If you like your weddings colourful, rustic and full of gorgeous blooms, then you are going to LOVE Whitney and Chris’ big day. The sweet couple also have the most romantic engagement story I’ve EVER heard. Honestly, it’s just beautiful it genuinely made me well up! I can’t wait for you to read about it too.
In fact I’m going to pass you straight over to Whitney as she has written nothing short of a dissertation on her big day, so I’d encourage you to get comfy with a cup of tea and just enjoy it! It’s all so lovely…
Whitney The Bride: Chris and I met at university in the first few days of our first year. Not one to rush into anything, I believe our first kiss was not until the Freshers Ball at the end of that first week (!) We’ve been together ever since. After being together for nearly 10 years, Chris knows me pretty well, and he knew that the second we got engaged the first people I would be on the phone to would be my family, with that in mind, he wanted to propose when my family was around me. Our family has Scottish roots and every New Year we carry out the Scottish tradition of the first footing. This is where traditionally, the first person to enter the household on New Years Day brings with them good fortune for the coming year. They also traditionally bring with them gifts; ‘wood for the fire, bread for the table and whisky to warm the cockles of your heart’. My father has always been the ‘stranger’ that knocks on the door at the stroke of midnight, but this particular year he was in Canada so Chris had asked if he could first-foot instead. Being of Scottish descent himself I didn’t think anything of it at the time. When midnight came and Chris knocked on the door Mum opened it, but he was nowhere to be seen…I peered round the door and saw my lovely man on one knee surrounded by fairy lights with wood, bread and bottle of whisky in hand. It took me a moment to cotton onto what was happening (I believe I even asked him what he was doing on one knee!) then he recited the lines of the first footing, promising to always bring wood for my fire, food for my table and whisky to warm the cockles of my heart if I in return would do him the honour of being his wife. It was the most magical moment, surrounded by my whooping and hollering family, who were all as teary as I was, we toasted that New Year and the new chapter of our lives with copious amounts of bubbles and some very over-excited family.
I wore a Pronovias dress which I bought from The Bridal Room in Reigate. From the very beginning of my dress hunt, I was convinced that I was just not the type of girl who would put on ‘The’ dress and have ‘The’ reaction that you see played out so many times on ‘Say Yes to The Dress’, but how wrong I was. I found ‘The’ dress in the third shop we went to. I’d tried on about 10 dresses at this point, and had liked nearly all of them, but the second I put this one on, it felt different. I could immediately see myself walking down the aisle to my husband-to-be in it, I could picture his face when he first saw me in it, and at that point the butterflies kicked in and I did exactly what I thought I wouldn’t do and cried!!
The dress had everything I thought I wanted, without thinking that it could be found on one dress – I loved the subtle shimmer of the beading, I loved the lace overlay which broke up the severity of the sweetheart neckline, I loved the silhouette, somewhere between a trumpet and fit and flare, and I loved the lace train. I loved my dress, I felt so incredibly special in it, from the first day I slipped it on to the moment I had to take it off (begrudgingly at 3 o’clock in the morning when I was told that I wasn’t allowed to sleep in it!) Saying goodbye to the dress as it was shipped off to be dry cleaned and properly packaged up again post-wedding was perhaps the saddest part of the wedding come-down.
I am the fourth of five children, with three older sisters above me and a little brother below me. Family is incredibly important to me and I wanted to involve them as much as possible in the Big Day. All three of my older sisters are married already so I decided to wear one of their veils for my own wedding day as my ‘something borrowed’. I was torn between the beautiful and glitzy cathedral-length veil and the shorter, ivory ribbon trimmed Pronovias veil. Having briefly flirted with the idea of wearing both at different points in the day, I decided that the short, Pronovias veil was more appropriate for the venue, and wore that one.
I was adamant that I didn’t want to buy a pair of shoes that I would never wear again. I came across Rachel Simpson shoes in one of my bridal magazines and totally fell in love with them. Having trawled her website for many hours, I went for Mimosa in Mint Green and I am so glad that I did. I absolutely LOVE them and it was so special to be able to wear them again on honeymoon. In fact, we celebrated Chris’s birthday the other week and they made yet another appearance, so they were definitely a worthwhile investment!
I wanted to keep my hair quite simple and natural, so I just had a small posy of pale pink roses from Mum’s garden in my hair.
The lovely Amy Westlake of A Brush With Beauty was my hair and make-up artist. My sister Tiffany, a real beauty enthusiast, had found and used Amy for her wedding back in 2011 so I knew we were in safe hands. Amy was just a godsend. Not only is she amazingly talented and the only make-up artist that has been able to put colour on my eyelids without making me look beaten up, but she has the most calming presence. She was a total joy to have around on the wedding morning and really felt like one of my bridal party!
As a special birthday present when I was in my early twenties, my sister Tiffany took me to Les Senteurs to choose my first special scent. I chose En Passant by Olivia Giacobetti, one of Frederic Malle’s Editions de Parfums. Since then, it has always been the scent I have worn for special occasions and was the clear choice for my wedding day.
Chris actually bought and retuned five suits before he found the one he was happy with!! The one he went for in the end was a dark blue three piece suit from Charles Tyrwhitt. Chris wore a tie and pocket square from TM Lewin.
Chris proposed used a ring of my Mother’s that I have coveted since I was a little girl – a beautiful diamond cluster ring. This was just a ‘borrow’ however, as he had booked a weekend in Brighton the next day for us to choose our ring together in the Lanes. It was a dreary January day, with gale force winds and slashing rain as we dipped in and out of shops trying on a variety of different rings. We saved the most promising shop til last, Little Gem Jewellers, (not wanting to find ‘the one’ in the first 5 minutes of looking!) and pulled a few from the window to try on. I had been convinced that I would like an emerald cut diamond with baguettes on either side (not at all specific!) but then I tried on a brilliant cut trilogy ring with vintage stones but a newly handcrafted setting and knew it was something special. The lovely lady in the shop told us to go outside with it on and look at it in natural light and she was so right to do so, because as soon as we got out there and looked down at the ring radiating sparkle in the gloomy day, even Chris welled up! We were sold. Finding a ring to match how I felt about the engagement ring was harder. Originally, I had really wanted a rose gold plain band to contrast with the white gold engagement ring, but after trying a lot of them on I just didn’t think it worked with my engagement ring. After lots of failed wedding band shopping trips we decided that it would be really special if we designed our own, that way we would have a ring that would be totally unique to us.
After many recommendations we chose to design the ring with The Diamond Shop in Hatton Gardens. From the first meeting, Elliott was brilliant and tried to accommodate all of our various requests. What we designed was a half-eternity white gold ring with a channel setting and individual claws holding in each diamond, mirroring the engagement ring. Chris inherited his grandfather’s wedding ring several years ago and has worn it on his right hand ever since. Initially he was just going to transfer that ring to his left hand, but after seeing me get so excited about my wedding band he decided he wanted something shiny and new too!! So we designed a very simple thin rose gold band that matched the vintage ‘D’ shape of his grandfather’s 1930s ring, which he wears alongside his grandfathers (two wedding bands being something of a tradition in his family).
We got married at River Barn just outside of Malmesbury in Wiltshire. It wasn’t a heavily advertised venue and we only came across it online on one of the hundreds of wedding blogs we scoured through. We were actually only the third wedding they had there which made it all the more special. River Barn is run by the amazingly talented Nicky and Finn Spicer who have spent the past nine years building the garden, a former 1910 model farm, from bare field to the beautiful riverside garden utopia you see today!!
Chris and I first visited River Barn on a grey day in January when the garden was in its winter hibernation and fell in love with it even then. We could see the incredible potential it had to be spectacular, and with Nicky and Finn’s relaxed nature we felt instantly at ease with them and the space they had created. We were married in the beautiful mock-Tudor barn on the side of a beautifully manicured courtyard garden and held the reception in a marquee on the top lawn. Rob and Andy of Marquee Vision were our marquee suppliers and I couldn’t praise them enough. They had such a can-do attitude, nothing was too much to ask, and everything we did ask of them they more than delivered (including and extra marquee at 8 pm the night before the wedding when we saw that rain was forecast and we feared we didn’t have enough indoor space!!). They, along with Nicky and Finn, were a total delight to work with and we count ourselves incredibly lucky to have struck upon such a unique location to get married.
Our wedding was a total family affair. We wanted to create a relaxed environment for the wedding with little touches that we could personalise to reflect us as a couple. But we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of our amazing families. I can’t tell you how many hours of crafting my sisters and Mother did for me in the wedding build up, creating origami birds, decorating jars and tins, making paper fans, creating the most amazing floral cages to hang from the ceiling of the marquee and hanging hundreds of metres of handmade bunting (borrowed from a friend). My Brother in Law also spent hours and hours constructing a 7ft x 6ft photo board for us to use as a prop for fun pictures throughout the day. In the days leading up to the wedding, even Chris and my brother could be found with glue gun and ribbon in hand creating our bamboo streamers!! The days before the wedding, putting all of our decorations up with family and friends were some of the happiest and, being totally honest, most stressful memories of the wedding!! But don’t let that put you off, it was ALL worth it!
More than anything, Chris and I wanted everyone to feel as though they were coming round to dinner at our house. That meant creating a really personalised, relaxed environment with good food, tasty wine and good music. I love all things craft and therefore spent hours and hours in Pinterest and the like getting inspiration for various craft projects we could do.
We designed our own stationery, using bakers twine, paper doilies, recycled brown card, a beautiful stamp from Noolibird and Da Font!
We decided against individual wedding favours and opted to make our own Sloe Gin for the toasts instead. My family and I scoured the Wiltshire hedgerows at the end of the last year for the best sloes which Chris made into delicious (if not a tad lethal) Sloe Gin at the beginning of the year. It went down a storm, and of the 7 litres that we made only a single shot remained (which my Father in Law dutifully saw off at the end of the night!).
The amazingly talented Sam Connelly from Greensleeves was our florist. Sam is a friend of the family and was just fantastic in the lead up to the big day. I barely have half a green finger and so all of the consultations we had prior to the wedding where I was asked what I would like, I either deferred the answer to my ever-so-green fingered and talented Mother, or I responded with ‘I don’t mind, whatever you think’. So I was not the most helpful of clients!! I wanted to create a just-picked-from-the-garden look with country cottage flowers put together in a very loose arrangement. In my bouquet I requested blousy roses in dusky shades, alstroemeria, succulents, rosemary for remembrance and dill (apparently, longer lasting than gypsophila). Between Sam and my Mum, they created the most beautiful displays and arrangements. Sam prepared my bouquet, my bridesmaids’ poesies, the Groom and groomsmen button holes, the arrangements for the registrars table and top table then she supplied the flowers for us to make our own arrangements for the tables. My lovely Mum and Aunt in Law were the flower arranging dream team the day before the wedding and created the most beautiful arrangements in assorted jars and tins covered with twine, lace, burlap and coloured wool (all lovingly handmade by my sister).
The Wedding Party
My bridesmaids were my three sisters and my two best friends, one from school, the other from university. They are all different colourings, different ages, different shapes and different personalities so a ‘one outfit fits all’ was not an option. I wanted them to wear whatever they felt most comfortable in, so their shoes were ones they either already owned, or were high street purchases.
For the dresses, I stipulated that I would like them to be long, and in the mint to sage green colour spectrum (doling out Dulux colour charts to the girls so they knew what I meant by mint to sage green!!) but that is as far as my instructions went. They are all beautiful ladies who know their shapes and what suits them better that I do and in the end they all looked absolutely stunning in a mixture of dresses from Debenhams and Coast. I couldn’t have picked five more beautiful dresses for them.
Our flower girl was my gorgeous four year old niece. My sister, flower girl and I trundled off to Monsoon where my niece tried on an array of dresses, obligingly walking through the changing room pretending to scatter rose petals as she went – the perfect flower girl! In the end, she chose a mint green Monsoon woodland-fairyesque number with peach butterflies and lots of netting. She looked beautiful. I am lucky enough to have 7 nieces and nephews all under the age of 4, so the older two, who would happily sit through the ceremony, were our official flower girl and page boy and the other 5 were our little attendants that came and enjoyed the party after the ceremony. The two littlest girls wore matching mint green dresses from John Rocha at Debenhams and they just looked edible.
Our page boy was the oldest of our nephews and did the most brilliant ring-bearing job! My sister had asked him what he wanted to wear for the wedding, whether he wanted to wear just a shirt and some smart trousers or whether he wanted to wear the full blue three piece suit like the groomsmen. Without hesitation, he chose the three-piece – the boy has style!! He wore a beautiful blue three piece suit from M&S with a mint green bow tie. Together with our flower girl, they totally stole the show. My other little nephews all wore chinos, shirts and waistcoats from Zara boys. I think we even managed to convince them to put on a bow tie for about 10 minutes before they bit the dust!!
I walked down the aisle to the most beautiful music, Beethoven’s Five Secrets by The Piano Guys. It was such a beautifully emotive piece that I had to listen to it repeatedly in the weeks before the wedding so that I didn’t blub my way down the aisle on the day!
Our ceremony was perhaps our favourite part of the day. We really liked the idea of having a humanist ceremony, which would give us the freedom to make the promises we felt important to our relationship and to choose readings and songs that meant something to us. But it was also important to us both that our friends and family saw us ‘legally’ wed. So we compromised and had a civil ceremony to start with then asked my Brother in Law, who has known us throughout our relationship, to conduct a humanist-inspired ceremony immediately afterwards. With the civil ceremony we were adamant that we would personalise it in any way that we could and opted to write our own promises to one another and script our own lines during the giving and receiving of rings. The Registrars from North Wiltshire Council were wonderful on the day and completely understood and embraced our dual ceremony, and really helped to make the transition between the two as smooth as possible. The wonderful thing about our ceremonies which I will always remember is how much laughter and joy there was in them, both from Chris and I and also our wedding guests as my Brother in Law gave the most incredible account of ‘us’ and our love story. It was so special to have a family member, and one that knew us so well, conduct a really personal service for us. It really was the happiest point of the day.
We had three readings; two during the first ceremony and one in the second. In the civil ceremony my sister read Union by Robert Fulghum and Chris’s sister read Love by Roy Croft. For the second ceremony, my brother delivered a hilarious reading of A Lovely Love Story by Edward Monkton, with a few personalised ad lib inclusions.
We found choosing the readings really quite hard. We trawled lots of wedding websites and found a lot of them to be overly saccharine. When we stumbled across Union we knew it was the right reading for us. It was exactly what we wanted to say to each other and neither of us had heard it before which made it feel even more like ‘our’ prose. My sister had Roy Croft’s Love at her wedding and I had loved its sentiment then, which echoed that in Union so well that we thought they were an ideal match. A Lovely Love Story had the gentle humour that we wanted to inject into our second ceremony. Read by my brother, a man known for his comedic timing, it was not so much gentle humour as laugh out loud hilarious, an unexpectedly lovely outcome!
One of Chris’s best men is a really talented musician who has his own brilliant band, Desert Planes. We didn’t really think it fair to ask him to play our wedding reception as we wanted him to enjoy cutting some shapes with the rest of us so instead we asked him if he would perform just our first dance, which he did, phenomenally well. We chose You’re Lovely to Me by Lucky Jim which Tom put his own unique twist on and it sounded amazing. It was such a special moment in the wedding.
After many months of deliberation, we decided to hire a DJ instead of a live band. Chris found a company called The Wedding Players who from the outset were lovely to work with. They allowed us to put together a playlist, which they stuck to religiously, as well as a ‘don’t put it on even if Great Aunt Margaret asks for it’ list which was great. Our guests could put in their own requests which Darren (our lovely DJ for the evening) did a brilliant job at incorporating into the playlist. The music was a perfect blend of genres and eras and there wasn’t a single song where the dance floor was empty – even if it was just me throwing some shapes with my maids!!
Rachel Williams from Caradoc Catering was our caterer. From the outset she was so lovely and enthusiastic and nothing was too much trouble. We had a very DIY wedding and wanted to include a crisp buffet (the husband and I are overly fond of crisps) and a dessert table that would be produced by the fair hands of our family and friends. So many caterers we spoke to would not allow any food to be served that wasn’t produced by them, but not Rachel. She thought they were brilliant ideas, and had herself had a similar dessert table at her wedding, so was more than happy to work with us on our vision for the day. We chose a menu of mixed breads and oils, marinated barbecued meats and a variety of delicious salad sides (although they were so substantial they were a meal in themselves!). Everyone commented on how delicious the ribs and salads were in particular.
From the moment we got engaged, certain decisions came very easily to us, and what to do about the cake was one of them. We knew that we wanted to ask Chris’s Aunt to make it for us. She had made the most stunningly delicious three tiered cake for her daughter’s wedding just a few years previously which everyone was completely wowed by. She had also made Chris’ christening cake some 27 years before. We knew that we wanted a crowd-pleasing chocolate cake and so booked in a weekend to visit her in Plymouth to make and sample several different recipes – possibly the most fun decision making weekend!! We decided on a deliciously rich and deep chocolate flavoured cake with a chocolate buttercream icing that would be covered in ‘frosted leaf’ coloured sugarpaste. Having made a few wedding cakes of my own in my time I know what a big ask it was and how difficult it is to make something of that quantity and quality, but Barna did the most amazingly professional job and it looked and tasted delicious!!
Camilla of Camilla Arnhold Photography was our lovely photographer. From the get go she was really enthusiastic, very organised and patient. After our Skype ‘meeting’ we knew that she was the right photographer for us and would capture the natural beauty of our wedding venue. The day before she came to the venue and we walked around the garden together scouting out potential sites for good pics the next day. On the day she was just brilliant. She was so lovely and positive that Chris and I felt totally relaxed in her presence. It wasn’t just us either, so many of our wedding guests commented on how brilliant she was on the day – and that’s before they even saw the photographs! We are absolutely thrilled with our pics. They capture our day so perfectly and we still can’t help but look at them with misty eyes!!!
Firstly, I decided early on that I was going to do a ‘speechette’ at the wedding. I’m not really one for being quiet whilst others talk about me for one, and I didn’t think it fair that Chris got to tell everyone how he felt about me without being able to do the same in return. Although I was extremely nervous before giving my speechette, I am SO glad that I did. Everyone in the room is there to support you and is willing you to do well, and there’s something very special about being able to say how you feel about your amazing new husband/bride in such an intimate setting.
On a practical note, it is never too early to start crafting!! I left mine all a bit to the last minute and it made it slightly more stressful than it needed to be. If you’re doing a DIY wedding like ours, where the only thing supplied was the marquee and the food, then you need a lot of support from family and friends!! The week before the wedding was pretty stressful and we had a lot of jobs we still needed to do. My advice is, if you are not a particularly organised person, and you don’t want/can’t afford a wedding planner then get someone on board who can help you work out the logistics of the preparation for the big day. My mother is just phenomenal at the organisation of large parties (having had 5 children, this is perhaps no surprise!) and she was invaluable to us leading up to the wedding. Without her, Chris and I would not have had the day of our dreams.
I would also strongly advocate having a videographer, or a friend with a camera, recording if not all of it, then part of your day. We didn’t really think about this before it was too late and really wish that we had recorded our ceremonies and speeches.