When it comes to bridesmaid careers, there are few to rival mine for sheer variety. Lucky Number Ten (I’ve clocked up NINE turns on this rodeo) is scheduled for next July – a month after my own nuptials – at the wedding of two of my favourite people, Liz and James. I am quietly confident about being Liz’s bridesmaid. She’s one of my best friends, meaning she knows where my strengths are, i.e. she knows that I will design the HELL out of a piece of wedding stationery, but it is probably best not to ask me to make any cakes.
My own bridesmaids are currently fitting their monstrously busy lives around plotting my hen party. Every time I see them, they look more and more haggard over the whole thing and my guilt at inflicting it on them triples. And this is exactly why, originally, I wasn’t sure I wanted one. I’ve seen enough plastic willy straws, sung enough terrible karaoke and weathered enough passive aggressive twenty-women-in-one-place-pretending-to-get-along bullshit to last me a lifetime. I’m over it. I’m also over the idea of demanding my favourite women shell out hundreds of pounds to celebrate “my last night of freedom” (please name me ONE woman you know who never went out again after she got married. In my experience it’s the married ones you’re scraping off the ceiling at 3am). It all feeds into that archaic notion that scoring yourself a wedding is some sort of achievement instead of a celebration, the 30-something equivalent of thee As at A-Level. Which is madness when every single married person you know will tell you that weddings are freakin’ easy, it’s marriage that’s the challenge.
So, in the name of clinging on to my wafer-thin principles even though I’m about to participate in one of the most patriarchal practices of all time, I have agreed to a “joint” hen do with Liz. Dubious as I was when the idea was first pitched, when Liz pointed out that our individual guest lists featured at least a dozen of the same names, the opportunity to enable our friends to kill two birds with one stone was too appealing to turn down. Incidentally, it also neatly got us each out of organising one other’s hen parties (we are naturally each another’s bridesmaids). I mean, Felicity, Nat and Sas may have joint nervous breakdowns as a result of wrangling a 40-person strong hen party before the year is out but still. RESULT for Liz and I.
Nevertheless, it’s undoubtedly the sensible call. What right have we to ask these women to reserve TWO of their precious weekends (FOUR if you count the ones blocked out for the weddings) to come and pay homage to our life decisions? Or shell out TWO rounds of hen-related funds? Liz and I are in our thirties, so a lot of our friends are new mums or buying their first homes. They need that cash for swimming lessons and school uniforms and Ella’s Kitchen pouches! But frankly, even if they want to spend their money on a Toffee Crisp and rent boy addiction, so what? It’s THEIR money. Who are Liz and I to spend it for them? Additionally, I have also been very noisy about this sort of thing in the past so my reputation kind of hangs on not falling into the classic bridal trap of blithely forgetting everyone else’s lives and focussing intently on my own joy. That’s the thing about being bolshy and critical about weddings: when the only man you’ve ever properly loved asks you to marry him, half of you is beyond delighted and immediately bursts into happy, undignified tears. The other half mutters, “Christ. I’m ruined.” So a joint hen do it is. It’ll be like those joint birthday parties we had as toddlers, but with more booze and less Pass-The-Parcel.
All this hen talk has got me thinking about the DNA of a typical hen party: the cocktail of women you tend to encounter on such occasions. So just for you, I have plumbed the depths of my not inconsiderable hen CV and come up with a definitive guide to every woman you will, during your career as a female, meet at a hen party.
The Uni Housemate
This lady lived with the bride at uni and has barely seen her since. Their days of screeching round Traffic Light parties together at the student union are long behind them but she’s been invited to avoid hurt feelings. A fossilised friendship if ever you saw one, the bride will spend ten minutes catching up with her, then neglect her for the rest of the weekend in favour of her closer friends. She’ll be the first one in bed on the Saturday night and the first one to leave Sunday morning.
The Friend From Home
The FFH has turned up with an agenda and a chip on her shoulder the size of Cardiff. She fancies herself the expert on the bride (they’ve known each other since they were five) and would like everyone to know it. If she wasn’t asked to be a bridesmaid, there’ll be trouble. She’ll be livid and it will take precisely one and a half glasses of Prosecco for her to start slurring about that hil-ar-ious time they got pissed on her dad’s sloe gin when they were fifteen and snidely criticising everything about the hen, remarking that, “Well, it’s funny because Hayley used to hate big loud parties but I’m sure her bridesmaids know best…”
(who really needs to fucking chill)
The worst of the worst. You’re not on a hen, you’re on this woman’s MASTERPIECE. The Bridesmaid-zillah has crafted this event more lovingly and intricately than da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa. If she’s not sending passive aggressive emails…
“Heyyyyy party people, just a quick note to say those of you who haven’t paid me £306.57 yet (naughty!!!!) could i please have it by day’s end? K bye xxxxxx
…she’s manically trying to get twenty grown women with jobs and children and tax returns excited about mug painting. These types are always Karen Millen-clad hedge fund managers or some such, the type who can’t possibly have hours to spare for booking up hen dos but somehow always manage to send you six emails a day asking for money. They’re barely human.
I once tangoed with a Bridesmaid-zillah who was ALSO the bride’s younger sister. In an effort to prove herself the best sister of all time, she refused any help in organising the hen and (as an 18-year-old who still lived at home with her parents) completely misjudged her audience, having no concept of the financial pressure that comes hand in hand with your twenties and a London postcode. She demanded hundreds of pounds from people at a day’s notice, sent angry Reply-All missives to anyone daft enough to question the plan and developed an obsession with the surprise element of the thing. One unwitting woman (me, it was me) accidentally let slip to the bride-to-be that there was a tea party scheduled for the Friday afternoon. On learning of this betrayal, the monstrous sister-maid flew into an apoplectic rage, accused me via Facebook Messenger (the ignominy) of conspiring to destroy her plans, ruin the hen do and generally cause mischief. I countered that the knowledge of the existence of a tea party would in no way “ruin” the bride’s surprise and besides, I pointed out, the bride was a woman of twenty-six, not a child of five. A spoiled surprise would not break her stride or find her sobbing into her pillow. The demon sister was unrelenting and finished her little tirade with the sniffy suggestion that maybe I ought to rethink my attendance if I wasn’t going to take it seriously. I didn’t need telling twice. The whole thing spiralled so far into Bullshitsville, I ended up resigning my post as one of ten (TEN) bridesmaids and absenting myself from both the hen and the wedding. I kept waiting for that wave of regret to hit me. It never did.
The Over-excited Junior Section
This is either a much younger co-worker or the groom’s kid sister. She’s only just properly starter drinking and will be the first one to joyously board the Jäger Train when it comes chugging into town. As a young woman on the brink of discovering her sexuality, she is 99.9% likely to be found sucking face with some club rat during the latter stages of the evening. If she’s someone’s little sister, you can look forward to a stand-up row between her and the bride who has got it into her wine-addled head that the ingénue needs to be sent home with no dinner.
The Sullen Sister
She’s either the bride or groom’s sister and will arrive with four suitcases of outfit options and the green-eyed monster perched firmly on her shoulder. She’s either single-and-hating-it, waiting impatiently for her own boyfriend to propose or otherwise furious at life and in no mood to celebrate another’s happiness. Sisters can be death at hens; a certain breed of sibling just cannot be happy for their soon-to-be-wed sister and will insist on making the whole weekend about themselves via tearful tantrums, drunken rampages or, worst of all, sober, boot-faced, corner-seething. The Sullen Sister is to be coaxed into having fun once (and only once) and then ignored. If she won’t play ball, then why did she come? Do not let her ruin your good time. She’s her own worst enemy.
The Weird Cousin
What’s a hen party without a nutty cousin? A much stranger addition than the bitchy sister, the weird cousin has nowt but distant DNA in common with the bride and it is a complete mystery as to how she made the guest list. She’ll rock up three hours late, fill the fridge with her vegan supplies (“It’s fine, no one ever thinks to cater to my beliefs.”) and freak everyone out when she sleeps with her eyes open. Come the Saturday drinking marathon, she’s brought her own replica Viking horn to drink from and insists on being addressed as “Bubba” all night. Avoid.
Some hen dos, inexplicably, feature mums and aunties and such. It’s not the age gap that’s the problem (on the contrary, the most raucous hen I’ve seen in my life was a twenty-strong gaggle of half-naked middle-aged women in pink marabou cowboy hats chanting: “COCK! COCK! COCK!” down Brighton seafront, the youngest of which was at least fifty-five), it’s the relationship these women have to the bride. Everyone has a different deal with their mother, but an unspoken agreement that I have with my own is that she never, EVER needs to see me so drunk that I vomit onto my shoes and try to remove a stranger’s belt with my teeth. Our relationship would just never recover. So when I see mums and aunties on hen dos, clutching their white wine spritzers or burying themselves in the kitchen desperate to be useful, I do wonder if it’s truly the right event for them. As as for the groom’s mother, well, need I say it? I once went to a hen held in a beautiful, amber-bricked Cotswolds barn conversion where the entire party listened to the groom’s filmed responses to his half of the gruesomely basic game known as Mr & Mrs. The groom’s mother nobly tried to maintain a dignified silence as her on-screen son gamely answered the question, “Where is the weirdest place you and Annie have had sex?” with “Um…my parents’ bed?”. It was a tense moment.
The First Time Mum
Bless her. She’ll try her best but her head is elsewhere. Early motherhood is still playing its tricksy mind-games on her and this poor, hollow-eyed, fucking exhausted shell of a woman is not at her best. She’s subconsciously convinced that if she doesn’t check her phone every five minutes something terrible will happen to her baby, despite having left it with its father (who ought to be half-capable of keeping his own offspring alive, no?). She’ll peak at her first glass of Pinot, have a little sob on someone’s shoulder about the trials of control-crying and sneak off early on the Saturday night to catch the last train home. Try her again once the baby’s at secondary school.
The Mum on Day Release
It’s always the married ones. A completely different beast to the Mothership or the First Time Mum, this one’s been married for a while and has children that are no longer babies. Her hijinks were the stuff of legend before she got married but now she limits her shenanigans to the smattering of hens and weddings she attends each year. She’ll turn up in a mini-skirt she hasn’t worn since before she was married brandishing a case of Prosecco and bemoaning how tame hens have become. By the end of the night, she’ll have copped off with the nearest hot lesbian, only to return to her life of school runs and loft extensions on Monday morning as if nothing has happened.
Hold onto your hoo-hah, girls, you’ve officially entered the Danger Zone. This bitch will not rest until every single woman on this hen has done a vodka shot off the rippled chest of a bemused Butler-In-The-Buff and finished the bag of coke she’s brought with her (she knows a guy). She is baffled at the idea of committing to one person for the rest of your life and views this weekend as the bride’s last meal. The good time of every single woman in her vicinity is her mission for the weekend and she never leaves a woman behind. What this Patron Saint of Partying does for a living is something of a mystery, but it’s safe to say it’s something high octane and risk-heavy. She’s simultaneously the most fantastic and most terrifying woman you’ve ever met and is the definitive life and soul of the party. She’ll head home on Sunday missing a pair of knickers, in possession of a new tattoo of the word “Keith” encircled by a heart on her right buttock and a rare strain of HPV that nobody’s ever heard of. NB: this woman is ESSENTIAL to any hen party. Do not attempt to hen without her.
Dedicated to Nat, Felicity and Sas.
You brave, wonderful souls.