Anna & Russell's scientific gothic humanist wedding

By on Mar 12th
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Photos by Lee Barrett

The Offbeat Bride: Anna, subeditor

Her offbeat partner: Russell, palaeontologist

Date and location of wedding: The Royal Institution, London, UK — 10/27/2012

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: Russell and I wanted our wedding to reflect our interests. We both have science backgrounds, so we got married at The Royal Institution, the world's oldest centre for public engagement with science, where scientific instruments hang from the ceiling, our centrepieces were selections of lab glassware and you could pose with the statue of Michael Faraday. There's a museum in the basement, where our guests had fun playing the Periodic Table Challenge. We had the ceremony in the library and we had group photos in the lecture theatre.

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Upstairs was decorated as it would have been when the institution was opened in the late eighteenth century, which gave a classic feel to the ceremony. Downstairs is more contemporary and funky, for a laid-back, fun reception. We wanted everyone to feel relaxed and comfortable, so we had no dress code, receiving line or speeches, and we didn't have a head table. Instead, we sat at a different table for each course, and tried to spend as much time as possible talking to and hanging out with our guests.

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I'm into crafts, so I knitted the shawls for me and the bridesmaids, crocheted the cake toppers and made the origami bouquet and button-holes. Russell likes vintage style and is a part-time music journalist, so he had his '70s-style suit custom-made, picked the evening band — who played '20s and '30s jazz — and put together a personalised playlist for the dancing after the band had finished.

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We're both into horror films, so we signalled that the ceremony was about to start and everyone should shush by playing In The House – In A Heartbeat, the running-away-from-zombies music from 28 Weeks Later! The science theme was also reflected in our personalised invitations, which showed us giving a lecture in the famous theatre, drawn beautifully by Dave of Love Illustrated.

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Russell and I made almost all the wedding-planning decisions together. We didn't stick with any traditions that we didn't like. We didn't have flowers, my sister made five different flavours of chocolate brownie instead of a wedding cake, we spent the night before together, and it was important to us both that we entered the marriage as independent adults, so we both greeted the guests as they arrived at the venue and we walked into the ceremony together, hand in hand (to Mercy On My Soul by Everlast).

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Tell us about the ceremony: We're both atheists, but we didn't like the impersonal nature of the legal civil ceremony, so we decided to have a Humanist ceremony. They aren't yet legally binding in England, so we had a small civil ceremony with just two witnesses beforehand. That really took the pressure off the wedding.

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Our Humanist celebrant, Mark Hayford, worked with us to make the ceremony just what we wanted, and it came off brilliantly. Mark began by reading a piece I'd written about how Russell and I met and got together, and what our relationship means to us, and he read a quote from the philosopher Bertrand Russell about marriage:

The essence of a good marriage is respect for each other's personality combined with that deep intimacy, physical, mental and spiritual, which makes a serious love between a man and a woman the fructifying of all human experiences. Such love, like everything that is great and precious, demands its own morality and frequently entails a sacrifice of the less to the greater; but such sacrifice must be voluntary, for where it is not, it will destroy the very basis of the love for the sake of which it is made.

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Although I wasn't walked in by my dad, we wanted to include him in the ceremony, so he read After The Lunch by Wendy Cope. We also had Russell's sister read Shakespeare's Sonnet 130, and our friend Dan reading Natural History by E. B. White — it uses a spider as a metaphor for love, which is appropriate because Russell is a palaeontologist working on arachnids! We also wrote our vows together, so they were similar but complementary.

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Our biggest challenge: We didn't want any children at the wedding, which caused some family friction, but we were very clear about our intentions from the very beginning, explained our reasoning and the strength of our feelings, and stood our ground. It all worked out well in the end!

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We also spent six months during the wedding planning living apart for most of the week, when Russell got a postdoctoral fellowship that required him to work in a different town. That was hard on us both emotionally and meant that a lot of decision-making had to be crammed into the weekends, which were also our only couple time. That put a bit of a strain on us and made us both quite tense. But we talked on the phone and Gmail Chat every day and checked in regularly on the wedding-planning progress, and it all came together. Luckily, Russell got a new job in London before the big day!

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My favorite moment: Walking down the aisle together and seeing everyone gathered there to wish us well, and looking into each other's eyes and saying out loud the promises we were making. It was also fabulous to spend all day hanging out with our friends and family, some of whom we don't get to see very often. I was really glad that we did our wedding-party photos in the morning before the ceremony, so that we had more time to spend with the guests who had come to be with us. That also gave us some very welcome quiet time together before everything began.

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My funniest moment: The funniest moment of the ceremony was when Russell forgot his demure "I will" responses and, when asked if he took me to be his wife, let out a loud and very enthusiastic, "YES!!" I'm glad he was keen!

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At the reception, one of my bridesmaids came to give me a hug and spilled her glass of red wine down my front. She was distraught and tried to clean me off while apologising profusely, but as I pointed out, if she had to spill red wine down a bride, she'd chosen the best wedding to do it at — it didn't show up at all on my red corset! Anyway, most of it went on my boobs, so it was pretty easy to clean off.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great?
I ordered my skirt online without seeing a fabric swatch, and when it came, it was beautiful, but the colour was wrong. The fabric was from a different dye lot to the online swatch, and it clashed with my corset. I was devastated, but when I got in touch with the wonderful Michelle of Victorian Gothic, she helped me to find the ideal fabric. She let me keep the original skirt and rushed out another for the cost of labour. The second skirt was perfect — better than I could have hoped.

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We were also a little worried that people wouldn't dance to our playlist. The worry continued on the night when few people danced to the wonderful Old Time String Band but we later found out that people didn't want to dance because they wanted to listen! In the end we needn't have been concerned — after the playlist began, the dance floor was occupied all night. And Russell and I danced away almost the whole time.

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My advice for Offbeat Brides: Make sure that you know what things are important to you and your partner; be clear with friends, family and vendors about those things, and stick to your guns. Be prepared to compromise on everything else. Try to let go of perfectionism — chances are that no one will know if something goes wrong. Split the wedding planning: sharing the load 50–50 was absolutely our best decision and kept both of us from going insane. Oh, and always get a fabric swatch before you order!

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Always communicate your expectations to each other. I get control-freaky when I'm organising something: everything is super important and has to be done RIGHT NOW, whereas Russell likes to get to things in his own time. So if I asked him to do something urgently, he wouldn't always do it right away, and I would get cross and stew about it. Eventually I confronted him about it, and discovered that he did think things were important — he'd put them on his to do list and do them when he got to them. To him, "urgent" meant by the end of the week, but he was often thinking about things in the mean time. So he learned to let me know that tasks were on his radar, and tell me if he thought he would need reminding about something, and I learned to let things go.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!