Wedding Celebrant – A Smooth Operator! Susan Denton, Wedding Celebrant, takes us on a journey through the role of supporting couples with bespoke ceremonies!
Listen to Susan, Hannah and Sarah on the Wedding Espresso Awesome DIY Wedding Planning Podcast…
Susan Denton from Celebrate With Sue
Sarah Cammish from Elsa Rose Boutique
Hannah Larkin Photographer
James: [00:00:00] OK Susan. I shall hand over to you.
Susan: [00:00:04] Thank you very much. Right then. So basically because I have been on Wedding Espresso before, I’ve been thinking about what else I could talk about, to do with the role of the Celebrant. And…
I decided linking in with surprises, to talk about the celebrant being a little bit of a “smooth operator”.
As in, yes, we’re only in a small section of the day, of the wedding day. And it might only be 20 to 40 plus minutes, which the ceremony lasts, which is quite small segment of time. But obviously it is a crucial part of the day.
Susan: [00:00:43] So what I’ve done is I’ve just got a few photos of how this works. So for example here. I’m actually talking to the bride before the ceremony. They’d been and got married at a registry office beforehand. And then they, and all their guests came over to the woodland glade, where we were going to have the full hand fasting ceremony. So when she came over, I had a chat with the bride to be, and we talked through a couple of last minute details that she wanted to share with me. So that, you know, we were absolutely on point with what we were doing. And that was very helpful to them because as I said, it was a full hand fasting, so it was about… I actually don’t really know, but I know it was 45 minutes plus. So it was something that they had a lot to do with. They did a lot of the speaking in that. So it was good to have a little chat with them and touch base with Leanne before the ceremony started.
So that was no surprises for me, so to speak.
The next one is actually after the wedding. So it’s always nice to talk to the brides and grooms because, as Hannah said, you’ve got a very small window of opportunity there, that you don’t want to keep everybody having photos, just as they were already having their drinks and everything outside, after the ceremony. This is at lovely Rosary Court in Leicestershire. And I wanted to grab hold of them and have a quick photo taken with them, a quick selfie. But also just a quick chat with them to see how everything went and, you know, how happy they were. So that was another way of being sure that everything was as it should have been.
So it’s just keeping everything in its place, and hoping that they’re happy with the ceremony, that particular day, which is a completely different ceremony to the one before.
Susan: [00:02:45] With this one, we’d had a rehearsal. Normally I always have… If the bride and groom to be want it, or bride and bride, or groom and groom, want that, then I tend to say it would be a good idea. And we’ve always so far had a rehearsal. But sometimes not everybody can be there who’s absolutely pertinent to the ceremony. So here I was having a last minute chat with the best man, before one of the ceremonies. This was an outdoor ceremony last summer. And so we were just going through the details, and he was just wanting to have a chat with me to make sure he knew exactly what was happening, because again…
this couple were having a civil ceremony and a celebrant led ceremony within the same day. So obviously you’ve got more things to think about there.
Susan: [00:03:38] So that was useful. So again, no surprises there.
Having said that, here I’m chatting with the band who were playing some of the music during the outdoor ceremony.
And actually, there was a surprise here because the sister of the bride had organised with the bride and groom to be, that she was going to be singing a song, which was very much part of the family, and was something that was a complete surprise to the parents. So I was just having a quick chat. You can see me having a quick chat with the band to make sure that we knew exactly when the sister was going to sing the song. And in fact there were a couple of moments where actually I almost went to open my mouth, and say something, and realised that, no it was a surprise. So I managed to keep schtum. So that was the first time I’ve done a surprise. And I’ve got better at it since.
Susan: [00:04:49] Here I am talking again to the sister of the bride to be. Again this was a couple who had both ceremonies on the same day.
They had a very, very short ceremony with the registrars, in a different room, in the same venue. And then they came through to us.
And while we were waiting for the bride to get changed between the two ceremonies, I was talking with her sister about her role, and exactly what the choreography of it was. So that she felt that little bit more on point and involved. We’d had a rehearsal, but because the bride’s family came from Norway, they weren’t all in place, so we’d had a short version of a rehearsal with the bride and groom to be, the day before. But this was just trying everything together. So again, trying to make sure that everything is working smoothly for everybody. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about me, it’s about them. And that’s what it’s all about here. We’re just doing those last minute words before the whole ceremony, the second ceremony starts. So I’ve got some other shots of this lovely sister laughing, but I didn’t look so good in them, so I vetoed that one.
Susan: [00:06:04] This one is getting the certificate ready for the wedding ceremony.
So making sure everything’s in place. And obviously it’s lists and more lists. Checking things off to make sure we’ve got everything.
Because once you’ve left home, it’s going to be very difficult to go back, especially if you’re quite a long way away, to fetch something. So I find sometimes I’m putting things in the car the night before. To make absolutely sure that I don’t forget things.
So here the couple had asked for a special certificate, which I put together for them, for two witnesses.
And this was all prepped and ready for them on the table. Again, an outdoor farm, on site ceremony here. And that was all ready to go. So it was all spot on, as well as anything else that was happening. So that was a very entertaining wedding. It was very, very lovely.
Susan: [00:07:09] And then the last one.
This is the lovely couple who had the Love Actually, eight poems.
And as we said, also the lovely extra little ceremony for the mothers. The mothers also took part in a short handfasting ceremony where they tie their own bows onto the ribbon that was tied around this couple’s hands. So again the groom, as I said, had orchestrated the whole of the eight poems, and the people who were reading those. He was absolutely really very, very keen and got that totally sorted. And she had absolutely no idea. And thankfully I didn’t give anything away. So that was great. OK. Thank you very much then James.
James: [00:08:02] Thanks very much Susan. Cool. So guys what do think that brides and grooms to be should be asking Susan before booking a wedding celebrant?
Hannah: [00:08:19] I know Susan well, I’ve been following you on Twitter. I know you’ve done lots of beautiful outdoor ceremonies for couples.
I saw in the news about the budget, that there’s this idea that maybe there will be a change, so that in England and Wales, like currently in Scotland, couples might be able to get married outdoors legally.
And I just wondered how that might change things, or what your view was about that?
Susan: [00:08:44] Well at the moment obviously it’s all part of a review that’s been going on for quite a long time. Actually it wasn’t such a surprise to us. And actually what it was, it was just to draw everybody’s attention to the fact that this review is going on. That the government is looking at how Registry Offices work, and how many people are very keen, as you say, as we all are, to have outdoor weddings. For the time being, absolutely for the time being, everything stays as it is.
The most important thing about celebrants is that we do do ceremonies wherever the couple wants them.
You know, taking into account health and safety, and who’s land it is.
Susan: [00:09:30] Other than that, we’re very supportive of couples. And…
as part of our role, one of the most important things is, we’re not on a time limit.
Normally, not always, but with myself, a celebrant will normally do one ceremony a day, which doesn’t happen with registrars whatsoever. On a Saturday, for example, we will be there, and I have waited for the bride an extra half an hour to be put into her dress. I’ve waited and we’ve all waited. I’ve waited for a guest who’s been very late to arrive. And that is what happens. And that is all part of my role. And it’s part of the day. And I don’t think that that would work with registrars, because they are very much on a time limit. So I don’t think it will affect us to that point. Obviously nothing’s happening yet. So you know, that is also part of it. So I would encourage all brides and grooms and so on, to be, and the future people, the newly engaged etc, to go for it with celebrants. Book us in. Because that is part of what we do. That is what we’re here for.
It’s to give them the sort of ceremony they want, with no limits.
And also we are offering for them, you know, if they’ve got a horse, they want to bring the horse along, they bring the horse along. That is not part of the registrar’s brief at all. So you know, it is something that is happening and we’ll see what happens in the future. But for the time being, for quite a long time, I would say that we go with what we’ve got. And I’m really looking forward to the weddings I’ve got coming through next week and next year.
Hannah: [00:11:27] It sounds like it’s not just that, you know, that celebrants offer ceremonies outside, but actually even if registrars were to do that, what you offer is still much, much more bespoke, longer ceremonies and more adaptive, to include more things.
There’s still many reasons why you might want to opt for a celebrant led wedding.
Susan: [00:11:48] That’s what makes it different and so special Hannah. Thank you.
Sarah: [00:11:56] I sort of have two things to ask you. So my first is…
“do you think that you have a particular style that brides and grooms are drawn to?”.
And my second is… “What do you love most about what you do?”
Susan: [00:12:17] I’ll start with the second one, and then remind me what the first one was. I do love weddings. You know…
I’m absolutely passionate about weddings. And at the same time, I’m one of those people who likes to give.
So you know, it’s like at Christmas when you give people presents to open. I actually enjoy watching people opening my presents, more than me opening my own. So I like to… you know, it’s giving pleasure to people, and then at the same time, I’m one of those people who can give and then stop. Because it’s all about them, isn’t it? It’s about the couple. What they want. So I’m in that position where I’m very happy to work with people and give them what they want. Once we’ve got to the point where I’m working with them, and we’re preparing for their wedding ceremony. And I’m writing the script, and I’m sort of choreographing it. I write something, and they’ll come back as say actually chop that bit. But can we put that in. It’s not about me. I’ll say yes of course. It’s what you want. It’s what you want on that day, to make it as perfect as possible. And that is something that I am able to do. That actually makes me very happy, that at the end of it, they’ll come back and say well that’s really what we wanted. Another comment that people make about the couples for example is everybody says THAT was US. That was what they would have expected. And it sort of demonstrates a couples personalities, which is lovely. It sort of takes us back in a way to be like the photography as well doesn’t it? In a sense. Then, sorry Sarah, what was the second question?
“Do you think you have a particular style to your ceremonies that brides and grooms will be drawn to?”
So do you think you attract certain brides because of your style? And what is that?
Susan: [00:14:17] I do wonder about that. I think there’s a couple. I think I’ve got more than one style. I think it’s because I’ve got more than one interest. So for example, I’ll be interested in… because…
I’m interested in things like historical venues, and I’m interested in history. And I’m also interested in people in general, so I get a mix of people.
Interestingly, maybe because I’ve got a quite a varied background myself, I tend to get people who are living abroad. Or have come here from another country. Or where we’ve got a mixed culture Wedding ceremony. So I think you know, maybe that’s how I attract people. You don’t know quite how you attract people sometimes. I’ve done a ceremony at Rothley Court, I love that place. My son was married there. Frampton Hall, another place which is an absolutely fantastic Elizabethan venue.
Then the outdoor ceremonies, which are really interesting, which I really enjoyed this year. So being in a woodland glade, it’s very romantic, sort of magical isn’t it?
And then next year I’m going to be doing another woodland one, where we’re going to be looking at sort of a more of a Viking type ceremony, which is very exciting. Because I’m a big fan of The Last Kingdom. And all that sort of thing.
Susan: [00:15:42] And that’s how when you meet people sometimes, I’ve been interviewed by people, and they’ve said, oh we’ve found somebody else who’s more interested in, you know, B). While you’re interested in A). And sometimes that happens, that there will be a link between you and this couple, and something will happen.
Like one couple suddenly said what their piece of music was for their walking in, for their introduction. And it’s exactly the same piece of music that my son and his wife had last year. And also it’s one of my favourite pieces of music.
So it’s that sort of thing sometimes, it’s not just the style, it’s when you’ve met the people, you find you’ve got things in common. So it’s quite complex. But it’s an interesting question, thank you. I’m still working on that one myself.
Sarah: [00:16:35] It’s that’s connection isn’t it? It’s that connection I think we probably all have with our brides and grooms, that you attract more with your personality don’t you?
It’s that personality attraction that you have, and when you see something, and it just works. You make magic then.
Susan: [00:16:55] Yeah. Thank you.
James: [00:16:59] Speaking of making magic, there was a picture there Susan in your slideshow that reminded me of ME, talking to our celebrant just before the wedding ceremony. And Rachel and I had the super cool idea, and this amazingly ties right back to the hot topic. So we’d had this amazing idea to shuffle the ceremony all around, the day before. And then the celebrant turned up, and she said “is everything okay?” We replied, “Well, here’s kind of a new running order.” And she went white. So we shouldn’t have done it. But we thought about it, and it was going round and round and round in our minds. Thinking this isn’t quite the right order somehow, we just need to shuffle it. And we had no way of contacting her. We were travelling. So we just kind of just arrived with it, which we shouldn’t have done. But she was cool about it, and she just took a deep breath. And I think she wanted to throttle me. But she just took a deep breath, and just got her folder open, took out the pages, put the pages back in. And then we were besties again. So it was all good. It’s just the photo that reminded me.
James: [00:18:08] But what I was going to ask was… that was just an aside. We got on really, really well, and like you say, there was that magic connection there before I cheesed her off. We got on very well, and then we got on very well afterwards. But I’d, in an attempt to kind of cover all the bases, I did as much of our ceremony, or had as much input as I possibly could. And one of the things I tried to do was write a song for Rachel, as a kind of a wedding day gift. And it took me months. And it was very, very hard. But we played the song. Well my sister actually sang the song on the wedding day, and it brought our celebrant to tears. And I thought, you know, well then… it brought Rachel to tears as well. But the fact that it did have an impact, I thought that’s amazing. I was going to ask.
“Have you had this kind of situation where you’ve been very emotionally affected by another couple?”
Susan: [00:19:14] I think you have to be… you have to step back a little way. Because it’s their day. It’s their emotion, and they’re relying on you to complete the ceremony. And for them, you know, for whatever else is going to happen next. For example, they’re going to run through the woodland. Everybody’s got to prepare themselves. Because at one of the weddings, the photographers were getting them all ready. And we had all these plans about who is going to lead them and rush out. So yeah there’s always something else to come after the ceremony, isn’t there? There’s all this thinking, so yes.
What I found surprising, that has made me go “oooh”, is how many grooms cry.
That’s what I find quite interesting. You know I’m not saying that men shouldn’t cry, but what I’m saying is, quite a few of them, when they see the bride, suddenly start crying. And I just found that quite interesting. And I don’t want them not to cry. I think it’s all part of the emotion. You know, expect the mum’s to cry, or the bride, like we’ve said, to have a tear.
I mean I cried in July when I got married. It totally took me by surprise, I never expected to start crying, and I did.
I looked to my son, and that was it. I was off. Such a large percentage of my grooms have actually cried at some point. Not throughout, but a little cry in the ceremony. So I think I need to be a little bit, just a little bit back. I do get emotional. And of course the whole day is emotional. Now I’ll go home, and it’ll take me time to sort of calm down afterwards. Because it is very emotional. At the same time, I do need that step back. So I can see what’s going on. So I can support them throughout.
That’s really nice that your ceremonies have enough time for people to feel emotional, and show that, and then kind of recover themselves, and continue with the ceremony.
There’s not this kind of idea that we’ve got to rush through, or this is the next thing. It’s really nice that they can kind of feel contained enough, and safe enough with you, that they’re OK to show how they’re really feeling. It’s always so special to see that!
[00:21:34] Yeah it’s not a negative comment that I’m making, it’s very positive. You know the fact that they’re sort of taking it all in. And so whether it’s looking at the bride when she first comes into the room, or into the woodland or whatever. Or whether it’s something that they’re saying to each other. Because a lot of them are saying their own words to each other. Sometimes one of them will have learned it, while the other one will be reading it, and so on and so forth. And it’s those words that can start them, you know, maybe being a little bit tearful. So it’s very much an individual couple scenario, where they might have a little bit of a tear. But…
as you say, because they feel safe, because there’s no rush and they’re taking their time, they can step back. Get a tissue out. Have a little moment, and then step back and say “I’m ready now”. It works!
James: [00:22:36] I love the way you’ve answered that Susan actually, because that is something that I have never thought about in the last kind of four years. I thought, you know, our celebrant was emotional, but you are right in that as a celebrant, it’s also part of your duty and your job, to just be that couple of degrees detached from it. Because you’re the chief aren’t you? You’re driving ceremony. So I can imagine actually that must be quite hard at times!
Susan: [00:23:03] Yes, yes it can be. But it’s something you’ve got to say to yourself. Obviously it’s not your wedding, it’s their wedding. And then that steps you back. Whether you’re holding the book, or holding the scroll, you’ve got to be thinking about what’s the next bit. Well when we get to that bit, then when we’ve finished that bit, people are going to be coming up, and they’re going to be jumping the broom. Where’s my broom? Oh! It’s over there! And they’re being led, you know, because by that time, they might be “woow”, Sometimes that’s what happens. And you’ve got to be just that little bit cool and ready for the next bit.
James: [00:23:48] Since you brought up the subject of grooms crying, just a little anecdote then. Rachel’s dress had a pocket, and she thought it was really cool because she had a pocket in her dress. So she filled her pocket with tissues. And you know, come the wedding day, I think Rachel was quite teary coming down the aisle. And then she was really stoic throughout the rest of the ceremony. And it was actually me that burst out in all those tears. And Rachel had to dig into her pocket, in her dress, to get a tissue. Because I, in all my wisdom, I’m a detail freak, so I check everything a million times, and my back pocket is where I put my handkerchief. And I’d done the button up to make sure the handkerchief couldn’t possibly fall out of my pocket. And during the ceremony, could I get that button undone? Could I heck! I’m not going to stand here, fiddling with my backside, it doesn’t look right. So Rachel had to dig out the tissue, and give it to me.
It’s just one of those little moments, one of those little memories that are fantastic.
Susan: [00:24:45] Well that’s the other thing isn’t it? When you’re in the woodland, if you think, well I’ll need some tissues for other people, if necessary. If somebody else gets there first, that’s different. And then I’ve got a bottle of water, because if I’m waiting, I might need to have a drink water. And also things like that. And then I had the basket which, on that particular occasion I’m talking about, also had these roses in it. So they were hidden. So I had a table cloth over the top of it. But inside I’ve got the tissues, a bottle of water, the roses, and it’s that sort of thing, having that backup. You know, ready, just in case, isn’t it? Whether it’s the bride to be who’s got it, or you, somebody is ready to step forward with that tissue for you James.
James: [00:25:32] It’s like a wedding first aid kit.
Susan: [00:25:35] Yeah exactly. I mean celebrants do tend to have that, you know, the extra pen if you’ve got a certificate, all those sorts of things. It is like a little celebrants sort of Mary Poppins bag really.
Hannah: [00:25:48] Yeah. I think Photographers too. I’ve always got tissues, wipes for getting stains off dresses, extra hairpins, safety pins, you need to have what you’ve got, just in case!
James: [00:26:03] I suppose we should ask Sarah actually, do you send brides in with spares?
Sarah: [00:26:07] No. No. I do sometimes pop a few hair grips in bags, but most of my work is done before the big day. So it’s a shame really, I don’t get to go and fiddle around with hair and that. I’m lucky when I get lovely pictures back, that’s really nice. I don’t get to be there on the day. Which is a real shame. But yeah if I was there I’d have my pack of pins, my extra bits and bobs to wire it all up again!