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LORD OF THE AISLES; As Emma Thompson is added to the list, we find out why celebs choose to marry in Scotland.

Byline: KATRINA TWEEDIE

THEY could celebrate the most important day of their lives in idyllic settings anywhere in the world - yet celebrities risk midges and rain to marry in Scotland.

Emma Thompson and Greg Wise are the latest A-list stars to get hitched here, confirming that Scotland is now a celebrity wedding Mecca.

Madonna and Guy Ritchie's romantic ceremony at Skibo Castle three years ago first alerted celebrities to the benefits of getting hitched in the Highlands.

Now a growing list of stars are opting to tie the knot or honeymoon north of the border.

And the stereotypical picturesque image of the lochs and glens is only part of the reason - security and anonymity are the other two main considerations.

People can avoid what has been dubbed the `OK Magazine factor' if they get married in Scotland.

While a little bit of publicity is welcomed by the stars, the mass hysteria which often greets celeb weddings elsewhere would never happen in Scotland.

Susan Smith, wedding planner with Highland Wedding Belles, explains: "People in the Highlands just don't get so star-struck somehow. It doesn't interest us. It's just another wedding.

"We treat everybody the same way, so celebrities can feel more anonymous, and it is certainly easier to keep it quiet.

"Celebrity weddings at other locations are met with hysteria, but that just doesn't happen up here. Yes, people get interested and maybe a little bemused, but they will never go over the top."

Susan also insists the threat of midges or rain didn't turn people away.

She says: "Many people have a location in mind, like a certain castle or the banks of a loch, and as long as they are warned about the potential problems, like midges, they don't seem to mind."

After her wedding in a converted barn in Argyll this week, in which the groom wore a kilt, Emma Thompson said: "It rained like there was no tomorrow and it was like midge soup. But it has been an absolutely wonderful day. This is the most beautiful country in the world."

AFTER Madonna's wedding, which was given Press coverage around the world, tourist bosses reassessed the importance of the romantic image to the economy.

The high-profile wedding prompted a concerted effort to publicise `romantic Scotland' with a campaign and the industry's fortunes were transformed.

Now weddings are worth an estimated pounds 18 million to the Scottish economy and VisitScotland, the tourist board, gets up to 30 enquiries a day from all over the world about Scottish weddings.

But celebrities getting hitched here remain the best advert.

Madonna's best friend Stella McCartney is said to be getting prepared to marry on the Isle of Bute in August.

Stella, 31, had been expected to marry former advertising executive Alasdhair Willis on the Mull of Kintyre, immortalised in her ex-Beatle dad Paul's huge hit.

But Mount Stuart house - a Victorian mansion on the east of the island - is now being touted as the venue for the star- studded bash instead. And all the main hotels have been block-booked by Mount Stuart for the end of the month.

Former S Club singer Rachel Stevens has hinted that she and Holby City actor Jeremy Edwards will get married in Scotland, with Kinfauns Castle, near Perth, cited as one possible venue.

While actress-cum-singer Jennifer Ellison has set her heart on a wedding at Skibo Castle after getting engaged to boyfriend Tony Richardson at Christmas, many other celebs have already tied the knot here.

Hollywood star Jennifer Connelly married Hulk actor Paul Bettany in a secret ceremony in Scotland on New Year's Day.

They enjoyed a hush-hush wedding at Gilmerton House in East Lothian because Paul's dad - veteran actor Thane Bettany - lives in the area. Just a handful of friends and family attended the ceremony, at which Jennifer broke with tradition by wearing black.

That they were able to keep the event completely under wraps until afterwards bears testament to the lack of paparazzi to trouble celebrities in Scotland.

Supermodel Kirsty Hume married singer Donovan Leitch at Luss Parish Church in 1997, which was also the setting for Noel Edmonds wedding to Helen Soby.

Footballer Robbie Fowler got hitched to Kerr Hannon, in the grounds of 14th-century Duns Castle, Berwickshire, in 2001 and Rory Bremner married Tessa Campbell-Fraser, in Hawick in 1999.

Ashley Judd and Dario Franchitti chose a tartan wedding and actors Robert Carlyle and Ewan McGregor also chose exclusive Skibo for their big days.

Others, such as Kate Winslet and her first husband Jim Threapleton, have come to Scotland for their honeymoon.

Beverly Brown, editor of I Do magazine, says: "The key ingredient is versatility and diversity. Scotland has the most amazing choices for weddings and we come across everything, from people who want to get married on a beach in Skye to the couple I know who got married on one of the Cuillins, which almost beggars belief."

BEVERLY also has an explanation as to why stars choose Scotland. She says: "Somewhere exotic might be the aspiration of someone who lives in Glasgow and spends their life here.

"To ordinary people, a beach or picture-postcard setting like Mauritius would be the ultimate, but celebrities have a different criteria to ordinary brides and grooms.

"They have been there and done that and it's not quite as attractive. Scotland has more to offer them and I don't think for a minute that the weather is even high up on their list - they are more interested in the setting.

"Madonna's wedding created extra awareness. It brought guests who had never been to the north of Scotland before and opened their eyes to the benefits we offer."

The Reverend Susan Brown, of Dornoch Cathedral, who married Madonna and Guy, has noticed an increase in weddings since.

She admits: "It has not been significant, but it has been steady. People come here from all over the world, but no-one has wanted to recreate Madonna's wedding.

"Yet the Highlands have always been viewed as a romantic location and the added bonus of kilts gives a different sense of identity, so people will always regard this as an ideal wedding location."

k.tweedie@dailyrecord.co.uk

MOUNT STUART

HOUSE, BUTE

ISLAND BOOKING: Stella seems set for Bute

LUSS PARISH CHURCH, LUSS

DOUBLE DATE: Kirsty Hume and Donovan Leitch, left, followed the example of Noel Edmonds and Helen Soby, right

SKIBO CASTLE, DORNOCH

DREAM SETTING: Ashley Judd, Madonna, Robert Carlyle, and Ewan McGregor all tied the knot at Skibo, while soap star-turned-singer Jennifer Ellison is making her plans

KINFAUNS CASTLE, PERTH

S MARKS THE SPOT: Ex-S Club star Rachel Stevens is said to be planning a wedding in Perthshire

GILMERTON HOUSE, LOTHIAN

SURPRISE ROLE: Paul and Jennifer kept news of their wedding quiet until later

ST CUTHBERTS, HAWICK

BORDERS BRIDE: Rory and wife Tessa opted for Hawick
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 31, 2003
Words:1138
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