Why a blow-the-budget elopement is all the rage right now - and where to do it

With five times more enquiries than last year, elopements like Lily Allen's Vegas wedding are on the up - but be prepared to splash out

Lily Allen and David Harbour at their Las Vegas Wedding
Lily Allen and David Harbour at their Las Vegas Wedding Credit: dkharbour/instagram 

There was something romantic, frivolous and heartachingly nostalgic about the Las Vegas wedding photos that Lily Allen released last week - her white, buttoned Dior mini dress and puff of gauzy veil carefree against the dilapidated cash-for-jewels store backdrop; the In-N-Out burger she is devouring clutched between love-heart-manicured nails, her ring finger encircled by a diamond band; the way she is delightedly scooped up in the arms of her new husband, the Stranger Things actor David Harbour, with their officiator (an Elvis impersonator) beaming in front of the no-frills Graceland Wedding Chapel.

This was a Vegas elopement as simple and whimsical as they come. None of it screamed big white wedding: there appeared to be no floral arches, no grand performances and no teary guests to greet. In these troubled times, with just her two young daughters in attendance as bridesmaids, Lily Allen’s wedding seemed like an unbridled luxury despite its presumably minimal cost. The insouciant images bear even more weight if, like me, you devoured the singer’s autobiography My Thoughts Exactly (2018) which charts her hellish struggle at the suffocating hands of fame. 

But the singer is not alone - elopement is ramping up in popularity by the minute. It has long been an answer in hard times, historically when a couple has needed to marry in secret because of disapproval. And, while the world is in flurry, now is surely the finest of times to whisk your beloved away and give it a whirl. 

Lily Allen wed her fiancé David Harbour in Vegas Credit: Lily Allen/Instagram 

Rachel Overall, owner and creative director of Mirabella Weddings, a UK-based luxury wedding planning company, has seen a surge in requests for elopements since the pandemic struck - and an increasing sense of urgency. “I had seen a rise in requests for elopements and smaller weddings over the past couple of years,” she says, “but there has definitely been an increase since the pandemic. Traditionally it might take 12-18 months to plan a wedding, although I have worked on three-month schedules before, but now I am seeing enquiries for couples wanting to get married in a month’s time.”

Sarah Turney, General Manager of Unique Homestays, a high-end holiday provider with an elopement arm, tells me that she has seen five times as many similar requests as last year since the beginning of April. “There are two main camps,” she explains. “Those who want a big celebration and are happy to postpone and couples who simply want to marry, and don’t mind downsizing.”

Mirabella often plans elopements Credit: Rebecca Goddard Photography-

And it seems this notion has caught the imagination of many in these sobering times. “Couples mostly want somewhere beautiful and romantic, in a whimsical, often natural setting,” says Turney. “Something unique, intimate and bespoke. Elopements are much more relaxed, and luxurious bohemian themes are popular with our guests, who want to take advantage of the gardens and grounds that come with the houses.”

And then there is the question of budget. Spouses-to-be must weigh up showering money on satisfying guests with spending it all on themselves. Rachel Overall’s weddings can easily hit six figures, but elopements can cost just as much - and certainly more than £50,000 - she tells me. “People have been looking for something a bit more special, rather than having to please lots of guests. That means they can spend the budget on something really extravagant for themselves. They can have everything they ever wanted.”

A Mirabella wedding Credit: Rebecca Goddard Photography

“Couples are looking for something high end, but understated; a dramatic and eye-catching experience to show their friends afterwards. One of my favourites was an elopement to Florence. Keen to shun the typical beach-style elopement but wanting somewhere intimate and romantic, whilst combining with their love of food and wine, Florence was the perfect destination for this couple to say their vows. 

“They splurged on a luxurious suite with amazing views over the city, hiring a private Michelin-starred chef to create a bespoke tasting menu just for them, allowing them to really celebrate in style. They spent the rest of their trip exploring the beautiful Tuscan countryside, making the most of the gastronomic delights that the region has to offer. Not only was it a beautiful wedding but so undeniably ‘them’, which I loved.”

So, if you dare to elope, where exactly should you run off to?

Make like Lily Allen in Las Vegas

Elvis wedding packages at Graceland, which touts itself as the world’s first Elvis wedding venue, start at $199 for the Viva Las Vegas experience - but throw a little more money the King’s way and you’ll get a private concert ($699).

Lily Allen and David Harbour wed in Vegas Credit: dkharbour/instagram 

This more premium option allows couples to choose their Elvis theme (gold lamé, black leather, jumpsuit or Aloha!) before he walks the bride down the aisle and sings five songs with the ceremony on an optional Facebook live stream. Couples will leave married, with an additional copy of Elvis and Priscilla’s own marriage certificate. In-N-Out burger is a 10-minute drive away on the Las Vegas Freeway. 

Perhaps one for when quarantine lifts. gracelandchapel.com  

Revel in a bohemian barn in Kent

Dreamers and bohemians have been fawning over this Romney Marsh barn, Turney tells me. The Unique Homestays property is ideal for barefooted brides and relaxed grooms, but don’t be swayed by the word ‘barn’ - this is no ramshackle shelter.  

This barn in Romney Marsh is ideal for elopements

Rustic, gleaming white and surrounded by tall trees and a fragrant wildflower meadow, the romantic cabin sleeps two in one king sized bed, with an en-suite and roll-top bath. Outside there’s a private hot tub, fire pit and table tennis table - ideal for relaxed couples looking to ease into married life. 

Outside there’s a private hot tub, fire pit and table tennis table

Designed with drawn-out weekends and elopement weddings in mind, it’s less than three hours from London. While it can in theory accommodate 120 guests outside, this cosy countryside getaway, from £11,995 per short break, would make for a stunning and private elopement - and Unique Homestays is connected with the best in the wedding business to help you plan. uniquehomestays.com

Almost anywhere in Scotland

If you’ve heard of Gretna Green it’s most likely due to tales of angst-ridden teenagers, penniless lovers and disgraced aristocrats who fled from England to these very first few inches of Scotland to wed. Perhaps the most famous among them were the poor Earl of Westmoreland and heiress Sarah Anne Child, who were chased en-route by her enraged, gun-wielding father. 

Marriage laws are more relaxed in Scotland

Whereas England has strict rules on where marriages can occur, Scotland has long been far more relaxed. There, you can tie the knot by a loch, on top of a mountain, or on a foamy shore - indeed, almost anywhere you want. “Scotland is beautiful and can be quite rugged,” says Overall. “There are such beautiful wild landscapes and scenery but you can still have a cosy luxurious stay.”

Lochside House looks onto Loch Alsh

Head north to the highlands, where Lochside House on the banks of Loch Alsh would provide one of so many jaw dropping backdrops in the region. Secluded and made just for two, the wooden cabin has a fire pit outside, where you can watch the sun retreat on your first married night before retiring yourselves. scottwilliams.co.uk

Book a secret wedding service in the Maldives

The Gili Lankanfushi resort in the Maldives has a ‘no shoes, no news’ policy that will come quite in handy this year, although as it currently stands, you will have to quarantine when you get home.

Gili Lankanfushi in the Maldives is a popular elopement spot

Its secret wedding experience starts at $13,489 for two nights and includes a near endless list of luxuries managed by a designated wedding planner. Couples can tie the knot in front of a sparkling turquoise lagoon before sailing into the sunset on a traditional Dhoni boat to the soothing tones of a traditional Bodu Beru band. 

A bespoke wedding breakfast is served on a romantic private island encircled by 1,000 candles

A bespoke wedding breakfast is served on a romantic private island encircled by 1,000 candles and glistening lanterns - and couples can opt to spend the night under the stars, on a special bed on the rooftop of your private accommodation. With spa treatments, scuba diving and wine pairing also on the itinerary, it sounds blissful.

Note that international weddings are not legally binding in the Maldives, so you might wish to have a civil ceremony before flying out. gili-lankanfushi.com 

Run away to an Umbrian estate

Reschio, the 3,700-acre pastoral estate in the Umbrian hills that dates back to the 10th century, has recently emerged from a stunning restoration at the hands of its current owners. 10 one-of-a-kind private homes are now available to rent ahead of the opening of the main hotel, situated in the central castle, next year.

Reschio is an estate in Umbria

With a small chapel on the estate, acres of rolling hills and a mysterious morning mist that sets in, this could offer the perfect elopement. Noci, a 17th century farmhouse, is the best of the private homes for couples, with two bedrooms, bathrooms with freestanding bathtubs and a split-level private swimming pool to float in. With terracotta floors and exposed timber beams, it’s typically Umbrian and - situated on a hilltop, among olive, cypress and fig trees - it has one of the best views of the estate. 

It has its own chapel on site

A farm to table restaurant and equestrian centre with 40 Andalusian pure-bred horses add to the allure, and a stay there is yours from €14,000 per week. reschio.com 

Elope to royally-approved Mustique

It was the royals who made Mustique the world’s most famous fantasy island when a piece of its ultra-exclusive land was offered to Princess Margaret as a birthday present - but David Bowie, Bianca Jagger and Tommy Hilfiger are just some of the icons that have revelled on its mystical shores. 

Mustique has long been a favourite of the royals

Couples getting set to elope should consider Greystone Cottage, which is built on a hilltop, its iconic castle turret offering prime views over Britannia Bay. The two bedroom villa comes with a private pool, three staff including an outstanding chef will cater to any whim. The property is available from £3,848 per person based on a seven night stay for two people. mustique-island.com

Luxuriate on a Cheltenham farm

Anthology Farm is one of Unique Homestays’ new wedding reception venues and, while it does sleep up to 18, it’s a beautiful spot for an elopement or small wedding. 

Anthology Farm has a private swimming pool

Brass candlesticks, Moroccan carpets and old tapestries, this 18th century barn has been restored to glory. With five bedrooms in the main barn (each with king size beds and en-suites), there is also a heated indoor swimming pool, cinema room and tennis courts. Sporty elopers will not be let down. 

The property starts from £4,450

From £4,450 per short break, this property has been particularly sought after this year, thanks to its proximity to London as well as the gorgeous Cotswolds church just down the lane,” says Turney. “Increasingly, people are enjoying the drawn-out weekend wedding; casual drinks and pre-wedding catch-ups on the Friday, a Saturday wedding and then a continued party into Sunday where they can really make the most of the venue – pool parties, barbecues or additional catering on the Sunday when everyone says their good-byes.” uniquehomestays.com

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