“Oh my God. Have you heard what happened at Sam and Anita’s wedding?”
“Yes. Fortunately she came round quite quickly.”
“But imagine watching your aunt being pulled-up from the floor during the speeches!”
“I know. Anita must just hate that best man.”
“What a complete idiot!”
Yes, I’ve changed the names. But the conversation is real. Because Anita called me (the secret speechwriter) the following month. Her new husband Sam was preparing his own best man speech for an old friend. She had a single, simple request: please help him avoid the disaster that had ruined their own wedding day when, so shocked was she about the stories told about her favourite niece’s fiancé, Great Auntie Julia fainted during the speeches.
The wedding planning paradox
It’s a memorable story but by no means unique. Every weekend of every year, couples and their families invest small fortunes into their wedding. The exact shade of lilac in the bridesmaid dresses matches the flowers on the tables. The font on the invites is replicated on the table plan. Barely a detail is overlooked. Apart from half an hour or so when control is ceded to a small handful of speakers who are handed a microphone and given completely free rein.
The result? Well that depends. “Bob’s speech was the best I’ve ever heard. It made everything worthwhile. We laughed and sobbed in all the right places and he was cheered to the rafters.” Bob got it right. Unlike Sam’s mate Gus who left Great Auntie Julia on the floor. Or Sanjay who “spoke for what seemed like hours to an increasingly disinterested audience as I realised that many were giggling to each other or playing with their phones before I’d even mentioned my wife.”.
And it matters. Because, despite all the expense and effort directed at the dress, the cake, the food and even the first dance, it’s the speeches that guests most likely to talk about the morning after a wedding.
How we come in
Which is how, quietly and discreetly, we are asked to provide support for hundreds of wedding speeches every year. For best men and grooms, brides and their parents, bridesmaids and maids of honour, and even the occasional friend or sibling.
We write for people speaking at all sorts of events and occasions, but we know it’s a wedding when the first phone-call begins with the question “can you assure me that this will go no further?”.
For many, having help with such a personal speech appears to be the last taboo. “My girlfriend would kill me if she knew I was getting help” explained Dave last week, “she says my speech should come from my heart”. And he’s not alone. We estimate that over 50% of our wedding speech clients never share our involvement with friends or family.
Logically, this is a little odd. After all, being in love doesn’t make anyone a better writer or public speaker. We’re just helping them put their thoughts into words. As we do with so many business people and politicians. And nobody believes that the keynote speaker at a conference writes every one of their own words. We provide the same service for people giving TED talks – again, we’re not claiming credit for their big idea, just the way they articulate it.
But the cloak-and-dagger nature of our wedding speech service continues to provide regular moments of hilarity and poignancy. This year, a bridegroom arrived for a meeting in a Marylebone café wearing a false moustache. I visited a father-of-the-bride at home, on the condition that, if asked, I was writing a white paper for his business. Another introduced me to his partner as a professional photographer. A bride preparing for her same sex wedding explained that telling her partner she was receiving help with her speech would be more challenging than coming-out to her parents.
Even better than ChatGPT!
One bridegroom recently told us he wanted our help to make his wife truly understand how he felt about her in a way that he would find impossible alone. When he’d mentioned to her that he was thinking of seeking help, she’d replied that she didn’t want him working on such a personal project with anyone else and suggested he used ChatGPT to pull together some ideas. He called us straight afterwards saying that he’d rather lie to his wife than use the impersonal and irrelevant content selected by his computer.
It feels bizarre that we have clients who will quite happily tell their future partners about their use of porn, their deepest insecurities and their outrageous behaviour as singletons. But they won’t admit they’ve had help from a speech writer. So on we go. The secret speechwriter and team discreetly meeting fabulous people from around the world and hearing stories that would make many a great aunt blush. And loving every minute of it.