THE NEW RULES OF ENGAGEMENT; Why, on the Eve of Leap Year Day, So Many Betrothed Celebrity Couples Have No Intention of Ever Marrying
Byline: ELIZABETH SANDERSON
ON TUESDAY, single girls get the chance to propose to the one they love. It is Leap Year Day when a woman, thanks to a tradition dating back to 1288, can ask for her lover's hand in marriage.
But if the answer is yes, it might be unwise to book the church too early.
For today a new breed is dominating the gossip columns - the permanently engaged couple.
Despite declarations of undying love and engagement party picture spreads in Hello!, the actual wedding day for an increasing number of high-profile couples simply never arrives.
Think of Liz Hurley and Hugh Grant, Jamiroquai star Jay Kay and professional Essex girl Denise Van Outen, or the Chancellor Gordon Brown and Sarah Macaulay. And what about the Hon Robert Hanson and his fiancee, model Sophie Anderton. Or David Mellor and Viscountess Cobham? All have been engaged longer than directory enquiries.
Once, couples 'got engaged' in order to formalise relationship and painstakingly saved up until they had enough cash to get married. Women who jilted their fiances were considered soiled goods and, until 1970, men who broke off the engagement could be sued for breach of promise.
But now, in today's virtual world of the rich and famous, the customs have changed. Engagement is no longer an automatic first step to marriage but an end in itself. The ring and the prospect of a wedding date and a honeymoon all guarantee media coverage in this relationship-obsessed age where couples rather than singles are just so much more, well . . . interesting. For celebrities today are like antique vases, worth more as a pair.
UT if marriage is a variable option, why bother to get engaged at all? The answer is that an engagement, with its intriguing possibilities, is more glamorous.
'Marriage makes you look dull,' says Jane Procter, former editor of society magazine Tatler. 'Being engaged makes you appealing.' Engagement is also a bizarre social security system for the prominent but unmarried; a fiance is ostensibly not gay and a fiancee is not just a mistress. The advantages for the men are obvious; most have been married before, had the children, paid the alimony and now just wanna have fun.
But what's in it for the women, most of whom have not been married? What about the ticking of the biological clock? Because women now elect to have children in their 30s, their dating schedule is extended and the high-profile engagement assumes the proportions of a career move. The modelling assignments, the PR company or the next TV audition all benefit from an appearance in the society pages. Who was Aurelia Cecil before her short-lived 'engagement' to Prince Andrew? Today she has a PR company worth [pounds sterling]5 million.
But male or female, for the New Affianced the road to the aisle is the least attractive route to take when there might just be someone better, prettier or richer just around the corner.
So here, The Mail on Sunday presents a guide to those celebrity couples whose weddings, despite the publication of their engagement photographs, are least likely to grace the pages of Hello! this year - or next.
TV gardener and her hardy annual
Charlie Dimmock, 33, and John Mushet, 38
SHE IS The Delia Smith of horticulture, famous in almost equal measure for her unsupported bosom and for persuading 11 million people to watch a gardening show.
HE IS A Kiwi viticulturist who works for a company supplying goods to garden centres.
COLLECTIVE WORTH Charlie's newfound celebrity status is blooming quicker than a shrub in springtime. She has now sold the right to use her name to a website company in a deal said to be worth millions.
LENGTH OF RELATIONSHIP 13 years.
LENGTH OF ENGAGEMENT They're not telling. Apparently they are too embarrassed to admit how long it has been.
STYLE OF PROPOSAL Pretty sophisticated. …