Opinion and Editorial

Getting hitched in the time of Covid

Prasun Sonwalkar
Filed on April 1, 2021
— Alamy

Wedding planners are devising innovative ways to overcome the UK's Covid impact on multi-billion-pound Asian wedding industry

The ‘big fat Indian wedding’ replete with lavish designer attire, Bollywood-style dance and music, food and days of revelry is known as the ‘big fat British Asian wedding’ in the UK, but it may soon be renamed the ‘small slim British Asian wedding’. It has been a bad time for couples keen to get hitched; tens of thousands of weddings have been cancelled or delayed due to the Covid restrictions. Consequently, the multi-billion-pound Asian wedding industry has taken a severe hit (an average Asian wedding with 300 guests is estimated to cost at least £35,000). Also hit are the many suppliers of wedding material based in the Indian sub-continent.

Since only six people are currently allowed to attend events such as weddings, many couples have opted for scaled down versions. For some time during the past year, enterprising wedding planners such as London-based Saheli Mirpuri devised innovative ways to adapt to the new situation. For her clients Vinal Patel and Roma Popat, it all happened in October in a drive-in wedding in Braxted Park in Chelmsford, Essex, with hundreds of socially-distanced guests remaining in cars, and many more watching on Zoom. It rained heavily on the day, but that did not dampen the spirit of the occasion marked with the usual music and noise, aided by a DJ. The event skirted around restrictions at the time that only 15 people could gather, with guests — attired in designer ‘lehngas’ and ‘sherwanis’ — staying in their cars while the formal ceremony was showcased on a giant screen, as family and friends across the globe watched it on video.

It took Mirpuri’s team two months to organise the unique wedding, after she and the couple realised that the idea which began as a joke could actually work out. The guests in cars were provided with a hamper of snacks, hand-gel and plastic bags to put their trash in. On the day, the suitably attired bride and bridegroom entered the park and travelled around in a decorated golf buggy driven by a venue staff member with a face mask. After the ceremony, the couple went around the park to greet the guests, who honked horns and flashed car lights.

Says Mirpuri: “We didn’t do any more of the drive-in weddings after October, we had many inquiries, but with the constantly changing rules and guidelines and then the weather getting worse, they didn’t work out. We have seen others plan on a smaller scale and it’s nice to see that become a solution for the reduced guest numbers. The lockdown rules meant that unless it was an emergency situation, weddings weren’t able to go ahead. Currently, weddings with six people attending are permitted and from April, 15 guests will be allowed. We’ve got our wedding season starting from the beginning of May. Many have decided they no longer want to wait and will do bigger celebrations later, and we’ve helped plan these weddings to be extra special.”

Some companies and venues that catered to Asian weddings went bust, while couples complained that venues that accepted deposits to book days for weddings would not refund when bookings were cancelled due to Covid curbs.

Mirpuri adds that people in the wedding industry lost an entire year’s income, with many struggling to survive. The Boris Johnson government has announced a ‘roadmap’ to lift restrictions by June, if and when the conditions allow in terms of low numbers of new cases, deaths and hospitalisations, but she says there are still a lot of unanswered questions. “I personally have found the hardest thing about this is the constant uncertainty. Although we’re due to see restrictions lifting in June, I have definitely been feeling a little sceptical and don’t want to get my hopes up too high.”

According to the roadmap, the number of people attending weddings can rise from six to 15 from April 12, and from May 17, 30 people will be allowed at such events. The hope is that all legal limits on gatherings will be lifted from June 21, if the conditions are met.

Thousands of couples are keeping their fingers crossed.

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