Tying the knot ina veil of secrecy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2012, 12:00am


Most people in the throes of wedding planning are happy to share details of the impending nuptials with family and close friends.

But these days, more couples are choosing to wed in a way so secret that even those invited to the wedding don't know exactly what they are attending.

Perhaps the most high-profile of recent secretly wed couples would be billionaire Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and his doctor wife Priscilla Chan. The 100 or so guests who attended their simple backyard wedding were told it was a surprise party to celebrate Chan's graduation from medical school. Instead, she emerged in a US$4,700 bridal gown by designer Claire Pettibone, and the couple treated their friends to food from their favourite restaurants in local Palo Alto. Given that Zuckerberg's net worth is about US$15 billion, he could have afforded to do something far more extravagant.

This is an interesting factor among couples who choose to marry on the down-low: whether they are celebrities or not, their decision is mostly driven by reasons other than financial.

In recent years, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock and LeAnn Rimes all had weddings orchestrated not just to elude the paparazzi, but to surprise their friends, who had no idea that a supposedly casual get-together would lead to a vow exchange.

It's also happened in Hong Kong. Canto-pop crooner Andy Lau Tak-wah secretly married his long-time girlfriend Carol Chu Lai-sin in 2008, not even telling people after the fact. Singer Miriam Yeung Chin-wah married publicist Real Ting Chi-ko privately last year in Las Vegas, although there are plans for the typically splashy Chinese banquet. And another megastar, Leon Lai Ming, married model Gaile Lai Kei-yi also in Las Vegas, away from the glare of the spotlight.

Still, the reasons for having such a wedding can be bittersweet.

David Cheung, project director at the Wedding Management Academy in Hong Kong, a wedding planning service, says he has helped arrange two secret weddings in recent years. In the first, the bride-to-be even kept the details from him - at least initially.

'In the first 10 minutes of our meeting, she didn't even tell me it was a wedding,' Cheung says. 'She said she wanted to host a party for relatives coming in from the US.' Later, she confessed to the real reason behind the get-together.

'But she said there would be no invitations, no wedding gown, no photographer.'

In the end, Cheung discovered that his client didn't want to burden her elderly parents with any notion of a wedding, and so the couple decided to keep it a secret from all the guests too. They invited 40 people to lunch at a restaurant on the Gold Coast, and after the meal was served, an official ceremony was performed.

The couple alerted their parents just a few minutes beforehand of what was about to happen, and all the guests, Cheung says, were genuinely surprised.

Still, these affairs don't always have happy endings.

One Hong Kong woman asked Cheung to plan a secret wedding to her mainland boyfriend after her parents refused to sanction the relationship. Cheung booked two tables at the Hong Kong Jockey Club, and both parties invited their closest relatives to what they said was just a regular dinner; the couple maintained that if they had divulged the real reason for the get-together, no relatives would have come. Still, when the civil union was being performed, the mood was less than enthusiastic.

'It was very sad,' Cheung says. 'There was no toasting. Nobody was happy.' His advice?

'It's hard to do a surprise wedding,' he says. 'It's better to do something surprising during the wedding to show your imagination. But in Hong Kong anyway, I don't think the other way really works.'