Readers, we know you love a post from a man here on AOW, so we have a treat for you today. Matt has ever so kindly written (really, really well) about his experience of being a best man, and I’m pretty sure that any of you yet to be married are going to be forwarding this on to all of your men’s best men as the perfect example of how to be a best man. It’s pretty simple really: be considerate, understand what your groom (and bride) need from you, and don’t shave off the groom’s eyebrows/force him to go to a strip club/tie him naked to a lampost…
Mark asked me to be his best man when we were 20. “It’s very nice of you,” I replied, “and I would love to, but aren’t you getting this the wrong way round?” “Why?” he asked. “Because,” I said, “you haven’t even got a girlfriend at the moment.”
Two years later I was in Australia, enduring a surreal Christmas amongst a group of Filipino mail order brides-
(I think this needs further explanation. I was staying with my uncle whose (possibly) mail order bride was friends with lots of (definite) mail order brides. Their husbands were (without exception) shits who made my skin crawl. So I spent my time helping the ladies in the kitchen (they found this extraordinary – a man! who made conversation with them! and cooked!), whilst listening to their (also without exception) very sad life stories. It was a pretty desperate Christmas.)
Anyway. That Christmas Eve I opened a letter from Mark which explained that he’d met a girl at university. My last journal entry that Christmas Day reads: “I think Mark’s met his wife. She’s called Louise and thank god he didn’t buy her from a brochure.”
Eight years later the date had been set and I was clear on one thing: I would be the best man he wanted me to be. He didn’t want to be humiliated, I didn’t want to humiliate him and no-one would be dressing like zany bank clerks on Children in Need Day.
(As a side point, you would be astonished, or at least I am, how many men admit to dreading, and hating, the stag experience. And yet they still go through with it like they have no option. I’m baffled why any friend would put another friend through that – and why anyone would allow themselves to suffer it.)
Traditionally the best man is afraid of the speech, but I found the stag weekend toughest. Entertaining 17 men was hard enough, but I also wanted to ensure no-one felt under any financial pressure (that happens a lot as well). I took £150 off everyone and rashly promised two nights accommodation, flights and transfers to a mystery destination. I was quite surprised they trusted me and even more surprised when I pulled it off.
We went to Galway and had a great time. No wackiness, no degradation, football on the beach, pitch and putt, two great nights out, a funny hotel and I even organised a bizarre road-trip on a charabanc (driven by a 73-year-old) to the village the groom’s great-grandfather hailed from. We sat in an old pub, drinking Guinness, watching the horse I had lobbed the last of the travel kitty on win the Derby at 9/1. Bonus.
On the big day itself the ceremony went without a hitch. I did a reading because I always do readings (I’m beginning to think my family and friends can’t read). With the exception of a christening (when I accidentally frightened my mother into thinking I was about to read Phillip Larkin’s poem about what your mum and your dad do to you – Google it to appreciate her horror) I’ve always got away with it.
I had done very little research on best man’s duties. Instead I thought about other weddings I had been to and I asked Mark and Louise what they wanted me to do. I knew Mark was uncomfortable about the attention and ceremony of the day. And watching brides at previous weddings (especially my sister’s) I was aware of that … brittleness. I’m not sure that’s the right word. I’m just always conscious that so much is going through their heads; lots of joy but also a slight fear that their special day is about to go wrong. When I see that I always want to help and on this day I knew I had the perfect excuse. In fact I had no excuse not to help.
We decided that, as a single man not scared of making a fool of himself, I should be a trouble-shooter. So I bossed people about (when necessary), I helped the photographer, I bought drinks for the aunties and anything else unforeseen. I also did a sweepstake, an excuse to go round the tables making sure people were talking to each other, or having a good time, or if they needed anything. I figured if the guests had a great day, the bride and groom would pick up on it. I also know that English people are a bit silly – they’d tell me stuff they wouldn’t say to staff or relatives which I could then do something about it. I liked it when Louise got my attention, flicked her eyes at something, I followed her gaze, nodded and then sorted whatever it was she’d seen. Being a dogsbody was the most satisfying thing I did all day.
(Interesting (possibly): the process of writing the above made me self-conscious that I had been too active. I even called Mark and Louise to check. “What are you talking about?!” they asked. Phew.)
What about the speech? The first issue was easy – I can’t tell jokes so I didn’t try. Why attempt something you’re not comfortable with and bound to fail at? I’m not bad at stories though. So that’s what I did (I also pretended to read the letter I had received eight years before). Towards the end I scrapped my vague plan and ad-libbed. “Sometimes at weddings,” I said, “you feel like you’re there to celebrate a friend getting married. Today has been special, though, because we’re all here to celebrate two friends getting married.” It got a massive response and was the single most memorable thing I did as best man. That doesn’t sound very humble, but the point I’m trying to make is this – you have to trust yourself react to the day and not be afraid to change something at the last minute.
Once the meal was over I had a great time. I had so many drinks bought for me I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t my big day. (That’s a joke. Kind of.)
The night ended with a special moment. Two single people at the wedding had been getting on well. He told her he was an engineer and she said she really liked engineer’s uniforms (who knew there was such a thing? not me). Which is why, at 2 am, this lovely (but slightly gauche) guy entered the bar, to stunned silence, with a spirit level in his hands, wearing a hard hat, steel-capped boots, a high-visibility jacket and a pair of pants. Wow.
Next morning we saw him sat alone at breakfast looking sheepish. I wasn’t having any of that. In my world the greatest thing you can do is make a complete idiot of yourself and then laugh about it. What are weddings about if not great memories and stories? He’d contributed a brilliant one and we all loved it. I wanted him to as well. I don’t know if you call that my last duty but it kind of felt like it.