It was all started by a mouse: Helen tells her W-Day love story to Bouquet CatchMy wedding love story began when I got engaged on Christmas Day 2010. My husband proposed down in Christchurch, Dorset, on one knee on what was a very pebbly beach. After the bubbly had been drunk, the hugs with the family exchanged and the clapping died down from other people on the beach, it hit me. I needed to plan a wedding! I was so elated at the prospect of just getting engaged that my brain hadn’t thought any further.
For the majority of us when we get engaged, we have no experience of planning a wedding. It’s not covered on the national curriculum and there aren’t many training course catering to that unless you want to make a career of it.
If you’re lucky you’ve been to a few weddings and been inspired by those. You may even know exactly what you want. I wasn’t one of those people. I didn’t have a dress in mind nor did I have an idea for colour scheme. All I did know was that I wanted to get married in my hometown of Liverpool in the church I grew up attending.
So, where to start? A few weeks after Christmas I dipped my toe into the world of weddings and bought a couple of wedding magazines. One of them included a free wedding etiquette book so I got stuck in and started to read up on the subject. What I found was a long list of “this person must do this” and “that person must pay for that”. But who made those rules and why? Does it really matter? I didn’t think Great Auntie Flo would kick up a fuss if the correct party hadn’t paid for the flowers. Isn’t the point that two people are joining together and want to share that with family and friends? I certainly thought so.
Etiquette book in the bin, my husband (Mr T) and I began to plan “our day”. During my time at university, I’d gotten involved the in the campus theatre group where I produced various shows. This covered everything from publicity, costumes, lighting and making props. If only some of those skills were transferable….wait a minute. A theatre production is a large event attended by an expectant audience. You could argue that in some ways a wedding is also a production. Though I hasten to add your wedding can be however big or small you want it to be. You need to think about publicity (save the dates and invites), costumes (the dress as well as suits and bridesmaid dresses) and the set (the venue and all that comes with it). And so, as with every show I’ve ever worked on I began by sitting down and writing a big long list of everything that needed to be done to get to the big day itself. Then it was simply a matter of ticking everything off.
This certainly wasn’t a definitive list and a few other things were added as we went along but it was a good place to start.
So what would I recommend to future brides planning their day? Here are my top five tips:
1. The best things come in small packages
We chose to have our wedding reception at Aintree Racecourse famed for the Grand National. It was a big venue, easy to get to and was a little part of Liverpool history. A lot of our guests would be visiting Liverpool for the first time so it was important to me to show off my city a little.
The main selling point of the venue to us, besides the history and look of the place was the wedding package. We’d visited other venues but they didn’t provide everything and we were given lists of preferred caterers etc that we’d have to book ourselves. Given that Mr T and I lived many miles away down in London, we didn’t want to spend all our time travelling up and down the country for wedding planning. Aintree would assign a coordinator to our wedding who would be out “go to person” and as part of a package deal we would get a sit down meal and evening buffet, a drink for all guests on arrival, flowers for the tables, name cards for the table and a cake stand and knife. That was a lot of things covered off my list already. They also gave us recommendations for a company that they worked with regularly to provide lighting, cars, chair covers and much more. The company was Big Entertainments who we booked another package with for cars, chair covers, a DJ and my only real “it’s-my-wedding-so-I’m-having-it” moment light up dance floor and star cloth.
2. “I hope we never lose sight of one thing: it was all started by a mouse”
These days’ people love their vintage or alternative weddings – the possibilities are endless. Whatever happens though don’t force a theme on yourselves – go with what you want.
Mr T and I set out without any kind of theme but then one, well actually two developed. The first was our friend the mouse. The mouse was a significant factor in Mr T and I getting together. Had I not found a dead mouse on my bathroom floor one morning and then spent the next few weeks obsessing about it (including sleeping with the light on – like that helps) to Mr T then perhaps he would never have asked me out. So we felt a dedication was required but we wanted to make keep it subtle. Our save the date cards were made from a photo Mr T had taken of both of our feet one day and we thought that was a nice image to use. Thankfully, I learnt some Photoshop skills at University but even if you don’t know how to use it, there is a good chance you have a friend or two with similar skills. Websites like Truprint are really useful and often have offers on. In the corner of the image, I placed a very small mouse as our little nod to the important fellow. I also had a stamp made using The English Stamp Company with the same image so all our envelopes also had the image on. Our mouse idea also tied in nicely with the Walt Disney quote above. After all, Mr T and I are big Disney fans so we had to fit that in somewhere.
And that’s where our second theme came in. I struggled trying to find music to walk down the aisle to. Should I go traditional or choose a classical piece or something altogether different. Mr T thought it might be a bit much for me to enter with the cast of The Lion King performing Circle of Life so I crossed that off my list. If anyone follows that idea through – please can I come watch/join in!
I thought about pieces of music I liked, something that would suit the occasion but wasn’t too much. It was obvious. I was a big fan of the music from Up and loved the music at the beginning where there is a montage of the two main characters growing old together. A quick bit of Googling revealed that the piece of music was actually called “Married Life”. Sometimes things just have a way of working out.
Of course, we couldn’t have the music without adding in a few other nods to the film. Balloons were the obvious choice and so I ordered a couple of canisters of helium which came with packs of balloons via Amazon. I also ordered some weights. The plan was to have four big bunches of balloons in the church which would be taken to the reception afterwards. By buying the balloons and helium and doing it ourselves, we saved some precious pennies too. We are still grateful to one of our bridesmaid’s husband who spent the morning of the wedding inflating around 50 balloons.
The other idea we had was for our cards. Birdcages and the like weren’t our style but we couldn’t have an Up theme without a mailbox with our handprints on it just like the film. We bought ours from Mailbox Mania. Add to that some painter tester pots from the local DIY store and voila! A mailbox is born. It’s also something nice to keep afterwards.
And our last nod was via our guest book. I didn’t see the point of a book that we would put away and only occasionally look at, I wanted something we could put on display. I turned to ever-faithful Etsy for some ideas and found various large prints of trees, hearts and stars that guests could write on which could then be displayed in your own home. There was only one choice – it had to be balloons again. Instead of spending more money to commission a print, I thought this was another DIY job for me. I bought a variety of pastel coloured card from Rymans and then set about cutting out around 150 balloon shaped cards. I bought two small boxes – one for the balloons to go in on the day and another for ones that had been written on. I also picked up a few nice pens and made a sign to stand next to the boxes explaining how our guest “book” would work complete with an image. We would then use a photo from the wedding, have that blown up (so to speak) and then add the balloons on top before framing the whole thing.
3. Make sure it’s fun
It can be awkward at a wedding when you’re sat on a table with people you don’t know. The usual conversations occur of “how do you know the bride/groom?”, “what do you do?” and “where are you from?” It can make the wedding breakfast a little dull.
I really wanted my guests to have some fun during dinner and to encourage them to talk to each other. I had considered those Talking Tables sticks that give you conversation topics but that seemed a bit forced. What I came up with was a quiz that everyone could and would need to contribute to. Mr T and I came up with the catchy title of “Helen, Stephen, Both or Neither”. It was a list of 20 facts about us and our guests had to decide if the fact was about one of us, both of us or neither of us. Our facts came from various stages in our life – childhood, school, university and work meaning that guests would need to help each other out and might even need to approach another table. Guests had until dessert to complete the quiz, then they were marked with the winner announced after the speeches. As a table of university friends won, I can only assume they ventured onto other tables to find out the facts they didn’t know. There was even a prize of a miniature bottle of gin each with the reserve additional prize of chocolates should there be children on the table. All supplied via Amazon.
4. Make your own or make friends
A few months after I got engaged, my sister text me to say “I might make your wedding cake for you if you want me to. I haven’t decided yet though”. It wasn’t the firmest of offers but eventually my sister did decide to make it and I happily said yes please. In the year or so upcoming to the wedding, my sister had gotten into baking in a big way and discovered a real hidden talent in all things cake. From the taste of the cake itself to the decorations on top (you should have seen the Rapunzel birthday cake she made for my niece complete with tower). That was to be our wedding present and I was relieved that our cake was in the hands of someone so talented. It was one thing less to worry about.
Sometime after that another text came from my sister. “Have you heard of cake pops? They’re big in America”. I turned to a Google image search and found cake pops in all shapes and sizes. My sister offered to make them as wedding favours for all our guests and would match the colours in with our scheme.
And so my sister – the mother of two young children – contracted herself into making a three tier wedding cake and around 150 cake pops for our wedding. The word “grateful” doesn’t cover it. It was also a big cost saving on the budget front and made it more special knowing it was made by my sister.
If you do have any friends or family who have useful talents it is worth seeing if they can help out. Most people know people who can bake with some couples I know even having several people make cakes for them and having a variety of cake on the day.
I made a lot of things for our wedding. I’m an avid Photoshop user so was up for the challenge of putting together Orders of Service, invites, directions, tags to tie onto the cake pops, quizzes and many other things. It does cut down on cost, brings a bit more personality into the proceedings and there is something about sitting back on the day and admiring how your hard work has paid off. All those weekends when I was hunched over my laptop making various bits and pieces were worth it when I sat at our reception and appreciated all the little things I’d made.
For our invites, I didn’t do everything. I wasn’t too proud to admit that my Photoshop skills weren’t up to the job. Instead I used a company called Dream Day Invitations who had a basic design I could use and then added in the relevant information. As our colour scheme was teal – it was a hard colour to get right so it took a while to find a company who had something in the colour we wanted. Unfortunately, the company was based in Australia so I was stung a little bit with a customs charge – be warned. They created our invites and the covers of our order of service so it all matched in. All I had to do was produce the inner sheets of the order of service and an additional sheet for the invites with hotel information, directions and tourist suggestions for anyone new to Liverpool. I made sure I added cheap & cheerful places to stay up to more luxurious places should people want to make a weekend of it. I also asked a few friends of mine who were subtitlers to spell check things like my invites before ordering to ensure everything was correct.
All our tables were named after gin. Why? Because Mr T and I love gin. I’d thought it would be nice to have an empty bottle of gin on each table which would have a quiz inside it and a label with “Read Me” on it. These were tied on with some teal coloured ribbon that I bought in a local department store. It was an easy thing to put together and added a bit more personality to the tables. It was also a great excuse to drink a lot of gin.
5. Don’t stress about the dress
I was worried about finding a dress. I had no ideas, no requests, nothing. I walked into the bridal shop, scanned through all the racks of dresses and thought “oh god! I don’t like any of these!” The panic set in and all of a sudden I wasn’t sure this was going to be the fun experience I always thought it would be. And then, the shop assistant said “how about we try on one of every style and figure out which style suits you best?” It was like she’d done this before.
I then proceeded to try on every style of dress going from slinky mermaid tail type-number to full-on Disney princess. It was a lot of fun especially when my Disney princess dress wouldn’t allow me to get out of the changing room. My rule if you can’t easily go to the toilet, sit down or fit through your own front door in your dress then it’s probably not the “one”.
I went for a Mori Lee dress in the end which was weirdly the only type of dress I remembered reading about in bridal magazines. I bought it in Bridesworld, Liverpool which was the same place my sister had bought her own wedding dress many years before. It wasn’t too fussy but was perhaps more “sparkly” than I had thought I would go for. My Mum cried (in truth she cried at most of the dresses I tried) and even my Dad said that was the one. And so it was. I was glad I’d tried everything on and in some ways it worked out that I didn’t have any ideas of what I wanted otherwise my dress hunt might have been more lengthy than I thought. You don’t know what is going to suit you until you try it so my advice would be try on the dresses you don’t think you’ll like just in case they turn out to be the one.
As a tall lady, I found that a cathedral length veil was best for me and I liked the fact that not many girls choose that length anymore. It also lent itself to some pretty pictures thanks to some windy weather that day.
6. What a difference a day makes (I think that makes it 6 top tips)
Getting married is no doubt, one of the biggest day of your lives. You will feel on top of the world but what they say is true, it does speed by. So remember not to let the day itself be the focus of everything. To avoid the post wedding blues, I suggest remembering what it’s all about – marrying your other half. After all, marriage isn’t about the wedding day. That just happens to be the first day of it. It’s about every day thereafter – it’s about coming home and putting the bins out together or deciding whose turn it is to buy toilet roll. It’s about the good times and bad, the ups and downs and sharing that all with your best friend. It’s about looking back in years to come and remembering all the happy memories of your wedding day and every day thereafter.