Gemma & James

I am at a loss to what to say in this wedding graduate intro, other than every single one of you must read it. Even those of you who are long married, and jaded, and never read wedding graduate posts anymore: Read It. This post is a crazy involved tale,  Gemma & James got married in London, and had their reception in a spot where King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon once feasted for six days, for starters. But beyond that, Gemma just feels like my soul sister, and her wedding is one of those that I wish on a bone deep level that I’d been at (and not just because it was in London, which is my soul sister of a city). and I adore her non-white wedding cocktail dress. Because we all deserve to get married feeling like our fullest, most real selves, and clearly Gemma did just that.

I’ve been itching to send you a Wedding Graduate post for absolutely ages now, but an uncharacteristic shyness has been holding me back. Why would anyone want to read about my wedding? Then this morning I woke up and just thought to heck with it – so here goes…

James and I got hitched last October, after a year’s engagement. I spent that year juggling planning the wedding with training to be a primary school teacher and, in the last couple of months, starting my first teaching job in a challenging inner-city school. Yeah, who thought that was a good idea? I discovered APW a couple of months after I got engaged, and thank heaven I did. Before then I’d been buying the standard reading matter produced by the WIC and getting increasingly alarmed at the difference between the images I was seeing and our idea of what we wanted our wedding to be.

A little background, first. Growing up, I was never one of those girls who dreamed about getting married. In fact, my mum turned round to me one day (I think she was driving me home from college, so I must have been about 17) and told me that she didn’t think I would ever get married. “I think you’ll probably just live with someone,” she said. She may even have used the word “bohemian.” At the time, I agreed with her. Marriage? How bourgeois! But as the years passed, it looked like actually finding someone to marry in the first place would be a struggle – I had a couple of boyfriends, very short term, but despaired of finding The One (of course, I know that the concept of there being just one person out there for you is ridiculous, but give me a break, I was in my twenties). Then, out of the blue, I met James, my now-husband. He was wearing a welding mask and carrying a samovar at the time, both of which I took to be a Good Sign. In October of 2009 he proposed and I gladly accepted, and thereby proved my mum wrong.

My mum and dad were over the moon, and very generously offered to pay for the wedding. Lucky, lucky, lucky us! However, this meant I now had to start thinking about weddings, for the first time ever. Early on, I half-joked that I would like to get hitched in a forest. James’ face did not exactly light up with excitement at the idea. Gently, he explained that, as a Catholic, he wouldn’t feel like we were properly married if the wedding wasn’t held in a church. Now I am very loosely Christian, Church of England, used to go regularly when I was younger but stopped when I became a teenager and started valuing lie-ins above spiritual enlightenment. James doesn’t go to church either (except for Christmas and Easter), but once a Catholic, always a Catholic, I guess. As it mattered much more to him where we got married, I was happy to make that compromise (my mum did exactly the same for my dad, who is also Catholic, so there is kind of a family tradition!).

We knew we didn’t want to get married in Cheshire, where I am originally from, and I wasn’t keen on getting married in Belfast, James’ home town, so we made the decision to hold the wedding in London. We are Londoners, after all. Why would we go anywhere else? Also no travelling to far-flung places = more money to spend on important things like FOOD and WINE. It was the best decision we could have made, as we ended up getting married at St Etheldreda’s Church in Clerkenwell, which is one of my favourite parts of London. It was right by Smithfield Market, a big meat market that’s completely deserted at weekends – James and I took ourselves off there after the ceremony, and larked about with the photographer. The church dated back to the 13th century and I loved the sense of solemnity it gave to the wedding. We had singers, rather than hymns, who sang the Latin mass. Music is really important to both James and me, and having a ceremony that was full of music was so wonderful. It meant we could just sit and listen and contemplate. We were both astonished at how full of peace we felt during the ceremony – the nerves just seemed to melt away (though I did manage to mess up my vows – I put this down to excitement).

Despite my absurdly generous parents giving us the money for the wedding, our budget was still tight and getting hitched in London ain’t cheap. Brilliantly, though, the crypt under the church was run as a venue by one of our favourite restaurants, the Bleeding Heart, so we hired that for the reception. The dinner was fantastic, we had an embarrassment of cheese later on for people to snack on (it is a French restaurant, after all), a jump-jive band, and the crypt itself was so atmospheric. Apparently King Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon feasted there for six days on swans stuffed with larks and sparrows. I doubt very much that they had as good a time as we did. They certainly won’t have done as much jiving.

So far, so traditional. Traditional can be good, right? But in the run-up to the big day I spent an awful lot of time on the internet, and I think this may have made me a little crazy. I totally fell in love with the idea of a DIY wedding, and decided to make all the wedding stationery. To kick this off I went and learned to make stamps so I could hand-make all my save the date cards. They turned out beautifully, everybody said they were lovely, and they took bloody ages. AGES! So I quickly ditched the idea of making my own invitations in favour of getting some from the internet (and the ones I got, from Wedding Paper Divas, were gorgeous and much cheaper than anything I could have found in the UK).

Having blown most of our money on the important bits (church, venue, food, band), we had to get more creative with the details. After being horrified at the cost of wedding cars (£320? For a ten minute journey? Crikey!), I decided to just get a black cab to the wedding and James caught the number 17 bus. He was told by his Turkish colleague that anyone in Turkey who tried to get a bus to their wedding would be locked up as a madman! My cab driver was awesome, too – en route to the church, we passed one of the guests who was clearly completely lost, so after dropping off my dad and me the cabbie went back to pick up the lost guest. London cab drivers are awesome. One of the best parts of having the reception underneath the church was the fact that there was no faffing about with transport – the guests had some champagne after the ceremony at the Bleeding Heart, just round the corner from the church, then ambled down to the crypt for dinner. Simple, stress-free, cheap! My lovely friend Sally, who works for the Royal Opera House, did my hair and makeup (and made me feel like a film star) and I even got to have a trial in one of the dressing rooms in Covent Garden (which made me feel like a prima ballerina).

My other tips for keeping sane while planning the Biggest Day Of Your Life (TM) would be:

  • Know Thyself. Even if every single wedding magazine and website is telling you that you should wear a white dress, if you know that white just ain’t you then just wear something else. My mum persuaded me to try on some white wedding gowns, and in every picture she took I look either strained or just plain weirded out. Getting married in taupe and pink was the best decision I made (although red was very much on the cards as well… or possibly even leopard print). Same goes for: not having bridesmaids, favours, swanky wedding cars, dance lessons.
  • As Long As You’re Married At The End, It’s Been A Success. Everything else is just details. Pretty, handmade, carefully-sourced and beautifully-styled details, perhaps, but at the end, just details. The memories I cherish most are seeing tears in James’s eyes as I walked down the aisle, and saying our vows. Everything else is a blur.
  • Remember Why You’re Doing This. It’s not about the flower arrangements or table settings. Whenever I started worrying about chair covers, I’d take a deep breath and Remember. Helped enormously.
  • He’s Marrying You, Stupid. I admit, I did the bride-to-be thing of dieting and going to the gym more. But I didn’t go crazy and try and reinvent myself for the wedding. I was still me, but with (very slightly) more toned upper arms. I tried to have the attitude of “he loves me, so I’ve got to love me too”. It removed a lot of pressure that I didn’t even realise I was putting on myself.
  • It’s Fine To Feel Guilty. After the wedding, I felt terrible that I’d not spent enough time with our guests. There were some people that I said hello to and that was pretty much it. But after speaking to some friends, it was pointed out to me that people come to share the day with you not to engage you in deep conversation. They want to be part of your happiness, and that’s all. Oh, and to dance like loons – they come for that too.

Getting married was brilliant and definitely the best day of my life up to that point. However, being married is even more brilliant. I wish I could go back and tap my younger self on the shoulder and let her know that.

Photography: Randolph Quan (Note: he was the first photographer we met and we clicked with him immediately. At the end of the meeting James and I walked out of the coffee shop, looked at each other and said “He’s the one”, then ran back inside to tell Randolph he was hired. I don’t think he was expecting such a quick decision!)

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