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Last Updated: Friday, 30 July, 2004, 15:26 GMT 16:26 UK
Marriages see the Madonna effect
Guy Ritchie and Madonna
Madonna married Guy Ritchie at Skibo Castle
Pop music's queen of reinvention has been instrumental in forging Scotland an international reputation as a top wedding destination.

Madonna's wedding to Guy Ritchie placed the quiet Highland town of Dornoch at the centre of a media whirlwind.

Journalists, camera crews and the paparazzi descended on the town desperate for a glimpse of the couple and guests like Gwyneth Paltrow, Donatella Versace and Stella McCartney.

Even before the ceremony at the exclusive Skibo Castle in December 2000, tourism bosses had moved to try and capitalise on the worldwide exposure.

Scotland is an ideal destination for a wedding
VisitScotland spokesman
And the latest statistics from Scotland's registrar general, Duncan Macniven, have demonstrated that their efforts were well placed.

His annual report for 2003 found that marriages had hit a 10-year high.

Mr Macniven said: "Tourist weddings, that's weddings where neither of the couple is resident in Scotland, are about a third of the total and are increasing progressively.

"I think it's something Scotland can be very proud of."

The number of tourism weddings has surged by 10% over a four-year period, rising from 8,174 in 1999 to 8,916 in 2003.

Mr Macniven said the rise could be attributed to "the Madonna effect".

Long-lasting benefits

Her wedding sparked a mini economic boom and generated an estimated 2.5m for the Sutherland economy at the time.

And the benefits of having a picturesque part of the Highlands beamed into homes across the world have proven to be long-lasting.

A spokesman for tourism body VisitScotland said: "It highlighted to people that Scotland is an ideal destination for a wedding.

Wedding rings
The number of Scots getting married has risen
"You just have to look at the fantastic scenery that we have and the picturesque settings in the Highlands, the Borders and across Scotland."

He said Scotland was "right up there with the best of them" as a marriage location.

"After the Madonna marriage it was very important to build on the success of her wedding," he said.

"We did a lot of marketing of Scotland as a romantic destination and somewhere to come to get married.

"It has proven to be a big success, as you can see from the figures increasing."

In the days before the ceremony, the Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board launched a special website to promote the area as a wedding destination.

The marketing push has continued since then, with VisitScotland this year launching a new website which aims to highlight Scotland's romantic side as a setting for short breaks, weddings and honeymoons.

Tight secrecy

Other celebrity weddings have followed the Madonna marriage, increasing Scotland's profile yet further.

Racing driver Dario Franchitti and American actress Ashley Judd were also married at Skibo Castle amid tight secrecy the following year.

Last year fashion designer Stella McCartney, one of Madonna's guests, married publisher Alasdhair Willis on Bute in another celebrity-studded ceremony.

Long before Dornoch took its turn in the spotlight, Gretna Green was the location synonymous with marriages in Scotland.

Parental consent

Its history as a destination for eloping couples dates back to the passing of the 1754 Marriage Act in England.

It made it illegal for a couple to marry without parental consent if either party was under 21.

To avoid the law, young lovers travelled over the border to take advantage of Scotland's more lenient laws.

People can have civil marriages at the venue of their choice
Sheila Wallace
Gretna's senior registrar
For more than a century the ceremonies were often conducted by a blacksmith priest over an anvil.

Sheila Wallace, senior registrar at Gretna, said people were attracted to Gretna because of its history rather than as a result of celebrity marriages.

However, she said another factor identified in Mr Macniven's report did have an impact on the town.

He suggested that a new law which came into effect in 2002, allowing non-religious marriages outside of registration offices, may have contributed to a rise in the number of Scots couples getting hitched.

More than 10% of all marriages in 2003 were civil ceremonies conducted in the 424 castles, hotels and other venues which are now approved for the purpose.

Wedding venues

Civil ceremonies accounted for 40% of the 3,500 marriages held in places other than churches or registration offices in Gretna.

Ms Wallace said she had seen a "big difference" in wedding venues since the law came into effect.

She added: "I don't think the numbers will increase, but it means that people can have civil marriages at the venue of their choice.

"Religious marriages are dropping in our district because people are opting to have civil marriages at the blacksmith's."

Wedding trends ring the changes
30 Jul 04  |  Scotland
Madonna: Queen of reinvention
24 May 04  |  Entertainment
Gretna sets new wedding record
14 Feb 04  |  Scotland
Tartan confetti plan for tourism
13 Feb 04  |  Scotland
McCartney daughter weds
30 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Scotland honour for Madonna
21 Dec 02  |  Scotland

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