How do you take part in a wedding you can’t attend due to Covid-19? Niamh Walsh describes how it feels to be a virtual bridesmaid.
It was going to be a great party.
200 guests in the grounds of a beautiful Hertfordshire country estate. Fresh flowers, five-course dinner, fireworks. My little brother had proposed to the woman of his dreams and we were ready to welcome her to the family in full matrimonial style. The date was set for April this year, my sister and I were to be bridesmaids and everything was on track for a classic English country wedding with a fully Irish reception to follow (pints and Tayto sandwiches at midnight).
Then there was a pandemic.
After the year the world has had, not one of us can complain about weddings. It feels at best churlish and at worst callous to bemoan dates being pushed back, the capricious changing of attendee numbers from one week to the next. But it was hard to watch my brother and his lovely fiancée put on one brave smile after another as they changed dates and slashed guest lists, holding onto the hope that things might get better, that things might be all right by spring.
Resolute, they decided to keep the venue, the dinner and the flowers. They were determined to have their wedding their way and not scale down at all except for the number of guests, which dwindled from 200 to 30. And no matter what, the most important thing: both families would be there.
Then my sister, who lives in Ireland, got pregnant.
Then I got a job filming. In Ireland.
It wouldn’t be safe for her to travel, and insurance laws meant I couldn’t leave the country while on location. We were grounded across the Irish Sea.
We all stayed optimistic as the new date in May approached, reassuring ourselves and one another that protocols kept shifting and that maybe, by some miracle, we would be able to make it over.
When we finally had to admit defeat only a few weeks before the wedding, there was a phone call to be made. My little brother is one of the most optimistic people I know, but seeing his face crumple over FaceTime as we broke the news that neither of us would be there is an experience I’d like to forget.
That was that. We were not making the wedding. So we had to work out how to be long-distance bridesmaids.
Here’s my one tip for virtual wedding attendance: you have to actually attend the wedding. You have to at least act like it. It starts the night before. I laid out my bridesmaid dress, stuck a bottle of champagne on ice and decorated the hotel room which was my home during filming with flowers and bunting, determined to make my little Zoom square as festive as possible.
On the morning of the wedding I declared myself Mistress of Zoom, wrangling distant aunts and uncles, our 93-year-old grandmother (also shielding in Ireland) and my partner, who was stranded in Glasgow due to quarantine restrictions, into a virtual reception room of our own having insisted, like any good actor, on a tech rehearsal the night before. The eminently capable best man and woman set us up on an iPad atop a tripod and we sat ready in the corner of the wedding venue like a benevolent, six-headed robot guest.
Having carefully set us all to mute, the strings started to play and from our various locations hundreds of miles away we were all able to be there for my favourite part of any wedding, the moment my little brother turned to see his bride walking down the aisle.
It was perfect.
We’re close, my siblings and I. All our lives we’ve known that we’ll be there to watch the others get married. With everything the last year has given and taken away, I will be forever grateful that we were able to be there like we were. I was even able to do a reading during the ceremony, my voice ringing out from the iPad in the corner. There was a terrifying 10 minutes during which my hotel decided now would be a good time to test the fire alarm, but thankfully the mute button on my end remained functional and no one was any wiser.
The tripod was passed around during the reception and we laughed with childhood friends, greeted new family members and cooed over babies, like at any wedding. We were set up once again in the corner to eat with the bridal party and hear the speeches and as I drank my solo champagne in a hotel room, with the glasses clinking and music playing, it really felt like we were there. The six-headed robot guest even made it into the wedding photos, a first for the photographer. The slinging around of the iPad got slightly woozier as the evening wore on, and we were even able to squeeze in a weepy goodnight FaceTime with our parents at the end of the night. I went to bed having spent almost the entire day on Zoom, tipsy, emotional, happy and exhausted.
Like I had just been to my little brother’s wedding.
So if you do find yourself unable to attend a ceremony for someone you love this year, here’s the best advice I can give: attend anyway. Take the entire day to be there as fully, virtually, as possible. Eat, drink, cry and laugh with all there, just like you would have if things had been different.
Images: Getty/courtesy of Niamh Walsh