Thousands of men of a certain age will have felt considerable sympathy for Prince Andrew recently, whose daughter Princess Eugenie is to marry Jack Brooksbank on October 12. Men whose own daughters are engaged. Men who thought they had the father of the bride act sorted. Then realised the aisle carpet had been well and truly pulled out from under them.
Unfortunately, when there are two royal weddings - both at Windsor Castle, within six months of each other - it invites a level of comparison. The Duke of York is said to want the same television coverage for his daughter, as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex enjoyed. But the BBC has reportedly declined, so Prince Andrew has apparently found himself negotiating with ITV instead. Not a standard father of the bride duty, you might think. But this is 2018 and that brief has changed dramatically. It has led to many confused and wrong-footed fathers, who have had the role redefined for them.
Here are the new father of the bride rules.
Your permission won’t be sought
At least not in the way you might imagine. The days of a nervous, stuttering request for your daughter’s hand in marriage are long over. Brides today want both parents involved in this special moment, and their grooms are acting on it. One woman, who married this summer, told me the letter her now-husband wrote to both her parents, seeking their approval, was entirely in keeping with her own thinking.
“He knew it would make my skin crawl to have him ask my dad if he could ‘take me off his hands’. It’s not the most modern concept is it? It’s also not my dad’s decision. If the act of seeking approval is a mark of respect for an older generation, then why shouldn’t that be directed at both parents?”
Share the limelight
Today’s brides are increasingly choosing to have both parents walk them down the aisle. Best be grateful - the next step in modernity is the bride walking in alone (it happens surprisingly often, see Meghan Markle), or with her husband-to-be, while you shuffle your order of service, at least looking forward to your moment at the top table. Problem is, that’s gone, too. Along with your seat. Chances are, you’ll be stood clutching a bowl of street food. Still at least there’s the plenty of fizz. Enjoy it while you can, though, the booze-free wedding brunch the next day – all coffee, fresh juice and waffle towers - is gathering pace.
Put the wallet away
Couples are waiting longer to get hitched; while marriage rates among twenty-somethings are falling, they are rising for those in their mid-30s and beyond. These couples are more financially stable, more established in their careers, and may own their own property. So it’s only natural that they want to pay for their own weddings and - in doing so - gain greater control.
Good news for dads, surely? Not if you were planning on having a big party with all your golf club chums. “When my parents started to invite their friends, without asking us first, I didn’t hesitate to remind them it was us paying £90 a head for people, not them,’ says Sally Berkeley, 34, who married her childhood sweetheart Tim, in Surrey this summer. “They were mortified and had to un-invite people, which couldn’t have been too pleasant. In the end, they had four friends on the day, that was it. I personally feel quite proud when I tell people my husband and I paid for our own wedding.”
Invest in the dress
More brides are inviting their fathers wedding dress shopping because, while she may not value your fashion credentials ordinarily, she may want a gut-reaction male view. So get ready to answer some tricky questions.
This needs research. Ideally, you’lll know your silk crepe from your guipure lace. But, if that’s asking too much, focus your attention on mastering the silhouettes. The fishtail is the one that explodes at the bottom; the sheath is straight up and down; the ballgown is pure Cinderella; and the high-low hem is higher at the front than it is at the back. Easy really.
I was an early adopter of this and felt strongly that I wanted my dad to like what I was wearing on my wedding day. So he accompanied me to a sample sale, in a big London hotel ballroom and swarming with thousands of pumped-up women, all with their eye on the same six gowns. I threw on and tore off dress after dress, stepping out into the foyer to polite but non-committal smiles from my dad. That was until the final and plainest one; the one no one else was showing any interest in. His face lit up. “That’s it,” he said and despite me never seeking his view on a single other thing I had worn before that day. Decision made.
Accept your demotion
Rare are the wedding days when you pull up at a country house venue, in a hired Roller, and let the estate staff deal with the boring logistics. Now, you might find yourself spending months re-landscaping the garden to accommodate 200 guests. When Kendra Leaver insisted her dad do exactly that for her ceremony at the family home in Rye, they discovered an old WW2 bunker. Best left, thought dad. Best turned into a fully functional pub, thought Kendra. And so it was.
Or what about a new career as festival organiser, where you will be tasked with turning an empty field into an open-air party, and sorting everything from electrics to portable loos? “When I had my festival-style wedding, a 45-minute drive from my family home, I knew that I would have to enlist some help, especially for the clear up,’ says Harriet Jones, who married Jamie in Sussex last year.
“There was dad, crawling around in wellies, getting rid of everyone’s empty beer bottles, while my new husband and I flew to Italy on our mini-moon. It was only when we were queuing to get on the plane that my brother sent me a video of dad struggling with the giant leftover tiers of our cake, cutting it into slices and stashing it in freezer bags and grumbling about his ‘demotion’.”
Share the mic
As far as speeches go, it’s business as usual. Sincerity from the groom; filth-laced nonsense or, if you’re lucky, heartfelt hilarity from the best man, and a strong emotional pull from the father of the bride.
But you may find a few new entrants on the itinerary. Your daughter for one. Meghan did it, but plenty of others before her have, too. At least half of the weddings that cross my desk see the bride give a speech and - as she is the most popular person in the room by an English country mile - you may find her a hard act to follow. My advice? Don’t. Rise from your seat with tales of childhood adulation long before she brings the room to its knees with hanky-wetting honesty about her new husband.
It might not stop there, though. There is a crowd-dividing American trend gathering pace here - where the mic is passed around the room and anyone and everyone in the wedding party can pontificate on the happy couple. After all that, will anyone even remember what you said?
Jade Beer’s debut novel, The Almost Wife, is available to buy on Amazon
This article was originally published on The Telegraph