The wed­ding crasher

What’s it re­ally like to be at a wed­ding where the bride and groom are strangers? finds out.

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -



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.

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