We get to work with some amazing Wedding Professionals; today we talked to one lady who we’ve met many times!
Gaynor is an English-speaking Wedding Celebrant based in south west France and (in her own words) “she has the amazing job of conducting wedding ceremonies for lovely couples in brilliant venues all over France. Yep, I really am that lucky!”
What is a Celebrant and why do people ‘need’ you?
The short answer is, a celebrant replaces the religious leader at your wedding.
The longer answer is…
Throughout history people have gathered together to mark the special events of their lives. These celebrations build a sense of belonging and the shared memories we create also strengthen the bonds between us.
They usually come complete with their own dress code, prescribed wording, rituals and traditionally were conducted by religious leaders.
These days, although most people don’t consider themselves religious, they do want to mark their wedding as the wondrous, life-changing event it is and they want to share that experience with their family and friends. To do this, they’re looking for a ceremony that’s not only personal but also meaningful and usually non-religious.
A ceremony can have several elements and it’s my job to take all the chosen elements: the love story; the rituals; the readings or songs; the music; etc, and create a beautiful ceremony, which flows seamlessly.
Each culture has its own wedding rituals e.g. exchanging rings and vows, jumping a broom or pinning money to the bride’s dress. If a particular ritual is meaningful to a couple then it can be incorporated into the ceremony.
As an Independent Celebrant if you want a religious element I’m happy to add that too but not all celebrants will.
And of course there’s also the option to have others involved as well, usually reading a poem, singing a song or playing an instrument. A couple of years ago one of my couples wanted a handfasting and the two mums tied the ribbons, which was so lovely.
Then on the wedding day, the celebrant coordinates with everyone involved in the ceremony to make sure it all goes to plan. There may be a need to calm the nerves of those involved in the ceremony or double check with the ring bearer that the ring is in the box!
Then it’s time to conduct the ceremony in a friendly, warm and heartfelt manner and for me I like to incorporate a degree of humour, balanced with the appropriate amount of gravitas when we arrive at the serious part. It is a wedding after all!
Why did you become a Celebrant and did you need special qualifications or training?
My parents were religious and when my dad died the local priest was on holiday. His replacement was a lovely Chinese priest but he only spoke a little English. I wanted the funeral to celebrate my dad’s life and personality, so I decided to deliver his eulogy myself. Afterwards so many people approached me and several said “you should be a celebrant”. I had no idea what that was but I smiled and several days later googled it.
I’ve always had jobs that helped others and this was a job with great social value, something that’s dear to my heart. So I decided to give it a go and see what happened.
No, you don’t need formal qualifications to be a celebrant, although there’s a push from within to regulate the profession. I knew I had all the necessary skills to be a celebrant but I wanted to make sure the components all came together to create beautiful ceremonies every time. So I trained in 2014 with the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants and continue my CPD at every opportunity.
What should couples be asking of their celebrant?
So you’ve done your research on the internet and checked out the websites, social media posts and blogs of several celebrants. Now it’s time to get in touch…..
Arrange an online chat as that’s a great way to ask all your questions, see if you feel comfortable with this person and if you’re a good fit.
During the chat find out how the celebrant works and if they can be flexible. For instance I usually send couples their questionnaires at the beginning of the year but some brides like everything planned very early on and so I send their questionnaires once the booking has been confirmed.
Find out what the celebrant’s policy is with regard to contact time with you. Some celebrants only contact you when it’s time to start planning the ceremony. Ask if you can contact them only by email or are you allowed a number of online chats? I contact my couples every three/four months to catch up on their news. That way I get to know them better as individuals and as a couple. And, they know they can get in touch any time for a chat.
Ask about your vows. For some people writing their own vows is incredibly emotional and so quite difficult. You need to find out if the celebrant will either write them for you, write them then you can tweak them or will they help to write your own vows.
Before chatting to the celebrant ask yourselves this question, do you want to see the script? I send the script for my couples to adapt and play around with, creating your ceremony is a collaborative activity. Whilst other celebrants prefer not to share it; so that on your wedding day you hear everything for the first time.
Ask if the celebrant will do a rehearsal? If they do, you’ll need to ask if it’s included in the price or at an extra cost. France is a big country and so most rehearsals require an overnight stay locally for the celebrant. When I send the ceremony script it includes the choreography of the ceremony. I also share this with the best man and chief bridesmaid so everyone knows where they should stand and when. Therefore, most of my couples don’t choose to have a rehearsal but they can if they want.
Whilst telling the celebrant your ideas for your ceremony, see what their response is. If you want your rather large dog as your ring bearer and they’re absolutely terrified of dogs, then maybe that’s not such a great match!
Do you see your wedding as a relaxed, laid-back day? I know it’s traditional for the bride to be late however, if your celebrant has a second wedding booked that day, there’s nothing worse than someone constantly checking their watch. So make sure you ask the celebrant how many weddings they book per day.
If you do want a prayer or hymn sung (and yes Amazing Grace is a hymn) then ask if the celebrant is okay with that. As I said not all celebrants allow religious elements.
And finally, ask how long they will pencil your date in their diary. If you’re speaking to several celebrants then you may need some time before reaching your decision. Some celebrants are happy to keep a date for a few days and some a couple of weeks. Also please, please let the celebrant know whether you’re booking them or not. We’re professionals and won’t take it personally. It’s not necessary to send a long explanation, but we do need to know your decision so we can confirm the booking or release the date.
What should they expect as part of your service?
You should expect your celebrant to be highly professional and organised, replying to emails in a timely manner and providing open and honest information.
As self-employed people we all have different skills, knowledge and offer different services: some celebrants print order of service cards, some will hand make handfasting ribbons or buy items for you.
The trick is to know what you want and find out if it matches what they offer. Then there’s no surprises. That’s why it’s so important to find a celebrant you feel comfortable asking awkward or difficult questions. And, you should expect your celebrant to be as excited about your wedding as you are.
2020 has been a terrible year for Wedding Professionals and 2021 isn’t going so well either! How has it impacted on you?
What advice would you give couples planning to get married overseas?
Are there any real no-no’s that you just won’t allow or be part of during a ceremony?
I’ve always tried to be open-minded and keep at the forefront of my mind that the ceremony is all about what’s meaningful to my couples. So no I’ve never had to say ‘I won’t include that’.
I ask my couples what they love about each other and they don’t hear that until the wedding ceremony. I had one gentleman say he loved his partner’s beautiful smile and her big boobs! I was happy to say that but I worked with him to expand the sentiment slightly and write about all the other things he adored about her. I see other celebrants doing weddings underwater, dressed up as Harry Potter characters and even whilst sky-diving but couples coming to rural France aren’t usually looking for that. Although I never say never!
Given free reign, I wouldn’t allow alcohol at the ceremony but at the end of the day it’s the couples’ who make that choice. It’s their day, their way.
Can you name one of the best moments during a wedding for you?
One of the best moments was a renewal of vows ceremony. In the groom’s questionnaire he kept telling me what a joker he was. He loved to wind up his wife and even enlisted their daughter to help at times. So I asked the wife if she wanted revenge.
They had chosen to repeat their vows after me line by line. So about half way through I inserted a line he knew nothing about. On the day he got into the swing of repeating the line after me when I suddenly said ‘I promise to spend quality time with you by giving up poker nights and my playstation.’ His face was a picture and I’d primed the photographer who was in just the right spot and got a great photo.
Predictions for future weddings in France?
I think the future is very bright for weddings in France. The culture, the architecture, the weather, the countryside, the food and drink, the warmth of the French people and the romantic reputation of France will always pull people here for their weddings.
This year couples are having to be considerate of Covid restrictions and especially with regard to their guests, some who would be travelling from all over the world. Yes, sadly some couples have had to cut their cloth due to lost deposits and flights but they’re also planning on celebrating with maybe less guests but equally as much joy.
The other side of Covid is that it’s changed priorities for many people. Lots of weddings in 2022 are going to be big, inclusive, joyous occasions as couples splash out on big family weddings. Couples and guests alike will be so appreciative of being together and sharing such a special and significant time. The future is full of love and laughter.