I have had the honour of being a bridesmaid five times. It’s true what they say….I’m never the bride. In fact my sister became positively frosty at my dress fitting when I suggested adding a veil.
In 1997, when I was thirteen years old, my sister and I were asked to be bridesmaids for our cousin Angela. It was a big deal for me, as the wedding was in August and I was due to have my Scoliosis surgery at the end of May that same year.
My Auntie Kathleen (Angela’s mum) also has Scoliosis, and had corrective surgery in her forties. She understood what I’d recently been through and believed I would be well enough to stand alongside Angela.
I’d caused a bit of a delay in the dresses being fitted because we’d had to wait until my plaster cast was removed after the surgery in order to take accurate measurements. I had been given a back brace, which is a removable support similar to a corset, and I would be wearing it under my bridesmaids dress. With the cast off and the corset on, my sister and I were summoned for measuring. Mum was on the phone to Kathleen and was armed with a tape measure she’d got out of a cracker.
Claire was first up. Mum got to work and called out the details to Kathleen, who busily scribbled them into her ‘Mother of the Bride’ notebook with matching pen. Claire had (and still has) a lovely figure, her measurements were a neat 30-28-32.
Then it was my turn.
My mum wrapped the tape measure around my back support and took my bust measurement (30), then my waist (30) and finally my hips (30).
30-30-30? That can’t be right. I’m a grown woman of thirteen years, why am I a cylinder?
I stood in the middle of the room with my mum crouched at my feet, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Mum could see I was horrified and attempted to keep her composure as she relayed the measurements to Kathleen. She has a terrible poker face though, and her twitching mouth set me and my sister off and we all went into hysterics together. Since then, if any of us are asked for our measurements we will always say ’30-30-30′.
With the (oh so purple) dresses ordered, the eve of the wedding was soon upon us. The festivities were taking place near Henley, where the posh side of the family reside, and we (the Essex urchins) were going to stay there overnight so that we could get our hair and make up done on the morning of the wedding, and also try to dilute our common accents.
I had been feeling much stronger and was gaining confidence in my ability to perform all of my bridesmaidly duties well (walk, smile, carry flowers, do not fall over). I’d done my back strengthening exercises every morning, scrubbed my corset and packed three cans of impulse body spray and my Kappa poppa tracksuit to travel in.
I was ready.
And then I heard a sound I hadn’t heard before, but I know very well now. It was the sound of Mother Nature, rubbing her hands together. She looked upon me, in her infinite wisdom and kindness, this awkward, ginger, cylindrical teenager, wearing a back brace and unable to stand for very long, due to be a bridesmaid on the hottest day of the year, and she decided it was the perfect time for me to have my first ever period.
This was a curve ball that I was not prepared for. I tried to remember what I’d learned in school, but writing ‘I heart DW’ on my hand in gel pens didn’t help. So I had a quick cry, punched a wall, ate a mars bar and went to find my mummy.
I found her upstairs, frantically stuffing two giant purple meringues into a suitcase. It may have been the wrong moment to advise her of my passage into womanhood, as it prompted the loving response ‘Oh bloody hell, that’s all I need!’ She was clearly having a ‘Mother of the Bridesmaids’ meltdown and so I decided to come back once the meringues were safely contained.
Uncomfortable chat complete, our bags were loaded into the car and we headed off to poshville, adding consonants back into our vocabulary as we went. I was getting nervous about the wedding day, as I really didn’t want to let anyone down, and I now had the added worry that my measurements were more along the spherical lines with my new-found period bloat.
At long last, the big day arrived. We spent the morning having our fringes tamed, were helped into our dresses and driven to the most beautiful church in fancy cars. I stood outside the huge wooden doors with my cousin, who looked absolutely stunning in her wedding dress, and my sister Claire who is always by my side in every single thing that I do, and I felt quite overwhelmed. I don’t think I actually believed I would be able to do it.
Only 10 weeks earlier, I’d been held up by two nurses to try and help me walk again. I’d only managed a few steps to the door of my hospital room and back. It had been a slow process regaining the strength I’d lost, and there had been so many difficult days in the lead up to now. But somehow I’d made it.
Despite the sweltering heat in ten layers of taffeta, the chafing of the back brace and the intense craving for Nutella, I walked into that church with the biggest smile on my face in front of my entire family. I was so proud to show them how far I’d come.
I know it was Angela’s big day, but in my head at that moment, it felt like mine.