Wedding Report: Natalie and James, Part Four
11 Thursday Oct 2012
Catch up with previous parts of this wedding report.
Between courses, Natalie and James slipped between the tables together; chatting to people they had not yet had the pleasure of seeing. By the time that the rich chocolate dessert arrived, their wedding guests appeared to be completely satiated and merrily tipsy, though perhaps not mentally prepared for the emotional rollercoaster that awaited them. The music faded and attention turned to the central table as Gordon, James and Steve steeled themselves for the task that lay ahead of each of them.
Certain people around the room seized their napkins in anticipation as Gordon rose from his seat to deliver the father of the bride’s speech. It seemed as though there might have been a tip-off that this was going to be an emotional one, or perhaps those who knew the family well knew that this would be a speech that would leave very few dry eyes in the house.
As he began to welcome everyone from near and far, the sea of faces looking back at Gordon beamed with smiles. His gentle tone and sardonic humour provoked the kind of loud applause and cheers ordinarily reserved for rock star comics. June, he said, was a significant month. Marilyn Monroe had been born on this day in 1926; the Beatles released Sgt Pepper; and most historically of all, Natalie and James had got married.
A roar of approval filled the room as Gordon went on to document how his daughter had come to know James at sixth-form college in Horsham, West Sussex. Being little more than friends at the time, Gordon recalled how James and Natalie had been in the same Duke of Edinburgh award group.
“The same tent as well!” James cheekily piped up, causing a squeak of embarrassment from his new wife and the most raucous cheer from a disbelieving crowd who had just witnessed the groom drop himself in it.
Gordon raised an eyebrow over his spectacles but persevered with his story, explaining how the four-day hiking trip in the Lake District had left Natalie in tears after miles and miles of cold, rain-sodden trekking.
“It was at this point that James offered to carry the entire contents of her backpack,” explained Gordon and a heart-melting sigh echoed around the room. “But, please don’t tell the Duke of Edinburgh about this as we don’t want to have to hand back the medal!”
“When they bumped into each other in London six years later and discovered that they only lived ten minutes apart in Brixton, Jean and I both thought that fate had had a hand in their relationship,” said Gordon. Natalie’s chin wobbled momentarily as she looked up at her father and listened to the coo of the audience around her.
“I want to say more about James,” he continued. “But it’s only fair to embarrass him once today and I’ll leave that up to Steve.”
Gordon’s breath seemed to rush out of his body as he began to talk about his daughter and her premature birth. Emotion strangled the well-prepared words in front of him, clouding his eyes with tears and swallowing the sentences that he battled to wade through even amidst a sea of sniffles.
Natalie placed a reassuring hand on his back as Scott called across the table to his father to take a minute to pause. The napkins that had been reached for at the start of the speech were put to use as they dabbed at muddied mascara around the room.
Natalie’s voice cut through the strength of feeling as she pragmatically asked in a light tone of voice, despite her own emotion, “Come on now, where’s your hanky?”
A smile crept across Gordon’s face as he told her how incredibly proud of her he was and that he, like everyone else in the room, knew how much she had touched many people’s lives through her charity work in Africa.
As he went on to wish Natalie and James the start of a wonderful life together, he asked the room to be upstanding for the bride and groom. With thunderous banging of tables, impassioned applause and the roar of “To the bride and groom!” Gordon ended his speech with a big kiss for his daughter, a hug for his son-in-law, and a high five for his son.
It was then Simon’s turn to introduce the groom. “James somehow managed to do everything before me,” he said. “His birthday is a week before mine, he graduated a year before me, and now he has married a beautiful girl – well…a long time before me.”
Following Simon’s comical introduction, James stood amidst a sea of cheers and began by stating that he had contemplated putting his usher on the Liverpool table, just to upset his Mancunian heritage.
Looking around the room at those closest to him, James told how Gordon, Jean and Scott had now become a second family to him, even if it had taken a while for him to get used to Gordon’s famously dry sense of humour.
“How would you take it,” asked James. “When on the second occasion of meeting your girlfriend’s dad, he says, ‘Don’t ever stand my daughter up at the airport again, will you?!’” He proceeded to thank Jean, Scott and Gordon for helping to make the day as special as it was and for making him feel welcome in their family.
“One of the most exciting things about getting married for us,” James explained, “Is celebrating our wedding with the people who mean the most to us.”
The emotional rollercoaster that Gordon’s speech had triggered continued forth as James raised his glass to all of those special people and the ones that couldn’t be with them in person but remained present in spirit.
To further consolidate his place in the hearts of his new in-laws, the next part of James’ speech took everyone by surprise as he spoke fluently in Norwegian to thank the Scandinavian contingent of the wedding party for making the journey over to share their day. With mouths ajar, the room listened as he manoeuvred his way around the unfamiliar words. As the Norwegians all shouted their approval to him in their native tongue, the British members of the wedding party suspected that he’d managed to pull off a coup.
“I’m not going to attempt a Scottish accent,” James joked, looking around at the Celtic wedding guests in the room with a smile as the applause died away.
Continuing with his list of appreciation, James thanked his parents and sister Helen who had supported him throughout his life, even the tricky parts, and of course the tennis tantrums at the age of 11. He thanked his best man, Steve, amidst a forewarning of his penchant for bending the truth thanks to his career as a lawyer, and the five ushers who had always been there for him since school and uni days. He acknowledged the four beautiful bridesmaids and stated that they were increasingly becoming great friends of his too, as well as Natalie’s.
With a sip of water and a pause for breath, he turned his attention to the upturned face of his bride.
“So, Natalie: my wife.” A loud whoop emanated from every table around the room. “Do you know, I was told in all the speech writing books that that always gets a good cheer…”
If you were to paint a picture of a typical relationship, he said, you probably wouldn’t come up with them. Natalie smiled wryly at him as he explained that their unconventionality was why their relationship worked so well. He explained that, despite his earlier comment about the Duke of Edinburgh award, they really had just been friends to begin with, but realised after spending lots of time together in those early days in London that they weren’t just good friends, but very much in love.
The fluttering of hearts around the room was practically audible as James’ words, laced with love, spilled out and into the room in the sweetest of declarations for his new wife.
“Natalie’s career path epitomises so much about her that I love,” he said. “Her compassion, her drive, her ambition.” Appreciative applause swelled in salute to the way in which Natalie had contributed to the lives of others. James described her life in Sudan and cited the fact that Natalie supported him, as much as the other way round, even when she was thousands of miles away.
“We just love each other so much,” James said, as though it were the most simple, logical thing in the world. “Absolutely 100%. I can’t really say much more than that.”
He leant down to receive a kiss from his wife beside him as applause rang in both of their ears. Straightening back up and facing the room, he concluded with a toast.
“To Natalie and all the exciting times ahead.”
The unanimous sound of cheers disguised the scraping of chairs across the floor as the audience rose to their feet and toasted the bride as a wife, friend, daughter, sister and all round decent human being.
Then it was the turn of the best man. With the formalities of thanks on behalf of the bridesmaids and ushers dispensed with, Steve began his best man’s speech by describing how his friendship with James stretched back to secondary school.
At school as head boy, Steve had had the pleasure of James’ company as his deputy and sidekick, which proved handy when he got into a spot of bother with the headmaster during their final year and he found himself threatened with demotion. Thankfully, James had stood up for him and although Steve was not demoted, he was forbidden from delivering the keynote speech.
“He’s been upstaging me at every public speaking event ever since,” said Steve, provoking hearty laughter.
The best man went on to recall the day that they had received their GCSE results and their subsequent encounter with the police. As James listened to the tale being recounted, his guffaws could be heard the loudest, knowing what was to come. Laughing so hard that tears sprang from his eyes, the groom simultaneously clutched his stomach muscles and wiped away the tears with the back of his hand.
Steve explained how he first met Natalie in Mr Clarke’s English class at college, going on to relate Natalie and James’ relationship to a quote from The Tempest, which they had been studying at the time. He also mentioned how loyal James’ friends from uni had been in that he had been unable to elicit a single sinful story from them about the groom’s behaviour.
Nevertheless, Steve said, James had done very well at uni, “getting a first in his social science thing.” James had gone to Kenya to teach maths and economics in a slum in Nairobi whilst many other people were on their “gap yah”, during which time James managed to contract an impressive array of impressive tropical diseases.
James’ fingers fiddled nervously with the shiny new heavy metal around his wedding finger as he listened to Steve chronicle his foray into an NHS job as a 25 year old with no background in healthcare. Having done his research, Steve was able to cite articles that James had written for the Guardian Online and managed to throw the room into fits of hilarity when recounting some of the comments from readers that had called James a “dim-witted idiot” and an “ideologically inspired gangster.”
A flicker of momentary hesitation passed across Steve’s face as he launched into the final anecdote of his speech. As soon as the words “It was not all entirely innocent when James and Natalie started going out” had passed his lips, the two people in question began taking large slugs from their respective glasses of wine, fearful of what was to come and bracing themselves against the titters of knowing laughter from Natalie’s former housemates.
Alluding to the fact that Natalie had been playing hard to get in the early days of their relationship, Steve decided to recount James’ attempt at a romantic evening which had concluded in him streaking naked down a corridor with a burning duvet in his arms after he had thrown off the bedclothes on to some atmospheric candles during a moment of passion.
A cackle of outraged laughter, squeals of disbelief and applause for both James’ foiled night of passion and Steve’s ability to recall the tale with little more than a smirk on his face exploded around the room. James buried his face in his hands and Natalie continued to shriek with laughter as their best man gleefully went on to conclude his speech.
Despite his younger misdemeanours, Steve said, James had turned out alright in the end and now, very admirably, had founded the charity Streetscape, with Guy.
“James and Natalie are at the centre of our group of friends and they mean the world to all of us,” concluded Steve. In another reference to the Tempest, he added, “I’m glad that you have found each other and have stopped wandering at last.”
With a final toast to salute the bride and groom, Natalie’s voice rose up over the clinking glasses to call for applause for her best man, revelling in the hilarity and tenderness of his speech as the wedding party obliged with a forthright clap of appreciation.
The swell of people discussing how lovely the speeches had been carried on the air even as guests excused themselves from their tables and dispersed into the courtyard and garden for fresh air. Evening guests began emerging, surveying the scene around them and embracing Natalie and James whenever they happened to pop up.
Continue to the fifth and final part…