Saturday, 6 January 2018

New Year - New Trends … Celebrating 2018 style

New Year and the Christmas holiday is a time to press pause and have a re-think about everything. After all the hectic rushing around of the preceding months, it just feels right to enjoy some simple pleasures - like a walk by the sea or in the countryside - and to take the opportunity to reflect on our lives. It is a time to take stock. 
During this enforced break, most of us have the luxury of not only enjoying the moment but also to make plans for the future. As well as the inevitable gym memberships and worthy resolutions, these are the most popular days to book holidays and also to make marriage proposals.

But its not all about self improvement and positive plans. This uninterrupted family time can starkly highlight problems in a flawed relationship. As the host of a radio magazine programme, I would schedule an interview with a celebrity divorce lawyer on the first show of the New Year as, unfortunately, this is the most usual time for couples to split up. It is also a busy time for therapists and counsellors as we should not forget that  “the holidays” (apologies for the Americanism) can be a lonely and dark time for many.

Carefully considered divorce ceremonies - either just for close family and friends, or larger gatherings - can ease the transition after a marriage break down and are becoming increasingly popular in the US. As a family Celebrant, I have not yet been asked to officiate at such a ceremony, so I can only imagine how helpful it might be, especially if the couple is still on reasonably amicable terms.

Putting the issue of divorce to one side, I think we are all agreed: romance is not dead. Even the most cynical could not have failed to be moved by the look of adoration on Prince Harry’s face when he introduced his beautiful fiancée to the world. 

So we happily look forward to a royal wedding - and Meghan’s sparkling smile - to brighten the New Year.  The countdown has already begun as Meghan and Harry mugs along with other merchandising was for sale in royal gift shops even before Christmas.

As a Celebrant, I don’t mind admitting that I am more than a bit curious about the style of the ceremony at Windsor Castle on May 19th. Will it be super traditional or, perhaps a tad quirky? Might it include a nod to Meghan’s American roots ? Although, even with the furthest stretch of the imagination, I cannot envisage a broom jumping element happening in St George’s Chapel… but at the reception … who knows? 

The tendency - we were told -  in 2017 was for couples to choose understated ceremonies. There was a gentle casualness about getting married last year. The bride behaving badly and massive over spending of the previous years was considered - at least by the “experts” and trend spotters - to be out of fashion. 

So what sort of weddings will we see in 2018? Will brides be blindly rushing out for copies of the Markle outfit whether it suits them or not ? I am sure that whatever Meghan wears, she will look stunning and undoubtedly her choices will influence other planning weddings this year.

I do sympathise with the other couples who already had May 19th 2018 in their diaries long before the royal announcement was made … undoubtedly Harry and Meghan will be a hard act to follow.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Traditional with a Twist - your wedding style ... with an open mind

Just before Christmas I was honoured to help a couple celebrate their wedding. As a Family Celebrant, there is nothing unusual in that … after all it is a major part of what we do.

However, what was unusual was that this couple wanted a Traditional Ceremony.  As a member of the UK Society of Celebrants, I can produce a glittering array of surprising elements and weddings with any theme you can imagine, but this was the first time I had been asked for something conventional.

Despite showing a polite interest, at our first meeting, the bride and groom made it quite clear that, while hand-fasting, unity sand or candle ceremonies might be ideal for others they were definitely not right for them. I decided not to even mention glass smashing or broom jumping.

Things went further off piste when I was told that the decision to hold the ceremony on Friday evening was so that they could “get it out of the way” leaving them free to enjoy the rest of the weekend party with their friends in the beautifully quirky arts and crafts style country house venue. 

While I respected their style, and absolutely understand how important it is that any ceremony reflects the personalities of those involved, I was never going to produce a sort of throwaway - “get it out of the way”- type of ceremony. I was certain that some sort of thoughtless exchange of rings and promises would be regretted in the future. 

This couple - Tim and Helga - had been together for more than twenty years and I was quietly determined to make sure that their wedding ceremony would be magical…. traditional yes; but still magical and memorable. Happily - after a few chats during which we got to know each other - they trusted me to do just that.

The ceremony begins

Over the subsequent weeks I suggested various readings and the words to accompany the exchange of rings and the promises they might like to make to each other. Together the final script and order of ceremony was agreed and at the rehearsal  we all felt that it was “just right”. They even approved of the surprise candle I had decorated for them the with their signature logo, names and date.

Unsurprisingly, and in keeping with traditional wedding protocol, the groom did not see his bride before the ceremony and Helga’s dress was, of course, a secret. 

I felt truly privileged to see the expression on the Tim’s face as he turned round to see his beautiful bride for the first time - it was joyful and moving to witness the bond between them.

The Big Reveal
Call me old fashioned, but I  think it’s a shame to throw away all conventions when planning a modern wedding. For the groom and guests there is nothing like the Big Reveal - that moment when the bride - of course, looking fabulous - makes her entrance and approaches her new life.  

This cannot be the same if everyone has already seen her in the dress - hair done and make up perfect for pre-wedding photos. And what man really wants to go shopping with his fiancée for her wedding outfit - I just don’t get it!

Photos of Tim and Helga's wedding are by Chris Taylor - Norfolk and Suffolk wedding photographer

Friday, 24 June 2016

To snap or not to snap - when is it good wedding etiquette to take photos ?

Tommy Steele and Julia Foster in Half a Sixpence
‘Old it, flash, bang, wallop, what a picture!
The song from the Sixties musical and later the film “Half a Sixpence” goes on to explain that there has always been a photographer to “record the ‘appy scene”. 

The story,  set in the Edwardian era, tells us that photography has, since the beginning of time, played a crucial part in marriage ceremonies. And there’s no doubt that, even in today’s world of phone cameras and selfie sticks, wedding photography is still big business.

It seems to me that brides and grooms fall into two distinct camps on the topic of allowing their guests to take their own pictures - especially during the ceremony itself.

A few weeks ago “my” bride, who had chosen to hold her ceremony outside by a lake  in the grounds of a Norfolk country home, made her feelings clear. She wanted especially to feel close to nature as well as her loving friends and family.

“When I walk across the grass, on the arm of my father on my wedding day, I want to see the lovely faces of everyone looking towards me, not the backs of all their phones!”

Her groom added the valid point that it was a matter of being in the moment - looking, seeing and enjoying the moment itself, as opposed to recording it on the phone for later viewing which would, inevitably, destroy the magic of the here and now.

Aaron and Natalie take a selfie
At the introduction of the ceremony, I worded their wishes in an inoffensive way and  the only pictures taken of the ceremony and hand fasting were by a discreet professional photographer.

Every wedding is different and should reflect the wishes and personalities of the bride and groom. 

I have chosen to write about this because I believe it is something that those who are getting married must consider. To allow everyone to take photos of the wedding ceremony or to leave it up to the professional photographer, should be added to the Decisions-to-Make-List. It can no longer be a matter of just waiting and seeing what happens on the day.

From the point of view of the guest, it is also good to know where the  photography boundaries lie.

A beautiful wedding I attended - as a guest not the celebrant - had the guidelines clearly displayed on a notice. 

Hair and make up with a selfie stick
We were requested to help Natalie and Aaron to capture their special day by taking as many pictures as we liked and then shown how to post them on the WedPics App. 

This proved remarkably easy and a fun way to share everybody’s wedding experience. Like the old disposable cameras, this method is also a great social ice-breaker, but with the added advantage of providing instant results.

Getting your guests to share their wedding photos in no way detracts from the quality work of the professional photographer - a scroll through the blurred out of focus efforts of us amateurs confirms this.

I am also of the opinion that family and friends taking pictures of the ceremony itself is poor wedding etiquette. It is a distraction not only for the bride and groom, but also for other guests who might be sitting behind and so forced to view the proceedings via the back of someone else’s phone screen.

The ceremony, with its vows, blessings and special elements, is the very heart of the marriage celebration. Each and every moment of it should be experienced by all who have been invited as witnesses and savoured as the true stuff from which ‘photographic’ memories are made. 

Before signing off, I have to add a personal note: A few years ago I had the pleasure of sitting next to Julia Foster (who famously played the role of Ann in Half a Sixpence) and her husband veterinary surgeon and writer Bruce Fogle (parents of Ben) at a wedding. And, in case you're wondering. no, sadly I don't have a photo to share. Instead,  I'll leave the last word to the Half a Sixpence cast ...

Arthur Kipps and his bride Ann
All lined up in a wedding group
'Ere we are for a photograph
We're all dressed up in a morning suit
All trying hard not to laugh
Since the early caveman in his fur
Took a trip to Gretna Green
There's always been a photographer
To record the 'appy scene.....

'Old it, flash, bang, wallop, what a picture
What a picture, what a photograph
Poor old soul, blimey, what a joke
Hat blown off in a cloud of smoke
Clap 'ands, stamp yer feet
Bangin' on the big bass drum
What a picture, what a picture
Stick it in your fam'ly album

Monday, 2 May 2016

New grooms help brides choose their dress | Wedding Celebrant

Men go for a fitted style ...
Something old, 
Something new, 
Something borrowed, 
Something blue.

There are many superstitions surrounding weddings from what to wear to the unlucky pitfalls to avoid.

Right up at the top of any bride’s priority list is surely to keep her dress a secret until the Big Reveal - the moment she arrives, usually accompanied by her father, for the ceremony itself. It is then - and only then - that the guests and her husband to be, see her looking gorgeous in her wedding dress for the first time.
...while brides prefer a relaxed look

It is always - no matter how many weddings  one has been to - an extremely emotional and unforgettable moment. I am a firm believer that all brides looks beautiful and radiant on their wedding day and it is an honour to share that special intimate moment when the groom sees them approaching for the first time.

It doesn’t matter if the bride and groom might have been living together as a couple for years - even if they have children - in my experience, most like to spend the night before their wedding apart. They will usually get dressed away from each other with the bride helped by her bridesmaids and the groom by his best man. All this adds to the wonderful surprise of the wedding dress Big Reveal marking the beginning of their marriage.

However, according to a headline in this Saturday’s Daily Mail - “Bad luck be damned! Now chaps help brides choose their dress” -  this custom is on the way out.
Carrie took Charles to help choose her dress

It would seem that increasing numbers of women are ditching this superstition and bringing their fiances - not their mothers or sisters - with them when they go to choose their gown.

According to owners of wedding dress boutiques, brides want to know that their other half loves their dress before the wedding. It is estimated that one in fifteen couples now shop for the wedding dress together with the groom having his say on the style. Perhaps, hardly surprisingly, most men favour fitted styles that show off the bust and bottom.

The frothy look of the 90's
It would seem that shopping for the dress together is part of a larger trend for abandoning tradition and opting for alternative - less formal - ceremonies. 

This theme is echoed by “my” Norfolk weddings this year. All the couples I am working with have emphasised how they want a relaxed  wedding and to make sure that their guests feel comfortable too.

That said, to the best of my knowledge, none of the grooms have seen the wedding dresses yet so I am looking forward to being in on the Big Reveal on the day.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Four Norfolk Weddings and a Funeral

“So, Mary, what are you currently working on?”, my friend asked. 
“Let me think… “one, two, three, four weddings; … oh … and a funeral”.

Up until the day before yesterday there had been a naming ceremony in my diary too - Unfortunately this had to be cancelled due to a problem at the venue - it was to have been held at a Rugby Club where - would you believe it? - inconsiderately, a rugby match had been planned.

My celebrant schedule might never work out with this exact same magic formula again,  so I thought I would share some thoughts on this special combination of “ Four Weddings and a Funeral”. 

Firstly I would like to say “thank you” to the four couples who have entrusted me to produce and deliver a bespoke ceremony for their special day. Each one, of course, will be completely different and will exactly reflect the style and personality of the bride and groom. 
Hugh Grant  (Charles) having doubts

Getting it right with Carrie (Andi MacDowell)
Three of the couples are London based, and have chosen to get married in Norfolk. This is not because they have any previous connections with my home county; but each has told me that they feel comfortable with their carefully selected venue and are excited about hosting the celebration here. 

I can vouch for the charm of each location. Norfolk is a beautiful part of the country and a great place to get married.

When we think back to 1994 and the film “Four Weddings and a Funeral”, it is the funeral ceremony which remains most clearly in our minds. Personally I can’t recall any of the details of the four wedding ceremonies - the readings, music or vows - but I will never forget John Hannah's (as Matthew) moving rendition of W.H Auden’s poem, "Funeral Blues" - He was my North, my South, my East and West....

As a celebrant, we should never underestimate the power of a carefully selected poem.
Stop All The Clocks

Personally, I am also one who appreciates a winning title. I leave you with the thought that, twenty years after the release of the film, its writer, Richard Curtis released a document from the US distributer listing six reasons why the title “Four Weddings and a Funeral” didn’t work.
The six reasons why the title didn't work

 Briefly they looked into the possibility of calling it “The Best Man” instead, but there was a Henry Fonda film from 1964 with the same name. Thank goodness it wasn't available. 
By the way, it is said that Curtis wrote the screenplay in order to explain to his mother why he had never married.(Although he has lived with his partner Emma Freud - they have four children together - for more than 25 years.)

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Celebrating life events - with a celebrant, of course | Family Celebrant

Sincere thanks to “Just Aylsham” and the “Just Regional” team for this article about me which appeared in the February issue of the magazine.

It is not so much about seeking publicity, but more spreading the 'Celebrant Awareness' message. 
Spreading the word at Barclays, Aylsham
A recent two-day display in my local branch of Barclays bank made me realise that most people have not much idea about what a celebrant actually does. Some people thought that my colourful collection of sand (for unity sand ceremonies) had something to do with perfumes; and the decorated broom raised many curious eyebrows. 

So, now more local people know that there is another way of celebrating all the major life events … there is perhaps the bigger question: whether North Norfolk is quite ready to embrace all the special elements that a celebrant can offer. 

I believe the answer is “yes”... so, watch this space for broom jumping and hand fasting news.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap Year Proposals | How to Pop the Question | Wedding Celebrant

Hurry Up Girls!  You’ve still got time ….

Today’s the day we get to bin all that submissive “re-active” stuff and get “pro-active”! It’s the day to make things happen by reaching out for all that February 29th has to offer. 

In other words, why wait around, for your man to finally pop the question. If you want to marry him, then you propose.

It would seem that we have the impatient, Irish St Bridget to thank for the tradition of Leap Year proposals. Understandably she was somewhat miffed about the length of time women were expected to wait for a man to ask for their hand in marriage. 

Apparently she had a chat about this with St Patrick and together they came up with the idea that the situation could be reversed on February 29th - every four years. In the rather sexist manner of the day, this became known as St Bridget’s Complaint.

The first documented case of a woman taking advantage of the situation was in 13th Century Scotland where a law was passed imposing a fine on any man who rejected a February 29th proposal. The most common penalty was that he would have to buy a pair of gloves for the lady in question. 

In some European countries February 29th became known as Bachelors’ Day and fines for rejecting a wedding proposal would be as high as buying the woman twelve pairs of gloves - one pair for each month of the year. The new gloves were also a handy way of hiding the shame of a ring-less finger. 
Gloves: the perfect way to hide a naked finger

You don’t have to go down on one knee or try to recreate the ‘flowers and music’ proposal setting of your own dreams. Instead,  I would suggest, attempt to get inside his male head. Obviously, if you want to spend the rest of your life with him, you know him really well and it shouldn’t be too difficult to put together the sort of scenario that would absolutely bowl him over. It’s highly likely that favourite food is involved. After all it is said that the way to his heart is via his stomach.

However, chances are - this question should not be popped in a restaurant or other public place. Unless he is a publicity-hungry cast member of the Only Way is Essex, or some other reality TV series, chances are he would much prefer a private scenario which would also be considerably more romantic.

It would also be unwise to attempt to compete with his favourite football team or other activity which is all-absorbing. But, sharing a joint activity, like taking a walk together, cooking or maybe even on a ski slope, might be a good moment to bring up the subject of getting married. 

Or, if he’s sporty - and enjoys surprises - perhaps weave something novel in alongside his hobby … like jumping out of a bush on his usual jogging circuit and waving a sign saying “Will You Marry Me?” 

If he’s more likely to favour a subtle approach, you could even consider dropping hints by writing an article like this ... And don’t worry, if today just didn’t feel quite right, don’t panic girls. Tradition allows you the rest of the leap year in which to pop the question.