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The preparations for a perfect summer wedding had begun. One of London’s most opulent venues had been booked and the�bridal gown�- a strapless, ballerina-length silkconfection�from Elizabeth Emanuel – stood ready on its mannequin.
A stack of embossed invitations had been printed and 90 guests had marked the date in their diaries
The wedding of model Susan Sangster to actor Frank Mughan promised to be a magnificent occasion. The reception was to be at the Hurlingham Club, a grand neo-classical mansion beside the Thames at Fulham.
As the big day in August 2008 grew closer, Susan’s excitement increased: she’d waited until she was 37 to marry and was certain Frank – cultured, charming and 24 years her senior – would be a loving and dependable husband as well as a devoted dad to her son Luke, then six, from an earlier relationship
But she’s never had a chance to find out because just as she was poised to address the invitations, Frank decided he did not want to get married after all – at least not yet. It was�all too much, too soon, he said.
He suggested the wedding be downgraded to an engagement party. That way the glorious venue – for which they had paid �5,000 – would not be wasted.
Susan was understandably bereft. She and Frank had known each other for almost a year; the decision to tie the knot had not been a hasty one.
But she hid her disappointment, went along with his plan and steeled herself for the task of explaining to her family that the nuptials had been deferred.
‘I was acutely�embarrassed�and in floods of tears when I told my mum,’ recalls Susan. ‘But she said: �An engagement is a step forward, so don’t worry.” And Frank had apologised and reassured me that he loved me.I accepted it was a huge step for him.�He was�61 and a bachelor who lived with his�mother. This was his first marriage and he’d also be taking on the role of father to my son. So I was prepared to be patient. And, as he pointed out, we should do things in the right order, holding an engagement party first.’
Most women, she concedes, would be less forgiving. But Frank, she believed, was worth waiting for. Perversely, she still saw him as solid and dependable, and accepted his argument that they needed more time to�organise�the wedding.
I noticed him as he walked in,’ she says, ‘He’s 6ft 4in, well-built and very fit and muscular. When he spoke to me I was struck by his warm and cultured voice‘I was fascinated by him. He’s an excellent listener, amusing and emotionally supportive,’ says Susan, who was still smarting from the break-up of her relationship with Luke’s father, an eye surgeon. ‘The fact he’d been in movies did entice me. I thought�he was�a bit of a catch.’
Frank wasted no time in suggesting they meet again. The relationship flourished and, although initially disquieted by the age gap, Susan conceded that Frank looked much younger than his years.
He met her family, then whisked her off for a romantic weekend in Paris. An impartial observer could not have failed to believe�he was�madly in love with her. From the off, there was a tacit agreement that marriage would follow. Indeed, he bought her a diamond�engagement ring, and talk turned to weddings.
‘It was an easy conversation – we both mentioned marrying at various times. In the end we said: �Let’s just do it!” ’ remembers Susan.
She began�organising�their wedding. ‘I saw an outfit for Luke. I bought my dress. Then his sister, Sharon, who’s a member of the Hurlingham Club, helped us get the room there. I thought, �Wow!” It was the perfect wedding venue.’
But just before the big event was finalised, Frank began to back-pedal. Hasty adjustments were made and a lavish engagement party replaced the wedding.
Susan was devastated, but it was not long before her thoughts turned again to tying the knot. She and Frank began scouting locations.
‘We were aiming for a wedding in the summer of 2009, and went to Chiswick House, a beautiful Palladian mansion that is set in glorious grounds,’ she recalls.
‘Frank was concerned about the expense. He suggested the two of us just�fly to Las Vegas�and marry in a little chapel there. But I was adamant: I wanted all my family to see me married.’
In the end, nature devised its own impediment to her plans: Susan discovered she was pregnant. She and Frank were overjoyed and Jake was born in June 2009.
But Frank seemingly seized the excuse of a new baby to halt the nuptials again. Meanwhile, he divided his time between Susan’s flat in Chiswick and the home he shared with his�mother�Norah, now 90, less than a mile away.
While many women would have viewed Frank’s absence at his mother’s as evidence of his reluctance to be a bridegroom, Susan, it seems, was wilfully blind.
She forged ahead with new wedding plans – this time at her local church, Our Lady of Grace and St Edward in Chiswick; as Luke was an altar boy there, she decided it was an ideal place to make her vows.
‘We went to meet the priest, Father Dwyer, to discuss dates,’ Susan recalls. ‘In all we met him three times. But Frank found a reason why every date he put forward was unsuitable.
‘First he wanted it to coincide with my birthday, then his. Finally, he said his mum was ill.
‘I said, quite reasonably I thought: �How do you know she’ll be ill on that date?” and he said it was because her health was generally poor.But she’d seemed quite hale and hearty at our engagement party. ‘I began to think there was absolutely no substance to his excuses.’
A more cynical person would doubtless have come to that conclusion sooner, but Susan insists Frank was, in every other way, an emotionally supportive and lovingpartner. He just seemed to have antipathy toward weddings.
Once again, she felt, ‘humiliated and�embarrassed’ by his dithering. In the end, the date that had�been earmarked for their wedding became Jake’s christening.
‘It was a farce, really,’ says Susan. ‘I’d said to my family: �We’re looking at this date.” Then it was changed to another date, then another. Then it wasn’t a wedding at all but a christening.
‘I was mortified by his constant shilly-shallying. He’d even emailed the priest directly with his excuses. Still – gullible as it now seems – I was prepared to keep indulging him.’
His excuses had started to wear me down,’ Susan admits. ‘My friends all told me I could do better.
After all, Frank didn’t even have a home of his own. They urged me to get rid of him, although my�mother, who knows he is devoted to the children, has always been kindly disposed towards him and persuaded me to give him another chance.’
Hope triumphed over reason again, and within eight months the wedding plans were revived for a third time.
Neither Susan nor Frank was flush with cash. Indeed, Susan had sold her Elizabeth Emanuel wedding dress because they were short of money and a low-budget affair seemed to fit the bill.‘Frank suggested we get married at a little church in Notting Hill – St Francis of Assisi – where his father is buried,’ says Susan. ‘He said: �Let’s just make it a small affair – our families and a handful of friends – and do it around your birthday.” ’
She duly bought a wedding dress in a charity shop for �80 – a corseted cream number – and prepared for a pared-down, but intimate, event.
‘I even wrote to retail companies offering to work for �for a couple of weeks in return for something – a bridesmaid’s dress, shoes, jewellery – for the wedding,’ she says.
But once again, unsurprisingly, Frank let her down.
On the day of their final appointment with the priest, he cancelled.
He said his�mother�was unwell, and I accept she was,’ says Susan. ‘But she was elderly. She was often unwell.’
This time, Susan’s patience had worn thin. In February this year she relocated to Bedford near her mother and siblings, and refused to sleep with Frank until he made a commitment.
He was angry, although my friends all congratulated me on seeing sense at last,’ she says.
But this April, she softened again, and gave him one final chance in circumstances that would be comical if they weren’t so pitiful.
She suggested he write to Don’t Tell The Bride, the BBC show in which the groom organises every detail of a surprise wedding in exchange for �12,000. It seemed an unorthodox but perfect solution to their troubles: Susan would get the wedding she wanted and the TV company would foot the bill. She even succeeded in persuading Frank to write to the BBC, putting forward a cogent case.
All that remained was to film an amateur video for the show in which the happy couple would speak about their hopes and aspirations for the big day. A date was duly arranged for Frank to go to Susan’s home in Bedford and make the film.
Susan dressed with care, put on make-up and set up her camera. Then she waited. And waited.
But Frank did not show up
‘Against my better judgment I agreed to write to Don’t Tell The Bride and I wasn’t unwilling to make the video,’ he protests. ‘But I just said to Susan: �Can’t we do it later?” ’
His response seems to sum it all up: endless procrastination.
He goes on: ‘I’ve said to her a dozen times: �Why don’t we fly to Las Vegas and get married quietly there?” But she wants a big, white catwalk wedding, and I’m not a wealthy man. I teach drama. I can’t afford it.
Does he, nonetheless, concede that he has let her down lamentably? ‘I may have wriggled out of getting married on a couple of occasions,’ he admits.
So we are left with an implacable would-be bride who says she won’t sleep with Frank until he commits, and a recalcitrant groom who protests, even now, that he adores her.
Will Susan ever get eternal bachelor Frank, 67 this month, down the aisle?
Unbelievably, it would seem Susan may give him a fifth chance. ‘I know I’m naïve, but I believe I’ll get him to church one day,’ she insists.
We’ll just have to hope the delay will not prove interminable. Otherwise, having had four non-weddings, Susan might just get the funeral.
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