23 FEBRUARY 2002, Page 32

It was the biggest wedding buy-up since John got the exclusive rights to the Marriage at Cana


At the time of writing, OK magazine's relevant issue is not yet in the shops. Exclusive rights to the photographs of the ceremony and reception marking Miss Joan Collins's fifth wedding so far were bought, for an appropriately fabulous sum, by that paper of record. The rest of us connoisseurs of celebrity had to be content with tantalising pictures in the following morning's papers of proceedings outside historic Claridge's.

One after another, there arrived artistes of fabled antiquity: Shirley Bassey, Roger Moore, Cilla Black, Al Jolson, Marie Lloyd, Sir Henry Irving and so on, My colleagues of the press, pinioned behind ropes, in their endless quest for wisdom shouted their questions to the arriving legends. One such inquiry was directed at Mr Moore, and succeeded in reaching his ears. He seems to have been asked to comment on the marriage's prospects. 'Every time you get married, it's a lucky time,' he was reported as replying. Possibly a reference to a generous prenuptial agreement.

Otherwise, information, in advance of OK's full account, was scarce. Nonetheless. something had to be done partially to satisfy our hunger for news as to what had gone on inside the building. This was eventually provided by the third most important figure at the ceremony, Miss Stella Wilson. She is Miss Collins's public-relations agent: so perhaps the second most important. She emerged to tell the waiting world, It was very emotional, we all cried.'

And that was about it until OK. I am both a journalist and an excited follower of what is now dismissively referred to as 'the celebrity culture'. In both capacities, one has had one's doubts about exclusive rights being sold for such occasions as the Marriage at Claridge's ever since St John acquired exclusive rights to the Marriage at Cana. That occasion was notable for one of the guests turning water into wine. But the Marriage at Cana is unmentioned in three of the four gospels. To read about it one had to buy John.

We do not know what 'deal' St John 'cut' with the bride and groom. But John seems to have beaten Matthew, Mark and Luke to the rights. We do not even know who the bride and groom were. But the guest list included the Son of God, His 'top aides' and His mother. (And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the

mother of Jesus was there. And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.) This raises the possibility that the bride was of comparable stature to Miss Collins. Perhaps she had restored her career by playing the rich bitch in Seneca, but was also hilarious in Plautus. In that case, scholars may object, what was she doing getting married in a one-horse town like Cana?

She could have been on location. Or she might have fallen for this young Canan while he was doing consultancy work for her show in Rome, and thought it would be great to marry him in his hometown of Cana — inviting down Roger Moore and the others, She really put Cana on the map.

But the occasion did not go smoothly. 'And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.' That chilling sentence brings out the problem with holding a show-business wedding in such a place: the caterers. The wine would not have failed to arrive had she taken the advice of her more sophisticated friends and got married at Claridge's. But there was a compensation. The most important guest turned water into wine, thus ensuring better publicity than for any wedding in history, until last weekend's.

There is nothing wrong in the great and famous wanting to publicise their weddings. They must endure the publicising of their divorces and infidelities. Why not these happier occasions? The weddings of the famous raise the spirits of the rest of us. Admittedly, so do their divorces and infidelities, but that is for reasons discreditable to us. Events such as weddings are the only things that we share with the great and famous. Fleetingly, we imagine that they are just like us and we like them. Bagehot caught this in a passage about royal marriages: 'A royal marriage is the princely edi

tion of a universal fact, and thus it rivets mankind'; Bage hot using 'rivets' to mean 'brings together'. Some part of each of us was at Cana and Claridge's.

Neither St John nor Mr Desmond, owner of OK, was mistaken in wanting all the details of both marriages for their own publications. Both understood their public. Even those of us who like to think that we move in cultured circles must have noticed how often the Marriage at Claridge's came up in conversation over the weekend. Did Miss Bassey threaten to sing? How many male guests wore entirely their own hair, either in extent or colour? What was the guests' average age? If Miss Collins is the soap queen, does her groom become the soap king? Would the British people accept that? Is it possible that it was a morganatic marriage, the intention of which was that Miss Collins should remain soap queen, but that soap king should be a title denied the groom? Some constitutional scholars would argue that such a marriage is unknown to the British constitution. The answer could affect the future position of Mrs Parker Bowles.

By coincidence, Miss Collins's wedding coincided with the death of Frau Traudl Junge, the secretary who was the last survivor of another celebrity wedding, that of Hitler and Eva Braun. The guest list was necessarily restricted. Many friends of the couple were unable to be present, since attendance would have necessitated their negotiating the Soviet lines. It was an invitation to die for.

The ceremony was attended only by a Herr Wagner — a Berlin official with the authority to conduct marriages who somehow reached the bunker through the Soviet bombardment — and the witnesses, Goebbels and Borrnann, Frau Goebbels and two secretaries joined them afterwards, Hugh Trevor-Roper, in The Last Days of Hitler, tells us, 'There they sat for some hours drinking champagne and talking. . . Hitler spoke of his plans for suicide.' Had there been any media outside the bunker, Hitler's PR man, Goebbels, would have reported, 'It was an emotional occasion, we all cried. Later the couple shot themselves.'

The occasion was a reminder that the famously bad marry too. On Bagehot's theory, that rivets the unfamously bad. It is more pleasant now, however, to wish happiness to the couple who made the Marriage at Claridge's.