When is a wedding not-a-wedding? When it’s part one of a bigger package deal; the legal step before a grander affair. This was our approach to our civil ceremony, which we viewed as just the legal requirement before our larger church service and celebration in France, in June of next year. But then we really thought about it. After all, after Saturday 3 December 2022, we would be legally married. So, instead, we decided to make our civil ceremony the companion piece to June; a day that was no less special, just different; a starter to a main course, if you will. We decided to imbue it with all the things our big wedding wouldn’t have; little details unique to this day.
Here’s how we did it.
One thing our June wedding will not have, is this. We are inviting 130 people; our most beloved family and friends, and we are so looking forward to the feeling of grandness: big fun, big crowds, a big party. We know we won’t feel completely married until we have celebrated it with all of them. Yet that still left us craving a certain quiet intimacy. We knew we could achieve this with our civil wedding.
As hard as it was to do, we trimmed the guest list down to just immediate family, oldest family friends and the bridal party. We even kept plus ones to a minimum (only those who were friends in their own right) as we wanted to keep numbers small. What we achieved on the day was afeeling of specialness and closeness that I know we won’t get again. It gave the day a unique flavour.
Mix it up
We didn’t want the civil wedding to feel like a facsimile of our bigger wedding, or even a dress rehearsal for it, so we did things differently on purpose. One main point was that I decided to break with tradition and have my maid of honour, my best friend since the age of three, who is more like a sister, give me away. I loved being able to share that moment with her and it meant that my walk down the aisle with my father, who I am exceptionally close with, will be its own special moment next year.
I also did this with my bridal look. Having a city civil ceremony (in December no less) allowed me to lean into my more natural style (ie not a full-length Bridal gown and veil, believe it or not) and don a white trouser suit. Despite promising myself I would splash out, I actually found my perfect suit in Zara, with shoulder pads and a loose, flared cut to the trousers, which satisfied my inner Rolling Stones bride aspirations.
Cultivate a different vibe
As our main wedding is in summer, in France and in a chateau, we wanted to make the civil ceremony as different as possible. One way we did this was pick an entirely different season so we could have a winter wedding, which meant Christmassy touches throughout (my favourite holiday) and a divine roster of well-dressed guests in faux fur trimmed coats and suits.
It also allowed us to lean into London – my lifelong home- and have a distinctly city wedding. Though my fiancé and I are both – by delicious coincidence- half French, the country chateau we are having our main wedding in, is in his family, so I wanted part of our wedding to nod to my family roots. As such, we had our ceremony in my beloved heartland: North London. Our ceremony was in the newly renovated Camden Town Hall, a venue I could not recommend highly enough. The team was so helpful, friendly and welcoming and our registrar Rebecca made theceremony incredibly special and personal (she even opened the ceremony in French!).
We then moved to a quick drinks’ reception just across the road at Booking Office 1869, one of our favourite bars in London, with views of St Pancras station, where my father and I set off for our annual trips to his home, Paris. It was, as ever, supremely elegant and cosy, and the team put on such a special reception for us in a semi private area, made even more delightful by the old arches and imposing palm trees.
Lunch was in a private room at our favourite pub: The Holly Bush, which was decked out for the season with Christmas trimmings, crackers and candles. The historic pub is nestled in the heart of Hampstead, where my mother was born and raised. It is such a special place for us, and my uncle (her brother) spent a large portion of the lunch telling the story of when, as a child, he buried the family’s cutlery in the garden of the house they grew up in – just down the road from the pub. It was never found.
Keep it relaxed…
A big wedding comes with as many stresses as joys, and we wanted to relish the opportunity to have a calmer day with less expectations than our main wedding day. I got my best friend to do my make-up, and arrived there in a black cab (my fiancé got the tube). We made the invitations ourselves, kept the day just a drinks reception and a pub lunch and dispensed with formalities. We made a quick toast and largely kept the day as agreat chance for our nearest and dearest to get together and get to know one another better before the big day. In fact, it was all so relaxed that I ended up queuing in a cab rank to get to the pub after the ceremony, and, despite my friend’s pleas (‘We have a bride!’) was met with quintessential London indifference and forced to wait like everyone else.
…but have a wedding night
However relaxed we wanted the day to be, we knew we didn’t want to just head back to our flat afterwards. So, we booked ourselves a night at Henry’s Townhouse for our wedding night. I could not have asked for a better stay. This exquisite boutique hotel feels very much like a small Regency guest house (it is in fact the old home of Henry Austen, brother of the famous Jane) and each of the six bedrooms has its own special character and distinct style. We stayed in ‘Eliza’, all pink frills, rococo stylings, a bottle of champagne waiting for us on ice, a big four poster bed and a roll top bath. What more could a bride want? Oh, Nando’s. I ordered Nando’s. I’m still a Londoner after all.
Don’t forget the personal touches
Finally, perhaps the most special part of our day was the date itself. Once we knew, for various bureaucratic reasons, we would need to have our legal wedding 3-6 months in advance of our church ceremony, we decided to make it 7 months in advance, and honour my parents, whose wedding took place on the exact same day, 34 years ago. It was the most important part for me, a beautiful mirroring of their day, and a chance to honour them.
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