March 30th, 2018 | Laura McDonagh
The prosecco is chilling in the fridge, the cupboards are stacked high with hot cross buns and we can literally hear the bells of the Lindt bunny ringing aloud – Easter is here, and so it’s a weekend of socialising and indulgence for us. But just before we down tools for the Bank Holiday, we’re opening an obligatory bag of Mini Eggs and poring over this afternoon’s stunning real wedding.
Here at Brides Up North we’re a sucker for stunning church shots, and Helen and Will’s big day really pulls out all the stops – the stained-glass windows, columns and nave are soaked in history and grandeur, plus there’s the heart-warming story of the Canon who couldn’t have been more welcoming. Their reception followed at Whitley Hall, and wandering peacocks, live music and a gin fizz or two made for the perfect evening celebration.
Helen’s vision exudes elegance – all-white florals, a seriously classy duchess satin and lace gown – but there were also plenty of personal touches; from her grandmother’s wedding ring which she wore on the ankle strap of her shoe, to her love for Newcastle United (haway the lads!) being reflected in the black and white colour scheme.
With images by Stu Ganderton Photography.
helen says: We got engaged around midnight under the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Will had surprised me with the trip for Christmas, and we went at the end of March 2015. He had carried the ring with him all day, looking for a perfect opportunity. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen – the weather was terrible and he kept setting off security alarms due to the hidden ring! He had to send me on in front of him when we were going into galleries! That evening, he took me for champagne at the Moulin Rouge. It was a fabulous evening. As we walked back to our hotel, I felt a tug on my arm. When I turned around, he was down on one knee. I was completely overwhelmed, and I think I cried for days! When we got back to the hotel, they wouldn’t serve us champagne as they were just closing the bar – miserable lot! However, they did have a vending machine that dispensed champagne, so we were able to toast our engagement.
Our wedding was 5th August 2017. We wanted a summer wedding so that we could enjoy a honeymoon – I’m an assistant head at a secondary school, so I can only go away during holidays.
Our ceremony was at Sheffield Cathedral and our reception at Whitley Hall, Sheffield. The Cathedral was Will’s idea. A church ceremony was very important to me, but as Will has previously been married and divorced, some churches refused to marry us. After a rather rude vicar declined our request to be married at his church, Will took it upon himself to find a way. We attended the Sunday service at the Cathedral and met with Canon Chris. When we explained our situation, he couldn’t have been more welcoming or understanding. We became members of the congregation from May 2015, and we remain so today. The Cathedral community immediately welcomed us, especially Canon Keith, who married us. He spent hours getting to know us and he performed the most beautiful ceremony. To be married in the heart of the city was so special to us, as it was where we first met and bought our first home together.
We visited several reception venues before we went to Whitley Hall. None of them quite met our expectations, whereas Whitley exceeded them. We wanted somewhere elegant, classy and with character. The staff were so accommodating and helpful, and they were able to give us the date wanted. We were guaranteed access to the beautiful walled gardens and the main banqueting suite. We also felt that the rooms were reasonably priced for our guests.
My nana picked my wedding dress, but she sadly passed away four months before our wedding. She was a huge part of my life and she was a big miss on the day. She insisted on paying for the bells to ring at the Cathedral, so she was definitely part of our ceremony. I wore her wedding ring on the ankle strap of my left shoe, so that she was with me every step of the way.
Styling-wise, we wanted our wedding to be simple, striking and elegant. The tables had tall vases with white oriental lilies and greenery, tea lights and a few crystals. Our colour scheme was black and white. It’s a striking and clean-cut combination – and I’m also a Newcastle fan!
I chose a beautiful gown from Nora Eve in Chesterfield. It was the third shop we had been to and nothing had quite met what I had in mind. I wanted something very plain with regards to detail, but with a dramatic silhouette. When I came out of the changing room wearing it my mam, nana and sister (my maid of honour) were all in agreement that it was ‘the one’. I hadn’t wanted lace, but I loved the delicate bodice of the dress with the duchess satin skirt. My nana had the final word, and that was that! I also picked a full cathedral veil to suit the venue. My hair was styled by Amanda from Face2Face – she was very reasonable and accommodating.
Will had a bespoke three-piece suit made via Moss Bros. He wore a white shirt with a cutaway collar, white cravat and pocket square.
My only bridesmaid was my little sister, Lauren. She wore a handmade black gown in a design similar to mine. We didn’t have any ushers, but Will’s little brother Ed was our best man. We wanted them each to have a special and unique role in the wedding as they’re the most important people to us. They also wrote our profiles for the website that we met on nearly eight years ago, so if it wasn’t for them we probably wouldn’t have met! The best man and our fathers all wore a black three-piece suit, dress shirt, silver cravat and pocket square from Moss Bros suit hire.
I travelled to the Cathedral in a white Rolls Royce Phantom. We also hired two Mercedes to take my mam and sister in one car, and Will’s mum and stepdad in the other. We hired them from Cupid Carriages, Sheffield.
Our photographer was Stu Ganderton. We only went to one wedding fair, and it was worth going to find Stu. His approach was professional from the moment we met. We both loved his journalistic style, rather than pages of staged photographs with gimmicks.
He met with us in person and talked to us on Skype in the run up to the wedding, to make sure that he had a good understanding of us as a couple and what was important to us. He contacted the Cathedral and met with Canon Keith to ensure that both parties knew what each needed during the ceremony. He was with us for virtually 12 hours on the day and captured every stage beautifully. The really subtle shots sit alongside the dramatic and are very moving. He certainly has the wow factor, and yet is very reasonably priced. Stu takes his work very seriously and will strive to give you the very best – we would absolutely recommend him.
Our flowers were provided by Fantail Designer Florist, based in Sheffield. I met with three florists and explained exactly what I wanted in my bouquet, buttonholes and centrepieces. Sam was the one who really listened to me and clearly had the experience and confidence to deliver.
I had a cascading bouquet with lilies, freesia, and crystal blush roses, all in ivory and green. My sister had an overarm bouquet of calla lilies and bear grass, the ladies’ corsages were calla lily, rose, freesia and foliage. The buttonholes were a simple calla lily with looped bear grass and foliage. I also paid for a smaller bouquet to throw, made up of the same flowers as my main bouquet.
We had three pedestal arrangements for the cathedral and a large top table centrepiece created with the same combination of flowers used in the bouquets and corsages. Each of our ten tables had tall vases containing white Asiatic lilies and bear grass. Sam delivered and arranged all of the flowers at the Cathedral and Whitley Hall on the morning of the wedding – she was amazing!
Designs by Daykin did an excellent job of our invitations and table stationery. All handmade and exactly how we wanted them. They even sourced paper from India! For favours, we gave out lottery tickets in personalised envelopes.
We chose a four-tier sponge wedding cake. Each tier was either chocolate fudge or lemon.
We linked its design to other aspects of the wedding, with a black fabric sash flowing down the front, and sugar paste flowers matching the specific flowers in our arrangements. The detail was phenomenal. Janet Morwood Wedding and Celebration Cakes made it for us and I would highly recommend her. She was so professional and really paid attention to what we wanted. Her cakes were delicious too!
We had a gin fizz welcome drink and canapes in the gardens when the guests arrived at Whitley Hall. We then had a three-course wedding breakfast, with red and white wine throughout and champagne for the toasts.
We hired Beverly Savarin to sing at our reception. We had seen her perform a few times before and we were blown away by her talent. She sings a range of artists, but she specialises in Whitney Houston. I’m a huge Whitney fan, so to have her sing our first dance was incredible! She sang I Have Nothing from The Bodyguard. We hadn’t told our guests about her, and they thought it was just a CD playing. She finished her set with a tingling performance of Nessun Dorma, which had everyone mesmerised. She really added the wow factor to our reception. Following Beverly’s set, we had a disco.
Will and I had dancing lessons in the runup to the wedding to try and do justice to Beverly’s live vocals. We really pushed our boundaries, but I think we did a good job! Again, people weren’t expecting it, so there were plenty of gasps and cheers!
Will arranged the honeymoon as his wedding present to me. I had no idea where we were going until after the wedding breakfast, when he whisked me away for half-an-hour to show me a video he had made. He took me to Miami to stay at the famous Fontainebleau Hotel. Frank Sinatra and many other stars have performed there and Sinatra was my grandad’s idol so is really special to me. It’s also where part of The Bodyguard was filmed – where she sings I Have Nothing, linking to our first dance. It was amazing! He’d booked a convertible Mustang from the airport, trips to the Everglades and we swam with dolphins. A real highlight was driving down to Key West for a weekend. It was the trip of a lifetime; I feel very lucky!
We would absolutely recommend both our ceremony and reception venues to other couples following our wedding. The Cathedral was just spectacular; the warmth of the ceremony and the beautiful choir really took our breath away. Whitley Hall managed the day perfectly: the staff went out of their way to accommodate our needs, it’s such a beautiful venue and there are even peacocks!
My most memorable moment from the day was walking into the Cathedral on my dad’s arm with my veil over my face listening to the choir sing The Prayer. The moment I turned to walk down the aisle to my future husband was when the emotion really flooded over me. Every other moment was special, though – it’s hard to isolate one over another.
My top tip to other Brides Up North would be – make time for each other during the day, even if it’s just half an hour. The day really will disappear in front of you, so make the most of every moment!
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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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