I'm engaged to a perfect monster

It’s the latest thing in reality TV and with the wedding season rapidly approaching, there surely is no better time to witness the extreme behaviour of the creature they call "Bridezilla".

Forget about C-list celebrities mucking about in the jungle, and give yourself up to the tale of good brides turned bad, New York-style - the type who measure the dimensions of flower petals and make their bridesmaids go on a diet.

The series of eight one-hour programmes might actually be difficult viewing for couples who have recently tied the knot and have fresh memories of the near abandonment of their nuptials under the pressure of deciding whether to have wedding favours or not. But the fly-on-the-wall series, made by a British production company, September Films, is enjoyable largely because it has the Sex and the City factor - these women are walking examples of extreme behaviour, and even the most narky bride-to-be in the UK would baulk at the actions of her US sister.

Take 26-year-old Wall Street trader Vanessa, for example. She is so determined to be the princess bride of her childhood dreams that she persuades her fianc Dan, a lawyer, to forego buying a house so that she can spend 200,000 on their wedding.

Then there is Cynthia, a 30-year-old actress who had to start seeing a psychologist twice a week to help her deal with the stress of spending 65,000 of her parents’ money on her wedding to Matt, a stage manager.

"It’s a growing modern phenomenon," says Sally Miles, the executive producer of Bridezillas. "These sweet brides turn into beasts. Their personality changes. They seek perfection until it becomes an obsession. The wedding overtakes their lives and they become a little neurotic, obsessive and very emotional."

The term "Bridezilla" was first coined by the clipboard-wielding wedding planners who have become ubiquitous at upmarket New York weddings, la J-Lo in The Wedding Planner.

The creature is inspired by Godzilla, the mythic dinosaur-like creature popularised by a woeful feature film starring Sarah Jessica Parker’s husband, Matthew Broderick, and the 1980s cartoon of the same name. There is no mention of who takes the supporting role of Godzuki, but my money’s on the mother-in-law.

Elizabeth Allen, a New York-based wedding planner, believes that the Bridezilla condition can be attributed to the stresses of organising a wedding that has to go down as one of the social events of the summer. The pressure takes its toll.

Allen says: "Weddings here are a big deal because everybody is very competitive and obsessed with having the best of everything. Planning a wedding has to be one of the most stressful things a couple does, both financially and emotionally. There are fights. There are tears. However much money you intended to spend - you end up doubling or even trebling the amount."

The levels of Bridezilla behaviour appear to rise as the series progresses and the nine brides being profiled near the date of their weddings.

Cynthia decides that she hates her dress at the last minute, after seeing another bride in the bridal shop looking "more fairytale" than her, and has to go for an emergency, 11th-hour counselling session with her psychologist.

Karen, a fashion PR, is also seen having major doubts about her dress - and her groom. She is passionate about looking great on her big day and demands six fittings for her 2,500 gown, yet claims that she hates the end result.

Her fianc, the easy-going banker, Emmett, is also in for a tough time. "I don’t even like him," she snarls into the camera. "I hate him." His crime? Asking whether it would be all right to serve Guinness at their 60,000 wedding.

The Bridezilla condition is well known and widely experienced in the US, where it is recorded in the comic strip run by American Modern Bride magazine - which shows that many brides-to-be do actually retain their sense of humour, at least until a month or so before the wedding.

There is also a book - Bridezilla: True Tales from Etiquette Hell, by Noe Spaemme, the pen name of etiquette experts Gail Dunson and Jeanne Hamilton - which is all about women who "start out nice and become insane".

There are some truly scary stories in the book - everything from the brides who send their bank account details out along with the wedding invitations, to one who literally held down her bridesmaid and force-painted her fingernails.

At the end of each chapter, the authors provide "Bridezilla Anti-toxins" - the do’s and don’ts for keeping Bridezilla behaviour at bay.

New Yorkers, however, must be immune to their advice. This is the city where single Manhattanites spend weeks obsessing about the right shoe, so how could they possibly be calm when organising a wedding? Increasingly in the series, the bridal hysteria is disproportionate to what is actually happening around them - witness the screams of horror when the wedding gown slips off the coat hanger and lands in a heap on the floor.

Perhaps the most terrifying woman featured is Miho, 26, a Japanese-born marketing manager with exceedingly high standards. She is less than impressed with everything, including her jobless husband-to-be, Joe. Miho appears far more intent on getting her green card than with being with Joe "for better or worse".

Of course, every woman would love her wedding day to go swimmingly - but the Bridezillas want guarantees of perfection. There are counsellors to deal with this kind of obsession.

Allison Moir-Smith, a New York-based analyst who specialises in talking brides down from madness, is all too aware of the dangers. "We all have a little Bridezilla in us," she says. "You must let your wedding take on a life of its own. Do your own planning and when the big day arrives, let your wedding be what it wants to be. Let go of perfection and be delighted by spontaneity."

Moir-Smith believes that individuals go through a transformation as they prepare for marriage. "Everything changes and most brides report being in an altered state at some point," she says.

In the US - where else? - there is even a support group for brides-to-be called the Bridal Survival Club. The Boston-based organisation finds the term "Bridezilla" offensive, believing that it implies that brides feel entitled to behave like selfish monsters, when in fact they are dealing with personal demons.

"Brides today face an impossible situation," says Arlene Cronk, who started the group. "Society teaches women to fantasise about their weddings from the time they are little girls. Both they and society expect them to have this idealised experience. However, for most brides wedding planning is actually a time of incredible stress."

She says that this build-up of tension is what makes brides behave badly. "Some brides can start to lose it after a while, but there are two sides to every story, and the other side of this story is that brides need support precisely at the time when everyone around them thinks they should be living the fantasy."

The good news is that the majority of Bridezillas, after wreaking havoc for months on end, return to normal after the big day. "They become sweet again," says Sally Miles. "They become the women their husbands know and understand again."

Bridezillas will screen on weekdays at 2pm on ITV1, from Monday