Will the infamous Mrs Bourne attend the wedding?
It was the mean e-mail read around the world, so stern, so harsh people could not believe it was not a joke, a hoax - a publicity stunt, even. But in the end, it seems that Carolyn Bourne really did sit down and write her stepson Freddie's future bride, Heidi Withers, an unbelievably scathing and disapproving missive about her conduct on a visit home to meet the parents.
In the process, the Devon, UK, flower breeder has earned a few nicknames on both sides of the Atlantic, "mother-in-law from hell" and the Twitter handle "Momzilla" among them.
The scathing character assassination suggested Withers was so lacking in manners that she would benefit from attending a finishing school with "utmost haste". The tirade did not end there. With Heidi and Freddie set to marry in a lavish ceremony at Berkeley Castle in the UK in October, Bourne may have also inadvertently coined a snappy new catchphrase in typing "no one gets married in a castle unless they own it".
Bourne also pointed out that Withers' recent behaviour had left her beloved pet dog Bomber "profoundly upset, depressed and anxious".
So what's a girl to do upon receipt of such a message? Naturally hit "forward". A matter of days after it was sent, the e-mail went viral and spread like wildfire on the internet. The media's pursuit of the parties involved has been swift and ferocious, and as one can imagine, the portrayal of Bourne has been less than favourable. There were, of course, unflattering photographs in the Daily Mail. Someone has created a website in Bourne's name, offering breaking updates and invites to share "your mother-in-law" stories. She also has her own Facebook fan page now, although it is one she probably does not want to visit.
This week, Freddie Bourne swore the e-mail was not some sort of stunt, as had been suspected, to boost a recently registered online catering company business. He also seems intent on going ahead with his marriage, despite all the ill will, although it is not clear whether his stepmother and father are still invited.
Bourne seems to have fashioned herself on the flame-haired mother of the sorcerer Samantha from the 1970s sitcom Bewitched. Endora did everything in her power to break up the union between her daughter and son-in-law , not hesitating to turn him into a frog when his behaviour made her hopping mad. More inspiration could have come her way via Jane Fonda's portrayal of the stereotypical Monster-in-Law in the 2005 movie of the same name. Cinderella and Snow White also come to mind.
One can't help but feel pity for Withers, the lambasted lady at the heart of this tragic comedy. How on earth will the wedding preparations proceed? One can only imagine how fraught the seating plan will be, or the trepidation Withers will feel about tucking into a lavish three-course wedding feast after this passage: "When you are a guest in another's house, you do not declare what you will and will not eat - unless you are allergic to something." And under no circumstances should the 29-year-old "start before everyone else" or take "additional helpings without being invited to" by the host.
Of course, not everyone is siding with Withers, manners enthusiasts in particular. And although the incident highlights the often fraught relationship women can have with their mothers-in-law and mothers-in-law-to-be, as Peter York wrote in The Independent, it is also about "the old, old story of class".
"The way that Mrs Bourne uses the language of class - she says Miss Withers could do with a finishing school - but at the same time overdoes it in a Hyacinth Bucket way suggests she could be faintly delusional about her own standing," he writes.
In the days since the e-mail went viral, Freddie Bourne's biological mother leapt to the defence of his future wife, describing Heidi as "charming" and adding she would "always be welcome in her home". Predictably, Withers's father has reportedly also offered his support.
With the wedding just months away and the family no longer commenting, one can only wonder if Bourne will even attend at this point, let alone be a full participant. Is there a designer hat big enough for the future-mother-in-law to hide under, come the big day?
Let's just hope she can bite her tongue so the new Mrs Bourne can enjoy a bit of marital bliss before any grandchildren come along and the etiquette lessons start all over again.
Just keep her away from the computer.
Published: July 7, 2011 04:00 AM