Four Weddings and No Funeral in 2020

My favourite film

If you’re a certain vintage, you may remember watching the 1994 film Four Weddings and a Funeral at the cinema. This iconic Richard Curtis blockbuster weaves its way through the lives of Charles, played by Hugh Grant, and his group of friends as they negotiate the challenge of attending multiple weddings over the course of a year. Each couple’s journey to the altar involves a heart-warming back story. And each wedding its fair share of hilarious, and often excruciating, moments.

The characters are eccentric and outspoken, yet lovable. Charles is engaged to the hideous Henrietta who believes he is a ‘serial monogamist’. I laughed from the first few seconds into the film and didn’t stop apart from three weddings in. Here, the enigmatic Gareth suddenly dies of a heart attack on the dance floor at a wedding, and I shamelessly snivelled into my hankie as Matthew, his husband, recited Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ poem. Charles’ progress to the altar is bumps and hiccups along the way. Finally, Charles stands in the pouring rain with his destined partner for life, Carrie, who, living her own fairy tale, utters those immortal words: ‘Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed!’

The four weddings I photographed in 2020 post lockdown

I have been reflecting on the weddings that I have photographed this year after lockdown restrictions got partially lifted. Like the weddings in the film, there was something triumphant about each of them. All showed immense effort, heart, spirit and gritty determination. And all proved beyond any doubt, that that love conquers all obstacles. In 2020, sadly, the obstacles were less a case of ‘bumps and hiccups’ like in Four Weddings, more of an asteroid-hitting-the-earth-type scenario!

In this blog, I am sharing the stories of the weddings I photographed. Importantly, I have not chosen to simply regale the stories from my perspective as a photographer. Instead of this, I will explain to you how it feels as an outsider attending these intimate gatherings or ‘micro weddings’.

I hope that if you are reading whilst attempting to plan your own wedding this year or next, you take some comfort in my ‘outsider’s’ view of what I consider have been some of the most touching and magical events that I have ever photographed.

Four Weddings no. 1 – Jenny and Chris – Norwich Castle – 6 August 2020

The Pre-Wedding shoot

Jenny and Chris wanted a pre-wedding shoot at Whitlingham Broad. We had agreed that given the restrictions, we would make the most of our time at the broad and get a really great selection of images. We wandered around Whitlingham for a couple of hours, chatting whilst I captured some images. I instantly took a liking to them both and found them pretty cool individuals. Then, I saw them look at each other and let’s just say the atmosphere changed…. these two literally sizzled together!

The location had a special significance to them as it was where they first walked and talked on their first dates. Jenny had prepared by perfecting the art of swiftly changing into a wedding dress, which she did on the banks of the broad with all her modesty intact. She had just arrived from the hairstylist and her hair-up was a sheer work of art. At that point, I knew the sinking sun would make the couple look even more glamorous.

First Impressions

We wandered around the broad, and I started photographing them in the early evening sun. As we walked, I asked them what they thought of each other on the first date and they both laughed. Apparently, Jenny thought Chris was too hot for her, and Chris thought the same about Jenny. Thank goodness they managed to ignore those inner chimps and pursued a relationship anyway!

As time went on, I was getting very anxious about Jenny’s stunning wedding gown getting dirty as we walked over the muddy ground. In comparison, Jenny continued to walk tall and very serenely around the park. I felt that this was a lady who just wanted to marry her man; other details were of no consequence, and I loved that. Their cute pet pug joined at the end of the shoot wearing his best bow tie.

The Wedding Day

The wedding took place a few days after the walk at Whitlingham. I arrived at Norwich castle and stood with a small and exceptionally friendly gang of friends and family, who were waiting patiently for the couple’ arrival. It wasn’t unusual to be waiting on this particular bride and groom. The family affectionately explained to me that the couple’s cool and laid-back attitude extends to their timekeeping. We created a fun image of everyone staring at their watches, patiently waiting for their arrival. And arrive they did, looking stunning as usual!

The museum tour

Norwich Castle had introduced some changes to adhere to social distancing measures. The new route into the castle for the wedding party was via a side door. This led past a variety of the museum’s exhibits. Most memorably for me, we walked through the Natural History section of the museum. This dark and somewhat morbid display of stuffed animals used to literally give me nightmares as a child. I remember that you used to be able to press a button to hear a corresponding lion’s roar as you looked into their hungry eyes, (that’s if you weren’t terrorised enough). I smiled to myself as the tiger looked menacingly after the couple as they walked through the doorway. Ha! You don’t scare me now, not much anyway.

The walk had an air of Night at the Museum about it and was a wedding photographer’s dream. The stunning Colman Gallery perfectly mirrored the class of the wedding party. After the ceremony we wandered up to the stunning castle gardens for more photos. There were a few more clicks of the shutter and lots of laughter and chat in the sunshine. The relaxed vibe continued as the wedding party left for a chilled celebration picnic in a park. I felt this was such a fitting end to the day for a beautiful and super cool couple.

Four Weddings no. 2 – Ana and James – Foxton, Cambridgeshire – 8 August 2020

The setting

Ana and James live in a glorious location in Foxton, a typically English rural village situated between Cambridge and Royston. James’ sister Claire welcomed me on arrival, with a tour around the couple’s spectacular garden. Ana clearly has a flair for design and styling. She had decorated the entire garden, in the most beautifully crafted, colour-coordinated bunting, signs, mirrors, tree hanging ornaments and flowers. It was awe-inspiring that the couple had painstakingly created all of it themselves. James and Ana had set up a video link between the church and their back garden. And family and friends watched the proceedings under a gazebo.

The international gathering

Ana and her family are Romanian. The lockdown had resulted in her mum not being able to fly to the UK to be with her daughter on her wedding day. Whilst this was very sad, the tenacious and beautiful Ana ensured her mum shared in every key moment of the day by using a strategically placed mobile phone. Mum and various other members of Ana’s family watched all the festivities as they unfurled from their comfortable sofa in Romania. One of the enduring memories I have of the day, is of Ana, looking happy to burst, laughing with her mum on the live-linked phone, totally oblivious to all others around her.

Continuing the theme, Ana’s bi-lingual sister translated the speeches using the same international link-up. I felt very honoured to be witnessing all those intrinsically special relationships and close family bonds coming together on the day through technology and through Ana & James’s determination to make things work out right for everyone they love.

The little ones

As usual at weddings, the children stole the show by putting a comical slant on the game of croquet. They frolicked around the garden and dropped like flies from exhaustion on the grass. The purple smoke bombs were a triumph too. James was the brave soul who held them proudly aloft for the group photograph. Speeches involved that heavenly mix of simultaneous laughter and tears. There were numerous videos from friends sending their own tributes from across the globe. The best thing about attending a fabulously uplifting wedding, is that some of that magical sparkle lands on you too. As a result, I grinned all the way back home to Norwich.

Four Weddings no. 3 – Jessica and Jay – Southwold – 23 August 2020

My first Humanist ceremony

The pandemic was just one of a number of reasons that meant getting to their wedding day and being surrounded by all their close family members was an achievement in itself for Jessica and Jay. They selected their beloved Southwold as the location to tie the knot. The family rented a cottage on the quayside. The soundtrack to their day was the clanking of the sailing boats and the gulls overhead. It was an idyllic spot and the sun shone down on the wedding party. The ceremony took place in the front garden of the cottage.

Jessica and Jay had chosen to have a humanist wedding ceremony. There was a magical moment as barefoot Jessica stepped out of the front door in her beautiful bohemian wedding dress. As Jay caught sight of her about to walk down the ‘aisle’, he broke down with emotion. I found myself concentrating very hard to avoid doing exactly the same. Clearly they hadn’t hired a hardened wedding photographer!

The children led the guests in demonstrating how to carry out the different elements of the humanist ceremony. One of these was the symbolic ‘ring-warming’ where the young people carried the wedding rings around to everyone, for each to hold briefly and imbue with blessings and good wishes.‘ (See other Humanist traditions here.)

Champagne and a trip to the beach

After the ceremony, I photographed the guests as they assembled by the water’s edge to open the champagne. Jay assumed hero status as he caught the descending cork on its way down to earth. Heading back inside the cottage and with the sun streaming in, Jessica and Jay opened their gifts. This entailed distributing lottery tickets out to their guests. Impromptu speeches followed, as did the tears, laughter and memories. After the champagne was disposed of, the wedding party walked down the quayside to the beach. During their stroll, holiday-makers congratulated the couple en route which was very touching.

I decided that the photographs deserved to be free of any traditional shackles as everything about this family was unique and special. To create some unique action shots, I asked the children to run over the dunes past the wedding couple. With enough energy between them to power a small village, they obliged several times! I think these shots mirror the energy, exuberance and character of this amazing family.

Photo opportunities

On the way back to the cottage, the family stood on a beach wall and I photographed them posing for a photo in the gleaming sunshine. It was too tempting an opportunity not to create a wedding party group photo by the public social-distancing notices. We all had fun creating images of the family standing in empty up-ended boats. Jessica posed by the ‘Wicked Lady’ fishing boat and Jay crafted a painted pebble for Jessica, commemorating their wedding day.

As a fitting Southwold finale, the party tucked into the best fish and chips that I have ever tasted. They laughed and joked, and shared happy memories. I left this flamboyant, inspirational family to head back to their cottage. They needed to crank up some music and cut their wonderfully cute mouse wedding cake. I drove home, amazed by their resilience and zest for life. I vowed to create a T-shirt with the slogan ‘Be MORE LIKE JESSICA and JAY’.

Four Weddings no. 4 – Sarah & Sam – Bressingham Hall & Gardens – 12 September 2020

Father Ted’s Christmas Tree

Like numerous couples in 2020, Sarah and Sam’s journey to make it down the aisle had been upsetting. The couple had to make significant changes to the scale and agenda. This involved a radical redesigned of the schedule and guest list, clearly a difficult and heart-rending task. The shifting sands of the government guidelines. It must have felt akin to Dougal of Father Ted fame, watching the intermittent flashing Christmas lights: ‘Wait, that’s it. God, they’re gone again. Right, one minute Ted, keep it like that! No, gone! Oh God, Ted! That’s it, Ted! You’re a genius! There again! Wait. Gone. Back. Gone. Back. Gone. Back.’

Sarah and Sam are made of tough stuff, fortunately. The couple persisted with their plans through all the uncertainty that seemed to increase daily and exponentially. Certainly, when the day arrived, it felt all the sweeter. Let me explain the story of their special day.

The big day

Sarah and Sam had an extended run of Bressingham Hall for their big day. Family members and friends slept at the venue the previous night. They woke up to a stunning summer day. Sarah’s mum had arranged for bacon butties to give everyone the necessary fuel for the day ahead. The mouth-watering smell of bacon filled the bedrooms. Sam’s two best men paced the gardens earnestly cramming to perfect their joint speeches. The girls dressed in curlers and matching silk robes, wrestled with a champagne bottle that didn’t want to open.

Time literally flew by and the bride had to change in super quick time into her beautiful peach-pink wedding gown. Dad could not contain his emotions as he spotted his daughter starting to descend the stairs. It was such a magical and intimate moment. Sarah met more gaping mouths as her page boys and flower girls watched her walking towards the High Barn. The ceremony was conducted beautifully. And just seconds after it ended, Sarah jubilantly lifted her bouquet in celebration in front of the guests. With this gesture and a radiant smile, her face said it all. ‘We’ve done it! We’re married’!

Afternoon tea and parasols

Sarah and Sam planned for socially distanced family bubbles in the garden. They served a mouth-watering afternoon tea laid out on beautiful three-tier plate stands, each laden with sweet and savoury treats. Sarah received a gift of a stunning lace parasol that she used to shield herself against the sun. She strolled around the garden chatting to the guests, looking like a very elegant Edwardian lady. The well-rehearsed speeches caused riotous laughter which rippled through the wedding party like music. With everyone warmed up by the sun and the entertainment, it was time for another treat…

Max, Midnight, Daisy, Britannia, Albert & friends

The wedding party headed to the Bressingham Steam Museum for the icing on the proverbial wedding cake. A photographer’s dream location, this must be right up there in the list of the best ever. Here all ages and mobility levels enjoyed a ride on Bressingham’s 123-year-old Gallopers. These classic fairground ride horses, race around on the Carousel at a heady six revolutions per minute and swinging out at 15 degrees.

All the rides were accompanied by the ancient organ banging out old classics like Abba’s ‘Waterloo’ and it’s amazing just how many generations know all the words to this track. Everyone laughed as they rode on their own Galloper, each with a unique name, including Max, Midnight, Daisy, Britannia and Albert. It was very uplifting to watch the wind in everyone’s hair and the sinking sun washing over all those happy expressions. After the final turn of the Carousel, I drove home feeling exhilarated and happy that another couple had bravely swum against the tide and celebrated their dream wedding in 2020.

A chat, a coffee and a bun

I hope this blog has inspired you to carry on plotting and planning your own celebration.

With every event I photograph, I continue to learn about what makes a great celebration. I can offer you information and advice if you are planning or re-planning your wedding. We are very much all in this together and I want to help you to translate the COVID guidelines and understand what you CAN do.

We can have a chat on Zoom, or you could even pop around to my studio for a coffee and a bun! You’d be most welcome.

And I hope you remember that love really can conquer all!

If you would like to chat, coffee or a bun, or all 3, please contact me.

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