Brides-to-be, this one’s for you!
You can say your vows in a catwalk gown so beautiful it reduces your mum to tears (and not because she paid for it).
You can style a reception so stunning your guests won’t believe you didn’t hire an A-list planner.
And you can sprinkle the day with personal touches that make everyone feel like you gave them special attention before they even got there. Without spending a house deposit on it. Honest.
Samantha Birch has written for GLAMOUR, Brides, You & Your Wedding and Cosmopolitan Bride. She knows a thing or two about planning a wedding on a budget, how much you can expect to pay for everything and where to go to get it for less. And she’s put it all down here.
Samantha, I have a few questions about weddings and publishing that I think my fans would love to hear the answers to. Are you game?
Happy to help!
At my outdoor wedding, the planner told me to skip the Champagne toast. She said glasses sit half-drunk and Champagne draws bees! If there’s one place NOT to skimp on a wedding, where would that be?
For me, it’s the photos. People will tell you you can just put disposable cameras on the tables—and they’re great for the odd funny candid shot—but they don’t make up for not having a dedicated photographer. That’s not to say you have to spend a lot on your photographer—we negotiated with ours based on a lot of factors I get into in the book—but I wouldn’t assume you can leave it to the disposables and the iPhone shots. You’ve spent all that time carefully planning the most beautiful, happiest day of your lives to date; you want someone who can capture important moments like your face when he puts the ring on your finger.
That’s awesome advice. People will appreciate that insight, I’m sure. OK, more about weddings: I love the wedding scene in the original Arthur. What is your favorite Rom Com TV Wedding?
I’m a Richard Curtis wedding guest, all the way! It would have to be the one from Notting Hill or his new film, About Time.
I often think about the wedding from Notting Hill, and we even thought about the same venue—The Hempel in London—for our big day because Darren and I both love that film, but it was quite a bit out of our price range! Will and Anna’s wedding feels very modern and elegant—her structured dress and wrap, the white triangular cake—but at the same time not stuffy or charmless thanks to the garden backdrop and the relaxed vibe. There’s something almost comically traditional about it that isn’t very me but which I have a lot of love for, and that’s the full-on flowered headbands for Will’s sister and all the little bridesmaids too.
The idyllic day in Notting Hill is a bit of a contrast to the wedding in About Time, where a storm hits and blows the marquee away! I love that it’s still a perfect day though because they’re so happy; I think it’s a good reminder not to get too uptight about your wedding… and to have some weather cover planned! I also love that Mary wore that amazing red dress; I’m always telling people they don’t have to get married in white, and I’m hoping that she’s proved that! Besides getting married in colour being a big money-saver, there are just some seriously stunning evening dresses out there that don’t come in white!
My husband and I are actors, so we wanted our wedding to come off like a movie. To that end, we strove to keep our ceremony short and entertaining. We all know a wedding is the bride’s day, but what should a couple keep in mind to make it a great day for the guests?
Personally, we thought the most important thing for guests was to create a really relaxed atmosphere. We wanted them to feel like if they wanted to whoop as I came down the aisle—as a few threatened to!—then they could; if they wanted to bust a move to Gangnam Style on the dance floor in front of all my relatives—which did happen!—then they could. The day was about celebrating mine and Darren’s relationship, but that was the key thing for us: celebrating, and celebrations should be fun!
The best way to help people relax on your wedding day is to make everything easy for them. We chose a venue that was five minutes from the train station, and we did everything in one place because otherwise the nearest registry office with room for everybody would have been a 45-minute drive away. The place we picked was also close to lots of parking options, which we flagged up along with a few different hotels at different price points with the invites.
On the day itself, as far as possible, we seated people with at least half a table of people they knew, so no-one was lumped in with a lot of strangers having to make stiff small talk, but they could still chat to new people if they felt like it. We’d only sent out two options for the wedding breakfast with the invites—vegetarian and not—so there was no messing about with four or five different dishes every step of the way. And there were two different areas: the ballroom where the ceremony, the wedding breakfast and the dancing all took place, and a smaller adjacent bar area where people could talk, so they could choose what kind of evening they felt like. We didn’t want anyone to feel under any pressure at any point, and we must have got it right: our friends still talk about what a great atmosphere it was and how much fun they had!
Love that advice! OK, we know you’re a wedding maven, and now you are a successful author to boot. Have you always dreamed of publishing a book? Describe how you got your book deal.
Yes I have! I’ve been dreaming of being a published author since I was little, so this is totally amazing! It was all a bit of a fluke really: a friend of mine heard about the Harper Impulse competition for new writers in any genre, and she insisted that I enter my self-published version of The High-Street Bride’s Guide, even though I was feeling really self-conscious about it. I sent it in anyway, thinking maybe I’d be lucky enough to be a runner-up and get a paperback copy of the book, and then, somehow, I won! I’d been so unconvinced I had a chance that when I got the call I thought: “Brilliant, a paperback to put on my shelf!” It was only after my friend and I went back to the Ts and Cs that we realised the prize was a proper publishing deal!
So, now you have a second vocation. I was terrified to launch my first book into the world. Were you gung-ho or reticent?
Reticent, definitely. That’s probably why I didn’t do enough publicity when I self-published The High-Street Bride’s Guide. It was scary putting myself out there like that—especially when weddings are such a big emotional deal—and I’m still terrified that a stressed-out bride who disagrees with my advice will go nuts at me on Amazon!
Once I had Harper Impulse behind me, though, I felt a lot better about it; I mean, they definitely know what they’re talking about, so if they believe in me, I really should as well. I’m trying to be more positive and confident about getting myself and my book out there, and to take the leap and do scary things like coming on your blog!
Bsck to matrimony. I loved my spring wedding. The air was so filled with hope. What’s your favorite time and locale for a wedding?
Winter all the way. Darren wanted autumn, so we compromised with November, which I think of as being a bit of both. I love winter because there’s that cosy feeling where you just want to cuddle up on the sofa under a blanket and watch TV with the person you love; because it’s nearly Christmas, and I get ridiculously excited about buying presents and have a real thing for wrapping them, which I find seriously relaxing; and because I have such lovely memories of me as a kid standing around in the cold with two layers of socks under my boots watching the fireworks on November 5th…
I wanted to capture that feeling on the day, but give it a shock of brightness too, to kick people out of the winter gloom that I know some people get into around that time of year. We went for a really happy yellow and red colour scheme with accents of turquoise and papery brown, and we had toffee apples as favours to remind everyone of those totally magic Bonfire Nights.
Any top tips for keeping the bridesmaids happy?
Oh, so many!
If you want them to organise your hen party, offer to give them a hint. I sent mine a whole list of fun things I wouldn’t mind doing, so they could pick one or two and it would still be a surprise that I was guaranteed to love. Also, give them an idea of the kind of budget per person they should aim for if most of your friends aren’t minted. Pass on as many contact details as you can with the list of hen invitees too, so people are easier for them to chase up, and remember that it’s not their fault if some of your old friends can’t be traced. Set their expectations about how much contact you want to have about the hen party too; some bridesmaids can get really stressed out about not wanting to call and bother you. It’s fine if you want them to basically take the hen off your hands, but you have to understand that they will need to ask you the occasional question. Maybe you can get them to save them all up for a half-hour chat once a week?
Make it clear what you expect of your maids from the start, in terms of the day and also the hen, and be mindful of their own lives when you dish out responsibilities. One of my bridesmaids had just had a baby and one was a teacher, so I didn’t expect them to have too much time for hen planning; I nominated two maids to take charge and, although they involved the others, do most of the actual decision-making themselves. One of my bridesmaids moved to Texas during the wedding planning, so I asked that she not have to do any of the hen bookings, otherwise I could only imagine the international phone bills!
The other things that will chill out your bridesmaids might not do much for you, so you have to draw your own line, but I wanted a super-relaxed planning process so this is what I did: gave them a colour and a rough length and let them all choose different dresses so I knew they felt happy and comfortable (same with the shoes); let them pick their own hair, and do their own make-up; didn’t ask them to do speeches or readings because I knew none of them were big public speakers (I nominated other friends for that); didn’t go for a big, expensive dress with a long train, so they wouldn’t have to follow me into the loos or fuss about people stepping on it when I was dancing. Easy for me to say, though: I was easygoing about my bridesmaids’ look and a long train never figured in my wedding dress choices; it’s up to each bride to decide what she needs to keep control of and what she can let go.
Thanks for being my guest! Your thoughts and advice are fantastic! Congratulations on The High Street Bride’s Guide!