Six years ago today, the Duchess and I got married. Here’s my groom speech from the Big Day:
Good evening and welcome to North Yorkshire. Now most of you probably know that I work in PR so I’d like to categorically confirm that the following statements are completely true and devoid of any exaggeration or embellishment.
Welcome to the Crab and Lobster – not, as rumour has it, named in honour of marriage. You know, a sideways move for one; the other, meanwhile, just can’t stop giving it that [imitate pincer movements]. I’d like to think that it does represent the marriage to come: comfortable, relaxed, a little bit quirky and comes with range of strange but curious implements.
I’d like to thank Chris for his kind words – and, of course, for allowing me to take his marvellous daughter off his hands. The first time I met Chris and Val was certainly memorable. It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and we went round their house for a barbeque. After Chris had taken a sharp elbow in the ribs from Val for greeting me with a ‘Wotcha Dave’ – Dave being Karen’s ex-boyfriend, tall, dark, glasses so easy mistake to make but no hard feelings… hey, Trigger – we made our way into the back garden to share a few beers while the meat cooked.
The four of us took our seats at a table on top of the little bank at the back of the garden. It was a feast of sausages, chops, steaks and chicken legs and I was poised, politely waiting for the nod, to dive in. All of a sudden the umbrella started floating upwards, before pausing in front of our eyes. It was like time had stopped and I wondered if there was a poltergeist in the family I hadn’t been told about. The fact was, the umbrella pole hadn’t been anchored in the base properly and a strong gust of wind from the Chilterns had lifted it up. (Now for the northerners among us who may not know the south well, when I say Chilterns I mean the range of chalk hills dividing London and Hertfordshire, where her family live. Not their next door neighbours. It wasn’t a case of Grandma Chiltern overdoing it on the turnips and cabbage again.)
Anyway, there we were with this umbrella pole hovering between us. It was like it was checking us all out. Obviously, Val looked well dodgy because with another gust of wind – take that vegetables pan off her will you neighbour, we all cried – the pole flew across and smacked her clean on the napper. She toppled back, crashing to the lawn. Their next door neighbours – not the Chilterns, the other side – were bent over laughing, Karen was tending to her mam and I was sat there stunned, fork in hand, unable to work out what to do. Do I get up and help or would that only add to the embarrassment? But if I did nothing would I look insensitive?
Luckily, Chris came to the rescue from his position to my right. Like a Countdown contestant with an aversion to consonants, he shouted across the table: ‘Val! Val! Val!’. Dazed and very confused, she looked up at her adoring husband, his face full of pain and anguish, torment and confusion. ‘Val!’ he shouted again, ‘have we not got any bleeding ketchup?’ Turning to me, he tutted and said: ‘Bleeding hell, hey Dave’. And I thought: this is a man I can do business with – once he gets my name right.
Karen and me met at work when I moved to marvellous Milton Keynes at the end of 2001. For a short while, we sat next to each other and apparently, I was quiet and often grumpy – I know, I can’t quite believe that either.
In some respects, such close proximity was good preparation for when we decided to call it quits and see a bit of the world – spending five months travelling around SE Asia and living in Sydney for a year. It was an intense experience at times and naturally we had our ups and downs, spending so much time together. But maybe that was to be expected. As the Californian hippie photographer put it the night Karen invited him out for a meal with us in Louang Prabang: ‘Let me get this straight, you’ve been together barely 18 months and you’re going to be travelling together, alone mostly, for 18 months. Jeez, do the math guys, it ain’t gonna work out! It just ain’t gonna work out.’ No it ain’t pal, I thought to myself, not if you she invites any more pillocks like you out with us again.
By then, we’d gotten over the most difficult period anyway, which came after four relaxing days in quiet, uncluttered, friendly Bangkok after our flight over there, when I took us up to Chang Mai in the north of Thailand for a three day trek in the jungle. Now throughout the summer back in the UK I’d warned Karen every time I went out cycling or walking that she needed a bit of fitness if she was going to enjoy the trek. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’, she said, lifting out a digestive and flicking on Trisha. The first morning went well and as we sat down to a rice lunch all seemed fine. As it happened, we were closest to the foot of the hill we had to climb that afternoon so we set off at the front of the pack. Off I went in the lead, hacking my way through the undergrowth, clearing a way along the path that hadn’t been trodden on for at least 20 minutes.
As I hacked my way through, I was chatting away to Karen, letting her share in the wonder of my wit and wisdom. The fact that she hadn’t responded for a while mattered little: my theories on evolutionary science and my arguments about the ennui of modern western culture often reduced her to a still, awestruck silence. However, it was at the point I said to her: promise me Boro aren’t going to win their first ever trophy in 128 years while I’m on the other side of the bloody world, that I turned to check how she was doing. Remarkably, she’d disappeared.
I stopped advancing and stood to the side. The annoying poshies from Durham University came through the clearing and went on. Next came the American couple. Then the Germans and the Spaniards. The Indian twins from London. Grandma Chiltern walked by – you could smell her before you could see her, mind. Even the Israeli girl, whose brother hadn’t properly translated the word trek, shuffled past in her jeans and flip-flops. The sun dropped a little in the sky, birds returned to their nests and the earth turned, and then came a creature never seen in those parts, The Human Mard aka that intrepid adventurer Indiana Moans. A little battery-powered fan regaling her crimson cheeks, face like thunder, she greeted me with the charming words (I’ve got them written down here): ‘You beeping beeper. Beep you. What the beep were you beeping thinking. You beeping stupid beeping beepwit’.
But we got through it. Stuck together, overcame the obstacles and pitfalls. By which I mean I told the young Thai boy with us he could earn plenty of beers at camp that night. And he did, with both hands firmly clasped on my future wife’s posterior he heaved and pushed and got her up the hill that day and then the next. Nearly bankrupted me, mind.
And before I knew it there we were in Byron Bay, the most easterly edge of the Australian coast, on the morning of Sunday 12 December 2004. We were setting out to the beach and the famous Bryon lighthouse and my palms were sweaty. The lighthouse was, as you might expect, up on a hill overlooking the bay and there was a gentle tarmac walkway up there. Karen loves lighthouses and I’d been planning this day for months. Especially when I found out that if I bought the ring within 30 days of our departure from Australia, I could get a tax rebate at the airport.
But Indy suddenly wasn’t up for it. It looked far, it was scorching hot, she’d suddenly gone off lighthouses. And there were no Thai boys with a rabid thirst anywhere in sight. After a bit of persuasion, otherwise known as panicked stroppiness, she relented and we started to make our way up. Only to stop every five minutes to sit down on one of the park benches along the way. ‘You can’t you go 10 yards without parking your backside’ I repeatedly said, nervous tension rising all the time, unable to sit down or stand still.
When we eventually got to the top, I positioned Karen in place overlooking the bay – ring poised while I pretended it was to be a Kodak moment – when a coach load of Japanese tourists descended upon us. It was even hotter up there and Karen fled to the shade. I just sweated a bit more, felt the sun burn my bald head and began to wilt. Next I knew, she was keen to head down to the beach and cool off in the water. We started walking and I felt my big plans start to go up in smoke. Then it appeared round a slight bend, 10 yards along, sitting under the shadow of the lighthouse, overlooking the crystal blue ocean. A park bench. ‘Let’s sit down,’ I nervously said, ‘I need a rest. It’s too hot, it’s too far, I’ve suddenly gone off beaches.’ Surely she won’t fall for this, I thought, but thankfully, Indy will always be Indy. She didn’t smell a rat – or my sweat patches – and didn’t think twice about sitting down.
When we went out for a celebratory champagne dinner that night, Karen started telling the waiter about how I’d popped the question on the most romantic park bench in the world. Until the waiter glumly replied: ‘You mean the one at the top of the hill, not far from the lighthouse. Facing the ocean. Yeah, most blokes do it there. You’re lucky you managed to get a seat.’ Cheers fella, make it sound like the butchers counter at Tescos or the local on a quiz night.
The rest, as they say, is history and here we are here today. As you can imagine, a lot of hard work has gone into the preparations and, quite frankly, I don’t know how I managed it at times. No, it may not surprise you to learn that Karen has done a sterling job pulling all of this together. For example the badges are all hand-made and so the house rule is that if you’re not wearing yours you won’t get served at the bar.
I’d like to thank… [parents, bridesmaids, usher, best men, friends, long distance travellers…].
Sadly, there are a few faces missing today – my cousin B— and uncle R—, who passed away earlier this year. And that most excellent friend, D—, who sadly died last year. I must admit it’s strange not to have him here on this special day but, in a sense, he is here through all of those who knew and loved him.
That’s the simple lesson you learn from such loss: cherish those you have. I certainly cherish Karen and we’re both really chuffed and honoured to so many loved ones here. On behalf of my wife and I, I’d like to thank you all for taking the trouble to join us today.
My biggest thanks, of course, are reserved for Karen, who by the way, has a new motto: ‘I used to ride mopeds but now I’ve got a Harley’. I think we’d all agree that I’m a very lucky man. She looks absolutely knockout and I love her very much. Whatever we’re doing we always have a laugh – usually at one another’s expense, of course – and I look forward to many more laughs in the coming years.
Thanks again to you all. Now on behalf of the new Harleys of North Leeds, I would like to propose a simple but hopefully elegant toast, from both me to Karen and from us both to all of you: Love and Friendship.