Love in the time of coronavirus: Strict guidelines reshape U.K. weddings

“It's literally our whole dream that we had. And it's just been crushed,” Keisha Powell told NBC News.
Image: St Anne's Church in Aigburth, Liverpool
David D'Arcy and his wife Hayley Collins held their socially distanced wedding at St Anne's Church in Aigburth, Liverpool, on July 5. Peter Byrne / AP

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By Olivia Sumrie and Yuliya Talmazan

LONDON — No champagne, no first dance, no long speeches. That’s the reality for anyone who wants to get married amid the coronavirus pandemic in the United Kingdom.

As the country further relaxes its lockdown restrictions, weddings are now allowed. Even though nearly every detail that makes weddings happy, family celebrations will have to be stripped.

“It's literally our whole dream that we had. And it's just been crushed,” Keisha Powell told NBC News from her home in north London.

Powell and her fiancé, Craig Donaldson, had planned to get married on a sunny beach in Greece with 150 people attending, but then the pandemic hit. As with countless couples around the world, the plans for their once-in-a-lifetime day were upended. And like so many others, they coped and adapted.

Some of their family members are older and more vulnerable to illness. The couple felt that going abroad would be too dangerous, so they started planning a smaller wedding for November in the English countryside.

Keisha Powell and her fiance Craig Donaldson had planned to get married on a sunny beach in Greece with 150 people attending, but then the coronavirus pandemic hit.Keisha Powell and Craig Donaldson

But just as they’d been given the green light to get hitched, yet another set of new U.K. government guidelines meant that, once again, their dream wedding might need to be postponed. Or at the very least, dramatically altered.

Under the new rules that went into effect earlier this month, a maximum of 30 people can attend the official ceremony. And larger receptions and post-ceremony parties are banned.

For Powell and Donaldson, that meant the number of guests had to be radically reduced.

“I have a massive family. He has a massive family. And that has been cut down completely,” Powell, who is 28, said.

Also, the new guidelines discourage fathers from walking their daughters down the aisle unless they have been living in the same household.

“Me and my dad are really, really close,” Powell said, “So something like that is devastating. I don't think he'll be able to take that very well, to be honest.”

Hallowed traditions like the exchange of rings are also under scrutiny.

Now, couples must wash their hands before and after exchanging rings, even though many already live in the same household.

Vows must be read sotto voce. And singing is strictly banned, out of concern that respiratory droplets in the air — possibly containing the virus— could be inhaled by others.

Kiri Black and her partner Alex Monteiro have signed a petition asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow wedding receptions to go ahead, as long as they follow guidelines.

“I haven't planned this day for a year and a half to be told that I can't sing,” bride-to-be Kiri Black, from Brighton, a seaside town 45 miles south of London, said in a video interview.

Kiri and her partner, Alex Monteiro, were shocked by the new guidance. Particularly hard to swallow was the idea that, since July 4, anyone in the U.K. has been allowed to pop down to the local pub, cinema or hairdresser.

“I don't really see how, if the pubs are opening, and you're allowed to sit next to a stranger,” Monteiro, 27, said, adding that it “all seems a bit backwards.”

The couple have been planning their outdoor “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding for more than a year.

The date, already moved once, is set now for August.

They had planned on having a marquee, lots of outdoor games, along with a band, a DJ and even a ‘Mad Hatter’ impersonator.

But under the current guidelines, none of that is allowed.

“There's no talk of any outside weddings,” Black, who is 33, said. “Even though we've risk-assessed and we've got five acres of land, we could have people social distancing.”

Along with thousands of others in the U.K., Black and Monteiro signed a petition asking Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow wedding receptions to go ahead, as long as they follow the guidelines.

Hand sanitiser inside the Priory Church of St Peter in Dunstable, Bedfordshire. Kirsty O'Connor / AP

The wedding industry in the U.K. has already lost 5.7 billion pounds ($7.1 billion) in revenue this year, according to Hamish Shephard, founder of wedding planning app Bridebook.

He said revenues will continue to be hit next year, as many couples postpone their nuptials, hoping to reschedule them for happier times.

“With these guidelines, it just … squashes and compresses your whole vision that you had for the day,” Donaldson, the groom-to-be, said.

“It's the whole, the whole excitement of planning and leading up to the day. It takes it all away,” Powell, his fiancee, added.