Opinion: Barrett wedding media frenzy not a patch on Holmes show

Opinion: Barrett wedding media frenzy not a patch on Holmes show
Photo credit: Instagram / Getty Images.

OPINION: Ah, there's nothing like the thrill of a celebrity wedding.

The glimpse of a famous face, the whir of the helicopter blades, the exclusive snap of the happy couple.

At least that's what it's like for media - it must be fun for the guests too.

Celebrity wedding fever - an age-old tabloid tradition - made a comeback with the nuptials of Beauden Barrett and Hannah Laity at the weekend.

It was a throwback to the golden age of celebrity wedding coverage, when bidding wars between the women's magazines - and attempts by the Sunday papers to scoop them - led to memorable scenes between hunter and hunted.

There was the wedding of the rugby league star, whose family tussled with a photographer on the church steps to stop him taking pics.

The Black Cap cricketer who was booed as he ignored onlookers and ducked into his wedding car under a cloud of umbrellas so no one could take an unauthorised photograph.

And the All Black captain who tried to thwart media by holding his wedding at a private Hawkes Bay school, only to be foiled by a reporter (and ex-pupil) sneaking in with a video camera.

But for me, the clear highlight of that glorious time was the Havelock North wedding of broadcaster Paul Holmes.

It was such a madcap and hilarious occasion that it's still remembered by many of the seasoned hacks and snappers who were there as one of the highlights of their career.

Barrett's recent ceremony was a throwback to the golden age of celebrity wedding coverage.
Barrett's recent ceremony was a throwback to the golden age of celebrity wedding coverage. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Holmes had sold the rights to his wedding for a rumoured AU$20,000. Of course, that fired up the Sunday papers to scoop the magazine in question and was seen as justification for any questionable behaviour in the process.

Sunday News treated it with such importance that we were sent there a full week before the scheduled Sunday wedding (in fact, the date was a ruse to try and throw us off the trail - the actual ceremony took place a day earlier. More on that later).

We'd been dispatched with clear instructions: do not fail.

On arrival, after a leisurely lunch, we went to the Holmes estate and gently inquired whether Paul was interested in an interview.

I even gave him a lovely note reminding Paul that he knew my father, and it's all a bit of a laugh, you know how it is, so how about it, old sport?

No dice. Not even close.

Thus denied, we then decamped to the road and watched the impressive arrangements being put into place.

There was a large security force employed to keep media off the property, and the chief, a large South African, told us to stop taking photographs. We politely informed him we could take photographs from a public place.

Then things really kicked off.

The South African ordered his men to erect a fence, one made of the sort of netting you see at orchards or vineyards, to block our view.

Undeterred, we popped into Hastings, bought a stepladder and took pictures over the fence.

The South African ordered a higher fence. Naturally, we countered with a taller stepladder.

All good fun, but this wasn't going to help us get the all-important wedding ceremony photo - the moneyshot, of bride and groom holding hands at the altar. We couldn't see that part of the grounds from the road so we needed to find somewhere we could.

We started knocking on the doors of surrounding properties who might have a view of the Holmes' estate. We got run off most of them. Dogs might have been involved.

At the very last, an elderly chap welcomed us at the gate. He looked like landed gentry, the last sort you'd welcome in the stalkerazzi. My heart sank.

It turned out our host had had a dispute with Holmes sometime previously, and was happy to give us access to his property. In fact, he took us to a large water tank with a clear view down to the wedding venue. Handshakes all round.

Of course, the South African tumbled to this and promptly roared up on a quad bike.

"Are you aware they're planning to take photographs of the wedding," he barked at our chap.

"Yes I am," he replied. "They're my guests. You're not. So f**k off."

What a legend - we gave him a bottle of Scotch later.

But by Friday, we were panicking. We'd hardly got a shot and deadline was the next day. We'd had one moment of excitement when we thought Paul Holmes had left the property and roared into town, with us in hot pursuit. Turned out we had the wrong Holmes  it was another family member running a decoy.

Things had got so bad one photographer had pulled out the cammo clothing and gone looking for a tree to climb.

Another had driven off the road into a ditch because he was so stressed about having no shots.

We were all exhausted from drinking every night and loitering in the sun every day.

The only event of any interest at all was the regular coming and going of a grey-haired chap who looked a bit like America's Cup hero, Brad Butterworth. Curious, but not really worth taking a snap.

But on Saturday, the now-considerable media throng noticed activity stepping up. Kids on the property were in their best clothes. More and more cars started arriving, ferrying famous Kiwis in wedding day finery. Was it a rehearsal? Was it heck! It was the real thing - they'd pulled a date switch on us.

I still can't believe our luck. If they'd kept the wedding on the Sunday, we would have had nothing for the Sunday paper. But by moving it forward they'd played right into our hands  the fools!

Perched on our water tank with a lens like the Stanley Cup, we snapped off grainy pics of the happy couple.

But our celebrations died at the sound of an approaching thrum - the Sunday-Star Times had put up a helicopter. Game over.

Still, we'd got a good result and we all gathered at the gate to get shots of guests leaving later. One of the paparazzi got hit by a large 4WD on the way out  we bailed the driver up later to pay for repairs to camera equipment.

It had been a hell of a day. We'd all got photos, we all had a story, and we knew we had the front page sorted for the next day.

Oh, and that Brad Butterworth lookalike we didn't bother to photograph? Turned out it was Brad Butterworth.

That's celebrity weddings for you.

Simon Bradwell is a former Sunday News reporter, who for his sins covered the weddings mentioned in this blog. Despite that, when he later joined TVNZ, he was permitted to attend the star-studded nuptials of several colleagues as a guest.