If Covid has stopped you gathering 3,000 guests in a country house hotel to drain your parents’ bank account — or, like Princess Beatrice, forced you to call off a full-scale royal wedding with all the trumpets and trimmings — count yourself lucky.
Just think, you’re saved the worry when the bridesmaids’ dresses don’t arrive and the wife of your father-in-law’s accountant gets drunk and knocks over the wedding cake.
You’d never be able to speak to all those people anyway — even if you could remember their names.
Believe me, I am the voice of experience. We had 12 guests, including the family, at our wedding in 1981. We were all done by four o’clock. Then we got on with the entertaining bit, which was being married to each other for the next four decades.
Apparently, nobody trusts ‘love at first sight’ today. They are too busy swiping right or left on dating apps. But I actually proposed to my wife, Jo, the first time I met her. A year later we were married.
Looking back, we must have been nuts. Yet I sat with Jo in the basement of a house in London’s Holland Park on a cold November night in 1980, slightly separate from the rest of the party, fending off various attempts to get us to come back upstairs and ‘join in the fun’, instantly convinced I had met the most adorable woman in the universe. I still think that. Ahh. Honestly.
I know we married a year and a day after our first date. But I can barely recall any more details between our first night and the big day.
Then a little while ago this year, my agent suggested I write a book. It was meant to be the story of the late 1970s and my recruitment to a now-forgotten series called Not The Nine O’Clock News, and of course those heady days I met my wife.
But, no, the more I struggled the more I had to concede that all details were wiped from a damaged memory bank. Mine.
But, eight weeks ago, we had to move house. So I put my misery-memoir aside and started feverishly packing. And there it was.
Hidden among old washing machine guarantees, beyond the box of vinyl records, I found a diary. Good Lord. I hadn’t even remembered I wrote one.
Wednesday 19th November 1980. ‘Evening spent with John Lloyd, [Producer of Not The Nine O’Clock News], Jo Harris and Karen Osbourne. There is a lot to write. I have become obsessed with Jo Harris. I became very drunk. I woke up the next morning and felt across the bed to see if she was still with me. I had been convinced that we were getting on that well . . .’
I haven’t ever shown this to Jo by the way.
Thursday 20th November 1980. ‘Thursday was very bad indeed. I paced around the rehearsal room and finally got up the courage to ring her in the afternoon. She said she was ill. I asked if I could see her. She said I could ring her next week maybe. Is this me?! The reaction (mine) was terrible.’
Sunday 23rd November.
‘Ruined by non-appearance of the object of my affections. Woke at six in the morning with a glass of whisky in my hand, on John’s sofa.’ I turned the page in expectation.
Monday 24th. Nothing.
What? This was absurd. I scrabbled through the diary. I was in love! Where was the deathless prose? The poems? The detail? The next date was Tuesday 9th of February 1981. Three months later! And we were living together.
Eventually I had to do something that really frightened me, I had to ask Jo what actually happened. She laughed. She has a version, which you may probably guess, is slightly different to mine.
First of all, she tells me, I did not propose the first time we met. Gah. We had met earlier, but I don’t even recall it.
In my defence, I was naked, dressed only in a towel, for a shoot for the cover of the world beating lavatory book ‘Not!’
She was a designer on the book and throwing water at me. It was steamy. (The atmosphere, not the meeting). I must have missed her in the fog. We weren’t properly introduced until a couple of weeks later, when John Lloyd invited me to his house because ‘he had promised a celebration for those girls from the book’ and needed ‘someone to help him out’.
She tells me I did actually propose the night of the party — technically our first date — and then she drove me home in her Mini. She had to. I couldn’t drive. Legally or physically. I certainly couldn’t afford a Mini.
A bit more alcohol and that impetuous proposition followed. It immediately seemed a really good idea to marry Jo. I told her. I told her again many times over the next year. Finally, we did get married, but quietly, which we both wanted. The average cost of a wedding last year was over £30,000.
Now, it seems to me that if your nuptials are more than your mortgage, you may hit life’s rocky foreshore on the way out of the harbour. Just get hitched. Don’t make a fuss. Don’t split up over the cost of the canapés.
We had the tiniest ceremony at Marylebone Town Hall in Central London. I washed myself under the village pump and stuck Jo on the back of my donkey. Or virtually. The best man was media tycoon Jimmy Mulville. He was just a gag-writer then. I remember the registrar, bizarrely, wore a pink hat and a dove grey suit and looked like a member of the Russian politburo. To make up the 12 guests, we chose two friends each and our closest family.
Having a very small wedding made it nicely dramatic without all the fuss. We only told our parents two weeks before the event so they had enough time to get ready, but not enough to worry about flowers or photographers (which is why we hardly have any photos).
We didn’t tell anybody, except the people who were there, and some of them got lost.
Poor Jo had to work late the night before, because they thought she was just going on holiday. She bought a new outfit at Roland someone and wore a vintage embroidered Victorian shirt (something old). I spent nothing on mine.
The restaurant was the same one I had taken her to on our first official outing. We loved it. Not The Nine O’Clock News was at full throttle and I remember reporters crowded outside until, finally, one of the photographers knocked on the door. ‘Griff,’ he said earnestly. ‘If you can promise us Pamela Stephenson is not coming we will go away.’ I was able to make that promise.
But we weren’t rich, (NTNON paid the Equity minimum). Our parents weren’t rich either. It can’t have cost a lot, otherwise we might remember.
For a honeymoon, we were booked into a swanky hotel off the Champs-Élysées in Paris by my agent, but after three days we checked ourselves out for something rougher and simpler on the Left Bank. Two years later, I realised I had drunk my allocation of alcohol for life and gave that up. But, luckily even sober, my infatuation continued.
The most important advice I can give for a happy, stupidly impetuous and long-lasting marriage is to be able to admire the person you marry.
This is not, by the way, my own opinion. I think almost everybody must have wondered: ‘What on earth is she doing with him?’
As for the rest. Well, naturally, I wrote a diary when I was a sad lonely bachelor being introspective. Meeting Jo soon put a stop to that.