WASHINGTON – How do you tell the story of a wedding you weren’t invited to attend, one hosted in what may be America’s most public yet exclusive place to say “I do”?
You get creative. You stand outside the White House on a crisp, cold Saturday morning with the rest of the media shut out, using binoculars to view Naomi Biden’s wedding dress. (Long sleeves, high neckline, lace! Which, when the close-up photos materialized, turned out to be Ralph Lauren.) You scour social media for details slipped by friends, wedding guests, hired help. You wait for the guests to leave the security perimeter and politely approach them to fill them in on all the details. You follow the bride’s beautician on Instagram.
On Saturday, President Biden’s granddaughter Naomi Biden, 28, married Peter Neal, 25, in the 19th White House wedding and the first for a member of the presidential family held at the venue since the era. Clinton. The bride and groom shared their vows in front of approximately 250 guests outdoors (brr) with the South Portico as an impressive photographic backdrop. The ceremony was followed by an intimate luncheon in the State Dining Room and, later that evening, a dessert reception and dancing for several hundred other friends. To answer the question immediately posed by critics: “Who paid for all this?” -The answer is the Biden family, not the taxpayers, according to the first lady’s spokeswoman.
The groom’s family hosted a rehearsal dinner Friday night at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art. Naomi wore a pleated tulle cape covered in lace flowers to the rehearsal, then changed into a tailored jacket, according to designer Danielle Frankel.
The next morning, through their telephoto lenses and binoculars, the media got a glimpse of green and white flower garlands festooning the south portico and, hmm, let’s squint a little more, are these two officiants? Three bridesmaids? The president making his entrance?
Yes, yes and yes, according to an account of the weekend’s events from guests who spoke to The Washington Post, along with a look at the print schedule.
Security was tight, with a heavy police presence in both Lafayette Square and Ellipse, which were cordoned off with yellow tape and metal barricades. Guests had to go through background checks and get tested for coronavirus. It was clear but chilly (39 degrees) and guests, who had to check their cell phones at the door, were given hand warmers and white scarves for the 11 a.m. ceremony.
First, President Joe Biden escorted the groom’s two grandmothers, each using a cane, then turned, ran back down the aisle, and walked back down the aisle with First Lady Jill Biden. Then came the bridal party: Naomi’s sister Finnegan, 22, was the bridesmaid, and her fiancé’s brother, Robert, was her best man. The bridesmaids, who wore matching blazers to keep warm, included Naomi’s other sister Maisy, 21, and her new sister-in-law Katherine “Betsy” Neal.
Naomi made her entrance from the White House Diplomatic Room wearing a ballgown with lace sleeves and a high, notched neckline that channeled actress Grace Kelly’s famous wedding gown. Her spectacular lace-edged veil trailed several feet behind her. The groom, in a navy blue three-piece suit – also by Ralph Lauren – wore a floral brooch as a buttonhole. The first lady wore a teal silk chiffon gown and matching belted wool crepe coat by designer Reem Acra, who also dressed her for the most recent Kennedy Center Honors and Barack Obama’s 2009 presidential inauguration .
The bride was escorted down the aisle by her father, Hunter Biden, and mother, Kathleen Buhle, to Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.” Although the president did not speak at the ceremony, Ashley Blazer Biden, Naomi’s aunt and the president’s daughter, read “God Is Love” from the New Testament. Another part of the ceremony included the reading of “I Carry Your Heart With Me” by ee cummings. The groom’s father, William C. Neal, sang “Ubi Caritas” with an ensemble of DC singers
The couple wrote their own vows, which were officiated by a Catholic monsignor and a Presbyterian minister. “They reminisced about their experience with each other and what brought them to today,” said Linzi Lane, a friend of the Neal family. “It was beautifully done… I don’t think there was a dry eye.”
Lane said a bee landed on Naomi’s dress during the ceremony and Peter gently shook it.
Vivaldi played as the bride returned to the White House for lunch. She could be seen lifting her bouquet triumphantly. Later, she and Peter did a photo shoot, kissing on the balcony of the State Floor. A small army of official wedding photographers included Corbin Gurkin, who photographed the wedding of Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas and was voted one of the world’s top 10 wedding photographers by “Bazaar Bride.” a small army of not official wedding photographers included a drone that flew over the Ellipse to capture aerial shots.
The programs were embossed with an interlocking N and P and included a thank you note from the couple: “Thank you for being with us today. We are grateful to be surrounded by the people we love. Naomi and Peter.”
After lunch, the president and his daughter Ashley attended Saturday mass at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown. An attendee says the congregation sang “Happy Birthday” to the president, who turned 80 on Sunday. (The first lady hosted a brunch in his honor.)
Onward to the afternoon! Guests who didn’t make the cut earlier still had the chance to fete the couple at a larger but exclusive evening reception. Attendees reported that the guest list was packed with friends of the couple from Sidwell Friends, George Washington University, Penn and Columbia, but few Washington dignitaries. (Names in bold at the morning ceremony included former Sen. Chris Dodd, former Sen. Ted Kaufman, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his wife, Evan Ryan, who is a White House Cabinet Secretary.)
Don’t give us the cabinet members, give us the details!
Okay. The dress: Naomi changed into an ivory strapless gown with a scoop neckline, petite train, and embellished buttons down the back, a guest reports She wore her engagement ring and her wedding band over a pair of tulle gloves, and the same Tiffany pearl and diamond earrings that she wore to the ceremony. Women’s Wear Daily reported that the evening gown was designed by Alexandra O’Neill for Markarian, the label the first lady wore on inauguration day.
The cake: Seven tiers and all-white fondant. Individual portions in boxes were delivered to the attendees, as a detail of the party. The flavor was “lemon” says the guest.
The Music: Two bands, playing a mix of classical and romantic pop, including songs by Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé. In addition to the traditional first dance and her parents’ dances, the bride danced with her grandfather, the president, whom she calls “Pops.”
“He never stopped whispering in her ear,” reported one guest. “It was probably one of my favorite moments of the whole night.”
The party spread throughout the White House, with multiple spaces for drinking and dancing. The white and green floral motif from earlier in the day carried over into the evening decor, along with plenty of candlelight. The festivities were orchestrated by Bryan Rafanelli, one of the nation’s leading wedding planners, who planned Chelsea Clinton’s wedding in Rhinebeck, New York, as well as other holiday events and White House state dinners.
Peter offered a toast. Maisy was wearing a striped suit. The first lady wore a knee-length ice blue dress, embellished with sequins. Baby Beau, the bride’s 2-year-old half-brother, was wearing a skimpy tuxedo and reportedly had a minor breakdown at the end of the night, well past his bedtime, a guest speculated. The president stayed late to mingle with the guests.
Peter and Naomi, both lawyers, met on a date arranged by a mutual friend in 2018 and have been living on the third floor of the White House. “These two fell in love after two days,” a friend, Asha-Kai Grant, wrote on Instagram last year.
The bride’s grandparents issued a statement on Saturday. “It’s been a joy to watch Naomi grow, discover who she is, and carve out such an amazing life for herself,” the president and first lady said. “Now, we are proud to see her choose Peter as her husband and are honored to welcome him into our family. We wish you days filled with laughter and a love that deepens with each passing year.”
Rafanelli, the event planner, posted several photos on his Instagram account. Other than that, the official channels have been keeping quiet, letting the newlyweds enjoy their day. Most of the friends did the same. But you didn’t need binoculars to see that the couple was head over heels in love.
“Naomi was dancing from start to finish,” said a friend of the groom. “They were so in love and so happy.”
Jura Koncius of the Washington Post contributed to this report.