Unusual ways of saying 'we do' - from stormtroopers and Central Park and Youtube dances
Ahead of the Quirky Weddings Alternative Fair at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on Sunday Lee Henry talks to three Northern Ireland couples who tied the knot in unconventional style.
'Stormtroopers formed a guard of honour after we got married'
Colin Symington, (38), a tiler from Lisburn, married Adele (32), a waitress from Craigavon, at Dunadry Hotel in Templepatrick in September 2011. He says:
Adele and I met in November 2005 in Mulholland's Bar, Dromore. Thankfully, it was a mutual attraction. We got engaged in the Absolut Ice Bar in Stockholm while on a cruise of the Baltic capitals and married two years later.
We wanted to do something a little different, as neither of us really conform to the norm in many aspects of our lives. We like to do our own thing. And at the end of the day, our wedding was about us.
We decided to have a Star Wars theme to inject some personality into proceedings. Anything but the humdrum traditional approach. We wanted it to be a talking point and it certainly was that.
On the day, there were eight stormtroopers in attendance, and Darth Vader, of course - volunteers from the local Emerald Garrison Star Wars Costume Club, of which I am a member. After the ceremony, when our guests were directed outside, they gave us a guard of honour, much to everyone's delight.
As well as that, the amazing Ireland String Quartet played pieces from the film's iconic score throughout the day and our tables were named after Star Wars planets. Tatooine, Endor, Alderaan and more.
We also had a Jabba the Hutt cake made by the guys at Cake Fairy, which Adele let me choose and which was a surprise to her. I can't say she was entirely thrilled by it, if I'm honest. I can categorically state that no, my wife does not share my love of Star Wars. The wedding compere had never seen anything like it and was in fits.
My Star Wars obsession started when I was a young boy. My older brothers had lots of the vintage figures and vehicles and naturally they were handed down to me. When I was the age to grasp the concept of the movies, I was hooked.
I have met so many Star Wars actors, and obtained hundreds of autographs, while attending conventions throughout Europe over the years. I met David Prowse, aka Darth Vader, in Belfast, as well as the late Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia. I've yet to get Harrison Ford or our very own Liam Neeson's autograph, but with a little help from the force, maybe someday soon…
As a lot of the Emerald Garrison members attended our wedding, obviously we knew they would appreciate it, though we were a little apprehensive as to what our parents and family would think. We told Adele's dad, Norman, a few weeks beforehand and he was horrified. Her granny, Mary, was a little scared when she saw all the guns. But in the end, everyone wanted photos.
It certainly created a bit of excitement with the hotel staff and guests, too. They were taking pictures all day. At one point, two stormtroopers even went AWOL and were found checking in bewildered guests at the front desk.
Our photographer and videographer couldn't wait to capture the wedding, as they had never experienced anything like it before in Northern Ireland.
In fact, a couple of years later, we were still hearing stories of how our videographer was using our video to attract people to his stand at wedding fairs."
‘Our ceremony was in Central Park, but when we got to the Pavilion a homeless man was asleep inside’
Nicola Simpkin, (46), an artist from Londonderry, married Steve, (47), an engineer from Glasgow, in New York’s Central Park in November 2010. She says:
Steve proposed to me during a city break to Barcelona in March 2009. It would be the second marriage for both of us. We were both in our late 30s and, being from different parts of the UK, didn’t fancy the logistics of organising a traditional wedding to accommodate everyone.
To be honest, the big white wedding, and being the centre of attention, had never appealed to me. We aren’t religious and because we love to travel, we decided that we would just elope elsewhere, on our own.
I had always been a fan of the TV show Sex and the City and because neither of us had ever been to New York before, we thought it would be a great place to get married, in Central Park itself.
We spoke to my parents, Frank and Adrienne, Steve’s parents Billy and the late Ruby and his son, Kyle, and explained that’s what we wanted to do and they were absolutely fine with it. I think my parents were just delighted that I’d finally found such a lovely man to settle down with.
I asked my sister, Audrey, to come along with us as a sort of maid of honour because we’re very close. Her husband, Simon, was set to come too but unfortunately something cropped up at work, which turned out to be handy in the end as the three of us, and the photographer, could fit nicely into one yellow cab.
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, it wasn’t too difficult to arrange. Unfortunately, however, the events company that we went with ended up going bust, which we discovered two weeks before we were due to fly to New York, but in the end, we really didn’t need them. Because we had a tiny wedding party, we didn’t need a permit, and we arranged the wedding licence ourselves at City Hall.
The night before the wedding we went to see Wicked on Broadway. It was brilliant and the wedding day itself was pretty perfect.
We walked from our hotel to the Ladies Pavilion in Central Park, where we were to have our little ceremony, but when we got to the Pavilion, there was a homeless man asleep on the bench inside. We figured that his need was much greater than ours, so we walked over to a rocky outcrop to say our vows instead.
After the official part, our photographer, Brian Friedman, took photos around Central Park, in Times Square and Grand Central Station, where we had champagne and then went for lunch in Planet Hollywood in all our finery.
People were so lovely in congratulating us. Because Steve was wearing a kilt, lots of folk came up to tell us how they were fifth generation Scottish and, of course, Irish, once they heard my accent.
After lunch, we said goodbye to Brian and went to an Irish pub for a couple of drinks. It was just such a laugh sitting on a bar stool on a Thursday afternoon in a Fifties-style wedding dress chatting to the locals.
We had booked a meal at the River Cafe Restaurant, which is in Brooklyn right beside the Brooklyn Bridge with amazing views back across to the Manhattan skyline. It was just so beautiful and the perfect way to end a great, low-key and relaxed day.”
‘Within hours of our dance someone had even put a video up on YouTube’
Michele Craig (52), an administration clerk from Lisburn, married Mark Neeson, (50), a warehouse operative from Belfast, at Edenmore Golf & Country Club in Magheralin in September 2013. She says:
Mark and I met in 2003. We both worked in the same office, but it was absolutely not love at first sight. Mark said I nearly crushed his hand when we were introduced, and he remembers thinking, ‘I’ll not upset her’.
We did become good friends, though and were set to get engaged in Edinburgh, but Mark left the ring in his mother’s house and couldn’t get access to it, so he eventually proposed up Cave Hill after dinner in Belfast Castle.
We wanted to get married for an old-fashioned reason: we just loved one another other and wanted to do things properly. But it was always going to be unusual. We were married on Friday 13 for starters, as 13 is my lucky number, nine is Mark’s, so 13.09.13 it was. We didn’t have any problem booking the venue.
We knew we didn’t want a slow slope around the dance floor for our first dance, we wanted something a bit different and fun to reflect both our personalities.
But it was difficult. Remember, this was before choreographed wedding dances became quite popular.
We happened to mention the problem to our wedding planner and they suggested Conwell Dance. We called Kevin Conwell and met him a few days later. As it was only about three weeks until the wedding, time was short, but Kevin choreographed everything brilliantly.
It took just six one-hour lessons to complete, plus a little bit of practice at home when no one was around, as we had kept the whole thing quiet. No one was expecting a thing.
On the day of our wedding, I was very nervous. Ten minutes before we were due to perform the dance, I dragged Mark into the wedding apartment for a quick practice session. Mark wasn’t nervous at all.
The first 60 seconds or so, we danced a slow dance around the floor, traditionally, as people do, to Dean Martin’s That’s Amore, as that was the first song we ever danced together to. Then, everything changed.
Cut to choreographed dance moves performed to the music of Footloose, Beyonce’s Single Ladies, LMFAO’s Everybody’s Shuffling and MC Hammer’s Hammer Time. Funky and fun. We made a mistake or two here and there, but they weren’t too noticeable.
All of our guests absolutely loved it. It was so unexpected for them. There was squeals of delight and lots of laughter from everyone. The reaction was fantastic. Within two hours of performing it, one of the guests had even posted a recording to YouTube. These days, everyone still talks about it and everyone can still watch it.
If I could go back and do it again, I would probably have made it a bit longer, with some more tunes and moves incorporated. If we’d found Kevin sooner, and had more time to practice, I think we would have managed it. In saying that, it was great fun and it certainly got the crowd ready for dancing themselves.”