages are arranged, incidents of groomzilla behaviour are on the up. One young man from Lucknow was reported to have made such outrageous demands for motorbikes and other chattels as part of his dowry that the bride chucked him within 24 hours of the wedding. In another incident, a newly-wed couple went on safari for their honeymoon and found themselves in a tight spot with a hyena. The man shoved his wife aside and climbed up the tree. She survived, but quietly divorced him when they got home.
Which is why I feel no guilt about having unleashed my inner groomzilla in the run-up to the wedding. Yes, there have been tears, and yes, there have been tantrums. But much better for her to discover that side of me before she marries me than after.
Matthew Bell was due to be married in Florence the day after this magazine went to press.