A bride-to-be whose bachelorette party, called a hen do in her native England, was cancelled by the pandemic still enjoyed a knees-up with her pals, who secretly organized a virtual celebration for her.
Teacher Lucy Nelstrop, 27, of Ipswich, Suffolk, England had happily accepted Sam Manning's proposal when he asked her to marry him during a romantic mini-break in Bath, Somerset, in 2018.
Soon, their wedding was planned for August 1, 2020, in Lincolnshire, but first came the hen party and stag night—with Lucy's friends organizing a three-day celebration for her, scheduled for Easter half-term, earlier this month.
Sam and Lucy on their first holiday as a couple (PA Real Life/Collect)
Sadly, the nationwide lockdown enforced to slow the spread of the pandemic dashed their plans to paint the town red, but, undeterred, Lucy's hens surprised her with a virtual celebration—complete with party games, Prosecco and wedding dresses fashioned from toilet paper.
“It was a really emotional day. My hens made me feel really special, even though I was just sitting there alone with my laptop."
“I know how hard they worked planning the original hen—the details of which are still a mystery to me—so hopefully, one day, we can do what they'd organized, too. It's a story to tell the grandkids, that's for sure."
Lucy and her hens playing the wedding dress loo roll game (PA Real Life/Collect)
Lucy first met Sam, 29, who works in marketing, eight years ago when they were both studying at Leeds Metropolitan University, now known as Leeds Beckett.
Keen to immerse herself in university life, she looked for societies to join and eventually settled on the boxing team—of which he was also a member.
“I wanted a club to join, but one where I didn't need to have a major knowledge of the sport. Everything else seemed like you had to be some county champion to join, whereas this was for beginners, so I thought I'd give it a go."
Lucy at her virtual hen (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I went along to one of their socials, and that's where I met Sam."
The soon became a couple, moving in together after graduating—initially staying in Leeds, before eventually moving south to Ipswich, to be closer to family.
Then, in 2018, during a romantic trip to historic Bath, he surprised her by popping the question.
Sam proposing to Lucy (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I had been hinting at Sam that I wanted him to propose, but I had no idea he was going to do it on that trip."
“We'd arranged to go on a tour of the cathedral, but when we got there, nobody was there and there were no signs telling us where to go."
“I was confused and getting a bit stressed, telling Sam we needed to find someone who worked there to ask where we should be."
“Then, suddenly, this guide appeared and it turned out Sam had booked us a private tour. When we got to the roof, the guide went off to do something, so it was just Sam and me."
“I was admiring the view of the city when I suddenly heard him say, 'Lucy?' When I turned around he was on one knee."
To Lucy's delight, Sam had secretly been arranging the whole day, so he could propose.
Sam and Lucy when they got engaged (PA Real Life/Collect)
“I immediately burst into tears when he asked and eventually managed to stop crying for long enough to say yes."
“The guide, who had been in on it, then reappeared with some champagne. On our way out, the ladies working in the gift shop told us they had watched the whole thing on CCTV."
After breaking the happy news to their loved ones, talk turned to wedding plans.
Sam and Lucy when they first met at university (PA Real Life/Collect)
But, before the big day itself would come the hen and stag celebrations, which, in Sam and Lucy's case, were supposed to have taken place earlier this month.
Sadly, like many other bride-and-grooms-to-be, the pandemic meant their plans were dashed.
“Sam and his friends were supposed to go to the Snowbombing music festival in Austria. I still don't know exactly what my hen would have looked like."
Lucy at her virtual hen (PA Real Life/Collect)
“All I know is that it was supposed to kick off on the first Monday of the Easter half term, last until the Wednesday, and involve fancy dress."
“We're still all really hoping we can do whatever was planned one day, and Sam and his friends are going to go to Austria next year instead."
But, as what would have been day one of the festivities approached, a string of parcels began to arrive for Lucy at home, all marked, 'Do not open until Monday.'
Lucy watching her video message (PA Real Life/Collect)
She then received a message from her bridal party instructing her to log on to Zoom—a video-calling app—at 11am on 6 April, ensuring she had a drink in her hand.
Moments before the clock struck 11, another surprise came through in the form of a video to her phone, in which her hens had all included individual messages of support.
“I started crying when I watched it—it was so thoughtful and so lovely to see everybody wishing me well."
“As per their instructions, I got myself a drink and a snack—an espresso martini and a croissant—and logged onto Zoom. Sixteen of my friends and family were all there, waiting to surprise me with a virtual hen do. It was amazing."
Over the next two hours, Lucy and her loved ones chatted, drank Prosecco and played games including Mr and Mrs, an 'all about the bride' quiz and wedding-themed charades.
“Everyone made me act out the rude ones. They also did a challenge where they had three minutes to make wedding dresses out of loo roll and I had to pick the best. It was hilarious—they did really well."
“And they challenged me to put on as much fancy dress as I could in two minutes. Weirdly, Sam and I have a lot—bags and bags of it, all from our uni days—so I came back downstairs looking really quite silly."
Lucy in fancy dress at the hen (PA Real Life/Collect)
During the video call, Lucy was told it was finally time to unwrap the mystery parcels that had arrived for her—and was touched to see her pals had put together a bespoke gift set featuring treats from all her favorite shops.
Included were goodies from fashion store And Other Stories, as well as a bridal bag from accessories brand Katie Loxon.
And, like his bride-to-be, with the stag do he had planned cancelled, Sam had a virtual celebration the night before.
The hens in their loo roll wedding dresses (PA Real Life/Collect)
“He was feeling slightly worse for wear on the day of my hen, bless him. His groomsmen had given me strict instructions to buy him a bottle of Jägermeister and enough beer to last the night, so they could play drinking games online."
“They all wore fancy dress, too, and had a really good time."
Now, Sam and Lucy hope that their nuptials, planned to take place on August 1 at her family's farm, will still go ahead. But, still unsure when the nationwide lockdown will lift, they are taking things day by day.
Lucy post-hen (PA Real Life/Collect)
“It is so out of anybody's control that it's just impossible to tell. It's the wedding I've always wanted, and have dreamed about since I was a child, but at the same time I completely understand if it has to be postponed."
“Still, whatever happens, Sam and I will never forget our hen and stag parties."
“I can't thank my friends enough for making the best of a surreal situation, and making me feel so special."