Fifties film-star and burlesque wedding

Karen and Alex combined Grace Kelly style, monochrome colours and a touch of burlesque cheekiness in their London wedding

Karen and Alex – the proposal

Photography: Marlene Suter

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“I liked his confidence, his smart suit and cute smile!” says Karen Tudor-Hart of her first meeting with her now husband Alex. “We met at a party: I was chatting to a guy and Alex barged in demanding my attention! We went out the following week, dated for a while and quickly knew that we were like two peas in a pod.” The couple were in Melbourne, Australia, when Alex proposed in December 2008.

“Part of me knew that Alex was going to propose on this holiday as he had dropped so many hints before we left. Every romantic location we went to I thought ‘is this it?’. He finally proposed on top of the Eureka Skydeck, the southern hemispheres highest viewing tower. We were alone on the open deck at midnight. It was wonderful and the ring was perfect. I cried!”

Karen and Alex – the look

The couple were married in May 2010 at BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) in London’s Piccadilly, with a reception at Notting Hill’s 20th Century Theatre. “We wanted to make the wedding about all that we do and love,” says Karen. As an actress, I’ve been in a TV show that won a BAFTA, and so it was perfect for our central London wedding. I loved the space and the glamour it evokes. And I loved that it had a balcony overlooking Piccadilly! BAFTA also has a cinema that we hired and had some great photos taken there on the plush red seats!”

Karen and Alex – the dress

“I’d seen a dress that I fell in love with very early on in the process,” says Karen. “As a child I never had that ‘dream vision’ but, oh boy, I had it now! This dress was only available in the US, so I found a fabulous dressmaker Janie Wheeler and we worked together to create a similar dress in dupion silk with our own influences. I love the black ribbon and black buttons down the back and the Hollywood evening gown feel of the dress: I could imagine walking down a red carpet in it!”

Karen and Alex – the accessories

“To continue with the Fifties glamour theme, I wore an earring and necklace set from Butler & Wilson, with large crystal heart-shaped stones that sat perfectly around my neck,” says Karen. “I also wore a small hat, made for me by Chapeau Claudette in the same material as my dress. I had a Fifties-style cage veil for the ceremony too, and elbow length vintage black gloves from Blackout. A vintage-style silver beaded bag, with a photo of my grandparents and my brother and his family in it (who both could not be there on the day), completed my Hollywood starlet look.”

Karen and Alex – the bridesmaids

The four bridesmaids who, along with Karen, were taken from the Ritz to BAFTA in the Ritz Rolls Royce on the wedding morning, wore black duchesse satin dresses from Vivien of Holloway with full black petticoats. Small black pillbox hats with veils by Chapeau Claudette, and black satin gloves added to the vintage look, as did their kitsch hair-dos.

Karen and Alex – the groomsmen

Alex wore classic black tuxedo with a bow tie by Cerruti bought from Moss Bros. His shoes were a classic black patent leather from Kurt Geiger.

Karen and Alex – the ceremony

“Our registrar at BAFTA was wonderful, lively and really happy to be involved with our individual style,” says Karen. “My good friend Faye Tozer (of Steps fame) sang Camille O’Sullivan’s version of Nick Cave’s Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for as I walked down the aisle with my Dad. My mum Loraine, who sings beautifully, opened the ceremony by singing One hand one heart from the musical West Side Story and Alex’s brother Chi Tudor-Hart read Leonard Cohen’s Dance me to the end of love. For our exit song, we had all our guests sing When I’m 64 by the Beatles. We wanted to choose a song that everyone knew and the words were so apt.”

When it came to the vows, the couple wanted to add a personal note. “A simple poem said it all: Eskimo love song, starting ‘You are my husband, My feet dance because of you…’”

Karen and Alex – the flowers

“My good friend Lou Blenkiron designed our flowers,” says Karen. “She works in events and is an absolute professional. My bouquet was ivory and deep purple calla lilies, tied with thick black ribbon and diamante pins. The bridesmaids had long ivory calla lilies and the buttonholes were a mix of ivory lilies and deep purple, tied with silver or black flower wire. They fitted the glamour of the day and the slight monochrome theme. The drama of the deep dark purple was really striking.”

Karen and Alex – the reception

“We really wanted to put on a show at the wedding, to entertain our guests,” says Karen. “We both love burlesque and cabaret, so we wanted to find a music hall that could accommodate a wedding and a show! I adore Fifties movies, especially Grace Kelly’s films, so we bought this look to the reception.

Our table centres were large black candelabra from Flourishing Events and we had a long satin black table runner down the middle of each table. Deep magenta up-lighters flooded the walls in pink light, and black drapes billowed from the walls. A huge classic chandelier brought the place to life.”

Karen and Alex – the reception (continued)

“We even had a huge A & K hanging from the arch on the stage lit up with red light bulbs!” says Karen. “We built a bar with light panels along the front and a food stall to serve our wedding breakfast of pie and mash from Cookes Pie & Mash and we hired a popcorn machine on wheels too! We couldn’t have created all the above without the help of Setsquare Staging.” Performers including compere and singer Ivy Paige, burlesque fan dancer Banbury Cross and aerial performance artist Roxy Velvet entertained guests with their unique skills. “We started the entertainment off with a traditional Chinese Lion Dance,” says Karen. “Alex’s mother is Chinese so we wanted to have Yi Dao there. The dragon danced all the way through the hall and even gave me oranges for fertility!”

Karen and Alex – the entertainment

“I’m a singer and so are most of the bridesmaids, so we performed a rendition of My Guy by Mary Wells as a surprise for Alex,” says Karen. “Alex is a great DJ and he returned the favour with a surprise rendition of Creep by Radiohead at the end of the night!”

Karen and Alex – the cake

After popcorn (served from a popcorn barrow) and champagne on arrival, guests enjoyed their pie, mash and liquor (gravy) for dinner with cherry pie as desert and a cheese board. “A friend, Kay, made our cake,” says Karen. Alex works with her husband. “It was a classic light fruit cake. I had a photo of the perfect cake with the black ribbon and diamanté brooch that matched our black ribbon theme.”

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Karen and Alex – the party

“Our first dance was to Nude by Radiohead,” says Karen. “We both really wanted to do a classic waltz but to a contemporary song and this was perfect. Radiohead is also Alex’s favourite band and the song itself so moving and lyrical. We choreographed a dance to the song with help from choreographer Nadia Sohawon and loved every minute of it. The party ended at midnight: Alex and I were staying at the Ritz so going back there was really special. We packed so much into the reception that it was a perfect time for it to all come to a close, just after I threw the bouquet and my best friend Linsey caught it! But my favourite moment was saying our vows and feeling like we were the only two people in the world. Utterly magical.”