While I really enjoyed all the weddings I conducted in 2011 as all the couples were delightful to deal with and brought so many ideas to their weddings, I think I can be forgiven for having a particular favourite. When you read about this wedding which took place before the start of my web site and blog (probably before I knew what those were too), I'm sure you will understand why.
This is the story of Leanne and Alan.(which has also been submitted for consideration to be included in the Humanite magazine.
Article for the Humanightie Magazine
The Wedding of Leanne Smith and Alan McDonald on 4th April 2011.
Celebrant: George Caldow
One of the best parts of being a Celebrant is that I meet so many lovely people, some of whom have a very different outlook on life and in their way of dealing with adversity. This is the story of Leanne and Alan who are one such couple.
During May 2010 I was first approached by Leanne and Alan to conduct their wedding. The initial e-mail gave the clue that this was to be no ordinary wedding.
“We would like to have a Humanist wedding ceremony and have you conduct it. We are both mature adults and I am a divorcee of more than twenty years. We do have a special request that our five dogs and four horses and another owned by a friend are in attendance. The horses would be in a paddock next to the back garden.”
On our first meeting, I quickly realised that I was dealing with a couple who had a different attitude about what was important in life but who were very happy in each other’s company. In addition to the several dogs in the house, beside their home was a large paddock, stocked with horses and various fowl.
During the meeting it was apparent that both were “free spirits” who were in tune with nature and also very down to earth. As we talked about a Humanist wedding they were clear that they were not religious and wanted a ceremony with which they could express themselves about their love for each other, their friends, and their animals – though not necessarily in that order! Their initial idea surrounding the ceremony was to include their animals as “guests” as the marquee would be in the paddock and their horses would have their own vantage point to witness the ceremony. There would also be a mini fun fair, bouncy castle and pony rides for the guests. The wedding meal was to be provided by burger and ice cream van!
As we discussed the various elements of the wedding ceremony, they expressed their desire for it to be personal and about them, which, as we all know is easier said than done. The date was to be the 16th of May 2011 as it was the birthday of the first foal Leanne had bred called Faith. I then asked the question of how the bride would arrive and the dress code for the day. Leanne indicated that she would like to make her entrance as Lady Godiva on her horse!
At this point I also realised that this was no ordinary couple. Alan had not so much as raised an eyebrow at this suggestion – and I had yet to learn the dress code for everyone else, which information I awaited with trepidation! However, in the end, the discussion never quite got that far.
In January 2011, when I contacted them to begin the drafting of their ceremony, I learned that Alan had a new position within his firm and was now going to be working overseas. This meant he could no longer guarantee being in the UK on the proposed date, so it was decided to postpone the wedding till the 16th May 2012. This was not a problem for me as it wasn’t a Saturday.
Consequently, you could have knocked me over with a feather when, on the 16th of March, Leanne contacted me asking for advice. Alan had been diagnosed with cancer of the throat and was to undergo immediate treatment. They now wanted to have their wedding as soon as possible. Based on the 15 days’ notice required by the Registrar, the earliest possible date was April 1st. Leanne requested Monday 4th April as that was her birthday, to which I agreed.
We met the following Sunday to go through the design of their ceremony and I was quite surprised to see how pale and gaunt Alan had become since our original meeting. They hoped to have the wedding at their new home in Drybridge, near Buckie, but that would depend on Alan’s treatment schedule. He was to be admitted to hospital in Aberdeen the following day and they did not know whether he would face surgery, chemotherapy or both. That was a decision yet to be taken by the surgeon.
Leanne then laid down the law for the dress code on the day. As they did not know how well Alan would be, she wanted almost everyone to wear their pyjamas! That way, Alan did not have to worry about the possibility of being unable to dress up, as originally planned, in his highland outfit, and he would not feel out of place. Most of the guests were happy with this, though a few had reservations. To add a bit of formality to the occasion the Piper and I were to be in Highland outfits, but everyone else was to be in their PJ’s. Both were adamant that despite Alan’s illness, it was to be a fun and relaxed day.
Alan’s son, Ross would be in charge of the catering - a themed Breakfast with cereal, fry up, black pudding, kedgeree, croissants, jams and marmalade. There would also be three cakes; one traditional three-tiered, and two large ice cream cakes, one of millionaires shortbread and the other of lemon meringue ice cream.
In the event, Alan’s treatment commenced with radiotherapy and chemotherapy and the hospital carefully worked out the dates so that Alan could be at home for the wedding.
In traditional manner, the bridegroom stayed away from the bride on the eve of the wedding and his so-called friends arranged a surprise stag night which left him in a bed covered with pine cones and clutching a teddy bear. This all happened despite him being sober, so what would have happened otherwise we can only speculate.
On the day the weather wouldn’t play ball for an outside ceremony so we had to settle for an intimate indoor wedding by the roasting fireplace. Alan had prepared for an outside wedding and had his thermals on under his pyjamas. As we waited by the fire (slowly cooking), for Leanne to arrive, I asked Alan if he knew what she would be wearing (a sensible question, I thought, given her previous suggestion of wedding attire). Alan said he had left it to her whether classically sexy or funny, like his.
The wail from the drones, as the piper prepared to play, heralded her imminent arrival from next door. Leanne appeared, in funny PJ’s, accompanied by the dogs - also suitably attired in their very own PJ’s!
Leanne and Alan on their wedding.
“The wedding may not have been as we originally thought, but it was a great success. Despite my illness, we both wanted a relaxed and fun ceremony, as that is us. The guests had no idea it was going to be so relaxed or as much fun. The Mexican hug took everyone by surprise and broke down any potential barriers and, from that moment, we could see them relax. When it came to our story - our wedding vows, the important words about us, our friends and the way we care about each other and them - we could see those words register with them as it reflected in their faces. There were even a few tears.
After the ceremony we were able to get out to the garden for the photos and everybody was so positive about the ceremony and how they had enjoyed it immensely. Everyone then joined in helping to make the meal, and the party began. About 8 o’clock some decided to take the dogs for a walk and headed towards the village, tinnies in hand, and still in their PJ’s - as were the dogs.
All in all we had a great day and when the last guest left at 11 o’clock, we just sat and relaxed with Ross, his partner Fatima and Alan's twin brother, going over a perfect day.
We still laugh about it now. Our friends have been warned that if they liked the wedding they should wait for the next part. We were really pleased at the number of family and friends who made the effort to attend and had such a good day, even if one had to run off for a while to help his father with a calving. His father said to him “I thought you were at a wedding, what’s the PJ’s about? He couldn’t believe the answer”
What they did not say was that Leanne had heroically accomplished in seventeen days the organisation of exactly the wedding they wanted while Alan was undergoing his treatment and she was rightly very pleased with herself, as she is more of an animal than a people person.
I was immensely delighted to meet up with them again recently to find Alan looking really well and actually looking forward to returning to work in April. My only worry now is - what is in store in the ‘next part’ they promised their guests?
I’ll leave the final word to Leanne:
“My wedding attire will be the most worn wedding outfit in history - especially when the winter hits!”