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How do you tell the story of a wedding you weren’t invited to attend — one hosted in what may be the most public-yet-exclusive place in America to say “I do?”
You get creative. You stand outside the White House on a crispy cold Saturday morning with the rest of the excluded media, using binoculars to get a glimpse of Naomi Biden’s wedding dress. (Long sleeves, high neckline, lace! Which, when the close-up photos materialized, turned out to be Ralph Lauren.) You comb through social media looking for details slipped by friends, wedding guests, the hired help. You wait for guests to leave the secure perimeter, and politely accost them for all the details. You follow the bride’s aesthetician on Instagram.
On Saturday, President Biden’s granddaughter Naomi Biden, 28, wed Peter Neal, 25 — the 19th White House wedding, and the first for a presidential family member held on the grounds since the Clinton era. The bride and groom shared their vows in front of approximately 250 guests outdoors (brr) with the South Portico as an impressive photo backdrop. The ceremony was followed by an intimate luncheon in the State Dining Room and, later that evening, a dessert and dancing reception for several hundred more friends. To answer the question immediately posed by critics — “Who paid for all of this?” — the answer is the Biden family, not taxpayers, according to the first lady’s spokeswoman.
The groom’s family hosted a rehearsal dinner Friday evening at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Naomi wore a pleated tulle cape covered in lace flowers for the rehearsal and then changed into a tailored jacket, according to designer Danielle Frankel.
The next morning, through their telephoto lenses and binoculars, the media could see green-and-white floral garlands festooning the South Portico, and — hmm, let’s squint a little harder — is that two officiants? Three bridesmaids? The president making his entrance?
Yes, yes, and yes, according to an accounting of the weekend’s events by guests who spoke to The Washington Post, along with a glimpse at the printed program.
Security was tight, with a large police presence at both Lafayette Square and the Ellipse, which were cordoned off with yellow tape and metal barricades. Guests had to go through background checks and get a coronavirus test. It was clear but chilly — 39 degrees — and guests, who had to check their cellphones at the door, were given hand warmers and white scarves for the 11 a.m. ceremony.
First, President Biden escorted the groom’s two grandmothers, each using a cane, then turned around, jogged back up the aisle, and returned to the altar with first lady Jill Biden. Then came the bridal party: Naomi’s sister Finnegan, 22, was maid of honor, and the groom’s brother, Robert, was 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’s Diplomatic Room in a lace-sleeved ball gown with a notched high neckline that channeled actress Grace Kelly’s famous wedding dress. Her dramatic lace-edged veil trailed several meters behind. The groom, in a three-piece navy suit — also Ralph Lauren — wore a floral brooch as a boutonniere. The first lady wore a teal silk chiffon dress and matching belted wool crepe coat by designer Reem Acra, who also dressed her for the most recent Kennedy Center Honors and the 2009 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama.
The bride was escorted down the aisle by her father, Hunter Biden, and mother, Kathleen Buhle, to the tune of “Bitter Sweet Symphony” by the Verve. Though 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 a reading of “I Carry Your Heart With Me” by e.e. cummings. The groom’s father, William C. Neal, sang “Ubi Caritas” with an ensemble of singers from D.C.
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 tenderly brushed it off.
Vivaldi played as the bride walked back into the White House for the luncheon. She could be seen raising her bouquet triumphantly. She and Peter later did a photo shoot, kissing on the State Floor balcony. A small army of official wedding photographers included Corbin Gurkin — who shot Sophie Turner and Joe Jonas’s wedding and was voted one of the top 1o wedding photographers in the world by “Bazaar Bride.” A small army of unofficial wedding photographers included a drone that flew over the Ellipse to capture aerial shots.
Programs were engraved with an entwined N and P, and included a note of gratitude from the couple: “Thank you for being beside us today. We are grateful to be surrounded by the people we love. Naomi and Peter.”
After the luncheon, 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 evening! Guests who didn’t make the cut earlier still had a chance to fete the couple at a larger but still exclusive black-tie 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. (Boldface names at the morning ceremony included former senator Chris Dodd, former senator Ted Kaufman, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his wife, Evan Ryan, who is White House Cabinet secretary.)
Don’t give us Cabinet members, give us the details!
Okay. The dress: Naomi changed into an ivory strapless gown with a scoop neckline, small train, and embellished buttons down the back, reports one guest. She wore her engagement ring and wedding band over a pair of tulle gloves, and the same Tiffany diamond and pearl earrings she wore to the ceremony. Women’s Wear Daily reported that the evening dress was designed by Alexandra O’Neill for Markarian — the label that the first lady wore on inauguration day.
The cake: Seven tiers and all-white fondant. Individual slices were handed out in boxes to attendees, as a party favor. The flavor was “lemony,” says the guest.
The music: Two bands, who played a mix of romantic oldies and pop music, including songs by Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé. In addition to the traditional first dance and parent dances, the bride danced with her grandfather, the president, whom she calls “Pops.”
“He never stopped whispering in her ear,” reported a guest. “It was probably one of my favorite moments of the whole night.”
The party stretched 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’s decor, along with plenty of candlelight. The festivities were orchestrated by Bryan Rafanelli, one of the nation’s top wedding planners, who planned Chelsea Clinton’s Rhinebeck, N.Y., wedding, as well as other White House holiday events and state dinners.
Peter offered a toast. Maisy wore a pinstriped suit. The first lady wore an icy blue knee-length gown, embellished with sequins. Baby Beau, the bride’s 2-year-old half brother, wore a tiny tux and reportedly had a small meltdown at the end of the night — up 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 grandparents of the bride issued a statement on Saturday. “It has been a joy to watch Naomi grow, discover who she is, and carve out such an incredible life for herself,” the president and first lady said. “Now, we are filled with pride to see her choose Peter as her husband and we’re honored to welcome him to our family. We wish them days full of laughter and a love that grows deeper with every passing year.”
Rafanelli, the event planner, released several photographs on his Instagram account. Other than that, the official channels have kept quiet, allowing the newlyweds a chance to enjoy their day. Most friends did the same. But you didn’t need binoculars to see that the couple were head over heels for each other.
“Naomi was dancing from start to finish,” said a friend of the groom. “They were just so in love and so happy.”
Jura Koncius contributed to this report.
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