Coronavirus: A toast to my cancelled wedding

By Jon Kelly
BBC Stories

Montage of Jon Kelly and his fiancee, Kathy

Today was supposed to be my wedding day - until Covid-19 intervened. But that won't stop me delivering my groom's speech, so make sure your glass is charged.

[Taps prosecco flute with fork] It's great to see so many of you not here today. Thank you all for not coming.

There are so many people who've helped make today not special in any way at all. I want to give a shout-out to our photographer for not taking any pictures; to our florist, for not bringing along any flowers; and to all the staff at our reception venue for boarding up the doors and windows so no-one can get in. My wife and I - oh, sorry, my fiancee and I - really can't tell you how grateful we are.

I really must pay tribute to my prospective parents-in-law. You've welcomed me into your family and treated me with every kindness. I'm so glad you're not here today to watch me marrying your daughter. I'd be terrified of exposing you to the virus and killing you.

To my own mum and dad: I owe you everything. I'm incredibly grateful that, on what's meant to be the happiest day of my life, you're hundreds of miles away in Scotland. Seriously now, stay indoors.

I'd raise a toast to the bridesmaids, but there were never going to be any. Or groomsmen for that matter. We didn't want a lot of fuss. This was going to be a low-key, laid-back, affair - a short civil ceremony then a buffet upstairs in a nearby pub. And I think, despite everything, we've stayed true to our original vision. You can't get much more low-key and laid-back than no wedding at all.

But the most important person to mention is Kathy, the woman I plan to spend the rest of my life with. Doesn't she look fantastic in her white dress? I can't tell you first-hand because I've still never seen it. I think she's hidden it somewhere in the back of her wardrobe. But of course she'll look amazing in it, because, well, it's her.

We met in the summer of 2016. At that point I was pretty disillusioned with dating. I'd grudgingly swipe through all the apps without much expectation of ever finding the right person. But when Kathy agreed to meet for a drink in a pub near Borough Market, everything changed. It wasn't just that she was even more beautiful in person than in her photos. She was funny and smart and kind and liked the same wonky indie bands that I did. Most improbably of all, she liked me too.

I spent far too long saving up for an engagement ring. I'd read you were supposed to put aside a month's salary - and even though we're only talking a month's BBC salary, that turned out to be vastly excessive. When we went to an antique jewellery fair together to choose it, the one Kathy liked most cost £80.

Now, I really should have predicted this. Kathy's hunter-gatherer instincts are deeply ingrained. She's a vintage clothes dealer who spends her weekends at car boot sales rummaging for bargains. As far as she's concerned, if you're not buying something for a knock-down price, what's the point?

I knew all this. So I could and absolutely should have proposed much earlier and then we'd have been married long before the lockdown. Sorry, Kathy.

Anyway, after we left the jewellery fair, Kathy and I went to a cocktail bar and I put the engagement ring on her finger. This was December 2019. With the spare cash left over from the ring, we calculated we could pay for a summer wedding ourselves. By the end of the month, we had a date and booked a registrar, a south London venue for the ceremony and the pub for the reception. Our closest friends and family were all going to get together and have a brilliant time.

What could possibly go wrong?

Actually, when we were planning the wedding, there were lot of possible things we anticipated we might have to deal with. Guests pulling out at the last minute; the Spotify playlist I'd made for the disco going silent due to my ancient laptop breaking down; my friends drinking the bar completely dry.

What we didn't factor into our calculations was the possibility of a global pandemic, or indeed that of the government banning weddings altogether. But I mean, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

If anyone ever makes a biopic of my life, there will definitely be a montage sequence in which I keep smugly telling Kathy how well we've done to sort everything out so quickly and painlessly, while a succession of increasingly ominous news bulletins plays in the background:

"Chinese authorities have launched an investigation into a mysterious viral pneumonia which has infected dozens of people in the central city of Wuhan…"

"I don't know why the wedding magazines make it sound so complicated."

"South Korea has raised its coronavirus alert to the 'highest level' as confirmed case numbers keep rising…"

"Buying the prosecco on a sale-or-return basis was definitely the correct decision."

"The latest patient diagnosed with the coronavirus in England is the first to catch it in the UK..."

"Er, maybe I should have thought about wedding insurance after all."

As it did with most non-epidemiologists, I expect, the virus crept up on us suddenly. One minute we were choosing readings for the ceremony and ordering confetti - the next, all that seemed to belong to an entirely vanished world.

We only really had one day of feeling properly upset. That was Thursday 12 March, the day that the government's Sage committee changed its advice about how to tackle the pandemic. A lockdown began to look inevitable.

I had annual leave to use up, so we'd booked a long weekend in the West Country. As our train rumbled out of Paddington, I checked my Twitter feed. It was stream of warnings about how life as we knew it was about to grind to a halt.

By the time we'd arrived, it had begun to sink in that the wedding wouldn't happen. We found a pub, ordered a couple of pints and stared at them, thinking about the amazing day we'd planned.

There were a few tears at this point. We hadn't even finished sending out the invitations.

But very quickly, we got over it.

As the implications of the virus began to sink in - the thousands of deaths, the potential collapse of the healthcare system - a cancelled wedding seemed a very trivial matter indeed. Bereaved relatives and front-line staff working on Covid wards deserved sympathy. We were much further down the list.

Do you know of any reason why these two may not be joined in matrimony? Well, yes, I do, as it happens - if this wedding went ahead, we'd be putting extra pressure on the NHS by helping the novel coronavirus to spread - oh, and we'd potentially kill all our guests.

We sat down at my laptop to compose an email to those of you who had already RSVP'd.

"You've probably noticed there's a pandemic going on," it began. "It's not quite the romantic build-up to 2 May we were hoping for." We wrote that we hoped we'd see them again another time, and asked them to stay safe. Then we signed off.

And because our suppliers are incredibly lovely, we've been able to rearrange everything for another date in 2021. Who knows whether weddings will be permitted again by then, and even if so, what on Earth they'll look like. But it's nice to have something to be hopeful about when you're stuck indoors on lockdown.

Today we're going to celebrate what should have been our wedding day, even if we won't have a certificate to make it official. We'll dress up and open a bottle of sparkling wine. Then we'll cut the red velvet cake that Kathy bought from the supermarket. Once we've Zoomed with some of you we'll dance around the living room.

And though the biggest tragedies inflicted by the virus will rightly receive the most attention, it's worth taking note of the more mundane casualties, too. If you have any kind of social life whatsoever, there will be some event that you were looking forward to and now won't happen. Our cancelled wedding might be your cancelled christening or sports day or birthday night out.

So in that spirit, I'd like to invite you all to join us, wherever you are, while I propose a toast: to better times ahead.

Follow @mrjonkelly on Twitter

Picture editor: Emma Lynch

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Image source, Gary Hamill

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