The pros and cons of having a surprise wedding

Jess and John-Thomas's ill-fated (but pretty!) ambush wedding.

Jess and John-Thomas's ill-fated (but pretty!) ambush wedding.

The celebrisphere was rocked last week when, instead of milking her wedding for flashbulbs and cash, a reality TV contestant opted instead for a small and intimate ambush wedding on a Mexican beach.

"We both felt strongly that our 'love day' should be intimately special," said Stacey Keibler, Dancing with the Stars contestant and George Clooney's ex. "Everyone was screaming and hugging and over the moon."

Ambush wedding pro: low expectations, meaning that fairy lights will blow your guests minds.

Ambush wedding pro: low expectations, meaning that fairy lights will blow your guests minds. Photo: Getty

But were Keibler and her new husband Jared “Not Clooney” Pobre showing atypical celebrity modesty, or were they just jumping on board with the latest wedding fad, faster than you can say "mason jar sangria"?


While trend-casting websites Jezebel and the Huffington Post were first in calling them "ambush weddings", that term carries negative connotations. Like Jessa's wedding in Girls, it implies the person you're marrying is so wrong, the only way to get everyone to act happy about the union is to ambush them with it. A surprise wedding, on the other hand, sounds delightful.

The premise is simple: invite friends and family over for a housewarming/engagement/birthday party, quickly upscale your outfit, and then – is that random guest loitering near the rose bush a celebrant?

This August, after nine years of binge-watching HBO, my partner and I are getting married. While I am happy about this turn in events, the thought of planning a wedding makes me hyperventilate and my partner refuses to elope. Could a surprise wedding be the next best thing?

Serious questions need serious science thrown at them. So come, let's don these coats I found out the back of the Ponds Institute and investigate the pros and cons of the ambush surprise wedding.

Pro: Surprising people is fun

Weddings are a rite of passage so like it or not, they don't just "reflect you" – they reflect on you. Everyone wants their wedding to be particularly memorable, but Thriller flash mobs and bridal waltzes which suddenly turn into "I like big butts" have not been surprising since 2004, and short of splashing out on a cake chandelier, impressing people can be expensive.

With a surprise wedding, however, impressing your guests is as simple as standing on a bowling green yelling "Ta-da! We're getting married!" and then entering a permanent and legally binding agreement. Mazel tov!

Con: Some people don't like surprises

Remember that Biggest Loser contestant who lost a freaky amount of weight and everyone said she looked anorexic? Remember Bob and Jillian's faces at the finale? I'm going out on an ageist limb here to suggest that that's the look you'll see on any guests aged 75 and over.

Pro: "Expectation management" (they're cheaper)

For the baby boomer generation, wedding dresses were recycled share house curtains, and "catering" was lentil curry followed by a celebratory joint. For this generation, however, trying to meet even the basic wedding expectations will cost more than your first-born's education. At the very least, people expect fancy-pants wine, flowers on every surface and a bride who looks nothing like her normal self. The beauty of a surprise wedding, however, is that expectations are low. Guests go to parties hoping for nothing more than a sausage sizzle and maybe a few beers floating in an esky. So imagine how amazed will they be to turn up to a "housewarming" and find that instead of the burnt sausages they were expecting, there are fairy lights, h'ors d'eouvres and actual drinks on trays? Oh, and a wedding?

Con: No presents

At best, a retrospective pot plant.

Con: You can't ask for help

Weddings create the kind of buzz where it's ok to ask friends and family to spend a whole weekend rigging lights or keeping you company in the seventh tier of bridal shopping hell. But it's hard to ask guests to spend a weekend whipping up 250 cupcakes and stuffing white doves into shoeboxes when it's "just another party".

Pro: People leave you alone

If you are a woman, you could be busy sequencing cancer genomes and the only thing people will ask you about is the wedding. "Oh my god, when are you getting the dress?" "Canapes or sit-down?" "Ceremony! Venue! Colour scheme!" "Oh my god, the dress!!!"

Your partner will be asked no such questions, and you will feel uncomfortably like the wedding is seen as the height of your lady achievements.

Pro: Some guests won't be able to attend

The guest list is broken into your A-list, and depending on catering-per-head, your B-list. A week after you've finalised your budget, your parents/in-laws will give you the non-negotiable C-list.

For a surprise wedding, you simple stagger the invitations, giving the C-list theirs two days before your "bowling party". Many won't make it, but when they realise they missed your wedding they'll be happy in the knowledge that they were, in fact, invited.

Con: Some guests won't be able to attend

Ensuring your nearest and dearest not only attend your surprise wedding, but are there on time is no easy feat. How to ensure a key relative flies home from Mongolia, and your Goodtime Charlie cousin doesn't arrive two hours late with six buskers and a camel? And the old people. What about the old people?

In the end, this one was the decider. My partner and I realised that the only way we could get both his family ("an enabling hill tribe") and mine ("a hive of Aspy-WASPs") together would be if we promised them an event with maximum opportunity to embarrass us publicly.

For what is a wedding if not an opportunity for your nearest and dearest to ambush you – with love, mockery and affection?

Alice Williams is an author and yoga teacher,