Being a best man is a daunting task. Not only are you expected to make the funniest speech at the wedding, it also falls to you to organise the stag weekend or bachelor party, an unforgettable group holiday for a bunch of blokes who’ve mostly never met. Pulling off this last hurrah for the groom requires wholly different skills from the speech: leadership, intuition and a flair for book-keeping, for a start. Few of us are blessed with all of these.
As a veteran of many stags and an organiser of two, I have had ample opportunity to ponder the highs and lows of this curious tradition. The worst one sticks in the memory. Twenty-five of us, including the groom’s future father-in-law and a lonely teenager, went glamping in the English countryside in March. It was dispiriting, cold and – like most modern stags – punishingly expensive. In Britain, the average stag do costs £391 per person, according to research by YouGov, a polling company (the average hen party is a comparatively frugal affair, with an average cost of £175 per person). Here are some rules of thumb to help aspiring best men avoid wasting everyone’s money.
1. Get the numbers right. Fewer than eight people and you risk a sad and sorry affair. More than 15 and you’ll have an administrative headache to deal with as well as a hangover. Cut down on the time spent arguing over dates by using a free scheduling app like Doodle.
2. Be upfront about money. Your initial email to invitees should include a rough estimate of the total cost of the weekend, including spending money for drinks and meals. Stag parties tend to bring out an alpha-male, competitive streak, meaning each one is more lavish than the last. Be mindful of different incomes and research group discounts to keep it affordable.
3. Go somewhere, but not abroad. Foreign stags are like foreign weddings – best avoided if you want people to come. They’re expensive, and someone will forget their passport. On the other hand, it’s a good idea to leave your home town. The journey is often the best bit. And you don’t want to risk bumping into work colleagues or, even worse, the bride-to-be.
4. It’s not about getting to know each other. Most people present are not going to see each other again beyond the wedding, so it is your duty to prevent discussion of jobs, mortgages, children or politics. You should organise a programme of unchallenging yet varied entertainment that will keep the group focused on the task in hand and nip those dreaded “So what do you do?” conversations in the bud.
5. A sober stag is no stag at all. This should be obvious. I once signed up unwittingly for three days of hardcore hiking, mountain biking and canoeing in the Brecon Beacons, a mountain range in Wales. In the evenings we zonked out after a couple of shandies. If it’s the healthiest weekend of your life, something’s gone wrong.
6. Plan an activity. You can’t sit in the pub all day. Many best men realise this but panic and organise something that nobody enjoys, like a brewery tour or paintballing. The answer, of course, is that great leveller: watching sport. A baying football crowd will subsume egos and instill a sense of blind loyalty into the group. For those that really don’t like sport, there’s always the stadium bar.
7. Don’t traumatise the stag. I am told there are masked men for hire in eastern Europe who will kidnap the groom-to-be, throw him in a van and interrogate him in a bunker for hours until his mates arrive to reveal it was all a bit of “banter”. By that time, you’ve guaranteed him flashbacks and post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of his life. Many go in for a version of this ritual humiliation, from the relatively harmless “stag in drag” costume to the hoary old “getting him wasted and tying him to a lamppost”. Why? Do you actually dislike your best friend?
8. Rub shoulders with the locals. Unless you are a bunch of survivalists, holing up in a Scottish bothy for the weekend is not going to cut it. Any self-respecting stag party should test its mettle on a dance floor at least once. Everyone deserves the chance to become a hero or a fool.
9. Don’t be militant. A best man on a power trip will encounter resentment and mutiny (a friend once deserted an overly prescriptive stag in Edinburgh to spend a quiet afternoon at the Scottish National Gallery). Don’t organise so much that you’re careering headlong from one to thing to the next. And don’t rouse people at the crack of dawn after a long night out. It’s supposed to be fun, after all.