I promised to post a few pictures from the event at Wadhurst Castle yesterday, so here they are. Several of you have asked why I was in Peterborough today rather than on holiday. Er, the first issue of Total Politics is published next week. Not a good time to go away. That will have to wait until August.
I have to say that yesterday was a perfect day. Everything ran smoothly, everyone turned up and I think everyone who attended had a really good time. The day started at 1.30pm with drinks before the ceremony. One guest had left Norwich at 4am and had turned up at 10.30 just to make sure he was on time! Indeed, many people turned up very early, which was good as it meant there was a chance to speak to everyone properly.
The ceremony was due to start at 2.30 and rather worryingly there was the odd hint of rain in the air. We had decided to do the whole thing outside as it was such a nice day. Very Southfork! We had to actually sign the register inside the Castle, in the room licensed for such occasions. Luckily the rain held off. We had gone to some trouble to ensure the ceremony was as "yuck-free" as possible and asked three friends, Mark Fox, Rena Valeh (some of you may remember her from 18DS) and Alex Rosoman to do three readings. The setting was amazing with stupendous views out over the East Sussex downs.
Gyles Brandreth was one of the guests, and it was he who took the 1994 Marriage Act through Parliament which enabled places like Wadhurst Castle to hold marriage ceremonies. The ceremony itself was more moving that I had perhaps expected. Having never been to a civil partnership before I wasn't quite sure how it would be or how I would react. John is fairly inscrutable, but at one point I did feel I was about to 'lose it' and had to do some deep breathing to get back on track! There was a real sense of occasion about it all. Nadine captures it well...
We began with drinks on the terrace, which is where Iain and John exchanged vows - at which point everyone suddenly went quiet. Not quiet in the normal way - the fact that something special was taking place hung heavily in the air. It was very emotional.
We then seemed to spend an age taking photos of different groups of people - the one I particularly enjoyed was the West Ham fans group photo where we broke into a rendition of "I'm forever blowing bubbles". Classy, eh?
Then there was a picture with all the women wearing what they called 'fascinators'. Fascinating. For some reason, I wanted to call them 'fluffers', until I remembered what Emily Maitlis told me a 'fluffer' was.
Then it was time to sit down for an absolutely wonderful meal, prepared by a fantastic caterer called Amuse. I cannot recommend them highly enough. Because it was a Sunday we decided people wouldn't want to leave late, so instead of evening entertainment we had a six course meal!
Each course was interspersed with a reading or speech. Keith Simpson was Master of Ceremonies, my neice Issy read a poem my sister Tracey had composed for John and myself that morning...
We try to make our mark in this life
Scratch our names in the sand
Then watch, unprepared, as the real world
Washes up and fills the grooves
Where our dreams had been
If you find a love in this life
Where acceptance and truth
Are not fleeting or fickle
Then watch the waves break
Don't run from the shore
My other sister, Sheena, then proposed a toast to absent friends and paid a short tribute to my Godmother, who died last year, and John's brother Roger who was killed in a road accident in Thailand in 1994. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Tracey then made the speech of the day, which even seasoned speechmakers like Gyles Brandreth and Christine Hamilton said was the best speech they had heard this year. Naturally I was the butt of most of her jokes. She also pointed out that it was thanks to Tony Blair we were there at all (She's a LibDem). I clapped. Here's an extract from Tracey's speech
It surely has to be a sign of advancing years when sentimentality for one’s own brother replaces the need to crack a bloody good joke about toilets and vicars in a fabulous Kenneth Williams accent! I mean I am talking about a man who has single-handedly kept my daughter’s school PTA raffle superbly stocked over the years with gifts I have passed on of such unbelievable bad taste they are almost kitsch collectors’ items! I am talking about a man...yes a grown man...who still wells up when he remembers Amy Turtle leaving Crossroads and Bennie’s unrequited love for Miss Diane. A man who likes....no who adores ‘Steps’ and ‘ABBA’ and for whom surely the song ‘Dancing Queen’ was written. Well on second thoughts the words – Disco Dancer, Rhythm, and Co-ordination – do not apply to my brother! Iain is so obsessed with this beloved pop-group that he became hugely upset when, having asked people to vote for their top 10 ABBA songs (I know...who would do that? ...and why?), their choices did not match his own. That reminds me of his mania for lists when we were growing up. He would categorise his impressively eclectic collection of 45’s so fastidiously it was bordering on an O.C.D.! He would continually be asking me and my sister Sheena infuriating questions during car journeys to Frinton like “Name your top 5 favourite TV programmes” or “Rank these in ascending order of educational value: Pogles Wood, Hector’s House, Trumpton or Hammy Hamster’s Tales From the Riverbank” and “Would you rather star on the Galloping Gourmet, Opportunity Knocks or Dallas?”. His hankering for TV fame began at a very early age!!
And surely Iain must be the only person ever to manage to get a dog run over whilst walking him on a lead! Ah Gio, Iain and John’s little barrel of a dog, fondly named after Iain’s favourite aftershave Aqua de Gio, or more commonly known in the Dale/Simmons household as Gio’s Piss. If Gio were a child, he would almost certainly be in a reform school for delinquents by now, but I guess his thieving and gluttonous behaviour can really only be blamed on the parents! And John...looking so dapper today (no hint of the used car salesman about him at all)...but I have to say I have my suspicions about his links with the dark side – his nocturnal habits and absolute fear of rising before noon surely point to something a little sinister (more garlic anyone..?). In fact I believe I am right in saying that he realised the life of a sales rep for a drugs company was not for him when his boss found him asleep, mid-morning, on the job.
Now after that massive digression, let’s get back to the wallowing in sentiment predicament I alluded to earlier... My brother is that he has grabbed the time he has been given so far, ignited it, turning the flicker into the brightest of flames. And a flame will keep burning safely if it has some protection around it and that is what John has provided for the last 13 years. Iain has pursued his dreams like a tenacious terrier, realised most of them, but not got overly depressed when the reality is maybe not living up to expectations. He moves on and is sanguine about the experience.
John has had to cope with a terrible tragedy. He has done this with a quiet, commendable dignity. And I, for one, am proud to now be able to call him my Brother-in-Law. (Not so sure how he feels about officially becoming part of the Dale Family...very scary business!). I am a hopeless internet-phobe, but finally, this weekend I actually looked at Iain’s website and his blog diary for the first time. I was suitably impressed and actually, though it pains me to say it, I was staggered when I read his biography page and was reminded of all that he has done. It is also simply quite amazing to see his picture, taken by David Bailey, in GQ Magazine alongside the great and the good. I was even tempted to post a comment on his blog along with the hundreds of other well-wishers...I particularly liked the comments about the Labour Government making this event possible...however I don’t want to make any new nerdy friends or start a bun fight today when we’re all behaving so well.
John and Iain have forged a partnership that works brilliantly on many different levels – they balance out each other: John with his impeccable taste, Iain with his...well...let’s just say individual taste. Iain with his fiery nature, John with his placid and calm temperament. Iain’s impulsiveness and John’s reticence to make hasty decisions. Iain’ s love of the limelight and fame (he was recently on two BBC channels simultaneously, I mean when is he not on the television or radio), John happier in the background. Iain with his work ethic, John with his “I’d rather be polishing my balls” ethic - oh you are a filthy audience...I’m referring to his glass collection of course! In fact John has spent years trying to educate Iain in all things Art Nouveau, but without success: Iain still thinks that Lalique is a French vegetable!
But joking aside, their partnership is one based on trust and companionship. One that has endured much already, not least the prejudice of people who should spend time judging their own lives before passing judgement on others. Jane and Garry, my Mum and Dad, and Enid and Roland, John’s parents would want me to say, I’m sure, how proud they are of their sons and all they have achieved in their lives so far. Ultimately, though, happiness, surely is what every parent wants for their offspring. And I too hope that Iain and John have many more happy years ahead of them together. Please join me in raising your glasses to love, to happiness, to Iain and John.
Donal Blaney relates the funniest moment...
In an innuendo-laden series of speeches, Iain's sister, Tracey (who delivered a truly Herculean speech for someone genuinely unaccustomed to public speaking) caused the greatest mirth of the day. She made some obtuse reference to masturbation - only for the throng to dissolve into giggles when an eight-year-old child asked, a little too loudly, "what's masturbation, Daddy?". Priceless.
Keith Simpson followed at the end of the meal with a host of hilarious imagined telegrams from guests who couldn't attend. And then it was my turn. My rhetoric certainly didn't match that of my sister. Here's an excerpt...
John and I have been blessed with many gifts in our lives, but the gift of loving parents is one that we will always cherish. So few children get to adulthood nowadays without some degree of family upheaval. We both can honestly say that we had more or less perfect childhoods – loving parents, a nice home, brought up in nice areas – in my case in an idyllic village in Essex – yes there are idyllic parts of Essex – and John a few miles away in Tunbridge Wells...
We could not have hoped for a better start in life. So what went wrong afterwards I hear you ask! But seriously, we know how lucky we have been – On behalf of John and myself I want to say a big public thank you for supporting us both in whatever we have done in our lives, and whatever we have become. I know we have both done our best to make you proud of us. I also know that at times we have both let you down. But even then you have been there for us and guided us. We both love you all very much, even if we might not say – or even show it - often enough...
Now, seeing as John really is unaccustomed to public speaking I can safely talk about him in the full knowledge that he won’t stand up and get his own back. John and I met way back in the summer of 1995. It was Princess Diana who brought John and I together. I mean, how gay is that? John was far more interested in the fact that I owned Princess Diana’s car than he was the fact that he was meeting the future ex Tory candidate for North Norfolk. Can’t think why...
I think our relationship is a perfect exemplification of the hackneyed old cliché of opposites attract. I love my football, John precedes every mention of the word football with the prefix ‘bloody’. I love my politics whereas John views it as a bit like tiddlywinks, a game played predominantly by little boys. He is incredibly tolerant of my never ceasing phone conversations with political friends, but less tolerant of my good friend David Davis. David’s timing is sometimes not all it might be. On Friday night I overheard John on the phone saying to my mother: “All I know is it’s bloody typical of David Davis to pick this weekend to do it...”
You may not believe this given what many of you know of my temperament and occasional volcanic temper, but in thirteen years we have never had a row. I have to admit we did come close to it over the seating plan here, but John did eventually agree to sit next to me... Let me finish by saying two things – first of all a quote from Robert Sexton…In a time when nothing is more certain than change, the commitment of two people to one another has become difficult and rare. Yet, by its scarcity, the beauty and value of this exchange have only been enhanced.We all live in uncertain worlds, none more so that the kind of life we lead. So to find someone who has felt able to stick with me for thirteen years, has made me feel very lucky indeed. John, today we have committed the rest of our lives to each other. I’m sure there will be some turbulent times ahead, but today, to misquote Winston Churchill, I feel I have won first prize in the lottery of life.
And that was it. A remarkable day, spent with family and friends, enjoying a spectacular setting and wonderful food. Neither of us could have asked for more. I apologise for the length of this post, but so many people have been so kind in their good wishes that I wanted to share our day with you.