A Busman's Holiday/5 years on
My husband and I recently celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary. At the time, I was doing 85 weddings per year. That's officially too many for one person to handle. Needless to say, not a lot of time was spent planning my own day. Nevertheless, it was the best day of our lives! Shortly afterwards, I was asked by a wedding blogging friend to write down an account of our wedding, which I did... but never got around to sending! So here I am, 5 years on, sharing my own wedding journey.
Is this where it starts? Well, Neil took me to London to see Carmen at the Royal Opera House, preceded by a lovely meal, in November 2012. Apparently the ring was burning a hole in his pocket all day, but he waited until we got all the way back home to our cottage outside Oxford before proposing - so that our Labradors Buzz and Shadow could be part of it!
I so wanted to go dress shopping with my friend Nicholas, who currently lives in Vancouver. We arranged to meet halfway. Or rather, we pretended New York was half way. Before you think, gosh, how extravagant, let me point out: it was January, ie cheap flights and sample sale time! And no, I didn't hotfoot it to David's Bridal... We found THE dress at a small, super chic Manhattan boutique called L'Fay Bridal, stockists of Berta, among other designers. The best appointment I've ever made - the shop assistants were wonderful, and I left with my wedding dress, the additional lace bolero and head piece.
The Wedding Planning
I wanted to get married in the spring following our engagement, but this would've hampered Neil's training for IronMan 2013, and also collided with the busiest time of year for a wedding coordinator. So I agreed to wait until the October 2013. Neither of us wanted a hotel or traditional wedding venue as our setting, as it would feel like we were at work (the downside of being in the hospitality industry), so we booked our favourite gastro pub, The Bell at Hampton Poyle, which also has 12 beautiful bedrooms. Admittedly, although gorgeous on the inside, there isn't a huge deal apart from a car park outside. However, I really wanted to get married in the church set in the estate of my surrogate family. The Church of England are now very accommodating in marrying outside your own parish, so this was fine to organise. This also meant we could have all photos done in the stunning gardens of The Old Rectory.
I then booked photographer Dan Rayner Photography - brilliant reportage style photographer and friend. The stationery came from Skinny Nib - wonderful bespoke stationery, and a key aspect for me as I'm obsessed with stationery. Buzz & Shadow and an autumnal tree were our signature theme on everything. The countryside map on the invite was a work of art in itself. I booked florist Tom and Smith Events as Rebecca Stogdon of that company is an outrageously talented florist. Finally I booked wedding cake (and biscuit bakers) Cake Sweet Cake. Neil and I are both nuts about biscuits, so we decided to have a biscuit house and biscuits representing our lives, ie dogs and horses and bikes and swimming etc, instead of a traditional cake. I then didn't think much of the wedding at all until I picked it up again a month before the day to pull it all together.
If you love food as much as me, there was only one way to make sure the NY trip was worth it: Sweating For The Dress. The work out: Beach Body's Insanity (three times over) and swapping musli for Elle MP protein shake for breakfast and mid morning snack, and swapping sandwiches for salads at lunch. And litres and litres and litres of water with fresh lemon (meant to detoxify and increase metabolism). I booked Claire Nicole to do hair+makeup and was told off for not exfoliating enough at the trial. So extreme scrubbing was added after that!
All I can say is: it was all worth it. But my goodness, I have gleefully been scoffing biscuits ever since!
As a side note to the hair & make-up: I stumbled across the incredible Sarah Yeo Weddings at a wedding fair where I was exhibiting, and booked her to do our mothers and closest friends. Best decision ever. She's incredible!
Two Days Before
Closest female friends and family arrived from Sweden! I'd invited them to our house, along with my English friends, so I could have a mini hen party. It was so lovely to treat them to manicures and back, neck and shoulder massages (done by Rachel Keen Beauty) here at home, along with girly food and lots and lots of champagne...
One Day Before
All Swedish guests arrived. With the help of my family, and two closest friends, we turned the house around from the night before ready for a meet and greet with arrival drinks, fork buffet and toast for all Swedish guests (approximately 30), Neil's closest family and our wedding party. We'd waved everybody off at about midnight. Neil also left after this to stay at the Bell, leaving me with with my two friends and Buzz and Shadow. The welcome bags I'd done (filled with traditional English sweets, savoury biscuits, speciality teas etc) for our family staying at the Bell apparently went down a treat. The hangover kit for my brothers also came in handy a day or so later!
Dog walking, big family style breakfast followed by crazy dancing around the kitchen was a perfect start to the day. So was the beautiful wedding car that turned up - a surprise from Neil. My friends and I set off in excellent spirits. And the sun was shining despite the weather forecast saying rain! Neil and I had decided to follow Swedish tradition and walk into church together, so I was not being given away. We'd therefore arranged to meet beforehand at The Old Rectory. We arrived before the boys, which gave me the chance to calm my nerves with a cup of tea in the drawing room, and also to be given my flowers. They simply couldn't have been more amazing. And the scent! Orange freesias gave the flowers the most heavenly scent - one that now instantly takes me back to the day. Rebecca had translated my vague brief "autumnal colours, with berries and stuff, but nothing too orange and brash" in to something breathtaking both in the bouquets, in church and at the Bell. And then Neil, Buzz and Shadow arrived. That moment, by the piano in the drawing room, when he first walked in, was one of the best of the day. Dan gave us a few minutes, before we walked around the house, giving him the opportunity to take some bride and groom photos, ending up at the stables, were I feel most at home after all! Our wedding party then joined our guests in church, giving me and Neil a few more precious minutes to ourselves.
We were struggling not to laugh like loons when we walked up the hill to the church, hearing the organist playing The Final Countdown as requested. Luckily, we'd composed ourselves by the time the music changed to the Drottningholm Music for us to enter. Walking down together, with bridesmaid and best men already at the front, raised a few eyebrows, but it was lovely all the same, to simply start our marriage in perfect accord - together - and on equal ground. And the previous song had put everyone in a fun mood. The church cat was present throughout, and so content with all the admiration, decided to curl up and go to sleep on my train during the sermon. After church, we did one group photo (and only one - I find formal photos so tedious) before ushering all guests on to Nostalgia Travel's classic London Routemaster - a kick for the Swedes.
The Food and Drink
My favourite part! This was so important to us. And The Bell certainly delivered! Prosecco and canapés on arrival. Seafood and charcuterie sharing platters and rustic breadboards with dipping oils as starters. Cotswold lamb for main. Sticky toffee pudding, creme brûlée and chocolate mousse to share as dessert. And then local cheeses and biscuits. Gorgeous wine to compliment. The dress was feeling rather tight half way through! The Swedes were at this point feeling the love and singing traditional Swedish wedding songs and cheering happily. We'd gone controversial with the seating plan: only Neil and I with our bridesmaid and two best men sat on a round table in the middle, with our guests on rectangular tables of 8 and 12 around us. This way, everybody could see us, we got to chat to our favourite people (friends are the family you choose after all!) and our parents had a lovely time with their close friends. Dinner and speeches was rounded off with "cake smashing" (as opposed to cake cutting) where we used the hammer provided by Cake Sweet Cake to smash open the biscuit house (a replica of The Old Rectory).
The Evening Reception
Neil had chosen Mark Cohen's "True Companion" as our first song. The lyrics are absolutely perfect. I was toying with the idea of learning some sort of routine, as I often find the first song a really awkward part of a wedding if the bride and groom just stand there swaying (or snogging!) but Neil refused to be "some sort of cabaret act" as he put it. So we arranged for a few couples to join us 30 seconds in to the song, which led to everyone being on the dance floor by the end instead of looking at us. Much better! The band, Maverick and the Chancers, were epic to say the least. For example, they segued in to an incredible improvised mash-up when a few guests had an impromptu dance-off. They also let a songwriting friend do one of his songs (a wonderful moment!) and somehow accompanied him without prior notice. Talented doesn't begin to cover it. The dance floor was packed until the very last minute, even with an extra hour being added at the end. Perhaps the evening buffet of wood fired pizzas and BLTs supercharged our guests. It certainly felt like it when the guests, spearheaded by my brothers, followed Swedish tradition by picking us up and tossing us in the air. I got tossed so high my head hit the ceiling, twice, but the adrenaline made light work of the impressive bump I was later sporting..! We had an open bar to encourage people to relax and enjoy the party, and it seemed like it paid off. All of our guests have after the wedding day said it "was the best fun they've ever had". Nothing could've made us happier! A truly perfect start to married life.
Suppliers available 5 years later:
Venue: The Bell, Hampton Poyle
Hair & Make-Up: Sarah Yeo Weddings
Transport: Nostalgia Travel
Stationery: E L Thrush