Belfast couple have a 25th wedding anniversary to remember as they celebrate on the SS Nomadic
'After a tough year we wanted to push the boat out when it came to renewing our vows'
Karen and Jim McCurry, from Belfast, wed at Gretna Green 25 years ago. They tell Una Brankin how they added a nautical but nice touch to their anniversary bash on SS Nomadic.
Titanic fans Karen and Jim McCurry like to do things a little differently from the norm. On December 14, 1989, the east Belfast couple tied the knot in Gretna Green in front of a small group of family and friends.
And last weekend, 25 years on from their quiet Scottish nuptials, the McCurrys threw a bigger bash to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary - on board the SS Nomadic.
Karen (48) booked the Titanic's sister ship when it was opened to the public last year in Belfast's famous Titanic Quarter.
"We wanted somewhere special to renew our vows and the Nomadic is the last existing White Star Line ship, and such a fitting link to Belfast's Titanic past," says Karen. "We had the ceremony in front of 80 guests on the deck, with a minister who was at Cregagh Road Presbyterian Church 25 years ago officiating.
"We didn't manage the famous Jack and Rose pose on the bow of the Titanic movie ship - the Nomadic has railings - so we posed in front of the steering wheel instead. We had our reception indoors in second class because of the cold weather, but there were no icebergs to negotiate on this occasion; the only ice was what the guests had in their drinks!"
The celebrations came at the end of a tough year for Karen and Jim (56), who dressed up as the Titanic's Captain Smith for the night. Both their fathers are battling illness but Karen was delighted when her dad, Peter, an active member of the Titanic Society, was able to make the party.
"The only hitch was when mum and dad got stuck in the lift up to the deck, but that's something we can look back and laugh at," says Karen, who, appropriately enough, works as a first aid and lifesaving instructor.
"It's such a lovely venue and we had great entertainment - we're involved in amateur dramatics and one of our friends did a Billy Connolly sketch and sang that famous D-I-V-O-R-C-E song for a laugh, and we danced until midnight.
"We weren't able to bring our dog Scoobie along but he featured on the wedding cake, which was in the shape of a lifeboat. Posh Nosh from Bangor did the catering and we hired the same firm as we did 25 years ago for the vintage car to take us to the dock, which was a nice touch."
Karen and Jim, a sports programme manager at Lisburn's Leisureplex, had wanted a quiet wedding when they became engaged back in 1989. But as Karen's mother Rosemary would have preferred "a massive spectacle" with the church choir singing, the couple compromised and brought both sets of relatives with them to Gretna Green on the Scottish border.
"The laws were different then - you couldn't get married anywhere except a church or registry office, and we wanted to do something different," Karen recalls. "We would have got married somewhere here, like Mount Stewart, but we couldn't, so I phoned Gretna Green. They were booked up but we got a cancellation, so we all took off on the ferry. My brother had a bigger wedding after that so mum eventually got a bigger day out."
Famous for its elopements, Gretna Green is still a popular wedding destination and has hosted several celebrities, including Kerry Katona and taxi driver Mark Croft's marriage ceremony in 2007, and former Scotland, Ipswich and Liverpool footballer John Wark's wedding to Karen Taylor in 2009.
The McCurry's Gretna Green wedding made the front page of the Belfast Telegraph in December 1989.
Karen says: "I still have the original paper. We were treated like local celebrities at the time as the staff on the Larne/Stranraer ferry all recognised us as we travelled to Scotland, and when we went on honeymoon, McCausland's car park at the airport wouldn't even charge us, as they also saw us in the paper. So much for quietly running away to Gretna Green. This time we really wanted to push the boat out, pun intended! We've even invited Michael Buble for a post-show drink - he was performing next door in the Odyssey and we thought he might like to experience some Belfast craic and hospitality on this historic ship, but he couldn't make it. We had a lovely harpist on deck playing the Titanic theme, My Heart Will Go On, and our first dance was Right Here Waiting by Richard Marks, same as it was 25 years ago."
The McCurrys went on to appear again in the Belfast Telegraph in the mid-Nineties, in a feature on unusual weddings. So can we expect another quirky celebration for their golden wedding anniversary?
"I think we've set the bar with our silver, so it will have to be something special," Karen laughs. "I've my 50th birthday coming up before that, which will probably be lower key - but who knows? We like a bit of drama."
The famous passengers who ensured ship sailed into the history books ...
As well as the McCurrys, the SS Nomadic has hosted other famous passengers in its illustrious history, all of whom travelled on the Cherbourg-based tender to the Titanic. Restored to her original glory and back home in Belfast's historic Hamilton Dock, the ship is open to the public to explore and experience more than 100 years of maritime and social history
- Marie Curie - the first woman ever to win the Nobel Prize, Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie travelled aboard Nomadic in May 1921 when she departed from Cherbourg on a fundraising tour of the US
- Charlie Chaplin - the legendary comedian sailed on the Nomadic in 1952, when he was returning to England for the first time in 20 years for the world premiere of his latest film Limelight. Due to his outspoken political views, Chaplin's re-entry permit to the US was revoked during this visit to Europe
- Johnny Weismuller - the American gold medal-winning Olympic swimmer and Tarzan actor was transported to Cherbourg harbour aboard Nomadic when he travelled to and from the Paris Olympics in 1924
- Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton - in 1964, the couple arrived in Cherbourg on board RMS Queen Elizabeth. They were transported by Nomadic from the liner to the quayside where photographers and journalists eagerly waited
- James Cameron and Jon Landau - when the Titanic director and producer were visiting Belfast in 2012, they requested a tour of the Nomadic, still undergoing restoration at the time
- Sir Bruce Ismay - often referred to as the "Coward of the Titanic", former chairman and director of the famous White Star Line steamship company, travelled aboard Nomadic from Cherbourg harbour to meet the Titanic on April 10, 1912. After the disaster, he became infamous as the highest-ranking White Star official among the survivors and was slated for deserting the ship while women and children were still on board
- Benjamin Guggenheim - the American mining magnate boarded Titanic via the Nomadic in Cherbourg, accompanied by his valet (Victor Giglio) and his mistress, a French singer named Leontine Aubert. Following the collision, Guggenheim ensured that his mistress and her maid were safely loaded into one of the lifeboats before he and Giglio returned to their cabin and changed into evening wear. Their bodies were never recovered
- Molly Brown - the wealthy American socialite, philanthropist and activist, travelled on Nomadic when she boarded Titanic, as a first-class passenger, at Cherbourg in April 1912. She later became known as "The unsinkable Molly Brown" for her efforts to persuade the crew of lifeboat number six to return to search the water for other survivors
- Dorothy Gibson - an American Broadway musical star of the early 1900s boarded the Titanic with her mother via the Nomadic in Cherbourg. Following the collision, Dorothy and her mother survived the sinking on lifeboat number seven.