Here are a few things I hate about wedding speeches: I hate it when they're improvised. I hate it when the speaker says, 'I won't talk for long'. That implies he'll become boring, even before he has. That said, I also hate it when they talk too long.
I once heard a best-man speech that went on for over an hour. When we got to 60 minutes I looked him in the eye, as if to say: 'You've done an hour!' He looked back at me as if to say: 'I may do an hour more.' Children had passed out under tables. Aunts were melting.
It didn't put me off though. I still adore wedding speeches because they feel like the crux of the occasion. Jerusalem has been sung before. The vows have been said before. But the speeches - they're original. And while they're spoken, the energy of the occasion is focused on the bride and groom. They're Brad and Angelina. They're who we want to hear about.
OK, the father of the bride has paid for the occasion: it's fair enough he get a word. I like it when he starts a small tidal wave of goodwill by thanking the bit-part players in the event, but he must concentrate his eloquence on telling us why he loves his daughter.
He can't say: 'I'd like to thank Val who did the flowers.' He must not say: 'I'd like to thank Steve for taking the old girl off our hands.'
When the groom talks, I don't like to hear more about Val who did the flowers. If Val's mentioned again, I suspect she's issued threats. And if he talks too long about much he adores his in-laws, I'll think he's after a job. The groom has one role: to speak about his wife. I once saw a groom who said: 'Who have I forgotten? Oh God, my wife!' Then he waffled, saying things like: 'She's a great girl.' No! Be specific. Tell us why you were attracted to her. Say why you love her. OK, you can also mention she's gone a bit mad over the service.
People get nervous about wedding speeches. But the trick is to prepare early and to realise that the crowd couldn't be more on your side. I loved giving my groom speech. I told the whole story of how I'd met my wife, and how I'd lost her and looked for her. I laid it on thick, and it was all true.
The best man introduces a delicious waft of naughtiness to the occasion. His speech marks the moment the event changes from the seriousness of the wedding to the wilderness of the party. To find humour, he needn't mention drugs or lap dancers. We want a character sketch of the groom. The best man should say what the groom's like and riff on it.
'Tom is dependable. If he were a car, he'd be a Volvo. If he were summoned to war, he'd come in shiny shoes.' Guests adore detail and anecdote.
When writing the speech, the best man should ask himself: What's the groom like? What's his favourite pastime? When is he most irritating?
Having thrashed his friend with affection, the best man must speak honestly about the bride. Where did he meet her? Why did he like her? How has she changed the groom for the better? Tell us everything.
'I knew George was in love when I saw him wash his hair. I knew it was serious when he vacuumed.'
The feeling of the best-man speech should go from cynicism and naughtiness to positivity and light. For the first 10 minutes, he should make guests laugh. Then make them cry. Then, at the very end, make them feel proud.
My friend Dom had a wonderful ending to his best-man speech. He imagined the couple in 50 years' time. This gave a comforting sense the marriage would survive; it also allowed him to cartoon the couple.
"In 50 years' time," he said, "Mike will have watched 50,000 hours of football; he still won't have played any. He'll still be banging on about this amazing year in India. But wherever they are, the new Mr and Mrs Stapleton, my greatest hope is, simply, that I get to see them. You're a beautiful couple."
He then finished in a spectacular burst of rhetoric. "It's an honour," he said solemnly, "to be standing here today as Mike's best man. Mike is lazy. He talks authoritatively about things he knows nothing about. He is, however, the kindest, wittiest and most heroic man you're likely to meet. I wish to celebrate him, and the step he's made today. Raise high the rooftops, carpenters, I give you the groom!"
I loved Dom that day. He was lusty, eloquent, and brief. He was the perfect speaker.
As seen in Brides Magazine. By Andrew Clover