The wedding crasher
What’s it really like to be at a wedding where the bride and groom are strangers? finds out.
ere are the rules: phones off, don’t stand up, don’t block the cameras, remember your Non-Disclosure Agreement, don’t post on social media (yet). Now that’s all done, the celebrant asks: ‘‘Who doesn’t believe in love at first sight?’’
Okay. I’ll be honest: me. At least in this context. I’m at a wedding for Married at First Sight, the reality TV show that throws two strangers together at the altar, the Australian version of which has produced one successful pairing in 24 attempts.
Romance isn’t in the air yet. A bitter wind is, and it’s still early enough in the morning that the sun isn’t compensating. No music is playing. Just 54 seats are set for the wedding of Brett Renall and Angel Fulljames at the Tasting Shed restaurant in Kumeu, West Auckland – and the last few of those are occupied by Mediaworks’ publicity types and the bloody media themselves, who are attempting to maintain a low profile (trust me).
On the left, corralled behind a mound of sound, lighting and camera equipment, are the television crew, wearing the resolutely non-weddingsuitable TV-crew uniform of ratty jeans, puffer jackets and beanies. It’s a strange scene.
The groom arrives first, to cheers. Long pause. The bridesmaids next, to applause. Longer pause. The bride emerges briefly in the car park, and is turned around again. In the background, a refrigerated delivery truck turns up, which doesn’t help.
Finally, we’re underway. ‘‘I really hope in the years to come you look back at this moment,’’ says the celebrant, which seems an understatement.
But the couple themselves are a delight. Brett seems a very considerate chap, and has written some funny lines. Angel’s nerves translate into a lot of endearing giggles and she tells him he’s ‘‘hit the wife jackpot’’. Everyone begins to smile along with them. The bloke in front mutters to his wife: ‘‘It’s the best wedding I’ve been to.’’
As the celebrant says ‘‘they will live together in marriage’’, the bride’s father bursts into a how-is-thishappening sort of guffaw. Everyone stops, looks at him, then continues. It’s time for the couple to walk back down the aisle together. They do, but director Greg Heathcote darts out, essays an apologetic smile and asks them to do it again. This time, he’s happy, and shuffles them aside with a glass of wine for some sort of briefing.
The best man wanders by. ‘‘So many Kiwi blokes are so closed-minded, but he’s open minded,’’ he says. ‘‘He’d give anyone a chance.... He’s perfect for it.’’
The celebrant, Iris Richter, is Icelandic, by way of Luxembourg. Her previous TV experience was appearing in a show about Luxembourgers who have gone overseas. She’s very keen for the couple to succeed, and explains how she decided there was no room for her to judge how couples express their love or indeed meet. I explain the odds they have to beat. ‘‘Oh wow,’’ she says, looking crestfallen. ‘‘Oh wow’’.
A Mediaworks PR person quickly interrupts, saying that some of the Australian couples lasted a while and the one successful pair now have a baby. ‘‘No. It’s really interesting,’’ says Richter, rallying.
Already, the crew are packing up. There’s another wedding starting at 3.30pm in the city, and most are heading there, leaving two cameras and producer Alex Long behind to watch the remaining action. They’ve already attached radio mikes to their most likely candidates for good colour – the obvious, like the bridal couple, the father of the bride and the best man, but also a fairly random looking sample of guests.
Brett and Angell are towed away to stand beside a pond for their wedding photos. It’s a weird tableau; there’s wedding photographer Neumark Anthony taking his posed shots, then the show’s own stills photographer Tom Hollow taking photos of Anthony taking photos, and then there’s me, surreptitiously peering through the ponga and definitely catching sight of an actual snog.
Already everyone is invested in this couple succeeding, and trying to pick the signs that they will indeed roll a double six. Anthony, who has compressed his usual three-hour wedding shoot into five minutes, says: ‘‘They were very easy. I didn’t know what to expect, it could have been very awkward but they wanted it to go well. It wasn’t typical. But it was interesting’’.
Hollow comes past, and with the practised air of the reality TV veteran, says they ‘‘seemed good’’.
Long, who has been patrolling the venue with a serious look on her face, relaxes when she’s asked about them. ‘‘There’s nothing fake about these guys,’’ she says warmly. ‘‘You do worry sometimes about doing these shows and having guys who aren’t here for legit reasons, but these guys are, and they are such humble people. You can read it in their faces, they mean it.’’
I’ll admit to being impressed at how low-key the crew have been. There’s nothing staged, bar that single retake, and now with the beer flowing, most people seem to have forgotten them. ‘‘We love to stay back and let them have their wedding. We are conscious of making it feel special for them,’’ says Long. ‘‘We want it to be real – we don’t want it to feel manufactured, because then they feel like they are acting.’’
At the dining tables, Brett’s mates are parked up together, tucking into Heinekens and wearing dreadful moustaches, the legacy of a rugby team bonding exercise and the groom’s quite clever gag in persuading them that for continuity reasons, because they all sported them in the scene where he told them he was getting married, they had to keep them for the wedding.
A few beers last night left most a bit dusty, except one who blew out his pancreas some years back, so is designated driver and perhaps owner of the worst facial sproutings. They are a gregarious bunch, fiercely loyal, and bizarrely nervous themselves.
‘‘We were talking to the camera crew, and heard the guy say ‘the groom has arrived’ and I thought ‘oh shit’, it hit me then, I felt the anxiety,’’ says one. Another says he wasn’t listening properly at the time when Brett told them the plan, and thought he was going on the show First Dates. ‘‘I wondered why he was making such a fuss. The next day I thought ‘oh shit, that’s why he was so tense’.’’
Like everyone else, they want it to work. By now, I do too. As the speeches start, I slip away, hoping that I’ve just seen New Zealand’s one in 24 chance.
Married At First Sight’s Brett Renall and Angel Fulljames.
Peering through the ponga as the new couple get their wedding photos taken.
The bride and her cheerful father before the start of the ceremony.