Londoner Gabrielle Gant spent months planning a traditional church wedding with her boyfriend Matt, before they realised their perfect day was two plane tickets to Manhattan, a couple of close friends and zero regrets. Here, she tells the Evening Standard why eloping was the best decision she ever made
I met Matt on a sweaty July evening in 2010, at a mutual friend’s gig in a South London club.
We started talking and something clicked into place. Six years later, lying on a dusky Bridgetown beach with salty hair and sleepy eyes, he put a ring on my finger with relief and revealed that he’d been trying to hide it from me without losing it. We celebrated with beers in the Barbados sunset and talked about the DIY festival-style wedding party we wanted to throw with our friends and family.
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We talked about the wedding a lot. We wanted to grow our own wildflowers, make our own food, dance through the night without a curfew and watch the sunrise with our best friends around us. Matt was keen to get married as soon as possible; he had asked me because he wanted our marriage, not an over-planned wedding ceremony.
We pencilled in the following summer and asked a few loved-ones to get involved as bridesmaids and groomsmen. We both wanted a really intimate DIY feel to the day and set a small budget aside to try and bring everything together.
I started looking into marquee hire costs, food-van options, church fees and colour schemes. It was fun to begin with, but as things got serious I realised I was starting to get anxious.
I didn’t like the idea of being the centre of attention and as the guest-list grew with family expectations, it became clear that we were not going to get the intimate firework display and indie disco we wanted.
On a miserable Sunday evening in December we realised that of our 150 guests, only 30 were friends. I felt Matt withdraw at that point and knew that our wedding plans had lost all meaning.
On the drive home I muttered, “I wish we could just elope.” By the time we climbed into bed we had decided that it was easy, cheap, ridiculous and perfect.
On February 8, the chaotic Manhattan climate gave us a bright, perfect day of love and happiness. It felt perfect as we took a couple of photos in a sunshine spotlight on the steps of City Hall, marriage certificate in hand and a handful of close friends around us.
Our uncertainty led to the best decision we ever made – here are eight reasons why eloping might just be the answer for you too.
1. Do something different
Everyone has that Jenny Packham dress, the naked cake decorated with edible flowers and a photo booth in the corner ready to capture drunk pictures of unknown guests. Ironically it can be a struggle to inject your personality into a day that’s supposed to be all about you. We found the easiest way to get around this was to do something completely different and elope. When we talk to people about our wedding the usual response is, “That’s so typical of you guys!”, which is exactly what we wanted on the day.
2. It’s really easy
You only have to go onto the Internet and search ‘easy places for Brits to get married abroad’ and you’re presented with countless locations around the world. Some embassies need a bit of time to prepare paperwork but you can get clear information online or hire agents to organise things for you. We chose New York as our wedding destination because it’s a city we love, it’s legal to marry there and very easy. It took 24 hours to get a marriage licence and we were married at Manhattan City Hall the next day.
3. Save the money for something useful, like a house
Honestly, both our families were able and willing to foot the bill for a modest wedding, but as the predicted costs started to add up (and oh how quickly they do) we didn’t feel comfortable about it. For many couples now this isn’t even an option, which results in many using savings and loans to fund their big day. We saved our cash and put down the deposit on our first home, which cost less than the average wedding in the UK.
4. Combine your wedding and honeymoon
Obviously you save money because you’re already there. More importantly, you save time. You could choose to stay where you were married or travel onwards to another spot. We spent the week after our wedding celebrating in New York with our guests; it was great to spend the extra time with everyone.
5. Avoid saying your vows in front of people you don’t know or like
The hardest part of organising a wedding is planning the guestlist. If you have a big family, it’s easy to spiral into chaos before you’ve even considered which friends you have space for. Should you invite your partner’s cousin’s kids? Have you even met them? Our British manners meant we were genuinely concerned that we may cause offence if we missed out an unknown plus-one. By moving our wedding to the other side of the Atlantic we were able to politely limit our invites to those closest enough to travel with us. Understandably there were friends and family members who were unable to make the trip, however their support and excitement for us made our return to the UK an even bigger celebration.
6. Don’t compromise on the food
When you’ve sorted out the invites and the theme, you then have to deal with planning the food. It can be a huge compromise trying to feed so many people at the same time. Not only do the costs go up as you start to add options for the children, gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan guests, the quality of the food tends to go down. We tried to think outside the box with our food options but the reality is, when you have 150 mouths to feed it gets expensive. By taking our wedding abroad, cutting out the guests and opening up the budget, we were able to look at truly special restaurants and ended up having a post-marriage meal that was so good we will never forget it.
7. Be selfish and make the day about yourselves
There aren’t many opportunities in life where you can completely, selfishly make a day about your relationship. As we started planning our wedding we realised that although we appreciated how much friends and family wanted to be involved, the event was no longer about our commitment to each other. Both of us were becoming distant and uninvolved as the romance of ‘marriage’ disappeared. By flying away and making the experience exactly how we wanted it, we felt much more intimate and relaxed.
8. Break the traditions
Stuffing into a large white dress, being ‘given away’ by Dad, awkwardly slow dancing in front of a crowd of flashing smartphones and making a speech about the in-laws; a traditional marriage was never going to feel comfortable for us. We chose our low-key outfits on Net-A-Porter, took a cab to City Hall, asked our few guests to stand with us in the ceremony, ate lobster rolls and Oreos afterwards, played pool and finished the night with karaoke in a dive bar. Naturally, our perfect day won’t to everyone’s taste, but the idea is universal: break the traditions and do what makes you feel comfortable. It’s your wedding and you don’t have to listen to anyone (except probably your spouse).
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