Recently, my husband Ben and I celebrated being together as a couple for the grand total of sevenTEEN years. Yup 17! For a couple who are both only 36, that tells you just how much of our lives we’ve spent together. I’ve written about how we met before, here in fact. But I’ve never written about our wedding. And in recognition that we just celebrated our 7 year wedding anniversary and I thought it was about time I did.
Ben and I got engaged in 2007. There was no ring, there was no beautifully planned set up. There was no anticipation, there wasn’t even a man on a knee. There was Ben. And there was me. Both in our pyjamas, stood in the doorway of the lounge in our flat in Surbiton. And it couldn’t have felt more perfect.
We both knew we wanted to get married close to our families and back in our home county, but I’ll tell you now planning a wedding long distance isn’t easy. Thank god for email, but we still had to make several trips down to Devon from our home in London to visit suppliers and venues. We pretty much knew our priorities for the day were good food (mine) and a good bar (Ben’s) and the venue we chose ticked all our boxes and more.
The Great Barn, was the most stunning wedding venue I had ever seen (and to be fair, nothing’s ever topped it ?) We went to look at it with my sister and when the three of us walked up the steps and into the barn our jaw’s all dropped. WOW was the only word any of us could manage.
We hired our own outside caterers. We knew from the start we wanted an elegant but relaxed affair and so we were looking for someone to do us a tip top BBQ or similar. We went with The Dartmoor Kitchen, headed up by (the now nationally recognised) Tom of Toms Pies and his amazing team, when we realised they could do us a locally sourced hog roast with all the sides. And boy did they do us proud! And to fulfil Ben’s request we decided to budget for stocking the bar ourselves, meaning people could just relax and enjoy. We even found a local brewery to deliver and tap us a barrel of ale just for Ben (well not quite, but he was determined to have a crack at finishing it!)
Add to this a dress I’m still in love with (look out for a post about this on www.todreamofdresses.com soon!), some handsome suits, a bridesmaid dress fiasco that turned out better than I ever imagined, flowers from the florist all my friends used, two pairs of wedding shoes, a dodgy DJ, God knows how many metres of greenyblue ribbon (don’t get Ben started on how many different shades of greenyblue he had to look at that year!), a mountain of cupcakes from Cakeadoodledo and a last minute £90 Swarovski Crystal handbag and we my friends had a wedding to be proud of.
We got married in June 2008. It’d been a pretty crappy summer so far and it rained heavily the day before. I was so convinced it would rain on the day that I even bought white golf umbrellas just in case. As the day dawned I woke in my bed at the cottage next to the barn, sat for a minute looking at my dress hanging on the wardrobe and steeled myself to look out the window. I opened the curtains to blinding sunshine. And bawled my eyes out. Wayne and Colleen Rooney got married the month before us, spending a reported £5 million but even they couldn’t buy the weather, getting married in torrential downpours in Italy. The one thing none of us could control, regardless of the budget or the planning or the spreadsheets and it went right for us. Ha! Take that Mr and Mrs R!
My bridesmaids, my sister Laura and Ben’s step sister Leanne, had stayed in the cottage with me the night before. We were up til the wee small hours making paper cones to hold the petal confetti as I recall! One of my favourite memories of my wedding morning was sitting with them, in the cottage garden, drinking champagne and eating croissant in the sun. We were so relaxed we suddenly realised how late it was getting and in good girly fashion screamed and ran in the house to get ready.
I wanted that morning to be as peaceful as possible. I didn’t want to see anyone which is why I asked no one other than the few people I needed come to the cottage. Thankfully most people respected this although one or two didn’t and rather than flying into a rage I remember sort of curling up in a chair and staring at the floor. I may or may not have started rocking. My sister came over and asked if I’d like her to ‘sort it out’ and thus started my sister’s day of being the most awesome head bridesmaid I could ever have asked for.
My hairdresser (also my sister in law Nicky) arrived with her colleague to do my hair and make up. Then my friend Helen arrived with her 8 month old daughter Chloe, who was to be my baby bridesmaid. I’d seen someone else have a baby as a bridesmaid earlier in the year and just loved the idea. Chloe wore a beautiful white cotton broderie anglaise dress from Gap with a ribbon sash (greenyblue of course 😉 ) Helen was the first to see me as as I came down the stairs in my dress. And then promptly asked an already emotional bride in full make up if she would be her daughter’s god mother! How I kept from blubbing I’ll never know, but I may have called her a cow for pushing me to the edge – yeah sorry about that Hels!
Once we were ready and the house started to quiet, we moved into the cottage garden for photos, all the time laughing like drains. I have so many pictures of me just roaring with laughter before the wedding. I think it was part nerves but I was never going to make the shy demure bride really was I? I love these pictures and made sure they were included in the album our amazing photographers, Andrew and Agnieszka Younger did for us.
When the time came, and after the photographer made sure the coast was clear, we giggled all the way over to the barn. The wind suddenly picked up and blew my full length veil and my bridesmaids hair about. We went to the side entrance of the barn, rather than the main door as this gave me a straight, long walk down the aisle. I had already decided my bridesmaids would walk out in front of me, US style and we stood behind a partition giggling and waiting. The music I chose was the instrumental Album version of True Love’s First Kiss by Harry Gregson-Williams and John Powell. From the film Shrek. Yeah yeah laugh all you want but I found no other piece that had the drama the barn deserved. I loved this piece and had spent months listening to it while walking to get the feel of the music but more importantly to desensitise myself to it. When I first chose it I couldn’t hear it without crying and I didn’t want my make up to run!
The music started and I listened. I sent each bridesmaid out on the beat I had planned. This wasn’t a walk down the aisle, it was a choreographed masterpiece. As my sister’s turn came, as the last bridesmaid to go, she turned, kissed me and told me she loved me. It took me aback and I’ll never forget it. Then she was gone and I was alone. I waited. Listening for the music to change to a quieter, softer tone. And when it did, I emerged, alone, but not in the least bit scared. The lighting had been set up the previous day to hit me perfectly as I walked and the effect was dramatic and beautiful. I remember checking I was holding my bouquet nice and low, I remember smiling more than I ever have, I remember looking straight ahead and seeing nothing but Ben in the golden light. I remember thinking “I’m doing it, I’m doing it” then thinking how I was never going to get to do this again, so to slow down. And I did. I realised how fast I’d been walking and slowed right down. To savour this moment.
And suddenly the months of planning melted away. Nothing mattered any more. Who the hell cared what colour the dresses were? Not me. All that mattered was here. And now. We started the ceremony with the poem “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” by W.B. Yates read by Ben’s maternal grandmother Betty. A beautiful, brief statement of intent, it speaks of a vulnerability and a love that would do anything. Well it does to me anyway.
Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.
We wrote our own vows and spoke them to one another. Clearly and sincerely. Ben promised to always make me coffee on the weekends and I promised to make him sausage sandwiches when he was blue. But most of all we promised to love each other no matter what. We kissed to a round of applause ☺️
We finished the ceremony with our friend Dom reading a story. This one in fact
We signed the register to The Ramones, “Baby I Love You”, completed the formalities and walked out to Jackie Wilson’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me (Higher and Higher)”. We walked to the back of the barn and were given champagne by the wonderful barn owner, John. And just stood there giggling. It was done. 18 months of planning and the most important thing was just being together.
When the barn had emptied we walked back through the space and out of the large main doors, to be met with a shower of confetti. It was fabulous. My friend’s mum even tipped her cone down my cleavage and I didn’t mind. I just don’t ever remember feeling so at peace, so sure that nothing else in the world mattered, as I did in those few moments.
Our reception was the elegant relaxed affair we hoped for. Every guest, at some point or another, has told us just how much they enjoyed the bubbles and nibbles in the garden, while we had our photos taken. The sun was out, the champagne was flowing and we made the most of the beautiful surroundings. Once we rejoined the party, we gathered everyone under the walnut tree, as we had decided to do the speeches before the meal and outside. We totally made the right choice. In line with tradition Ben and his best man made a speech and then so did I. There was no way I wasn’t speaking at my own wedding! I thanked people, we gave gifts and then I talked about Ben and made everyone cry. As a good wedding speech should 😉 !
Then Ben gave me a gift. No one has ever seen anyone get as excited about a kitchen gadget before or probably since!
When the tears were dried and the speeches all spoken, we returned to the barn, transformed into an elegant dining room, with round tables, escort cards, tall sprigs of cherry blossom (artificial, but hey what do you expect, it was June not April) and tables named after CSI Characters (Grissom being reserved from the wedding party. Obviously). We ate hog roast (except my sister who had a chicken roasted just for her!), roasted potatoes, several different salads and a beautiful vegetable tart, all accompanied by my own chutney. I may have to do a post about, what we affectionately call in our house, “Brides Chutney”, but it was based on Nigella’s Spiced Apple Chutney from How to be a Domestic Goddess. And the
drinking relaxing began in earnest.
We waited such a long time to get married for several reasons. a) We felt we were too young to get married for the longest time, b) we didn’t really have a need to or c) if you believe my husbands speech he wasn’t sure he liked me! But really the reason was we didn’t want to compromise on the day. We knew the kind of wedding we wanted waaaay before we got engaged and knew we didn’t want anything else. We waited until we were in a position to give ourselves and our nearest and dearest the day we had in our heads. And by jingo we did. Would I do anything differently if we got married now. Absolutely. I’d run off to Vegas or something similar. I definitely wouldn’t spend 18 months stressing over every single tiny detail. Who has time for that? But then I’m not the girl I was in 2008. Would she do anything differently? Probably hire a different DJ and have her hair redone half way through the day. Because the stressing and planning and obsessing meant it was pretty damn perfect.
Thank you Ben for such a wonderful day. But mostly thank you for a wonderful life.