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.
I know we’re nowhere near Halloween, but there is always the potential for wedding nightmares!
How many of these situations would you think I have witnessed as a wedding celebrant?
- A fire
- The groom forgetting the ring
- A fist-fight among guests
- The bride’s car getting lost
- A collapsing staircase
- The groom’s father’s trousers falling down
- A photographer falling over
- The Best Man two hours late because of a job interview
- The bride being too nervous to recite her vows
- The bride’s mother walking out during the Best Man’s speech
You are probably expecting me to say that I have witnessed all of them, but, actually 3, 6, 9 and 10 did not happen on my watch, and 5 happened before the wedding. However, any of these – and many, many more – could have taken place. You might be able to add to the list yourself!
In fact, there’s virtually no limit on what could go wrong. In the vast majority of cases, though, nothing at all will go amiss throughout the entire event.
In fact, most of what does go wrong is not even noticed by most of the attendees.
However, it’s natural to worry.
One solution is to use a wedding planner. You pay them to take the burden off your shoulders. And experienced ones are good at improvising solutions.
But what if
you don’t book a wedding planner?
how you prepare – and how you react – that makes the difference.
If you’ve been careful and booked professional suppliers (celebrants, venue, florists, DJs, photographers, make-up artists, caterers, the bridal car, and so on), then you should be OK. It wouldn’t do any harm, though, to ring round the week before the wedding and make sure they do have your reservation in their books! There may be some last-minute (mutual) questions too.
your peace of mind, at the very least – and suppliers are human too!.
On the day, use your checklist (you are making lists, haven’t you?!) and start early. If you have briefed your team properly, everyone will know what they are meant to be doing, where and when.
And if something does go wrong, goodwill normally rides to the rescue. Your team will almost certainly rally round, and help sort out the problem. And if the worst comes to the worst, your family and friends will surely show understanding and tolerance. Things do go wrong, after all, in life’s rich tapestry. If people see that efforts have been made to sort out the issue, then the criticism will probably be nothing stronger than a few tuts.
So relax and
enjoy your big day, secure in the knowledge that you have prepared well and
have a fine team on side. Then everything will flow and you’ll have an
unforgettable day – for the right reasons!
Weddings can be honey-traps. People on the make. Look at wedding planners, for example.
These people may well charge thousands of pounds for what appears to be about 4 hours’ toil. The work might be something you could do yourself too.
Money for old rope?
But, if we dig a bit deeper, we may actually not be talking rip-offs at all.
In reality, the wedding planner spends many hours before the wedding day, planning, communicating, organising rehearsals, meeting suppliers, travelling and dealing with paperwork.
Similarly, people often think that civil celebrants, like myself, just turn up on the day and present the ceremony. Does that justify our fee? But what about all the research and crafting that goes into the ceremony, the professionalism of the presentation, not to mention the time spent communicating so that the client ends up with their dream ceremony?
Likewise, photographers, florists, DJs and other professionals appear on the day, but don’t assume that that is the only time that they are working on the wedding!
Far from it.
Rant over. Back to the Wedding Planner!
Choosing your Wedding Planner
Ideally, you will know someone who has worked with the wedding planner and can personally recommend her/him. Failing that, their website will help, but an exploratory phone call – have a list of questions ready – will give you an idea whether you even want to work with this particular person.
Your wedding is a major event. You don’t want things getting forgotten or going wrong. So leaving things to amateurs could be a huge risk.
You can expect professionals to have experience, training and passion. Those qualities – rightly – don’t come cheap. Skill and specialisation are keys in this business, and you have to pay for these.
Wedding professionals are not like many solicitors, invoicing you per e-mail and itemising each expense. You pay the full fee and this may encompass many planning meetings, calls and consultations, not to mention countless e-mails with the client over the course of what may be a year or more.
Like a civil celebrant, again, each wedding planner values their reputation. They can’t afford to mess up, so the professional goes the extra mile to ensure things don’t go wrong. Actually, something probably will go wrong at some point in the day – that’s the way it is. But the wedding planner can reduce and minimise any negative impact.
The professional wedding planner will offer advice – not for their own convenience, but for your benefit. Their experience and knowledge can be invaluable.
You may actually save money by employing a wedding planner. If you are taking on the hire of a venue or marquee, arranging the food, drink and catering, crockery, silverware, rentals, flowers, centerpieces and the rest, all by yourself, not only will that set you back more than you might expect, but you won’t have peace of mind (especially if you are a perfectionist).
So weigh up the pros and cons, inform yourself, and do what makes most sense to you.
Holding a destination wedding can be really exciting and exotic. Flying off to a romantic spot, getting wed, bathed in warm sunlight, surrounded by your nearest and dearest, certainly takes some beating.
Do start the booking process early. The venue may fill up sooner than you’d think. Be aware also that there may be different legal requirements where you are going, which may take time to sort out. (And make sure your passports are up-to-date!)
Do plenty of research – it might pay to use a wedding planner, either in this country or in the resort you are choosing, to supply the information you may need.
Set your budget (and keep to it!). Who is paying? Do you pay for the accommodation and flights for your guests, or must they? Get everything in writing, and don’t pay for anything up-front, if you have doubts about it.
Brides, don’t forget to book airline tickets in your maiden name (unless you are legally changing your name before you marry). It can sometimes be worth dropping into the conversation that you are off to your wedding. You may just receive some lovely little freebies on the day.
A wedding-gown can be taken onto the plane as carry-on luggage (don’t wear it for the flight!). Your wedding shop ought to be able to pack it up for you.
Bear in mind that a heavy train may not be ideal, especially if you’re getting married on a beach. Flat shoes or sandals will be the best bet for a beach wedding. You also need to consider the fabric (eg chiffon or silk) of the dress, if you’re easily affected by heat.
It is worth arriving early, before your guests, so you can have a rest and acclimatise. Arriving early gives you the chance to sort out certain details at the venue.
Although venues may have their own celebrants on site (or access to some), increasingly, people prefer to know who they’re dealing with. You don’t want your wedding ceremony conducted by somebody who may not like or trust!
Consequently, some couples are bringing their own civil celebrants out from the UK with them. It may add surprisingly little to the costs you have already committed to, especially if you are making block bookings through a travel agent.
To ensure that your dreams turn into reality, so that the ceremony is just as you want it, do contact Vows That Wow, and let Michael look after your big day for you.
You don’t need me to tell you how important it is that your reception should be successful. Hopefully, the wedding ceremony will have been beautiful and memorable – and a good celebrant will ensure just that. The reception is a different kettle of fish.
Of course, an article like this cannot hope to cover all kinds of receptions – budget and size may make all the difference. I’m assuming that you’re not using a wedding planner, although I have often argued in favour of engaging one.
Anyway, here at least are a few ideas that might be helpful.
I have heard it suggested that you could have space on the RSVP cards for guests to choose their favourite song (or songs) for the reception. That way, everybody will be guaranteed to get up and dance at some time or another. Oh, do check beforehand that nobody’s choice is inappropriate!
The Personal touch
If there’s a seating-pan, a slightly time-consuming but lovely idea would be to place a sincere, hand-written note at each guest’s place. You may not get a chance later, but this way you can at least ensure you have thanked your guests for attending. They’ll surely appreciate the gesture.
Extras, such as magicians, chocolate fountains, photo booths, can add something unexpected and exciting to the event (and most of your guests, who, unlike you, won’t have been studying wedding entertainment videos and magazines, will love the unexpected bonus).
You don’t need to give any gifts at all, but if you decide to, these could be something that ties in with the theme of your wedding. They needn’t be more than a packet of seeds for the garden.
If you’re inviting little children, they could be asked to bring a favourite cuddly toy. Then if you provide a special table for these toys, the children can enjoy creating their own special party.
Depending on space, you might be able to organize a few party games. (This could actually be a possibility for some of the adults too!)
Maybe teenagers (who won’t want to be with the kiddies and certainly not with Mum and Dad!) could have a room to themselves set up with an Xbox or an area where they can sit and text comfortably during the speeches.
At least try and ensure that everyone’s first drink is free (and make sure they realise that too!). It’s nice to offer an alternative for non-drinkers such as a non-alcoholic cocktail (with the ingredients listed on a sign by the bar).
There should be enough food and drink for guests – especially if they’ve come quite a distance. Nibbles and drinks could be available for between the ceremony and reception. Jugs of water should (as it were!) be on tap.
Apart from making a wonderful souvenir for the couple, people enjoy signing a guest-book and thus making their own contribution.
Some of these ideas will fit the bill, and, if you make the necessary preparations, you can relax, safe in the knowledge that you will be offering something a little different that will make your reception stand out (and for the right reasons!)!