Inside Britain’s Lavish Luxury Wedding Industry

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For millions of viewers around the world, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding was spectacular—not just for its emotional resonance, but for its glamorous splendour. But with a designer dress, a big name venue, elaborate flower arrangements, and a star-studded guestlist, the royal wedding was far less unique than some might assume.

Granted, most weddings don’t have the monarch in attendance, but over the years, Britain’s rich and famous have managed to sustain an entire industry built around the kind of lavish, large-scale weddings that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex beamed to over 30 million homes worldwide. It’s just usually most of us don’t get to see them.

Countless iconic British buildings moonlight as wedding venues

Those with a modest wedding budget may have little luck booking the likes of Windsor Castle as a venue, but even the Queen’s sometime residence is increasing in popularity; another royal wedding, between Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank will be held there in October.

Royal connections or not, for the right price any couple can have a castle wedding. The company Celtic Castles was founded on this principle. And while they don’t discuss most prices publicly (if you’re worried you can’t afford it, you probably can’t) there are some castles and country estates that go for around £7,000 per night.

Far from merely renting places out, brides and grooms with a true taste for glamour can arrange for these historic buildings to be modified to their discerning taste. Luxury wedding planners Snapdragon emphasise “transforming locations into stunning venues”. In practice, this has involved erecting and decorating a temporary conservatory at the grand Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. Stately homes like Staffordshire’s Sandon Hall allow couples to “become Lord and Lady of the manor”, surrounded by 400-acres of parkland, no less.

Household name institutions like the V&A or the National History Museum have also been known to host luxury weddings. The V&A’s Raphael Gallery allows couples and their guests to dine amongst “the most important surviving examples of Renaissance art in the world” for £18,000 (£22,800 with dancing).

Wedding couture is big business

Meghan Markle’s minimalist Givenchy wedding dress is estimated to have cost nearly £400,000. This number is impressive even amongst other royals. Kate Middleton spent £100,000 less on her Alexander McQueen gown in 2011.

Once again, you don’t have to marry into the royal family to reach this level of extravagance. Madonna, who surely qualifies as music royalty, spent £50,000 on a Stella McCartney dress when she married now-ex husband Guy Ritchie in Scotland, and Victoria Beckham’s structured gown from Vera Wang cost £63,000.

The prices of non-celebrity wedding dresses are rarely reported on, so it’s difficult to determine their prices, but it’s safe to say that anything bespoke by a top designer is likely to reach the tens of thousands. Petra Ecclestone, daughter of British F1 mogul Bernie and very much part of the country’s wealthy elite, is said to have spent £80,000 on a gown for a wedding that cost up to £12,000,000.

Famous entertainers perform at private weddings

Meghan and Harry may have opted for Karen Gibson & The Kingdom Choir and 19-year-old cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason to perform at their ceremony, but it’s not unusual for extremely wealthy couples to recruit big name acts from the music world to perform at their weddings and afterparties.

Perhaps the most opulent example of this unsurprisingly comes from Petra Ecclestone’s multi-million pound extravaganza. The socialite had chart-topping musicians Alicia Keys, The Black Eyed Peas, and David Guetta play at her wedding reception, all at the combined cost of a cool £2.6 million.

Though she is British, Petra Ecclestone didn’t get married in the UK, but that won’t stop similarly wealthy brides and grooms who do get married on British shores from booking equally high profile performers.

Rachel Dalton, head of her agency of the same name boasts the ability to get “any talent, any experience, any place”. In practice, this has involved bringing the Pointer Sisters, Air Supply and Michael Feinstein to the weddings of adoring fans. Not exactly The Black Eyed Peas, but not every luxury wedding has an Ecclestonian budget.

The Rachel Dalton website stresses that while the agency does not represent any of the celebrity performers directly, their industry connections can make booking anyone possible, for the right price. And that, as we’ve seen, is a running theme with the Great British luxury wedding industry. Want to get married in your favourite museum, in a dress by your favourite designer, serenaded by your favourite singer? If you have the money, you can have the wedding of your dreams.  

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