Love. A four-letter word that seeps ubiquitously into songs, drips magic on the silver screen and shoulders the storyline of 500-page Russian novels. Love is all around us – and, as our multibillion pound Valentine industry confirms, it’s here to stay. But when it comes to actually saying I love you, we Brits are hopelessly tongue tied.
So before you start stuttering over your own one-liners this Valentine’s Day, or composing your next wedding, birthday or anniversary speech, remind yourself of those favourite books and films. Most ‘I love yous’ are trite and forgettable – but the really great ones are quoted decades after they’ve been written. Here are five classics that continue to inspire the wedding speeches we write.
A mouthful of Richard Curtis (with a lot of help from Hugh Grant)
Yes, things went downhill a bit with Love, Actually (and let’s not mention The Boat That Rocked) but you’ve got to hand it to Richard Curtis. With Four Weddings and a Funeral, he spawned a brand new type of romantic comedy – and invented a peculiarly British way of saying ‘I love you’. Apart from turning WH Auden’s Stop All the Clocks into a bestseller, Curtis made it OK to be hopeless and eccentric. Remember Hugh Grant’s stuttering David Cassidy speech on London’s Embankment? Choked with ums and ers, and meandering crazily around his subject, he takes about five minutes to say three short words: ‘I love you’. But he salvages things at the end when he quips to Andie Macdowell: “Well, I thought it over a lot, you know, I wanted to get it just right.” In other words, it’s fine sound nervous, but make a joke about your own failings with a charming – and razor sharp – one-liner.
Grooms take note: your wedding speech is predominantly about your bride – not you. Try not to talk too much about yourself, but when you do, give it the Richard Curtis polish. In other words, aim to be self-deprecating, witty and light.
Crazy love with Emily Bronte
Sure, Wuthering Heights is a flawed novel – partly because the narrative is as untamed as the characters themselves. But this is also its appeal. Whatever you feel about the book, you can’t doubt the power of its language – and in Heathcliff and Cathy’s desperate final exchanges, the agonies of love have never sounded so tortured. “Be with me always,” says Heathcliff, “take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is inutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!” Alright, it’s not exactly Valentine’s card – or wedding speech – material but it’s a damn good reminder of what true passion sounds like.
All you romantics: Whether it’s your wedding day or your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, emotions will be running high. If you must shout your love from the rooftops, remember there are other people present. Pitch your speech at the entire room, not just the recipient and avoid boring – or embarrassing – your guests.
A bear of very little brain (but lots of charm)
AA Milne is up there with the greats. Within the confines of Hundred Acre Wood, Winnie the Pooh and his friends have more to say about the human condition than many more obviously literary books. Milne’s language might be childlike, but the message is universal. Here’s Winnie the Pooh leading the way with a sentence that is at once heartfelt, humorous and memorable. “If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.”
Say it with a few words: Although I normally advise 10 minutes or 1,200 words as a good guide for speeches, there’s no reason why yours has to be this long. If you’re a person of few words, by all means keep things short. But remember: the less words you use, the better they have to be.
Stick with Woody and have the last laugh
Some people would rather jump out of a plane than say ‘I love you’. In which case, it’s probably best to use humour to get you out of an awkward situation. We’re not talking one-liners or teasing. The trick here is to make the other person laugh, while showing you adore them. Your role model is Woody Allen’s character Alvy Singer in Annie Hall. Throughout the film, he never stops making jokes. But the script – and performance – is so perfectly nuanced you always know exactly how he feels. For example: “Love is too weak a word for what I feel – I luuurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F’s, yes I have to invent, of course I – I do, don’t you think I do?”
Joking aside: Not all of us are Woody Allen. If you’re great with the one-liners, feel free to punctuate your romantic eulogy with witty asides. But if you’re not, don’t try. A failed joke will alienate the audience – and play havoc with your nerves.
When Harry (finally) gets Sally
When Harry Met Sally is screenwriting perfection. Nora Ephron’s classic is littered with cracking quotes but Harry’s New Year’s Eve speech when he furiously tells Sally he loves her is the goose-pimply best of the lot. Brilliant.
“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
Up close and personal: If you can write as well as the great Nora Ephron you won’t need our help. But, let’s face it, most of us can’t. The intimate approach is great, in theory. But to avoid complete mushdown, tailor your delivery. Harry’s furious, frowning face is the perfect antidote to the slushy content of his speech.
We can help write wedding speeches that are every bit as memorable – and romantic – as your favourite films and books. If you enjoyed this, please spread the word.
Thanks, Lawrence. Great Speech Writing. +44 208 245 8999