Whether or not you are planning a micro-wedding or still hoping for a bigger one, you are likely to be looking for a supplier or two. Simple examples would be a photographer, florist or a civil celebrant.
How do you know they’ll be any good, and what do you need to ask them, so you can judge?
Ideally, you’ll have positive first-hand experience. Or else the suppliers come with a recommendation from someone you trust who has used them. We had our reception in the same place as an aunt and uncle’s golden wedding celebration, so we knew the venue could offer just what we were looking for.
What do you do, if none of your acquaintances can recommend anyone? Maybe your FaceBook contacts can help. If not, I’d advise you to Google your supplier(s) and have a look at their website.
The main thing you are looking for is whether they can offer the particular service you desire. In these trying times, you may also want to see their cancellation policy too.
If you like what you see, check out testimonials. Are customers happy with what you are after and does the supplier provide it the way you want it?
If it still looks good, make contact, preferably face-to-face or on zoom or Skype. Have questions ready. Availability is the first question, of course. “How much?” is important, but less so than whether the supplier will listen to, and can share, your vision.
Ask for (and then read!) the Ts & Cs.
If all tallies, then don’t forget this one: do you actually trust, like and want to work with this supplier? I usually tell my brides and grooms only to go with me, if they feel happy at the thought of being married by me.
So, go with your heart, once your head is satisfied!
To discuss this further, please contact me for a chat.
A Civil Celebrant can play an immense part in the success of a ceremony. But not everybody understands how to get the best from one.
The first misconception is that a civil celebrant is the same as a wedding, or event, planner. No, it’s not!
The planner’s job normally includes booking the venue and organising suppliers. Examples include florists, caterers, photographers, make-up artists, musicians, entertainment, and decor. Then they supervise the day itself.
Those are rarely, if ever, the brief of a civil celebrant. Our role on the day is confined to the ceremony only (although that can be responsibility enough!).
People are not always aware that we do more than just show up on the day. One thing a civil celebrant does (in common with the planner) is to put in a shift or two well before the wedding day itself.
The hidden bits
The process usually begins with an initial conversation (pre-COVID, face-to-face or, now, on Skype or Zoom). The idea is to establish a picture of what the client wants (and what is practical) and to see if a working relationship is viable.
Then the civil celebrant will put in research, as a draft ceremony is prepared, and plenty of writing. Once the draft is ready, it will be e-mailed for the client’s approval. Then there’ll be further contact. Tweaks are often made before the final version is agreed.
Well before the big day, the couple will have agreed with the celebrant the exact text of the ceremony. Thus no unpleasant surprises will lie in store. Their dream ceremony is ready.
On the Day
The one part of the day the wedding planner has no control over is the conducting of the actual ceremony. And that’s the celebrant’s big moment.
On the day, our role is to conduct the ceremony. Very occasionally, we are around for other parts (canapes, ‘breakfast’, even the reception). We can be asked to co-ordinate events like a toastmaster, but that is not the job specification of a regular Civil Celebrant.
The bit of the job of a celebrant that the public sees is on the day itself. Ideally, we arrive at the venue in very good time, check all is set up correctly, make contact with the major players (event planner, couple’s family, musicians, photographer, etc.) , meet the ‘team’ (eg Best Man and ushers etc.) and calm the Groom down! If possible, we let the bride know we’ve arrived.
Then we’re in charge of the ceremony. We conduct it from the ‘front line’ calmly, clearly, professionally and with humour (as appropriate). We co-ordinate with the other ‘actors’. We ensure the couple are at their ease. We have to be ready to react suitably to the unexpected (you’d be surprised!), and make the ceremony memorable, enjoyable and special for all concerned.
The public part of what we do only extends to the half-hour (or so) ceremony, plus the hour beforehand. But plenty of homework goes in earlier to produce the desired result.
And that’s what a civil celebrant can do for you!
Feel free to have a chat to find out how a personalised ceremony can work for you.
You usually know what benefits you will gain from a purchase. £2 may get you a newspaper. £50 may fill your car with petrol. It’s easy enough to assess the value of these purchases.
Differing sales results
Sometimes, the relationship is not so clear. What if you buy a house for half a million pounds? You’re paying for a lot of things – the structure itself, its atmosphere, the location and facilities. These are not necessarily going to be the same from house to house. And buyers are not all going to be attracted by the same things.
Similarly, if you buy a service, it may not be immediately clear what you are buying into. What does a concierge offer you? You’ll probably need to read the website or ask a few questions before you buy into that.
Clearly, you want to know that your particular needs will be met.
Choosing a niche service
If you go for something that isn’t mainstream, you’ve really got to check that the supplier can actually deliver what you’re looking for.
Most people don’t know what a civil celebrant offers. To make it more difficult, no two celebrants will offer absolutely identical services. This is because their personality, their style, their delivery, etc. will be personal.
I know somebody who is comfortable doing a “Las Vegas style” wedding. I’m not. So when I was asked to do one, I was happy to pass the client on to him.
So how does this help you ensure that you are going to get results and value from your celebrant?
What all celebrants should offer
Most celebrants will begin with a consultation. This is a chance for you to ask questions and see if the celebrant is someone you want to work with. Are they pleasant? Do they seem to care about your vision? Do they have a sense of humour? Do they seem flexible? How dependable might they be?
If you hadn’t already, you definitely should have a picture of your ceremony in your mind after talking to the celebrant.
If you don’t feel comfortable with them, then you’re not going to enjoy having them around on potentially the biggest day of your lives, so you should bow out.
If you do want to work with them, ask for the Ts & Cs. Do read them through (boring as they might be!). It’s not that the celebrant is likely to fleece you; it’s just safer to avoid assumptions.
You may want to talk to two or three celebrants so you can make comparisons.
Price should only be an issue, if your budget depends on this supplier. (Maybe you could make a saving elsewhere to accommodate the best celebrant. Quality is so important in such an event, and it’s not a good idea skimping.)
How to make your Decision
When choosing your celebrant, you should consult their website, look at FAQs, read a few reviews and look at the photos. This won’t necessarily tell the whole story, but it will give you a guide. You can then proceed to a face-to-face call (these days, more likely to be online, of course) and ask those questions.
Is your celebrant experienced? Do they project themselves well? Are they passionate about what they do? Do they listen to your ideas, or impose their own?
What USPs do they have? I read Hebrew and speak several European languages. That might be something especially relevant to you.
Answering such questions will help enormously.
Do feel free to approach me for a non-obligation chat!
Where you marry is not something to take for granted. If atmosphere is important to you, you’re going to select your venue with care. That applies to the venue of your wedding service and to the reception venue (if they are different).
When I married my good lady back in the sands of time, we attended the local register office, which was far from attractive! Knowing that, we had booked alternative venues for the other parts of the occasion. Those choices mattered to us.
The obvious choices
If you go down the full religious route, you’ll use your religious building. It’s simple enough.
It’s almost as simple if you’re having a Register Office wedding. You make an appointment to attend the office, with two witnesses. A quarter of an hour later, it’s all over. (Incidentally, pre-COVID, Registrars would come out to some venues – though at quite a price!)
You don’t have to be bound by those two alternatives. You can opt for the civil celebrant route, and then it’s a different ball-game.
This doesn’t negate the Registrars. You still have to get legally married first. That means making an appointment before the ceremony (as above).
The difference is that now you can also have your personalised ceremony – in the venue of your dreams.
And that means almost anywhere! It could be in your back garden or (with permission, of course) in a field next to a canal, up the Shard, at Stonehenge, by the seaside, in the Savoy Hotel, in a hot-air balloon – well, you get the picture! Do bear in mind dear old social distancing!
If you’re arranging the ceremony yourself, you’ll need a celebrant, and probably suppliers such as florists, photographers, make-up artists, caterers, etc.
You may want to hire a wedding planner. For the extra cost, you get peace of mind. Depending on the package you agree, every detail can be organised and overseen for you.
Regardless, you need to get permission/pay for the venue you may be using.
All this should be arranged well in advance – generally, at least a year ahead, as some of the suppliers get booked up quite early. Maybe even earlier in the new world we’re living in.
With all suppliers, try and get first-hand reports from people who have used them. This may be word-of-mouth or website reviews, but speaking to them directly is important. You can ask your questions and get a feel for the supplier’s attitude.
Remember good old health and safety – especially if you’re organising everything yourself. (No trailing wires; ensure there are sufficient toilets; check signposting, observe social distancing etc. etc.)
The bottom line is that you really can choose where (and how) to mark your big day. Of course, if you need any advice on the ceremony, just contact your friendly neighbourhood celebrant!
It is well-known that working with animals or children can be to court disaster.
As a civil celebrant, I am exposed to such risk almost all the time!
Regular readers of my posts may recall the wedding when a dog took a starring role.
Upstaged by a Canine
One couple wanted their dog, Blue, involved. The plan was that he would be the ring-bearer. However, his appetite was notorious, so it was deemed safer for him to be appointed “page-dog” instead. As he arrived, escorting the bride in, he suddenly broke free, sprinted up to the front and made a huge fuss of his owner, the groom. Lots of mutual love and affection in evidence. Of course, Blue ruined the bride’s entrance and stole the show – but nobody really minded!
I won’t even tell you how many times screaming infants – even at a funeral – have disturbed ceremonies. Somehow we get through it.
Other issues can be less predictable.
At a naming ceremony, a 12-year-old boy stood up to read one of the poems I had suggested. (This had been agreed in advance with the family.) What nobody had thought to tell me was that this boy was highly dyslexic. I could have picked a much simpler poem, had I known, or e-mailed it to him in advance, so he could practise.
Nonetheless, the boy showed remarkable courage and perseverance, but he did totally massacre the reading!
On another occasion – a big wedding – the couple were fairly unhelpful (throughout), but they’d told me the name of the ring-bearer and knew I was to call him up. However, I wasn’t introduced to him and failed to locate him beforehand among the 200 guests.
By chance, I did spot a boy, Alexis, (aged about 6), beautifully dressed up, carrying a velvet cushion. I asked him whether he was the ring-bearer. He didn’t know. He only knew that he didn’t have any rings and didn’t know what the cushion was for.
The ceremony began. Once we reached the rings section, I invited up the person named on my script. Nobody moved. No response, even when I repeated the summons. The couple beside me didn’t react. On the spur of the moment, I called out Alexis’ name, and he duly arrived – complete with cushion and both rings! Success!
I have seen pictures of releases of doves and of butterflies. I am not fully sure about these, as I don’t know if inadvertent cruelty might be involved in using them. In principle, I think working with animals or birds of prey is probably OK, and can add some real character and charm to an occasion.
However, the risk of something going wrong is quite high!
The only time so far that I have worked with an animal, it was a bird. To be precise, Dusk, a barn owl. Her role was to fly up to the bride (from behind the unwitting guests) as soon as I placed a large leather glove over her wrist. Dusk would carry a small bag containing the rings. Once this had been removed, the falconer would dangle a piece of raw chicken and off would fly Dusk.
We did have a rehearsal on the eve, and it went like clockwork.
We took precautions, though. On the day, in my pocket was an extra bag with rings, just in case, but Dusk seemed to enjoy herself and behaved impeccably!
As the falconer said, these are actually wild birds, so their behaviour cannot be guaranteed, but I would happily work with Dusk again.
Even though she did upstage me!
I do like the fact that people have the choice to personalise their wedding (or ceremony) in whatever way they wish. It doesn’t have to include animals, birds or children, of course. The type of venue may make the ceremony stand out sufficiently.
There are some lovely rituals you can include that will make your wedding really different. A handfasting is just one example. Other possibilities include Unity Candles, a Sand Ceremony, the Loving Cup, and more. Your civil celebrant can explain these or suggest others.
Personalising the ceremony
Other ways of ensuring a tailor-made ceremony might encompass the choice of music and also readings. You can include the couple’s “story” or make use of selected participants (such as Blue!). Or even put in something unusual. Mid-ceremony, if the couple have drunk from the Loving Cup, everybody could be served some drink (if it can be done logistically) and then rise to drink a toast to the couple.
So there are many features you can incorporate or amend to make your big day really stand out. If you need ideas, your celebrant should be able to help you, but the important thing is to do what YOU want to do!
Photo: Matt Penberthy