April 11, 2008 — -- He has seven Grammys and a multimillion-dollar record label to his name. She has two multiple platinum albums and a booming acting career.
But their biggest achievement to date may be tying the knot in downtown Manhattan without the presence of the paparazzi or press.
Jay-Z and Beyonce Knowles reportedly married last Friday. While their representatives still won't confirm whether they wed, the evidence is hard to deny: photographs of flowers, friends and family arriving at Jay-Z's loft and Mary J. Blige announcing "Congratulations to my man, Jay-Z, and my girl B" at a concert she headlined with the groom the next day.
With the media tailing stars 24/7, keeping an A-list wedding a secret is like trying to stop a celebrity sex tape from hitting the Internet. But, according to the people who plan the weddings of the rich and famous, it can be done.
"The smaller the wedding, the better," said Beverly Hills wedding planner Sasha Souza. "The fewer people who know what's going on, the better. Often our planning binders don't have names on them so staffers don't know who's getting married. Often the venue doesn't even know whose wedding it's hosting. Sometimes vendors are told to go somewhere else and at the last minute, we call and reroute them to the right location."
Many celebrities require those working on their event to sign confidentiality agreements. That way, if the sous chef squeals to the tabloids, the couple can serve up a lawsuit.
"You need to establish a proper relationship with a vendor that's not going to leak anything to the press, because once it's picked up, you're dead," said David Tutera, who planned Star Jones' wedding to Al Reynolds. "Your staff has to sign agreements as well. That's where the leaks get out, with the staff -- the lower echelon people executing the day-to-day orchestration of the event."
To keep weddings as hush-hush as possible, many stars don't let anyone outside their immediate friends and family know about the event until the last minute. Where an everyday bride and groom may take 12 months to plan their nuptials, an A-list couple may take 12 days. And with paparazzi happy to root through Dumpsters looking for discarded envelopes, invitations and anything that may offer clues as to when and where a star's getting married, planners have to get creative in spreading the word to legit attendees.
Guests at Britney Spears and Kevin Federline's 2004 wedding didn't even know the couple was getting married.
"They were told they were invited to a celebration of the engagement," said Ellen Black, owner of Lehr & Black, the company that designed Spears and Federline's invitations. "We printed the invitations the night before the wedding and only three of my people knew about it. When the guests arrived, they were handed this boxed invitation that said, 'You are invited to our wedding tonight, please go upstairs and change.'"
Black also created invitations for Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's wedding before the couple called it off. Pressure from the press and paparazzi was so intense that she had to hire a security guard to stand by the invitations when she wasn't in the office. Since then, her practice has become even more stealth.
"I've done invitations where celebrities won't even put their names on them," Black said. "Some of them will just say, 'You're invited to our wedding' and then there'll be a phone number underneath that guests need to call for details. We're even leaving locations off the invitations."
When it comes to location, the more remote, the better. Jay-Z and Knowles took a huge risk getting married in the middle of Manhattan. They could've taken a cue from Google co-founder Larry Page, who rented out a Caribbean enclave for his December marriage to Lucy Southworth. Of course, Page had billions to spend.
"There are very few celebrities that can afford the luxury of a private island because that comes with a several million dollar price tag," wedding planner Souza said. "Renting out a resort on an island, that's a different scenario. You can spend a couple hundred thousand dollars to rent a resort for a weekend versus a couple million for an island."
Celebrities didn't always have to go to such lengths to say their vows in peace. But with six-figure paydays attached to the first photos of an A-list wedding, paparazzi are willing to do whatever it takes to get the money shot, the sanctity of marriage be damned.
"When I first began doing celebrity weddings 25 years ago, it was much different," said Denis Reggie, who shot John F. Kennedy Jr.'s superprivate 1996 wedding to Carolyn Bessette on Georgia's Cumberland Island. "We weren't faced with scores of photographers doing the crazy things they do now -- using long lenses in boats, hanging themselves out of helicopters, disguising themselves as waiters, pretending to be wedding guests."
Up against those odds, sometimes, the best strategy for soon-to-be wed celebs is to release just a little bit of information about their ceremony, enough to whet the appetite of the press and paparazzi. Tom Cruise's 2006 wedding to Katie Holmes was no secret. But few knew what went on inside the Italian castle until after their vows were said. Fans and media were kept away by police checkpoints, and journalists were stationed in the nearby town square.
"You got most of the info about his wedding after it was over," Tutera said. "And it was a large event, it wasn't a simple affair. The fact that it was out of the country made it easier, but they really kept it under wraps. No one knew what was going on."
Ashlee and Pete, Fergie and Josh, Jamie Lynn and Casey: Take note.