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Northern Ireland couples tell Pippa Middleton: It's ok to splash out on wedding day

As Miss Middleton is set to wed her fiance James Matthews in what is expected to be the society wedding of 2017, we catch up with two Northern Ireland couples who tied the knot in considerable style. Helen Carson and Laurence White find out the details.

Published 20/07/2016

Two’s company: Pippa Middleton and James Matthews
Two’s company: Pippa Middleton and James Matthews
Devoted couple: Tracey and Stefan after their wedding ceremony
Devoted couple: Tracey and Stefan after their wedding ceremony
Devoted couple: Tracey and Stefan after their wedding ceremony
Loving look: Ashleigh and Matthew Graham
Loving look: Ashleigh and Matthew Graham
Ashleigh and Matthew with their wedding party

Pippa Middleton became a global star after her sister Kate's royal wedding to Prince William five years ago.

Now, Pippa - the other Middleton girl - is set to get married to hedge fund manager James Matthews, the brother of Made In Chelsea reality TV star Spencer.

The pair got engaged on a trip to the Lake District last weekend, and Pippa stepped out earlier this week showing off a sparkling square cut diamond Art Deco ring, which is said to have cost around £200,000.

A wedding next year is on the cards and is expected to be a lavish affair.

We caught up with two couples here who spared no expense on their big day.

'We had so many guests coming from abroad we had a two-day wedding'

Tracey Rodgers (50), who runs Style Academy Model Agency, lives in Hillsborough, Co Down, with her husband, Stefan (43), a personal trainer originally from Cambridge. They got married in April 2014 after meeting through a mutual friend. She says:

Stefan and I got married two years ago. We were introduced by a friend in September 2011; I was out for a drink one Friday evening and was in his company for 10 minutes, then I went home. Two days later I got a Facebook request from him and he offered to train me as I was taking part in a charity Strictly Come Dancing event for Children in Need. I had to get fit in eight weeks so I said yes.

While there was a spark between us I wasn't sure if he was interested in me or not. But when he turned up to the Strictly event to support me, I knew he was keen and then we started dating.

The marriage proposal was out of the blue as he told me we were going out somewhere special for dinner so I got my hair blow-dried and dressed up. Then he called me up onto our roof terrace of our apartment but I wouldn't come as it was raining and I had had my hair done. When I did go up he had a Scrabble board laid out and handed me a bag of letters which spelt out 'will you marry me?' - I thought he was trying to get me to ask him... but then he popped the question, but forgot to get down on one knee, so he had to do it again.

He had invited all my family and friends over as they were all in on it, but our house was a mess. So I was cleaning the toilet as he was pouring Champagne for our guests.

For our wedding day we got married at my church, Mount Merrion Parish Church, which had only a small congregation at the time - about 20 people - so they all came to the wedding. It was the church's first wedding in about 10 years and they met me outside along with my friends as I went in - it was so emotional, I nearly lost it there and then. After we said 'I do' we walked down the aisle to the Black Eyed Peas song 'I Got A Feeling'.

My dad, Stanley, paid for my wedding and my mum, Wendy, paid for my Amanda Wakeley dress - which was the biggest extravagance of all. As I have lots of family and friends from Spain and Dubai, while Stefan had his family travelling from England and New Zealand, we had a two-day wedding which my sister, Susan, paid for.

But as I have run my own model agency and been involved in organising events for 20 years, most, if not all, the people who were involved in our wedding, from the photographer to the catering and even my dress designer, were friends.

I had worked at a fashion show with Amanda Wakeley 20 years ago and when I discovered she designed wedding dresses I was delighted. She made it for me and I was the first to wear the design with silver metallic detailing as it was originally only in gold. While I paid the deposit, my mum picked up the rest of the bill and I honestly don't know what it cost, but it was thousands. I had three bridesmaids and three flowergirls, while Stefan had two best men and a master of ceremonies.

I had intended to wear my dress for the second day too, but it was trashed after the first day. Someone has spilt Guinness down the back of it and there was blood on it from my bridemaid's toe which she had cut. There were also grass and Champagne stains on it too. It cost £390 to have it dry-cleaned but it was completely ruined.

We had a free bar before the wedding ceremony which was a bad idea. The rugby boys were running round with a pint of Guinness, pint of Magners and Champagne in their hands at the same time so the whole day ran two hours later than planned.

We had 120 guests at our reception which was at Larchfield Estate with catering by The Plough. My brother-in-law, William, was organising the drink and had ordered 150 bottles of Champagne. He was confident it would be enough, but I said 'we will need more'. Right enough we ran out but, luckily, The Plough was able to supply more.

Even with my contacts the wedding bill was a lot of money, and all just for one day. Had we been paying for it ourselves it would have cost £40,000.

The only cheap thing about my wedding were my shoes which I bought online for £20 - a pair of six inch nude peep-toe wedge-heel sandals. They were the most comfortable shoes ever and I had them on my feet continuously from 12 noon to 2am. Most brides are in their barefeet by 10pm.

I knew we would be outside so they had to be practical and I didn't want to have to pay to get my dress altered.

My veil I sourced online from an American blogger who had made it for photographic purposes and was happy to send it to me.

I cannot wait to see Pippa Middleton's wedding next year. It will be a mix of real royalty and reality TV royalty. While the royal family will be elegant, classic and demure, the Made In Chelsea stars will be very nouveau.

Since Kate's wedding the media spotlight has been on Pippa, scrutinising who she is dating and if they have broken up. It must be very difficult to live with that sort of attention but she deals with it very well, but I don't envy her."

‘I doubt if there was much change out of £20,000’

Ashleigh and Matthew Graham were married in the Merchant Hotel in Belfast on September 26, 2015 and now live in Dundonald. Ashleigh (26) says:

We were both still at school, aged 17, and working part-time at Dunnes Stores at Forestside shopping centre when we first met. We starting going out then and have been together ever since.

I am now a pharmacist and still work at Forestside. Matthew works for the Ambulance Service, handling emergency calls and despatching ambulances.

We decided to have our wedding ceremony as well as our reception at the Merchant Hotel. The ceremony was performed by the Rev Brian Anderson, who was President of the Methodist Church at that time.

It was a beautiful day with the sun splitting the trees. The weather is the only thing that you cannot control but we were very lucky.

We had hired the roof garden of the hotel for our guests — there were 114 at the wedding — before the main reception. There they had drinks, canapes and an acoustic performance by James Quinn, who is a member of our wedding band, Peach.

He performed while the bridal party had their photographs taken. My mum, Joanne, is a big fan of the band so she was fairly insistent that we hired them. We had dressed the roof garden in an Indian Summer theme, which turned out to be very appropriate.

I bought my wedding dress at the White Butterfly Bridal shop on Saintfield Road. It was by Australian designer Stella York and featured a lot of lace. I don’t know the exact price of the dress but it was at least £1,200 but looked much more expensive and I just loved it.

Rachel Matthews, who was our wedding co-ordinator at the Merchant Hotel, could not have been more helpful.

We didn’t want the traditional table layout for the reception and she was willing to accommodate our guests at two huge banqueting tables, which I believe was the first time the hotel had done that.

We also hired a room dresser, Melanie from Mood Events, to give the reception our personal touch. That added to the bill of course, but it was our day and we wanted to ensure that everything was the way we wanted it.

At the reception my dad, Ivan (Ogburn), played a practical joke on Matthew, who plays football for Sirocco, and who had always told him that he would make the Northern Ireland team for the Milk Cup — although that never happened.

Dad made a video with comedian Shane Todd from Holywood who pretended to be a football scout who had been watching Matthew playing football and then gave his verdict. It was hilarious.

We further personalised our wedding by presenting each of the bridal party, including my bridesmaids Jessica McDowell and Elaine McKee, with a box containing essentials for the wedding day and also some personal gifts. Matthew gave me a huge box containing perfume, champagne and glasses, a watch which I wore at the wedding, a note from my mum and a letter from him to me. That is something I will always treasure. He had also personalised gifts for his best man Nick Kirkwood and groomsman Nathan McIlwaine.

Both Matthew and I are only children and I am sure that my dad is delighted that is the case as he will not have any other daughters’ weddings to help pay for. It is difficult to estimate how much our wedding cost as you pay for so many things as you go along — such as the wedding dress, bridesmaids’ dresses, the suits for the men, the photographer and videographer as well as the reception and honeymoon — but I doubt if there was much change out of £20,000.

We spent our honeymoon on a 10-day trip to Rome and Sorrento and they were beautiful locations.

The only advice I would give to Pippa Middleton on her forthcoming wedding is to make it personal to her and her new husband.

In our case Matthew was very hands-on and had as much input to the day as I did.

The key is to do the things that are important to you and that you like.

Very many people are influenced by what they see at wedding fairs or ideas put forward by venues. That can be a good starting point — as obviously all those people have experience — but it is important to tailor things to your personal taste and desires.

The other thing is not to worry about what other people think. Of course you want your guests to have a great day and enjoy your wedding but a wedding is about you and your husband or wife.

And ultimately it is more important that your marriage lasts than that you had a great wedding day.

I think of my maternal grandfather and grandmother, John and Muriel Stewart, who have been married for well over 60 years.

That should be an inspiration to us as we approach our first year of married life.”

Belfast Telegraph

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