The Offbeat Groom: Donny, Pharmaceutical Analyst
His offbeat partner: Chris, web designer
Date and location of wedding: Mini-crawl of venues in borough of Islington, North London, UK — August 17, 2012
Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We challenged every single assumption and questioned every single thing that people typically include in weddings, such as readings, music, flowers, cakes, and even rings. We then added back in the elements that reflected us and our ethos for the wedding, which was based on the idea of taking our friends and relatives out for a really nice day in London without breaking the bank. Rather than cake and flowers, which are usually expensive, we opted to spend the savings on things our guests would care about: booze and drag queens.
We couldn’t afford a large London venue, which can easily cost upwards of £7,000 just for the space alone (not including any catering!), so we instead had four smaller ones and opted for a medium-sized wedding. The Islington Town Hall, which has a beautiful historic red-upholstered council chamber, can seat a maximum of 100 guests — so that was the cap for our wedding.
As our wedding was on a Friday rather than on the weekend, we couldn’t use any of the adjoining rooms at the town hall for a drinks reception, so we had hired out the front section of The Vineyard pub across the street from the town hall. This gave us access to an outdoor garden space if the weather was nice, and indoor space if it was going to be wet.
We had tested out all of their lower-priced bubblies, but we frankly didn’t care for any of it. We were prepared to bring our own in and pay the £10/bottle corkage fee, but the pub manager came up with a great solution: serve passionfruit bellinis! A couple of jugs of passionfruit juice helped to dilute down the bubbly (which saved us money and improved its flavour), and it was a novelty. One tip for other offbeat couples: consider a cremant instead of champagne. There are a lot of great cavas and proseccos out there, and no one will care that it is not actually from the Champagne region.
Our next venue was a nice lunch at a French restaurant five minutes down the street called The Almeida. It was a lot of fun marching down the streets together, parade-style. We had sent a friend ahead of time to warn the restaurant about our arrival, and to arrange the table displays, which were essentially the 3-D cardboard letters spelling out “CHRIS & DONNY” that we had used for the group photo after the ceremony.
As we had opted for a weekday lunch instead of dinner, we were exempt from the £4,000 minimum spend requirement at the restaurant. And it also gave us a bit of negotiating power on the per-head price, which included three courses of top-notch French food, and coffees and teas. Wine was extra, and not surprisingly, everyone had drank the initial wine budget of 20 bottles of house red and 20 bottles of house white before the first course was even finished. We gave the OK to the maître d’ of the restaurant to keep the wine flowing, and were so pleasantly surprised to find out the restaurant had comped us the extra wine at the end when we went to pay the bill. You know where we will be going for our anniversary dinner every year!
After that, we went to the Florence of Islington pub, which brought us back towards the town hall where we had started that morning. This was also when the after-work crowd began to show up (since our wedding was on a Friday). Unlike in the U.S. where you have one list of guests who are with you all day, in the UK it is not uncommon to have a group who are invited for the ceremony and reception, and another group who are invited just for an evening of drinks and dancing. We have a lot of musically talented friends, so they were performing various songs in the afternoon and early evening. We had arranged to have sole use of the pub, but had a cash bar to keep our costs down. For food, we had a load of individually wrapped Vietnamese baguettes brought in for those who needed an evening snack.
The prime attraction of the evening was a performance by CJ and Lady Imelda, two very talented musicians who do a cabaret act in drag. We had seen them perform in London several times before and loved their style of music (mostly show tunes) and sense of humor.
The UK allows for civil partnerships and civil marriages to be held in civic buildings, but they maintain a very strict rule against anything religious being sung or recited at the ceremony. We were given a script by the registrar at the town hall, but had leeway to modify it as we saw fit, so we changed the order around a bit to keep people entertained while we did the boring bits of signing paperwork. We also had a friend read the Apache Wedding Prayer.
During the middle of the ceremony while we signed papers, we had some talented friends sing “The Book of Love” by the Magnetic Fields and Adele’s cover version of The Cure’s “Lovesong.” For the recessional, we marched out to “Tonight We Fly” by The Divine Comedy.
Our biggest challenge: Finding a good space in central London without paying a fortune was definitely the biggest challenge, and then finding (and juggling) four venues made it the icing on the cake. We had 90 guests for most of the day, but needed space for 150 for the evening, and we got lucky that the pub had a function room upstairs that we could set up like a cabaret. Most places had ridiculously high minimum spends. We literally checked out every single pub within a 20-minute walking radius and most pubs required minimum spends in the range of £3-5,000. We got lucky that the minimum spend at the Florence of Islington was only £1,500 to start with, but the pub manager ended up cancelling that because their kitchen wasn’t open and they wouldn’t have been able to provide any food, which would have gone towards the minimum spend.
My favorite moment: Donny: The start of the morning was definitely a big highlight. My job was to arrange a taxi for the short ride to the town hall. I decided instead to arrange for a horse and carriage to pick us up in front of the house, and I had arranged for all our friends to get there a little bit early so that they see us arrive in it.
Chris: That horse and carriage were definitely a huge surprise. And our exchange of vows was really special and probably the most emotional part of the day for me. Apart from that, it was a lot of fun seeing friends from all different parts of our lives, and from different countries, all together in one place. And we are also really glad that we got to do the ceremony and everything else in our local community of Islington.
My funniest moment: Donny: I would say the funniest part of the day was when Chris’s four-year old nephew Logan decided to use the microphone to make a few impromptu announcements of his own.
Chris: I think it was really funny once people realized what the music was that we marched in to. And the drag act in the evening was hilariously funny. I don’t think we ever stopped laughing, even while people were singing.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? Donny: The price of everything is negotiable. We negotiated on everything from our food and drinks, to our rings, our horse and carriage, and even our evening entertainment. Another good lesson is that horses and carriages can be hired from companies that primarily use them for funerals. If you leave it to almost the last minute, like I did, you can get a steep discount as long as you are not competing with any funerals that day.
Chris says: The most important thing is for the couple to be relaxed during the day. This means delegating everything that can be delegated so that you can just enjoy the day for what it is rather than worrying about things. It’s also equally important for all the guests to know what to expect for each part of the ceremony and for the day, so that they are relaxed as well.
Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?
- Photography: Pat Langford
- Charity in lieu of gifts: Children on the Edge
- Suits: Charles Tyrwhitt
- Matching silver handkerchiefs: sewn by Donny’s dad (who is a tailor)
- LEGO cufflinks: Not on the High Street
- Invitations: Kiki of Alternate Greetings
- Talented singer: Steve Whitehouse
- Entertainment: CJ and Lady Imelda
- Table runners and pub curtains: Ikea
- Venues: The Islington Town Hall, The Vineyard, and The Almeida Restaurant
Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!