by Brian Aris / Hello!
13th June 1992
With everybody thinking that the ceremony was going to be held in Mustique, David Bowie and Iman’s wedding was closely guarded secret until the day itself – when Florence came to a virtual standstill.
On the morning of the big day one local newspaper had run a speculative story – and well before four o’clock in the afternoon, when the service was to begin, hundreds of Florentines lined the streets of the historic city.
But even if the news had not been leaked, the commotion caused by police sirens and flashing lights would have alerted the population to the fact that something important was up. With the typical Italian flair for creating drama and excitement, a helicopter had been circling the Saint James Episcopal Church in the morning. And when the bride and groom travelled, separately, to the church, they were escorted by police cars and motorcycles speeding through red lights and causing traffic jams in the city.
Florence, which he visits at every opportunity just to admire its art works and architecture, is one of David’s very favourite places. And the couple, intent on keeping the occasion simple and private, decided a few months ago that this would be the perfect spot for their special day. But they gave no clues, and families and guests were sworn to secrecy.
Iman had been in Florence for a while, but David didn’t arrive in Italy until mid-day Friday – the day before the wedding. He had spent the previous weekend in Mustique with his son Joe – from his earlier marriage to Angie Bowie – who was celebrating his 21st birthday.
Upholding tradition the couple spent Friday night in separate bedrooms. As well as most of their guests, they were staying at the luxurious Villa Massa hotel. Originally the 17th-century mansion of a noble family, the hotel is situated in the Tuscan hills overlooking the Arno river and is about ten miles from the Saint James church where the ceremony took place.
Upholding tradition, the couple spent Friday night in separate bedrooms. As well as most of their guests, they were staying at the luxurious Villa Massa hotel. Originally the 17th-century mansion of a noble family, the hotel is situated in the Tuscan hills overlooking the Arno river and is about ten miles from the Saint James church where the ceremony took place.
Saturday was the day David and Iman had been dreaming of ever since he proposed to her with a song during a boat ride on the Seine last October. It was grey and rainy, but in true storybook fashion, the sky began to clear as the magic hour approached – and when they emerged from the church after their wedding, the sun was shining brightly.
David arrived at the church an hour early to supervise the candle and flower arrangements with the six ushers – while Iman, punctually appeared five minutes before the ceremony was due to start.
What was happening inside the Saint James church and what was happening outside was a different as night and day.
Up to 1,000 fans had congregated at the front of the building to see the arrival of the bride and groom and many of them pushed against the gates trying to get in.
Their close friend Yoko Ono, one of the 68 guests, got a taste of Italian enthusiasm when she was nearly swept away by the crowds as she got off the bus that was used as transport between the hotel and the church.
With the mass of people outside jostling for a better view and the carabinieri (Italian policemen) and security guards pushing to keep them at bay, the commotion threatened to disrupt the tranquility that Iman and David so strongly desired. At one point a group did manage to open the gate, but they were successfully held back by the guards.
But although at some moments – particularly as the newlyweds were about to sign the register – the racket outside could be clearly heard indoors, the scene inside was peaceful – and immensely moving.
Only the couple’s closest friends and family had been invited. David’s mother, Margaret Jones, was there, as well as the singer’s son Joe who acted as best man. Both of Iman’s parents – Marion, who wore a magnificent traditional African costume, and Mohamed Abdulmajid – were present, together with her brothers Elias and Feisal, although, sadly, her sister Nadia was not able to make it because her visa was not ready in time.
As well as Yoko Ono, guests included Brian Eno and his wife Anthea, Thierry Mugler who designed David’s suit, Eric Idle of Monty Python and his wife Tanya. Bono, of U2, missed his flight from Dublin and therefore the service, although he arrived in time for the photo line-up that preceded the reception.
This was not a celebrity event – these were the only famous faces in the pews. Several of the guests were childhood friends, such as Geoff McCormack, who has known David since they were seven years old, and who read Psalm 121 during the service. David’s cousin Kristina Amadeus read from Corinthians.
Iman’s maid of honour was her best friend Bethann Hardison, also a model like the exquisite Somalian-born bride. The chief usher was David’s publicist Alan Edwards.
The intimate tone that pervaded the occasion, once removed from the excitement of the fans outside, was set by a small group of Italian musicians who played classical music as the guests filed in.
The first breathtaking moment came when Iman was led down the aisle by her father, former Ambassador Mohamed Abdulmajid. She looked spectacular in an oyster dress with a long train designed by Herve Leger and with her hair arranged by Teddy Antolin. Teddy was a very special guest – in a way responsible for what was happening that day, because it was he who introduced David and Iman at a dinner party two years ago.
It was with a song that David proposed to Iman – a rendition of Doris Day’s April In Paris. And he again made a musical tribute to his great love on this very special day – in an even more personal manner: David himself composed the music for the event – an atmospheric composition, soothingly beautiful. The strains of a saxophone alternated with exquisite solos and keyboards creating a mesmerising effect on all.
Everyone who has known David and Iman has remarked on how deeply they are in love. And although the couple had already celebrated a registry wedding in Lausanne on April 24, they were so emotionally overwhelmed during this tender, traditional service in Florence that at one point David was on the verge of tears and Iman looked as if she might faint.
After the 50-minute service the entire congregation returned to the Villa Massa hotel and David and Iman retired to their room – now both together – to rest and change for the reception that evening.
Their drive back to the hotel, in a dark blue Mercedes Benz, had been like their arrival at the church – with a police escort and speeding throughout the traffic lights in a flurry of sirens as crowds of onlookers clapped, waved and called out their names, and bemused tourists wondered what was going on.
In the evening the newlyweds appeared downstairs for a picture session for their photo albums, which took place in one of the halls in the Villa Massima, and at 8.30 they adjourned next door for the formal dinner. There, David introduced Joe as his “handsome son”, and in a short speech, Joe stood up to say, “I wish David and Iman as much happiness as I’m sure all their friends out there do.” Then the guests – the same ones who had attended the service – got on with their wining and dining.
The guests were seated at eight tables. David’s mother Margaret, who sat at the groom’s table was clearly delighted at her son’s happiness. During the dinner she revealed that her favourite singer – after her son! – was Nat King Cole, and also that she was a fan of U2. She had earlier insisted on having her photograph taken with Bono!
Dinner was followed by a splendid fireworks display over the Arno which was viewed from the hotel’s terrace, and the night ended with a disco.
David and Iman left the party at around 1am. The next day, Sunday, they drove off to Rome from where they flew off on their honeymoon – a full month at an exotic, secret destination in the Far East.