SHELLEY & CHRIS by Emily Rose Hamilton

Tell us a little about yourselves, what you do, what you love, what is unique about you and your relationship:

Chris and I met in London in 2014, our original wedding date (7 November 2020) would have been the 6th anniversary of our first date. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get married on our first date anniversary due to the second UK lockdown which meant we brought our wedding forward by 3 days, to be continued on that..!

I am a corporate lawyer and Chris works in property investment – he was an architect when we first met and I was drawn to his far more creative side. Art and design was a completely new world to me but one I have grown to love. I’m not quite sure I can say the same about law for Chris! Perhaps that is one of the things that is relatively unique about our relationship – Chris has always been incredibly supportive of my career and even quit his job in London to relocate to Dubai with me in 2018 when I was sent on a work secondment. We lived in Dubai for 6 months and had some of our very best times there, living in a new country and experiencing that together (the highs as well as the lows) brought us even closer, so much so that Chris proposed during a month long trip to Sri Lanka and India which we took at the end of our time in Dubai before returning to London.

Waiting for us on our return home was our pug Betty. She has changed our lives since we adopted her in 2016 and was without a doubt the thing we missed most about home whilst living abroad. Since Betty made us a family of 3, we have loved our weekends exploring dog-friendly London and other parts of the UK. Needless to say Betty played a vital role during our engagement photo shoot and on our wedding day itself, completely stealing the show on both occasions.

Travel is also a big part of our lives (well, it was pre-Covid) and we love nothing more than discovering a boutique hotel with dreamy interiors. We are both very ‘particular’ (aka extremely fussy) when it comes to the detail, which means that any holiday etc is researched and planned with military precision but that approach didn’t exactly bode well for wedding planning and I found every decision so difficult. I do think a lot of this was due to knowing the modern aesthetic I wanted to achieve but not being able to easily find the directories and suppliers to provide this.

Tell us about your special day, was there a specific theme or style? Tell us a little about the setting, the styling and some of your favourite details:

Our special day was the 5th iteration of our wedding that we had ‘planned’ in detail. The first was in Ibiza, followed by the Cotswolds for 100+ guests, post Covid this changed to the same Cotswolds venue for a total of 30 people, then London for 15 people after the restrictions changed again and finally it was London for just 5 guests + Betty.

With one week to go until our wedding day on Saturday 7 November, on Saturday 31 October the UK prime minister announced England would be entering a second national lockdown effective Thursday 5 November. It was confirmed that weddings would not be allowed to take place and the first thing we did within minutes of the official announcement was to book the last flight to Dubai on Wednesday evening, before the travel ban kicked in at midnight. We couldn’t face sitting at home in our small London flat during another lockdown on what should be our wedding day, so an escape to Dubai, a place where we’d had some of our happiest times, seemed like a great idea!

As we drowned our sorrows, the reality that we would not be married in November 2020 began to sink in and it wasn’t a reality we wanted to accept. Prior to the announcement, rumours had started to circulate that a second lockdown was imminent so we’d already been in touch with key suppliers (our photographer Emily Rose, videographer Ben Tynegate and make up artist Ruth Lily Reynolds) to see if they would be open to an. elopement / anything to get us married at some point in November – thankfully they were! Two glasses (bottles) of wine later and we had an outline of a new plan – we would secretly ‘elope’ with a humanist ceremony on Wednesday in London, the day before lockdown 2.0. To do this, we got back in touch with a wonderful humanist called Julia Dalziel, who we’d appointed for wedding version no.3 in the Cotswolds, and she set to work that Saturday evening for a humanist ceremony in a venue tbc on Wednesday! Sunday was spent emailing any London venue we could think of, our videographer Ben even helped us with a list of options, and then a miracle happened… we got a call late Sunday evening from Chelsea Old Town Hall (the venue we were due to legally marry at that coming Saturday) explaining that our wedding would need to be cancelled, but did we want to bring it forward to Wednesday at 3pm as they had one slot available? We couldn’t believe both our luck, and the fact the registrars were working at 8pm on a Sunday!

That call changed everything and the idea of eloping in secret felt different if we would be legally, as opposed to spiritually, married at the end of it. We called our parents and asked if they could be in London for a ceremony on Wednesday (our families do not live in London and would have had to navigate the various travel restrictions to make it, thankfully they managed it!). We decided however to still keep the plan a secret from friends – there was so much to do in the next 48 hours that it didn’t feel like it was really happening and we couldn’t face yet another cancelled wedding announcement.

Monday and Tuesday were intense. We had a weeks’ worth of final wedmin, holiday packing and not to mention actual wedding planning for this 5th iteration to fit into 48 hours. To this day I don’t know how we managed it – we didn’t even have wedding rings which were due to be collected on Thursday that week! And not to mention the issue of my veil which had arrived on Friday with the date 07.11.20 embroidered. I described those two days to Chris as my work ‘execution mode’, i.e. the ‘ carrying out of a plan, order, or course of action ’ definition of the word. He thought the ‘ carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person ’ definition was more accurate.

By 7pm on Tuesday, our wedding and holiday bags were packed and we checked in to Blakes Hotel in Chelsea. I had fallen in love with their ‘Corfu’ Hempel suite when we started London wedding planning in September, so this was an obvious choice of hotel to spend the night before our wedding when we found ourselves looking for venues, again. We had dinner in Blakes restaurant and slowly began to relax and let reality sink in – tomorrow was our wedding day.

We started the day with a breakfast of acai bowls, croissants and coffee in the room and exchanged wedding gifts from each other. Chris surprised me with a Miu Miu bag I had admired that September on holiday in Sardinia – the holiday when our 3rd wedding was cancelled and we planned a 4th. Chris then moved to a different room at Blakes to get ready, before we would see each other for a ‘first look’.

Whilst getting ready, Talena from JamJar Flowers delivered my bouquet, Betty’s collar and buttonholes and corsages for family. On 48 hours notice with an incredibly rushed brief (having first cancelled the flowers for our Saturday London wedding and reordered for a Wednesday London wedding, I dread to think how nonsensical my emails must have been!), Talena created the most beautiful bouquet and matching collar for Betty. The aesthetic was simple but elegant – a rose heavy bouquet with subtle hints of autumn.

As my mum and auntie arrived to see me for the first time, Emily, Ben and Ruth helped to pour champagne and prepare the suite for the first look. They essentially took on the role of bridesmaids and did so, SO much more than their roles as photographer, videographer and makeup artist. It was incredible and I feel so lucky to have found them and grateful for all that they did. When the guestlist is so small, you really notice each person and family have all since commented on what an amazing team they made.

The setting of our hotel suite was perfect for the first look format. The entrance to the suite was off a great little courtyard with a heated conservatory – where our family waited whilst Chris and I had our first look. We then emerged from the suite into the courtyard together, with Betty, to greet both of our families and officially start the day!

As we strolled around Chelsea’s stunning mews streets for photos, our families made their way to Bluebird restaurant (outside seating – as was allowed at the time) for drinks and nibbles. We then regrouped for the ceremony at 3pm. After the ceremony, we headed to The Ivy Chelsea Garden restaurant (again, outside seating) for a meal before we had to head off to catch our flight to Dubai – our ‘escape lockdown’ holiday had. now turned into our honeymoon! Part way through the meal, Chris decided to read out a couple of extracts from his speech. This was probably my favourite moment of the whole day. Although the speech wasn’t delivered quite as he’d planned (sat down, mid course and to 6 not 100 people!), it was such a special moment and Chris gave the most wonderful tribute to my dad. I will cherish his words forever.

 Tell us about your main outfits:

After our wedding was reduced from 30 to 15 people and the venue changed from the Cotswolds to London, I came to the sad realisation that my original wedding dress (a bespoke Jesus Peiro with a huge A line skirt) was not quite right for our city civil ceremony. Family and friends encouraged me to wear the original dress but I felt quite strongly about embracing our new city wedding and making this as special as possible – as opposed to shoehorning our old wedding into a new one.

With just over a month to go, I spent two evenings scouring the internet for more suitable outfit options and eventually came across a 1930s style dress by The Own Studio – a bridal boutique I’d originally earmarked for bridesmaids dresses. I made an appointment for the following day after being reassured by co-founder Rosie that 4 weeks was just about enough time to order and make a made to measure dress! This dress offered so much that I wanted from the outset but didn’t ultimately go for (long sleeves, luxurious satin material and actually unique) I couldn’t help feeling a little grateful that the Covid-19 pandemic had given me the opportunity to change dresses – every cloud..!

The dress sample was in dark ivory / gold satin which I decided to change to a more traditional ivory – as the dress style itself was not typically bridal I was keen to retain some element of tradition. I also made a few other tweaks to the cut, sleeves and length so that it really did feel unique. I had appointments with The Own Studio’s seamstress, thankfully based in London, each week for the next 4 weeks and received my dress as promised at the end of the 4th week.

My dress change also meant a veil change… and after ordering my dress I immediately turned to the veil. Just like with the dress, I felt this was an opportunity to go for something I wanted but didn’t get originally and decided to explore a bespoke embroidered veil. I sent a few emails and the quickest to respond was Rebecca Anne Designs – there was no time to waste. Rebecca really could not have been more helpful. I received a couple of samples within several days and opted for a simple embroidered design with our initials and wedding date. Given the constantly changing rules and increasing Covid-19 cases / general sense the country was headed in the wrong direction, we agreed that Rebecca wouldn’t embroider our wedding date until the very last moment. It was a tough balance as we also had to factor in delivery times which were no longer reliable due to Covid delays!

Despite changing my dress and veil, I did not change shoes and wore a pair of Francesco Russo silver platform sandals. My earrings were a simple pearl and Swarovski crystal stud by Hermione Harbutt which I might have changed to something more statement if i had more time (I would have loved a pearl hoop type style).

Chris’s outfit was much less dramatic – a tux from Richard James on Saville Row in London. His jacket and trousers were from their main collection and he had a horseshoe waistcoat made bespoke. Shoes were a pair of classic derbys from Santoni.

What were some of the most memorable/unique moments from the day:

By far the most memorable moment was walking out of Chelsea Old Town Hall on to the steps for our confetti throw, MARRIED. I remember looking up at the sky thinking wow, somebody must have been looking down on us today because we have done it, quite literally against all odds! After the confetti throw we video called family and close friends with the surprise news – stood on a main road in London dressed in our wedding outfits announcing that we were married was incredibly surreal but very special.

Other memorable moments were waking up to the most beautiful crisp autumnal day which came after weeks of rain; hugging my mum and auntie in my hotel suite in London after months of not being able to see them; walking through the streets of London with pedestrians stopping and cars tooting their horns to congratulate us; Gina (Chris’s sister / acting best woman) forgetting and then dropping the wedding rings at ‘thee’ moment; Betty greeting us on the steps for our confetti throw and then sitting on the steps as though she knew exactly what to do (she never sits, especially not without treats being waved in front of her); and, finally getting on the plane and recounting our story to the air hostesses who couldn’t believe we got married 6 hours ago.

A unique moment that was also really memorable was our first look. We hadn’t planned to do this originally when our wedding format was the traditional ‘bride walks down the aisle to meet groom’, however this was always the thing I was most dreading about the day as I would not be able to make this walk with my dad, who has advanced young onset dementia. The new wedding timings, i.e. with a ceremony at 3pm and a flight at 8.30pm, meant that we needed to start the day as early as possible and so we introduced a first look at 12.30pm with photos prior to the ceremony. The first look was really special, as was walking out to greet our families together, and avoided the moment where my dad’s absence would be felt most strongly. Another reason to be grateful for a Covid micro wedding.

Last but not least, leaving the hotel and Chris immediately standing in dog **** (not Betty’s!) is a moment we won’t be forgetting in a hurry. Apparently it’s good luck…

Any advice for other couples planning to spend the rest of their lives together:

To embrace the circumstances you’re faced with and to prioritise your relationship and happiness above convention and expectations.

Photography: @emilyrosehamilton | Videography: @tynegatefilms | Ceremony location: @marrymeinchelsea | Reception location: @theivychelseagarden | Morning Preparation location: @blakeshotel | Bride’s gown: @theownstudio | Groom’s attire: @richardjamesofficial | Rings: @queensmiths | Ring Box: @themrsbox |Bride’s shoes: @francescorusso | Groom’s shoes: @santoniofficial | Clutch: @rowanandfox | Veil: @rebeccaannedesigns | Earrings: Hermione Harbutt | Confetti: @adamapple | Betty’s lead: @jollyhound | Personalised Masks: @theownstudio | Bride’s makeup: @ruthlilyreynolds | Wedding Party Hair and Makeup: @blushblowlondon | Flora: @jamjarflowers | Catering and Beverages: @theivychelseagarden