Why ‘hen dos’ leave my feathers ruffled

Ellen has little time for hen dos - her own was a walk down a "bridleway" after a pub lunch in Ramsh

Ellen has little time for hen dos - her own was a walk down a "bridleway" after a pub lunch in Ramsholt - Credit: Archant

Ellen Widdup’s Escape to the Country

It always starts with an unwelcome ping from my email inbox.

I won’t recognise the name of the sender but the subject field, which usually reads something like “hen do!!!!!”, tells me everything I need to know. It will contain a summons to an unbelievably expensive, neurotically elaborate, mind-bogglingly well-organised, gender-specific minibreak.

And every time I receive one my heart sinks.

Will it be enjoyable? Unlikely. Is it avoidable? Not on your nelly. This is compulsory. You will be there and by God, you will look like you are having fun.

Every time I pray for simplicity.

Why not just a night out in the local pub? Dinner at a nice restaurant? Afternoon tea in a swish hotel?

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But each invitation I receive is more extravagant than the last.

And the reason? Well this rite of passage has evolved in recent years into what can only be described as an almighty beast of an event.

These days things like burlesque classes, pottery moulding, chocolate-making, belly dancing, rock climbing, horse riding, go-kart racing and cocktail mixing, have all become de rigueur as part of what is now a two, three or four-day marathon of organised fun.

According to a new survey, the average cost of this all-girl affair is now £157 per person, 50% more than five years ago.

I am not sure who these pollsters asked, but this seems quite a tame estimate. I swear I have never paid less than £200 for a hen do - and I know I’m not alone.

Friends of mine recently forked out more than £1,000 to go on both a hen and a stag do and then attend the couple’s wedding.

Another friend was unable to afford a summer holiday this year because she had been to two hen dos, which had blown her budget.

In most cases, parties are more than a single night and guests are usually asked to cough up a large wedge in advance and then use up their precious annual leave for a holiday over which they have no control.

In the past I have been invited to a surf break in Cornwall, four nights’ clubbing in Ibiza, a fully-catered weekend in a house in the Cotswolds with a “butler in the buff” and a weekend at a five-star spa that would have set me back £600.

I say “would have” because I refused to go.

This is not because I dislike spas or that I wanted to smite the bride to be. It was not even the fact that my bank balance would have struggled to handle such an outlay.

Truth be told, I just really find this pre-marital ritual a chore.

In any other scenario I love an all-female environment but something happens when it’s labelled a hen party: It brings out the very worst in the women involved.

There they are, far from home, this huge gaggle of girls, most of whom don’t know or like each other and all of whom are competing for the bride’s affection and attention.

They are encouraged to get involved in a whole load of ghastly games such as dressing the bride in bog roll, the obligatory truth or dare and a bout of Mr & Mrs.

And then a whole load of bunny ears, feather boas and a comedy “L” plate are thrown into the mix before everyone makes themselves sick downing as many alcopops as they can before bed.

Often there are arguments, tears and tantrums before lights out and the next day most of the party has a stinking hangover.

The worst of these events are the ones which are a total surprise for the hen.

I was recently speaking to a friend who had no idea what was in store for her (a skydive) and although she put on a brave face she was horrified that her bridesmaids, (supposedly her closest friends who really should have known she suffered from vertigo), had put her through it.

That’s one of the problems with being a grown-up though, isn’t it? You have to hide your true feelings with social convention behind a gritted smile.

In my time, I have witnessed one or two tasteful and genuinely fun hen dos but on average they have been bitterly disappointing and full of terrible clichés.

I actually find it quite astonishing that, as a whole, the ‘hen’ industry in the UK is now worth a staggering £500 million a year, despite the fact that when it comes to the events, tackiness still reigns supreme.

If you type “hen do” into Google 21,200,000 entries pop up. Some sites offer games to purchase such as “Pin The Tale On The Male” while others make a fast buck out of T-shirt-printing facilities with suggested slogans including the dubious “Last Fling Before the Ring”.

Clearly this is big business, although when I got married five years ago, I refused to get sucked in. My party was organised by my sister, who spent several weeks convincing me that I had to do something, however tame.

Eventually I agreed to a pub lunch with her at the Ramsholt Arms and a walk down the “bridleway” there, followed by a simple dinner party with just eight of my best friends, each of whom paid £10 towards the food and drink.

It was a fantastic evening and proof, if it were needed, that you don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds on a venue, a fancy dress theme and a ropey stripper to enjoy time with the important girls in your life before your big day.

Perhaps – if I am lucky – my do will have been the last I ever have to go on.

But, just for good measure, I shall be circulating this week’s column to all my unmarried friends.

Sorry chicks, but this is one bird who can live without having her feathers ruffling on another hen.

n Please email me at EllenWiddup@journalist.com or find me on twitter @EllenWiddup.