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Saturday, August 21, 1999 Published at 14:13 GMT 15:13 UK


'I do': The thing to do

Zoe and Norm, Posh and Becks: Marriage is all the rage

By BBC News Online's Megan Lane

The big names are doing it in droves - getting hitched.

And it is not just celebrity couples like Radio 1 DJ Zoe Ball and Norman (Fatboy Slim) Cook, who charge up the aisle this weekend, or the "people's royal couple", Victoria Adams and David Beckham.

Marriages in the UK look to be on the up, after hitting the century's low in 1997 when just 308,700 couples tied the knot.

National Office of Statistics figures show that in 1966, 437,100 couples wed in the UK. By the mid-1990s, numbers had slumped - 322,300 in 1995, down to 317,500 in 1996.

I do

Yet marriage appears to be undergoing resurgence in popularity. While figures for 1998 and the first half of this year are not available, anecdotal evidence suggests that more couples are choosing to head up the aisle.

In the mid-1990s, about 1300 couples a year got married at London's Westminster register office. This year, it's closer to 1600. And it is the same story at other registry offices throughout the UK.

Pre-millennial fever

Is it because people want to do something big as the century draws to a close, to mark the change in the calendar with a change in their lives? Or is young fogeyism all the rage?

[ image: The Big Breakfast's Johnny Vaughan had his big day this month]
The Big Breakfast's Johnny Vaughan had his big day this month
A spokeswoman for national relationship organisation One Plus One Marriage and Partnership Research said marriage is one way people mark a major turning point in life, be it a birthday or the millennium.

"We typically see a lot of single women around 30, aware that a landmark is coming up, and feeling the pressure to fit into a certain category."

The big catalyst of the year appeared to be the millennium, inspiring couples to consider marriage. Singles also seemed to be keener than usual to find a mate, with dating agencies reporting a boom in interest over the past months.

"One theory is that people are wanting to be in a relationship for the millennium. Because it's such a big event, it's not something they want to experience alone. I really don't know about that one."

In the first quarter of this year alone, the Association of British Introduction Agencies reported a 35% increase in registrations with agencies compared to the same period last year. The Internet has been cited as one of the driving forces behind the growth.

Round two

The real marital growth area, according to One Plus One, is in divorced people giving marriage another shot with a new partner. ZoŽ and Norman are a case in point again - he has been married before.

[ image: Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and Zoe Ball tie the knot this weekend.]
Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and Zoe Ball tie the knot this weekend.
The One Plus One spokeswoman says: "It's not so much that marriage is getting more popular, it's that marriage continues to be popular in the face of rising divorce rates. People expect great things from marriage, and if they don't get it, they look for something better.

"People are clearly committed to marriage. There was a nice piece in the paper last week, in which one chap said 'I really believe in marriage, I do it every eight years'.

"People want to get into relationships where there is a sense of emotional and legal security. But it is not necessarily for life. What you are seeing now is serial monogamy.

"Marriage isn't necessarily the permanent state that we commit to verbally when we get married."

New rules

Marriage's popularity is not only flying in the face of rising divorce rates - changing social attitudes mean young people face less pressure to get married.

[ image: Marriage is one way to mark a turning point]
Marriage is one way to mark a turning point
There are even signs that parts of the Church could be revising its thinking about relationships. The Most Rev Richard Holloway - Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church - praises young people for working out their own moral code, in which open-ended exclusive sexual relationships hold similar weight to marriage.

Lucy Selleck, of relationship service Relate, said many people still regard marriage as a step up the relationship ladder, something to do after living together for several years.

"We all need goals and paths to travel. I think that most couples aspire to a permanent relationship in which they can raise children - and marriage still speaks of that permanence."

Now that cohabiting is socially acceptable, choosing marriage seems a bigger step than it did 30 years ago.

"If there's a choice that you don't have to get married, some people shy away from it, and that can cause problems - there's no real feeling of commitment in one half of the relationship."

Latest Fashion

For those who need more evidence that saying "I do" is the in thing to do, witness It girl and barometer of socialite Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Greg Martin.

Two weeks after they met, they got engaged.

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