Data-mining and dream-making: Wedding planners’ trade secrets

TV Review: ‘My Big Day: Home or Away?’ pits two wedding-industry pros against one other

Tara Fay offers nuptials in dismal, rainy Ireland. Bruce Russell  other promises vows in exciting, sunny somewhere-else

Tara Fay offers nuptials in dismal, rainy Ireland. Bruce Russell other promises vows in exciting, sunny somewhere-else


Watch TV for long enough, and eventually you will witness the entire span of a single couple’s relationship.

It will begin with the first blush of romance and a split cheque on First Dates Ireland, moving through the tears of Say Yes to the Dress and the adorable shenanigans of Don’t Tell the Bride, on to the first precipitous battle of Room to Improve, and then, perhaps one day, the grim business of Grounds for Divorce Ireland or the cheery resolution of Buried with my People.

In the meantime, though, there is My Big Day: Home or Away?

This new addition to the marriage market pits two wedding planners against each other as they try to woo a couple into their organisational arms. One offers the chance of nuptials in dismal, rainy old Ireland. The other promises vows in exciting, sunny new somewhere else.

Where might a dithering couple possibly choose?

“Let the games begin!” announces a cheery voiceover, which is the precise point that the game looks over.

Representing Ireland, Tara Fay is attentive, precise and detail-oriented, taking scrupulous notes from Peter and Kate, a Cork couple whose three children and eight-year engagement suggests no particular hurry.

But while Fay preaches intimacy, she doesn’t naturally exude it. She rarely lifts her eyes from the page of a hefty ledger, bearing a raised eyebrows and a tight smile that is easy to mistake for a scoff.

Bruce Russell, on the other hand, radiates warmth, taking no notes, maintaining eye contact, smiling benevolently and nodding easily. The man looks like he’s already won.

It’s a credit to the show, however, that it really keeps you guessing.

This is because it possesses a secret that Fay and Russell know all too well: couples have no idea what they want. The programme, as cajoling a demonstration of human psychology and expert editing as The Apprentice, understands that wedding planning is really about managing expectations, and director Bonnie Dempsey shrewdly manages our own.

At a fiendishly well stage-managed, tear-inducing tour of the serene Ballyvolane House in Cork, the couple swoon: “This is perfect,” they say, “it’s what we’ve dreamed of.”

Fay ought to know: she mines data from the bride’s Pinterest board, uses subtly persuasive language (“This is your aisle!”) and caps off her elegant display with a live string performance of an Elbow tune. That’s the kind of psychographic profiling that Cambridge Analytica would admire.

But then there is the matter of numbers: 80 people instead of 150, within their budget of €20,000. And this makes them angry.

By comparison, Russell ought to be less likeable, never slow to suggest he is slumming it for the benefit of the cameras. “It’s a long time since I’ve done a twenty grand wedding,” he says, adding later: “My typical clients are millionaires, they can have whatever they want.”

Yet he is the soul of promise, and he is entirely right when he says he is offering them “a feeling”, where the waves and sunshine of Portugal do the work for him.

Suitable for a party of only 50, but seductively affordable, it is not at all what they asked for and so, naturally, it is precisely what they want.

“I think we are dream makers,” Russell had said at the show’s start, and Fay’s major misstep, you feel, was to be a dream reader.

She finds herself in Portugal anyway, conscripted to help Russell with managing the winning big day.

Here, in a show that reminds you “there are emotions and people’s own money involved”, is where viewers will marvel that the services of two major-league wedding planners can be retained within the average Irish wedding spend. Is this a dream wedding or just a dream?