I wasn’t expecting the queen at my wedding. But there she was. Looking down on my partner and I in near life-sized proportions as we said our vows. We’d traveled 10 hours by bus, crossed a rain-swept airport by foot and seemingly entered a different world to get married. Or so it felt when we crossed into Gibraltar, a curious British wonderland in the south of Spain.
The amount of paperwork involved when getting married in Spain is Monty Pythonesque in its scale
So long tortillas and 11pm dinners, hello fish and chips and PG Tips tea. In one long walk we’d gone from the old-school Spanish bars in La Línea de la Concepción, with napkins thrown on the floor, cigarette vending machines and cranky barmen, to the red telephone booths and freshly baked scones of Gibraltar. For my Spanish partner, the contrast was particularly surprising.
So, why then did we – two people (one Australian, one Spaniard) who have zero relationship to England – decide to get married in Gibraltar? In a word, time.
We live in Madrid, where getting married can take months. First you need to book an appointment to hand in your paperwork, then you have to wait to be called back for an interview (yes, interview), then you have to wait for an available slot at the civil registry, if like us you wanted a simple ceremony. It’s true that how long you have to wait depends whereabouts you live. If you are registered as a resident with a small city hall the process is much faster. But even so, the amount of paperwork involved is Monty Pythonesque in its scale. Faced with this bureaucratic rigmarole, we looked for another option. With a little research, we discovered that the waiting time to get married drops from six months to two days if you opt for “The Rock,” with just one bus ride, and a windy walk across an airport.
In Gibraltar, there are few requisites to get married. You need to provide a copy of your birth certificate, passport and request form ahead of time and present the copies one day before the ceremony. There is one interesting caveat: you need to prove that you will stay at least one night in Gibraltar, immediately before or after the ceremony. This can be at a hotel or at a local’s house. But this was a small ask and Gibraltar was the fast, fuss-free option we were looking for.
And it turns out we were not the only ones. According to 2015 statistics from the Gibraltar government, 85% of all marriages in Gibraltar were between foreigners. Back in 1984, the split was more even: 175 weddings were between Gibraltar residents compared with 223 for foreigners. But in 2015, the last year for which there are records, this divide jumps to 195 versus 1,098. (Keep in mind just over 32,000 people live in Gibraltar.)
Were all these couples looking for a way to sidestep Spain’s wedding bureaucracy? According to wedding planner Monica, from Hour Wedding Gibraltar, most people are attracted to the idea of “Britain under the sun.”
“It’s easy access from Britain, it’s easy access from the coast,” she says. “It’s easy because you only have to stay in Gibraltar for one night.”
Chamaine Cruz from Sweet Gibraltar Weddings says 25% of the 250 weddings organized a year are between Spanish nationals or Brits residing in Spain. She agrees the no-fuss process is a big draw. “Unlike in Spain, there are no residency restrictions, and you can marry within 48 hours under a special license,” she says. Gibraltar’s location is also an advantage, given it is “strategically situated at the entrance to the Mediterranean yet only 2.5 hours from the UK.”
John Lennon famously married Yoko Ono at the Gibraltar registry office in 1969
John Lennon famously married Yoko Ono at the registry office in 1969 (we stayed in the same hotel as they did) and while we were handing in our paperwork, there was a couple from Italy, a US marine and his fiancee and of course my partner and I getting ready to follow the Beatle’s example. “Gibraltar is very popular, the registry is constantly busy,” says Monica.
But will Brexit dampen this thriving industry? Monica hopes not and Chamaine is certain of it: “Gibraltar was already a popular destination for weddings way before the EU was formed, so nothing is going to change after Brexit,” she says.
We chose Gibraltar because it was easy. If this changes, it’s hard to imagine that the rocky outpost will have the same appeal. But who’s to say. We came to Gibraltar to save time but were charmed by the monkeys, curries and seaside views.
During our ceremony we were told, from this day forward “Gibraltar will be in your hearts forever.” And perhaps that’s true. Even if we only stayed for a night.