Charlotte Balbier

invisible kisses. a glamorous, gatsby-inspired winter wedding in manchester – rebecca & james

July 25th, 2017 | Laura McDonagh

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (30)

When Rebecca and James’ Christmas wedding dropped into our inbox we simply couldn’t believe our luck. In Rebecca we saw a kindred spirit: a girl hell-bent on gorgeousness, glamour, sequins and a festive berry lip. Plus, she tells a blummin’ good story, not just spilling all the pretty details (obvs) but also gets across a real sense of the laughter and love they shared with their guests on the day. All the goosebumps.

Our highlight? Well, that Ritva Westenius gown is a beauty – a slinky statement of a dress with a simple, timeless silhouette – and the gallery setting is something very special indeed –  but if the Brides Up North team could direct you to just one detail it would be that makeup. An education in how to do bridal glamour right there. You’re very welcome.

With images by Shane Webber.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (25)

rebecca says: We got engaged in 2015 while on holiday in Singapore (this makes us sound very extravagant – it was a treat!)  We were sitting drinking cocktails at the long bar in Raffles (as you do), munching away on the complimentary monkey nuts (as you do), when I looked down to see that one had a ring around it. Cue floods of tears from me for the next hour – the poor barmaid didn’t know what was going on. It was a complete surprise (although there may have been some, ahem, gentle encouragement from me in the months proceeding) and the happiest moment of my life (pre-wedding!)

Initially we looked at a September wedding, but struggled to match up availability of our venue and the registrar. I also had a niggling idea about a winter wedding that wouldn’t budge…after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing and wails of “But I thought we’d agreed September!” I think it was actually James who first said “well, what about Christmas?” And that was that.  We had a hankering to do something just a little bit different and we both love the festive season, so it felt perfect.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (36)

We had both the ceremony and reception at the Manchester Art Gallery. We really wanted to get married in the city centre as it’s local to us, and we both love the paintings there.  We looked at a couple of other venues but when we went to look round the Gallery, James (not normally the world’s most effusive about these kind of things) turned to me and said: “I actually feel a bit excited!” I could’ve hugged the woman showing us around!  It’s a beautiful building inside and out and such a privilege to marry there.

We loved the idea of an elegant, glamorous theme with a touch of Gatsby. With the ceremony being later in the day at 4pm and the time of year, this theme worked really well.  We considered a black-tie dress code for guests but James wasn’t sure.  In the end our invites said: “It’s Christmas, it’s evening, so feel free to throw the glitter around and GO ALL-OUT GLAM’”.  Sums it up, really!

So the colours? Hints of gold, sequins and dark jewel shades for the best men.  And the ‘feel’? Glamorous, warm, festive. We wanted our guests to feel special and essentially have a fantastic pre-Christmas party!

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (33)

I chose a simple but elegant dress by Ritva Westenius from Isaac Charles in Poynton.  It was a sample on its own in the store and when I tried it on I loved how I felt in it.  Because of our theme I really wanted something that felt glamorous and luxurious (…and a bit sexy, as I said to my slightly bemused mum) The store and staff at Isaac Charles were lovely and I’d definitely recommend them to any brides-to-be.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (18)

James, the best men and both our dads wore elegant white dress shirts, black trousers and velvet dinner jackets from Reiss.  The boys wore black and James’ was a dark blue just to stand out a little.  They all had contrasting silk scarves, pocket squares and bow ties.  I absolutely loved it; they all looked so handsome.  James was really keen for something a bit different but also a ‘non-traditional’ suit (that could be worn again for special occasions) and I think he nailed it.

The bridesmaids wore floor-length gold sequinned gowns from Jenny Packham at Debenhams.  I had such a strong idea of what I wanted them in that we ended up getting their dresses before mine. Thankfully, they liked them! They both looked so beautiful. Amina at Stockport Wedding Services did a great job with alterations for us all.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (6)

The bridal party stayed at the Midland Hotel the night before and we got ready there. It was so Christmassy and the staff were really lovely.  It’s only a (very!) short hop over to the Art Gallery but it would’ve been difficult to walk over in all our finery. Being in Manchester there was only one thing for it: we used good old Street Cars taxis! Great service – especially the bit where they pulled a fast emergency U-turn to avoid the Christmas market traffic and get us there on time!

Jodie at Jodie Makeup UK did hair and makeup for the bridal party. I cannot recommend her highly enough. Jodie really helped me to think about what look I wanted and what would suit me and we all felt amazing on the day.  She’s also very experienced at keeping brides (and their more time-conscious sisters!) cool and calm on the day.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (15)

For our photographs, we hired Shane Webber after doing some research online. On meeting with Shane, we were really impressed by the photos he showed us and thought his style matched what we were looking for: gorgeous, natural shots, nothing too ‘posed’, capturing all the little joyful moments between people. Communication was great from Shane throughout, he was friendly and efficient on the day and the photos are absolutely beautiful. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (16)

Continuing with the ‘simple, elegant, glamorous’ theme, I carried a bouquet of cream and white roses with just a touch of green asparagus fern to ‘pop’ against my dress. The bridesmaids had slightly smaller versions with the addition of some cream berries.

Ben at Venus Flowers provided both the bridal flowers and the floral decorations for the venue.  On the table we had fish bowls full of cream and white roses and hydrangeas with fairy lights in the water – Ben suggested this and it looked gorgeous; really warm and festive. He also created a wonderfully festive garland with pine and lights down the stairs we entered to the wedding breakfast. Guests commented on how Christmassy it smelt!  We kept it simple with white rose petals strewn down the aisle. I’d recommend Venus; the flowers were gorgeous and their prices were very reasonable.

Martin at The Venue Stylist organised our sequin table runners and lots of little gold tealight holders for the tables. I’d definitely recommend them, too.

Also, my dad used his lovely calligraphy skills for our seating plan and place cards. They looked beautiful and it meant a lot that he was involved in our big day in this way.

Oh, and a quick shout-out for Hobbycraft –ah, wonderful Hobbycraft. I’d never been there before the wedding and now am the proud owner of a loyalty card.  Don’t overlook them for great (and bargainous) wedding stationery and decorations!

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (26)

Last year we embarked on a bee-keeping course and learnt that the Art Gallery keeps beehives on the roof.  We even got a little tour from the manager, John Mouncy.  He also allowed us to have some of the gallery “Bee-Raphaelite’ honey for our favours, so guests all had a little pot to take home.

We were fortunate enough to have James’ best friend’s mum Jan offer to make the cake for us as our wedding present.  She did a fantastic job – it was delicious and beautiful.  You’ll not be surprised to find out that we kept it simple and elegant – a white iced two-layer creation, one fruit and one sponge, with gold trimming, petals and cake topper.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (38)

We had to use the caterers at the Gallery for our wedding meal, although this wasn’t a problem as the food was great!  We chose salmon followed by 24-hour ale-braised short rib of beef for main and sticky toffee pudding for dessert.  We wanted something a bit special for our guests but mainly something tasty and delicious, which it definitely was!

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (34)

For our band we chose Twisted Tubes, a six-piece brass band (though they can provide their full ten piece!) They do an amazing variety of covers and were so much fun – so many of our guests commented on what a great atmosphere they created. Google them! Who knew a Britney Spears/Destiny’s Child/Spice Girls mash-up on the tuba would sound so good?! We’re also very fortunate that our good friend Kev is not just a consultant paediatrician but also a DJ and lent us his skills for the rest of the night.

Further entertainment was provided on the day by the speeches. James had three best men and is the last to get married – they’ve all been best men for each other in different combinations! Over more recent years it’s become a bit of a tradition that the best men have contacted figures from the past/tenuously linked celebs to provide cards/letters/video clips for the married couple. For our wedding the boys surprised James by featuring a guest appearance from his old school headmaster in the middle of a funny anecdote. It certainly made for some very comical photos!  The speeches were great: light on in-jokes, big on laughs and love.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (39)

Rather than asking for gifts or money from our guests, we chose to make a donation page for Cancer Research.  James lost his mum to cancer when he was 21 and I lost my godmother last year.  James wrote some very beautiful words on our donation page and the money we raised is a lasting tribute to them and their memory. If you are considering charity donations we would really recommend it – it was great to see the generosity of our nearest and dearest going to such a good cause. If guests really wanted to get us a gift we asked for a bottle of wine so we could make a date to get together again and share it with them. We’ve lots of wine drinking to do!

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (35)

Following our wedding, we would certainly recommend the Gallery as a venue – it’s a unique and wonderful place for a wedding and all our guests commented on it. Drinking champagne with friends and family surrounded by priceless pieces of art was wonderful. Memorable for them and us.

When we thought about the ‘stand out’ moment of the day we both said the ceremony, which was a surprise to us!  I think we were both so focussed on the party aspect that it took us aback a bit how emotional and memorable we found it. We picked some lovely readings (my best friend did a great job of Lemn Sissay’s Invisible Kisses after much practice – I challenge you to try reading it aloud and not bawling!), my sister did a very funny and touching speech and we also wrote our own vows around the theme of being a team. It was a bit of a late decision to do so but I’m so glad we did. We kept them a surprise from each other and it was wonderful hearing the words that James had written in the moment.

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (45)

For our honeymoon we had two very Christmassy nights in Paris and then headed over to Mauritius for pure chill-out time. It was strange being away for Christmas but we really needed it to de-stress.  It actually drizzled a bit on Christmas morning (ensuring we weren’t too smug about things!) but fortunately cleared up in the afternoon in time for champers and Santa hats on the beach. If you’re planning a trip to paradise I’d definitely recommend doing something which allows you to burn off some energy and chat non-stop about the day before you attempt to chill out; it takes a while to come down from the ‘top of the word’ feeling post-wedding and it’s nice to savour it!

A Christmas Wedding in Manchester (c) Shane Weber (46)

Our other top tips to fellow Brides Up North would be – keep a wedding spreadsheet to stay on top of your budget, guest RSVPs and then to keep a record of gifts to help you out with the thank you cards afterwards. Though, be prepared for the wedding spreadsheet to become your nemesis in the final weeks before the big day. Also accept it’s probably quite normal to argue about lots of things during the planning! Finally, an “oh my God I’ve made the wrong dress decision/will look terrible/have not spent nearly enough time in the gym” moment (or three) just before the wedding is normal (or it certainly was for me!). You have not/you will look the best you ever have/you will not give a hoot on the day itself!

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about the author

Laura McDonagh
Laura is a true Northophile: she married Adam in Durham in 2011 accompanied by 200 Northumbrian lamb shanks and a Mackem 1950s tribute band who did a rockabilly cover version of Celine Dion's My Heart Will Go On. They honeymooned in Northumberland in a 1972 MG convertible, went surfing in Alnmouth and made it to the Edinburgh Fringe (let's ignore the fact that it rained all week). Her big mantra is 'no regrets'...but if she could travel back in time and wear a wedding dress with a Peter Pan collar and pockets, she'd pretty much die happy.

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