Wednesday 19 June 2019

Selfie sticks, cash gifts, latecomers and drunks: Francis Brennan and the art of manners at a wedding

Selfie sticks are bad at weddings, but Francis Brennan says clicky-clack latecomers are worse, writes Sarah Caden

OLD SCHOOL STYLE: Francis Brennan at the St Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club. Photo: Steve Humphreys
OLD SCHOOL STYLE: Francis Brennan at the St Stephen’s Green Hibernian Club. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Sarah Caden

Francis Brennan isn't invited to many weddings this year. There are only three in the diary, which isn't many by his standards.

"My age group don't get invited to so many now," Francis says, over coffee in the InterContinental hotel. "You could have been invited to six a year when I was young. My weddings are a bit more mature now."

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A lot of them would be second time around, I suggest.

"Third, even," he says. "We had one of those, but we won't go any further with that."

Ever decorous, ever respectful, Francis isn't spilling the beans on his third-time- lucky friends, and all he'll say about his generation's later-in-life weddings is that he regrets that they often lack a dancing element.

Francis Brennan likes a dance at a wedding.

He is up from Kenmare to visit some of the bigger Dunnes Stores and promote his in-store wedding gift guide, including gift and behaviour etiquette tips from the man himself.

Naturally, Francis's tips make for enjoyable reading. After all, he's never been one to hold back in his observations.

I say to him I feel he could have gone further in his insistence that selfie sticks have no place at a wedding.

"I think there's too much of that," Francis says, "but also, you shouldn't post any wedding photos on social media until the bride and groom have had their chance to post them first.

"A friend of mine was at a wedding where they had to give up their phones at the start and they got them back at dessert-time or whatever," he says, with an air of what could be wonder.

Was that a bit excessive, I ask him.

"Well," says Francis, "I think it's a reflection of people being a bit unfair. Even though people would say to you 'please don't post', they'd still do it. They'd send a picture to their mammy and then she'd send it on to someone else and then it's out there. So if you have 180 people to your wedding, that's hard to control, unless you take the phones away."

You have to admire how Francis manages to pinpoint the right thing to do in that instance. Instead of asking why anyone would give a hoot who posts first, he locates the proper position to take and pins his colours to it.

Francis says he's not a man to stay too long at a wedding. He dines, he has a few dances and he's out before midnight. He never broke his pledge and doesn't drink, but he's not judgmental about those who do, especially at a wedding.

"There's always someone who gets drunk," he says, good humouredly. "But there's no point getting upset about that."

It's his combination of strict but fair that explains Francis Brennan's popularity, as a hotelier and on television, whether it be in At Your Service, putting the hospitality sector to rights with his brother John, or on Francis Brennan's Grand Tour, or fronting his Dunnes range and meeting his customers.

We love his scolding manner, but we also feel the heart behind it.

The day after we meet, he's off on his actual holidays to Newfoundland with his old school friend Frank Dowling, with whom he took a camper van tour of America last year.

He isn't on the floor in his beloved Park Hotel as much any more, Francis says, and I wonder if, when he is there, does he feel the urge to fix things.

"Oh sure, when I walk in, I always see a dead fly or something," Francis says. "Always. They all say, 'Oh, he's back.'

If there's one plant in the whole place that needs watering, Francis will see it.

"I do that, and my father was just the same," says Francis. "He was the very same. The one thing that was wrong, he'd spot it. And when I do it, I feel like him. And I stand there thinking, 'Oh no, this is just like Dad'. They've all worked away perfectly for a month or whatever, and then I walk in and find the one thing that's wrong."

Francis says he's busier than ever in his life, with all the work, and he wouldn't complain about it for a minute. Complaining, you suspect, would be something Francis would regard as bad manners.

As is asking for money by way of a wedding present. Giving cash is bad as "it means nothing", but asking for it is worse. "Someone told me today," he says, "that they were in Sweden, where the bank account is on the wedding invitation when you get it." He shakes his head, again with a sense of something like wonder.

His mother, Francis says, is still using a bread knife she got as a wedding present in 1951. He himself likes to give a nice silver salt bowl, or something you'd have forever, even in these days when couples have most often lived together before marrying and have most of their household basics.

That said, Francis is forgiving enough when it comes to wedding gifts, but when it comes to being late, he gives no ground.

"Oh my God, it drives me mad when people are late to the church," Francis says. "And clicking-clacking up the tiles. And the couple trying to say 'I do' at the altar. If you come late, sneak in and if you have the click-clack shoes, take them off."

He feels strongly about this one, to the point that I imagine he might make his feelings felt.

"I could do that. I could give a look. I've a very good not-nice look," Francis Brennan says with a laugh. And who would doubt it or want to be on the receiving end of it? Best to mind our manners instead.

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