Never a bridesmaid

Image of Susie Boyt

Another bride, another June, another sunny honey – or, in my case, another two little girls who are desperate to be bridesmaids. But how to organise life so that somebody asks them? Even the six-year-old who loathes being out of sweatpants and is just about to claim her second kick-boxing trophy is keen.

Will she roundhouse-kick her way down the aisle, fetching up at the altar, bestowing her wedding gift of 30 press-ups, 15 with a breather then 15 more, ending in a salute? Will she put down her crossbow for a moment and pick up a bouquet? Would she not, in truth, be happier on the security team? Or making a stealthy entrance through a stained glass panel in the fashion of the Milk Tray man?

Being a bridesmaid is a rite or even a right of passage, yet “I never once was one,” I tell my children, bravely, to indicate it is not a privilege extended to all. I wasn’t approached until my 30s and then, on the day, suffered from horrible flu and had to miss the whole thing. In wobbly voice I dictated my speech to the bride’s sister: “Amy has all the good qualities of Marilyn Monroe, and none of the bad ones”, I believe it began. Has word of this no-show reached the next generation? Is the news out that in my branch of the family we make unreliable attendants? These things go deep.

The oldest child, who has performed this task three times, would like another chance as she is eager to avoid the well-known jinx. “Perhaps, mum, you will be three times a bride and never a bridesmaid,” they say. Cheeky.

I have missed the bridesmaid boat – that ship has sailed most assuredly – but this only adds a piquancy to my girls’ desires.

Hints we have dropped, with great subtlety. Too much subtlety, perhaps. It is a vice of mine. But everyone knows the world favours those whose longings seem none too wide or deep. Sometimes you hear stories of a man and woman who have loved each other all their lives but conveyed it with so much delicacy that each remained blind to the other’s feelings until death. Perhaps my bridesmaid hints have something of this quality.

But what am I meant to do? Dress the girls up in flouncy gowns and flower garlands just on an ordinary Tuesday? I can’t. Exhibit their skills with a fancy icing nozzle? Their sugar-craft is still on the nursery slopes. Brag about their organisational smarts, their ability to get 24 hens to a cheap pneumatic mini-break in Ibiza with no hiccups? It wouldn’t quite be true.

To make matters worse, the two couples we know who are tying the knot may well not be having any attendants anyway. They like things low-key. They don’t generally go in for additional songs and dances. They are not palaver people. So not only do I have to put my daughters forward for a job, I have to put them forward for a job that probably does not exist. O Happy Day.

. . .

In American legal dramas they speak of leverage and I have given this shameful arena a small amount of thought. There are probably things I could use. Favours that could be called in. My mind swims for a moment in such murky waters. Please understand I am really not speaking of blackmail ...

I designed the bridesmaids’ dresses for my wedding. A friend of mine was a salesman for a silk company and got me cheap lengths of striped silk seersucker in seven different colours. Thee dresses were ballerina-length with boat necks and sleeves to the elbow, and had covered belts in the same fabric that my mother made. We asked all the little girls in the family. Simpler times perhaps, but they did us proud.

One night, current bridesmaid conundrum on my mind, I went to sleep dreaming vaguely of my mother’s Uncle Ron, a falconer who lived in Galway, who tried to woo the love of his life with the gift of an exceptionally rare stamp. I often think of him and the kind way he said, “a meal in itself” if you gave him a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Then, when I woke up, it hit me: there was one last thing I hadn’t tried. What if I bought these affianced couples something really huge, far in advance, and sent the presents with a lovely photograph of the children? What if I offered to make the cake or help with the catering in the hope of creating a little sense of obligation on the other side? As a strategy it would be mildly inelegant, but I have, of course, been called worse. I am sure, skimming through the history of marriage I wouldn’t be the first to tread this fraught path.

Bribery is my favourite kind of corruption. So much nicer than coercion or threats, I always think. It’s not ideal, but you can't leave everything to chance.

More columns at

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.