I was most excited when Karen and Michael agreed to have me as their photographer for their UK blessing in October 2016. For those who are new to this story, I already had the honour of covering their Australian wedding in July ’16. So to do it again in the UK was beyond exciting, both for the travel and the opportunity to work with this lovely couple again.
Those that know the pair, already know just how kind they are. At the Australia wedding, my assistant and I were treated like guests. So when it came to the UK wedding, I was conscience they would go out of their way for me and anyone I brought along to feel welcome. Therefore I asked a mutual friend (Sarah) as my assistant so that Karen & Michael too would benefit from their own kindness. Not wanting to influence the day’s events, I decided NOT to keep this as a surprise as originally planned. With a week to go, I revealed who my assistant was and they were ofcourse overjoyed. They did however insist on keeping it a surprise for the bridal party, particularly Katie who was also a mutual friend.
Let me tell you this…. I was more nervous about RUINING the planned surprise than photographing the wedding… in the week leading up, there were social media bans, fake Facebook status updates and outright lying when Katie spotted a “Sarah Chapman” on the seating chart.
The day prior to the wedding, I met up with the (slightly stressed) looking couple to finalise some location shoot plans, lie more to a very suspect Katie (ha ha) 🙂 and to tie up loose ends.
One question I always ask the bride and groom individually is if there were any surprises planned for the other person so that I would be ready to capture it on the day.
While Karen was out of earshot, Michael told me how Karen had always dreamed of marrying a man in a kilt, and his plans to surprise her by making that dream come true. Having already witnessed the Melbourne ceremony where he mail ordered a Welsh Love spoon and then serenading her at the reception, I didn’t think he could top this. Yet here he was again, going to all the trouble of researching everything there was to know about the particular kilt he was to wear. I just wanted to give him one big hug.
Shortly after, Karen pulled me aside. “Yes Chamilka, I’ve made him a photobook of our time together which he’ll open in the morning. Yes I think I’ve done slightly better than I did in Melbourne.” While holding back laughter, I wanted to give her one big hug too – how little did she know that Michael STILL had a sneaky surprise of his own.
We started off the Wedding Day at Michael’s house where his family had rented a lovely cottage in Dronfield. The atmosphere there was definitely A LOT more relaxed than it was in Melbourne and I was happy for them. They had no doubt done a lot of organising in Melbourne, so it must have been nice as Karen’s side of the family took the lead. For me also, it was nice to be among Aussies – the banter, the familiar accents, the VEGEMITE… although I have to say the discovery of spreadable Maltesers nearly made me jump ship (with Michael’s family not far behind!) !
We soon wrapped up at Michael’s and he dropped us at Karen’s childhood home. This was the time to finally unleash my mysterious assistant. Well really the photos say it all. Katie was utterly shocked and really couldn’t believe how convincing I was with my fibbing.
With the surprise now over, there was definitely a big sense of relief – certainly for me, for Sarah and also no doubt Karen – planning a wedding was hard enough without adding a surprise to it. 🙂 The rest of the morning was jovial and we went straight onto the location photos.
The only thing as beautiful as Derbyshire country side, is the kindness of its people. Most of the location photos were done on private properties I had discovered the day before with the help of Sarah and her mum. The owners of these places were so obliging (no doubt the Aussie accents helped) with offers made to clean their windows and move a Bentleigh into the middle of the hay field, all for the sake of photos.
It turned out that one of the farms we had picked in West Handley had quite a story to it. It is owned by the Duke of Devonshire who lives at Chatsworth House and are part of the Cavendish Family. The Duke is reputed to be one of the top 100 wealthiest men in the country and all his properties are easily identifiable by the characteristic blue paintwork on the doors and windows. Every tenancy has to leave the properties after the 3rd generation. This particular farm overlooks the valley into Chesterfield where there is the famous crooked spire. The spire is twisted to 8 feet out of the perpendicular. That is where the source of the Chesterfield canal and where local stone was transported via the canal network to build part of the Houses of Parliament in London.
The characteristic dry stone walls, the rolling hills, fields of hay bails, the ivy clad cottages and red post boxes were all things I wanted to capture as they were in stark contrast to everything we captured in Australia. Being on the edge of the Peak District, we were also fortunate enough to capture contrast within the British countryside itself. Just half an hour from this quaint vista was Burbage Rocks which provided a dramatic backdrop of cliffs and rocks.
Soon after, we headed back for the ceremony and festivities. The ceremony was held in Dronfield Baptist Church, a beautiful and colourful little church with a very enigmatic minister. Just prior to the ceremony, Michael had managed to steal away to get into his kilt and up he stood at the top of the alter – proud as punch to be marrying Karen for the second time.
When Karen finally walked down the aisle, through my lens I kept waiting for her to notice the kilt. At one point, I thought it would never happen and at the very, very end she finally looked down and noticed what he was wearing… and erupted in giggles. It was the kind of giggling that was hard to regain composure from, made worse by the pressure of needing to regain composure in front of a patient audience.
As I too had to put my camera down and laugh a little, I had a vision of them 50 years on, going strong as ever, just because of their ability to keep their marriage fresh by little surprise gestures as this. With his larrikin ways, I hadn’t a doubt that there would be many more giggling fits during Karen’s life.
The ceremony was followed by an informal afternoon tea and straight on to the reception which was just across the road. Decorated beautifully with fairy lights and bunting, the way this converted stone barn was personalised remained true to both the couple and the surrounding country side.
The night was filled with lots of delicious food, laughter, ANOTHER surprise serenade by Michael and a lots of ceilidh dancing. Even the 21 kids were catered for with their very own play room full of activities and dedicated babysitters – just one of many thoughtful gestures that completed a well thought out wedding day.
At the end of the night, as we left the couple and their loved ones in the midst of ceilidh frenzy, we stepped out to a bright full moon in a clear sky: a completely romantic and fitting end to the day.
Full moons are only possible when it is fully illuminated by the sun, when its equally most important counterpart in the universe has shone its full light on the other. Karen and Michael, you two are indeed from different planets, yet somehow the universe had set its sights on your paths aligning and enabling you to forever bask in each other’s love. May this unison be blessed with much happiness for I can not think of a more deserving couple.
Thank you for letting me part of this journey. x
A final thanks goes to these two special ladies, Sarah and her mother Sue, who helped me immensely with a lot of behind the scenes; from keeping a lid on my nerves, to helping me with jetlag and ofcourse transporting me and my equipment across the countryside in search of beautiful venues (like this one at Surprise View). I’ll forever cherish the fun time we had in being part of Karen and Michael’s UK Blessing. x