John and Martin met 18 years ago in London and, after a surprise proposal (which received a rapturous applause from onlookers in the beach bar) from John on their favourite beach in Naxos, Greece, they decided on a wedding that wouldn't last just a day, but for four whole days. This is their story...
We were having cocktails and at the moment the sun dipped behind the horizon I proposed to Martin on the edge of the sea. People in local beach bar applauded and took photos.
We decided to hold a four-day event with a dinner at a restaurant overlooking Poole harbour on the Thursday for 9 people; and a pub dinner for 90 on top of the hill overlooking Corfe Castle on the Friday, the wedding on the Saturday, and a barbecue on the Sunday for just over 100 guests at our house.
We booked Kingston Country Courtyard for our wedding, primarily because it was the largest venue we could find in the area, and when we visited it, we were thrilled by how flexible they were. It was also five minutes from our cottage. They let us put up a marquee and gave us access to the venue for the week prior to the event.
We set the barn up for the ceremony on the Wednesday, the marquee went up on the Thursday, and on Friday, the flowers were assembled, stationery delivered, welcome notes dropped off in guest rooms, and puddings delivered to the freezers. Many of our guests stayed at the venue overnight, so they helped make the finishing touches on Saturday morning.
Inclusive, not Exclusive
We wanted everyone to feel included, so we invited children within our families and of our friends and had family and friends helping out in the week running up to the wedding. John's sister (who came from California) and Martin's sister spent a few days with us doing all of the flowers for the marquee. They did over 70 table decorations in silver and cut glass vases.
Martin's sister made a five-tier wedding cake, neighbours helped us decorate our car and helped make the desserts for the reception and made over 80 button holes for the male guests and posies for the children.
We chose not to have a best man each but rather share the role over a number of people, Martin's nephew did a reading and handed over the marriage certificate, John's brother started the ceremony off with a reading and was a witness alongside Martin's sister. One of our close friends read prior to our vows; another made a speech after the wedding breakfast and included the children in his speech. We also had friends' children look after the rings for us.
This was the first single sex marriage in John's family (Irish Catholics) and many had not yet met Martin despite being together over 18 years. We were overwhelmed how much the family wanted to support us,all of John's 50 relatives - including nieces and nephews - came to it, flying in from Canada, California, New York, Boston, Detroit, Ireland and across the UK.
We also were surprised by how embracing our local community was,going to outstanding efforts to celebrate with us. For example on the day of the wedding the bells rang in the village church for 3 hours (!) to celebrate our wedding and when festivities wound down on the Sunday they rang for another 45 minutes! The women that do the flowers at the village church did the flowers in the barn where we were married. On the Sunday we had a garden fete' party at our house for guests and again neighbours dropped in with puddings and drinks.
Visually we had a thread of Imperial (inky ) blue running through many elements - all of the stationery was printed on inky blue stock with silver engraving. It was written in a prose style and we also used the logo of the date on all of the stationery, including the save the date, invitation, evening invite, order of ceremony and menus. The inky blue was also reflected in some of the flowers and our suits. It was contrasted with the cornflower blue of the buttonholes we gave to all the men and boys.
In contrast to the fun atmosphere of the four days of festival', we wanted the ceremony to feel solemn and significant. We briefed the registrar on this we didn't want it to seem like a prize giving! When we arrived at the venue we met the guests before and surprised them with 4 singers singing oh Happy Day' it felt a joyous way to start proceedings and got around the rule of not having religious music as part of a civil ceremony. Then everyone moved towards the barn, ready for our ceremony.
We had a choir sing for us, formal order of ceremony leaflets printed up, and asked for our guests to refrain from applause and photography until after the ceremony, after which they could let rip!
Our first reading was an Irish poem read by John's brother - it's one that he often recites and it felt fitting we use it to start the ceremony (rather than the registrar starting proceedings). It was immediately followed by the entrance music - All I ask of you' which was sung by our choir.
Goodridge vs Massachusettswas read immediately before our vows. It goes like this...
In November 2003, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, penned a decision, which granted same-sex couples the freedom to marry. Her judgement included these words.
Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial, and social benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations...
Without question, civil marriage enhances the welfare of the community. It is a social institution of the highest importance. Marriage also bestows enormous private and social advantages on those who choose to marry. Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family...
Because it fulfils yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, civil marriage is an esteemed institution.and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life's momentous acts of self-definition.
During signing of the register we had Emilie Sandee's You'll Find Him Next to Mesung - we heard it on the morning after we got engaged and decided this was the one for us!
Once everything was complete and registrar had completed her final words, Martin's nephew read final reading a poem by a Persian poet and then handed us the marriage certificate:
This Marriage - Ode 2667
May these vows and this marriage be blessed.
May it be sweet milk.
this marriage, like wine and halvah.
May this marriage offer fruit and shade
like the date palm.
May this marriage be full of laughter.
our every day a day in paradise.
May this marriage be a sign of compassion.
a seal of happiness here and hereafter.
May this marriage have a fair face and a good name.
an omen as welcome
as the moon in a clear blue sky.
I am out of words to describe
how spirit mingles in this marriage.
We walked out to Love Changes Everythingsung by the choir.
On the Saturday we served canapes as a starter in the gardens overlooking the valley down to Corfe Castle where we live, along with prosecco, Pimms and beers immediately after the ceremony.
... then we had a hog roast for the sit down breakfast and encouraged everyone to get up and help themselves to encourage as much mixing and chatting as possible. For the main course we were recommended a red wine (we don't drink red) and also our favourite white (Gavi de Gavi). Beer drinkers could help themselves to lager.
For dessert, John made (with help from others) chocolate mousse with raspberries and also Iced Walbangers - scooped out orange shells stuffed with homemade orange and Galliano ice cream!
Children had their own table and had chosen their menu of pasta bolognaise followed by knickerbocker glories.
Afterwards Martin's sister had made a piata cake for the children which when we cut all the smarties tumbled out. They had their own table cloth and menus along with crayons to colour them in and also some helpers to sit with them so that their parents could relax a little. Afterwards they also had presents for being so good.
For the toasts we served English Champagne from a vineyard down the road.
Afterwards we served wedding cake, tea and coffee. The cake was 5 tiers and each tier was a different version of Martin's favourite fruit cake. From traditional, tropical even a gluten free layer for one of john's sister. Loraine decorated it in white with a beehive on the top,Martin is a newly addicted bee keeper. The cake was stored in the cool, and assembled on morning of the wedding.
In the evening we started off with a cocktail party (Gin Fizz, Long Island Iced Tea and Cosmopolitans) as well as a keg of local beer, along with regular lagers and wines for the less adventurous. These were served in the marquee which we had re-dressed with trees covered in fairly lights; we had fewer smaller tables with blue cloths and decorated them with jugs of flowers and candles. We also hung candles in lanterns from the trees between the bar and marquee, fuchsia uplighters around the marquee and the barn, and strings of fairy lights linking the marquee with the pizza van, which served wood fired pizzas from around 10pm.
We headed back to the barn for our first dance, which was a real highlight. I think everyone thought the first dance might be a little awkward, but in fact we had The Hokey Cokey.which was huge fun and got everyone involved and on the dance floor,everyone agreed it was the best fun first dance they'd witnessed. After that, one of our neighbours became our DJ.
We also had a separate room just for children which meant they could play games, have a rest, watch videos etc while adults were being boring.
On the Monday we left for a Honeymoon in Greece.
Our Advice for To-Be-Weds
Don't settle for a standard out of the box ceremony,we chatted to our registrar and she was thrilled to make the day more bespoke for us. She read all about the case that we took the reading from , rang us up to check she'd got her intro and summary perfect and couldn't have been more enthusiastic, had so much fun she brought her husband and baby to the evening party!
The fun is in the planning, it's like the run up to Christmas. It shouldn't be a stress, just great fun. And remember, things will go wrong on the day, but that doesn't matter. That said, I think we would have relaxed a lot more if we'd had a wedding planner/event manager even just for the Saturday. We'd arranged so many little touches and it was quite a distraction to make sure they all happened!