The celebrity wedding is the Super Bowl of event planning. Since budgets are typically a non-issue, superstar nuptials are beyond lavish. But it's the access enjoyed by celebrities that truly differentiates their receptions from those of even the very wealthy. Renowned designers personally oversee made-to-order gowns; celebrity chefs are wrangled to handle catering; and even venues typically off-limits or prohibitively expensive to the general public are fair game for the famous.
In Forbes' first-ever search for the 20 most expensive celebrity weddings, we surveyed A-list nuptials during the past 20 years. (Our estimates are not adjusted for inflation.) We factored in estimates for all the major components of a wedding and reception — the venue, flowers, catering, entertainment and gown. (Honeymoons were not included.) Forbes only considered weddings where information was available.
When possible, we considered miscellaneous expenses. For example, Donald Trump and Melania Knauss hired upscale "floral designer" Preston Bailey to manage their wedding. His fees typically begin at $100,000. (Compare that with the cost of the typical American wedding, which on average costs roughly $26,800, according to The Wedding Report, an annual survey of wedding trends.)
The figures on this list are best estimates given available information. Forbes made every effort to solicit feedback and comment from the celebrities on this list. Forbes determined the tie-breakers based on available information.
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Exclusive coverage awarded to various magazines — now a common component of the celebrity wedding — was also used to gather information. In some cases, celebrities donated the proceeds of the sale of their wedding photos. People magazine reportedly paid $1 million for exclusive access to the 1991 wedding of Elizabeth Taylor and Larry Fortensky at Michael Jackson's Neverland ranch. Taylor then donated the monies to AIDS research. Paul McCartney and Heather Mills are believed to have turned down various offers for coverage. Instead, they sold pictures from their 2002 wedding to whoever was willing to shell out £1000 ($1,600), with the proceeds going to their pet charities.
Selling rights to cover the wedding is one way for celebrities to control the media maelstrom surrounding their nuptials. Tiger Woods foiled paparazzi plans by renting the entire Sandy Lane Resort on Barbados, plus the island's only helicopter charter company, when he and his bride Elin Nordegren wed there in 2004. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones required all guests at their 2000 wedding in New York City to arrive with their invites, which had been embossed with holograms to thwart crashers who might have dummied fake invitations.
Yet other celebrity couples seem to relish the limelight. The ill-fated Manhattan marriage of Liza Minnelli and David Gest in 2002 caused a near standstill of city traffic thanks to the caravan of limousines dropping off celebrity guests like Mia Farrow, Diana Ross and Michael Jackson (the best man) to the church. They then had to wade through a battalion of photographers to attend the ceremony.
When Mariah Carey wed Sony Music boss Tommy Mottola in 1993, she paraded before photographers and onlookers decked out in a poofy Vera Wang ivory silk confection, tailed by a 27-foot train and topped off with a diamond-encrusted tiara, a la Princess Diana. (The comparisons didn't end there. Fifty flower girls tended to her, and she walked down the aisle of New York's St. Thomas Church serenaded by a boys' choir.)
Marc Anthony and Dayanara Torres, who renewed their vows in San Juan in 2002, held their reception at the Cuartel de Ballaja, a Spanish garrison built in 1854. It's an unusual, if not off-limits, venue for a wedding. But stars on the whole enjoy access to some of the most exclusive locales on the planet for their ceremonies and receptions.
Castles are a recurring theme. Six of the couples on the list tied the knot in fairy-tale settings. Both Madonna and actress Ashley Judd wed at Scotland's Skibo Castle, now a sporting club. Accommodations cost non-members roughly $2,200 a day. (See " High Life In The Highlands.") Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes wed at the privately owned Odescalchi Castle in Bracciano, Italy, in November of 2006. Elizabeth Hurley and businessman Arun Nayar wed twice in March, both times in castles. The first ceremony was held in the U.K., at the Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire. A few days later a second, Hindu ceremony occurred at the Uman Bhawan Palace, where suites fetch as much as $10,000 a night.
Another popular celebrity wedding destination: the backyard. Tori Spelling wed Charlie Shanian in 2004 at the 56,000-foot Beverly Hills estate of her father, famed TV producer Aaron Spelling. Elton John and David Furnish celebrated their 2005 union at John's Windsor Estate, where guests milled about in two giant tents erected on his lawn. Liz Taylor married Larry Fortensky in 1991 at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch, in Los Olivos, Calif. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston tied the knot in 2000 at the Malibu estate of TV producer Marcy Carsey. Donald Trump and Melania Knauss held their 2005 wedding reception in the Versailles-inspired ballroom of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla.
And proof that like begets like, celebrities often recruit their famous pals for wedding assistance. Madonna enlisted designer Stella McCartney (Paul's daughter) to design her gown; Tom Cruise secured his dear friend Georgio Armani to design Katie Holmes' gowns (there were two). The original celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck catered Tori Spelling's affair. On the menu: herb-crusted rack of lamb. Natalie Cole sang "Unforgettable" at the reception for Liza Minnelli and David Gest; pop-rock band Hootie & the Blowfish performed at Tiger Woods' wedding.
Even celebrities, however, can't pay for guarantees. Forty percent of the couples on this list ultimately split — proof, perhaps, that even in Hollywood, money can't buy love.
Check out the E! Entertainment Television special on Forbes' 20 Most Expensive Celebrity Weddings, premiering July 14 at 6 p.m. Check your local listings.
© 2012 Forbes.com