I tick ‘eejit’ on my Don’t Tell the Bride bingo card

Patrick Freyne: Who thinks getting married in Ikea is a good idea? This groom-to-be does...

Celina, taking part if RTÉ's 'Don't Tell the Bride', is shocked to discover her fiancé Ben has arranged for their wedding to take place in Ikea. Video: RTÉ


Don’t Tell the Bride (Monday, RTE2) is a title that evokes different things in Ireland depending on the era. “Don’t Tell the Bride but I’ve Arranged a Match For her with an Older Gentleman in the Next Town”, for example, speaks to a certain time and place, as does, more latterly, “Don’t Tell the Bride About the Twist At the End of the First Season of Game of Thrones And Also That She Has No Bodily Autonomy”.

RTÉ’s particular iteration of Don’t Tell the Bride, however, is premised on the idea that the organisation of the bride’s forthcoming wedding (without a wedding, a bride is just a marriage enthusiast in a frilly dress) has been outsourced to her spouse-to-be, the fool, and what we are not to tell the bride is that the big gom is making a hames of it.

And, oh yes, he is definitely making a hames of it or else the programme would be called “Sure you Might as well Keep the Bride in the Loop” or “It’ll be Grand”.

There are certain assumptions that come baked into Don’t Tell the Bride. One is that in these largely heteronormative pairings, giving the groom control over a wedding is very much like giving a honey-crusted bear from the forest custody of a precious family heirloom (I own the rights to this format) or a narcissistic oligarch executive power over a major world power (this is already in production).

The perfect episode of Don’t Tell the Bride would end with a weeping bride staggering through a cake-splattered conference room pursued by a drunk swan while a priest denounced the union from a burning pulpit (apologies if this was your wedding day). When this happens, producers in an editing suite high five each other and Lord Reith does a 360 degree turn in his crypt. Just so we’re clear: reality television producers do not always have your best interests at heart.

The start of the programme is always taken up with meeting the loving couple. This week it’s Celina and Ben from Swords, who are sweet and have been through a lot together, and their delightful three-year-old daughter Penny (“Sunshine on legs” says a grandparent accurately). Quite frankly, Penny looks like she’d be a much better wedding planner than Ben.

Ben, everyone agrees, is loveably useless. “I never heard of Ben organising anything,” says one relative and they all find the idea of Ben running a wedding hilarious. I tick the box marked “big eejit” on my Don’t Tell the Bride bingo card.

It’s a good job Celina is so relaxed then. Only joking. Celina has been picturing her wedding day since she was a little girl and she is also five months pregnant, so is, in Ben’s words, a bit “hormonal”. She is also described by some of the men on the show as “high maintenance” (I tick that box on my bingo card) which always makes me picture a malfunctioning Stepford Wife but probably just means she insists on Ben wearing trousers in the house and using “people words” rather than his preferred howling. Clearly, people like Celina are enrolled in this programme as a sort of punishment.

Anyway, Don’t Tell the Bride is premised on the idea that brides and grooms are practically alien species. It’s basically as though Daleks could only breed with ducks (I’m also working on a TV format called Dalek-Duck Love Nest) and are making the most of it.

For three weeks before the wedding, the betrothed couple must separate. Celina stays in their home with Penny while Ben retreats to the mountain caves of his people, specifically friend Jay and best man and brother Johann, who prove to be, as always, no help. They all go to a pub to do some wedding planning where Ben unveils his big idea: getting married in Ikea.

Jay and Johann accurately tell him this is a stupid idea. Ben persists nonetheless, due to his congenital big-eejitry. Though, to be fair, there is no better symbol of modern marriage and Irish spiritual norms than a quasi-religious ceremony in a Swedish furniture warehouse.

Throughout the programme, the high-spirited narrator (Emmet Kirwan) makes fun of the groom’s decisions, but frankly he could go a bit further with a few “Oh for the love of God”s and “Ah now!” and even, just once, “You fool!”

Meanwhile, Celina’s friends take her for a trip to Powerscourt House in order to taunt her with nuptial possibilities that will never come to pass. “I’d love if this was going to be my wedding venue,” she says, surveying the estate, which are the saddest words in the world when followed, as they are, with Ben taking a trip out to Ikea to talk to the manager.

The next scene of note is of Ben, Jay and Johann in a wedding-dress shop choosing a dress for Celina. Out of their natural environment (Ikea), the trio look agitated and upset and I fear their handlers would have to be brought in to settle them down. Johann looks like he’s going to cry and Ben just repeats the same words over and over again “I like the netting type thing” (“You mean lace?” said the shop assistant) and they eventually manage to extricate themselves without getting jammy paw prints on everything, to the relief of everyone.

Ben does not, of course, take into account the fact his fiancée is heavily pregnant and so procures for her a sort of skin-tight wetsuit wedding dress. I’m exaggerating. The dress is, everyone agrees after some tears from Celina, a surprisingly good choice given the less than ideal circumstances (see: “big eejitry”).

Anyway, after arranging movie-prop decorated afters in a golf course, sending a Love Actually-themed invitation to his beloved and organising a hen party in which Celina is taught to clean a toilet, the big day arrives and Celina is picked up by her father (“I see he went all out on the transport”) and driven into an Ikea car park. “Don’t blame me,” mutters her poor father.

Celina glides up the escalator to a round of applause from the close to 10,000 shoppers and is wed in a relatively pleasant little room surrounded by loved ones. It is a testament to the love they genuinely have for each other that she smiles and tells Ben he did well, rather than, as I expected, force-feeding him Swedish meatballs until he choked. Not a court in the land would convict her and she could then roam the halls of Ikea like a latter-day Ms Havisham, which is most definitely something the programme’s creators were going for.

Whenever an Irish themed programme occurs on a British station, we at The Irish Times get a little bit nervous. Even when that programme is Colin Stafford Johnson’s beautifully filmed Wild Ireland: The Edge of the World (this Friday, BBC2), we worry that our national wildlife will, once more, disgrace and embarrass us in front of the Brits.

And so it turned out to be – what a shower! The ever-likeable Stafford Johnson floats along in a little boat along the west coast to the sound of the music of Colm Mac Iomaire accompanied by whales and dolphins and encountering seals, deer, puffins and toads that I could only describe as “sex mad”.

It’s a gorgeous documentary, but frankly most of these rutting, spawning, humping beasts could do with an Ikea wedding to put manners on them.

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