Growing up, our families had always been ridiculously close. With only a year between us (me older, but not wiser), Abi and I were inseparable. Despite being cousins, our relationship was more like sisters who happened to live in different houses. From holding hands at Disneyland Paris to holding hair back in Cardiff’s Live Lounge toilets, we’d seen each other through the best of times and the worst of times, from family divorces to hair-spraying our fringes until they became a solid forehead lid.
And then there was Geraint. I first met him on the dance floor of our hometown’s worst nightclub. It was 2012, I was 18, and our highly anticipated introduction (he was cooler, older and had an EP on iTunes) was interrupted by an ex-boyfriend of mine throwing a punch at the guy he thought I was seeing. Geraint and I fled to
safety the pub and we bonded over our shared, um, 'danger' and our love of Abi. The rest was history, and six years later on Boxing Day, they’d announce to the whole family that they’d just got engaged on a wintry walk up our local Welsh mountain.
Fast-forward to spring 2019, and their wedding preparations were well underway. Abi and Geraint, like the 52% of Brits who responded to the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey of 2018, don’t see themselves as belonging to any religion. And like two-thirds of the British population, they never attend ordinary religious services. So with no desire for a traditional or religious ceremony, Abi and Geraint planned one that could be as informal, fun and laid-back as possible.
Before the wedding in Tuscany (they did the official bit first in Greenwich), Abi sent me the longest message of all time, saying that seeing as their wedding was so informal, they wanted to be married by someone they loved, not a stranger. They wouldn’t need anyone to be officiated, or do anything legal. She went on to say that since I’d been her first ever best friend and by her side all her life, it wasn’t really a choice for her – she wanted it to be me. And when she’d talked to Geraint about it, he said I’d been family to him since he first entered the whirlwind world of our mad family, so it made sense to him too. She followed it up with, "No pressure or anything though!!!"
Immediately, I was a ball of emotions, ranging from over the moon (read: in tears) to an anxious mess. I had so many questions. What exactly did this mean? Did I need to write my own speech? WHAT SHOULD I WEAR? She replied with, "Em, it’s going to be SO laid-back. Just write and say whatever you like. We honestly don’t mind at all. It’s up to you."
I spent the next three weeks reading a Google Doc of ceremony scripts that Abi had found online, with notes she'd added saying things like, "Might not need this bit but idk?" and "These vows are dumb, lol". I watched Four Weddings and a Funeral, 27 Dresses and the episode of Friends when Joey writes the speech all about the having, the loving, the sharing and the receiving. I even messaged Sarah Powell, Red magazine columnist and wedding celebrant for hire, for advice. She told me that it’s all about "their story, how they met and the things they love about each other." Oh, and that no matter what happened, I’d be great.
Suddenly, when it was all there on paper (and when I say paper, I mean my iPad screen), I was struck with nerves. I’d been so worried about getting all the words right and covering everything 'official' so that it felt like a real ceremony, that I hadn’t even started to think about the fact that I’d be up there in front of the most important people in Abi and Geraint's lives. I was the only one who could mess this up and if I did, it’d ruin the best day of their lives. But as Abi said, no pressure.
Geraint arrived down the aisle with his parents and we both grinned at each other. "Oh my god, I’m so nervous," I said. "I’m supposed to be the nervous one, not you," he said.
Then Abi walked down the aisle with her parents, my aunty and uncle. "Oh my god Ger," I said, grabbing his arm, "she looks amazing." "Doesn’t she just," he said dreamily, as we both suddenly had eyes only for her – this gorgeous woman we both loved so much.
She arrived at the 'altar' (aka me stood in front of a floral arch in a yellow Whistles dress, holding an iPad) and immediately told me off for crying. "Oh my god Em, get a grip," she laughed. Then the music stopped, I pulled myself together and opened with, "Hi guys".
The ceremony itself was just 20 minutes long. I’d decided not to start with the old, "For those of you who don’t know me…" introduction that features in every wedding speech ever, and instead went straight into talking about Abi and Geraint, and how we all ended up in Tuscany celebrating their love.
After laughs, tears (happy ones) and declaring that while I had no power vested in me, I was now pronouncing them husband and wife, the ceremony ended in applause. And then, as they walked back down the aisle through a cloud of colourful smoke set off from flares by the groomsmen, my job was done. And I hadn’t f*cked it up.
For Abi and Geraint, choosing me as their celebrant was their way of demonstrating the significance of our friendship. And traditionally, unless you were in the bride tribe, the groom gang or the parents of the happy couple, you’d just be a guest watching happily, maybe a bit tearfully, but definitely hoping for a free bar. But there’s now this amazing, thoughtful and creative new role that you can invite your nearest and dearest to step into.
If you’re lucky enough to be asked, "Will you marry me?" by someone who’s not looking for a lifelong commitment, just for someone to do their relationship justice on the most important day of their lives, you should jump at the chance – it’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done for someone. That said, I have three tips for you:
1. It’s all about them
Like Sarah Powell said, it’s all about their story. Think about who they are as people, and bring that into what you say and how you say it. If they’re a quiet and low-key couple, they’re not going to want outrageous jokes and one-liners.
2. Enjoy it
It is such an honour for you to be asked to do this. Really. You should feel so delighted and privileged. So take your time with the writing, enjoy your chats with the happy couple about what they want this to be, and no matter how nervous you feel, remember you’ve been asked to do this for a reason.
3. Choose a big font
Honestly, the bigger the better. Whether it’s printed out or on an iPad screen like mine, you’re going to want to be able to see the words you need to say in all circumstances – especially through tears. No one needs a squinty celebrant who says, "Now, where was I?" And just because it’s a wedding, doesn’t mean you need to use a fancy cursive font. Arial or Proxima Nova will do you just fine.
This newly placed importance on the person who 'marries' you being someone you love and know extremely well means that you’ll be choosing someone who can give your big day something more real, personal and authentic. When I asked Abi and Geraint whether I did that for them, they said, "You couldn’t have done it any better."
I guess all that "no pressure" paid off, after all.