It was a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was alone and heading to the Holiday Inn in Camden Lock. Why? For the annual Gay Wedding Show, of course.
Following a last minute drop-out from a too-hungover-to-move friend, I’d decided to pull what could easily go down as the most lesbian move in history: asking the woman I’d been seeing for three weeks if she’d like to spend our fourth date at a wedding show.
Obviously it was a firm no; so I sheepishly strode into the lockside hotel on me tod, clutching a pen and a notepad, having figured out that journalist was a better look than jilted bride.
Upon entry I was handed a goody bag stuffed with Love Hearts and pamphlets for my special day. Mike, who co-runs the event with hubby Gino, was on reception, and sympathetically gave me two handfuls of sweets “to compensate for my ditching.”
“Loads of people come alone,” he reassured me, as he outlined the two floors of stalls and pointed me to the table of complimentary champagne.
The place was rammed, a couple of hundred people weaving in and out of matrimonial merchandise – honeymoon packages, his-and-his photographs, tailored suits for women – the simmer of excited conversation broken by drag performances and chirpy announcements.Surprisingly, my first port of call was Bromley Council’s stand. They beckoned me over as soon as I entered the arena. I hadn’t yet quite decided whether I wanted to come out as a single imposter, or go along with the “bae’s in the toilet” façade.
After a ten-minute lowdown on my marriage rights and why Bromley is where I should be wed, I found myself affirming that my partner and I will now consider holding our service there. Thanking them profusely, I edged away to, um, retrieve my fiancée from the loo.
That said it really didn’t matter that I was wifeless. The cheesy old Holiday Inn’s probably never yielded such a warm atmosphere. The sun-saturated canal meandered alongside the venue’s expansive windows. Everyone was a little twinkly from champagne, charged on the energy and camaraderie in the venue.
Maybe this is just what wedding fairs are like – brimming excitement and wide-eyed contemplations of that aisle-bound stride – but I couldn’t help but feel that this space was different.
As I watched queer couple after couple effortlessly meandering around, hand-in-hand, perusing hers and hers cufflinks I could appreciate why a standard fair about marriage is still isolating for a same-sex-couple. This was, of course, why Gino and Mike decided to launch the pioneering event 15 years ago.“There was a real necessity for the fair back then and there still is, even since the legalisation of gay marriage,” says Mike. “We go to a lot of other wedding shows,” he continues, “and they ask where’s the bride, handing out bubbles at the door and not knowing who to give them to.”
“They are a good five to six years away from being inclusive,” adds Gino, “and until we stop being made to feel “non-normal” at other wedding fairs, this will continue to thrive. That said, our ultimate goal is to close the fair,” says Gino, “equality comes first.”
Considering that there are almost a thousand same-sex marriages a year and that 500 people head to the Gay Wedding Fair’s annual Brighton, Manchester and London shows, this seems like a long way off for this niche market within this minority community.
Events like this are a lifeline for specialist business owners like Shaz, who runs the Butch Clothing Company. She set up her bespoke tailor ten years ago and always tries to make it to the fair. “If you’re a more masculine-identifying gay woman you can’t just pop to John Lewis to get a suit, it doesn’t work, it needs to be tailored,” she says, “the industry still isn’t engineered towards same-sex couples.”The Inn stayed pumping throughout the afternoon, with couples trying their hand at Marryoke in the background, and the Annie soundtrack clearly a particular favourite of the powerhouse drag queen.
Spending an afternoon anywhere where queerness is the majority is refreshing: doing so at a wedding show is extraordinary considering where our rights and visibility stood twenty, ten, five years ago.
On my way out, I bump into Gino unfastening a pair of glistening heels and clutching a box of wedding cake samples. I told him how comfortable lonesome lesbian me had felt at the fair.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he says, “it’s all about the ease with which people can walk around, avoiding having to give an uncomfortable explanation about their sexuality,” says Gino.
I dart out of the door, abandoning my imaginary partner, who, if anyone from Bromley Council asks, got locked in the lav for three hours.
The fact that, with no input on my part, it was assumed that the toilet-captive was a bride not husband-to-be shows that this is perhaps the best wedding fair in the country – at least for this jilted daytripper.