My job is to talk about love. You might think that’s obvious, but it took me a while to realise.
That’s because as a celebrant, I don’t just conduct weddings, I also conduct funerals, and love isn’t the first word that usually comes to mind in that context.
We tend to think of funerals in negative terms not positive ones, or at least we used to until humanist ceremonies came along, and people began to realise that we could celebrate a life, rather than simply mourn a death.
Why am I telling you this? Well it’s because the first time I met Dawna was back in 2014, when I led the ceremony for her granddad, William Burton Smith. Wullie had served in the RAF, where he’d been a proud member of their Mountain Rescue Team. A skilled mechanic, he restored cars and vintage motorbikes when he wasn’t out fishing, or walking the hills with his nine dugs – never dogs!
As I said at the time, “Wullie was a man of the old school. He told the grandchildren he loved them, he told Aileen he loved her every day, but it wasn’t until his life was drawing to a close that he used that word to his sons. But he was of a generation who showed their love by what they did, not what they said, and there is no doubt that they knew he was very proud of them, as they are of him.”
Love is at the heart of everything I do and every ceremony I conduct; love in the present, love in the past and love in the future, so I was very touched when Dawna contacted me five years later about the wedding she and Chris were planning to have in July 2021, but as you can guess from the date, we had to wait until April of this year before we could finally have the day they’d been dreaming of for so long.
Lockdown was coming to an end at last, and there was a real thrill in the air when I arrived at Cairns Farm Estate. Lying at the foot of the Pentland Hills, about half an hour’s drive from Edinburgh, Cairns is just off that stretch of the A70 between Balerno and Carnwath called “the Lang Whang“, (the old Scots name for a long, leather bootlace) and it sits below the equally brilliantly named “Cauldstane Slap”.
Dawna and Chris had what the French call ‘un coup de foudre’. Literally ‘a thunderbolt’, it means an overwhelming feeling of love at first sight. Chris was the only sober member of a stag party, and as he said in his version of their story, “I had gone not looking for love or anyone, just a weekend away as a single guy.”
We had been to many bars having a great time and ended up going to a nightclub called Espionage on Edinburgh’s Grassmarket.
I walked in, and we headed to the lower level of the club as it was over several floors. Right there as I stood just glancing around, my eyes witnessed the power of love at first sight. There was this beautiful lady with a glowing aura surrounding her, drawing me in. I knew then I had to talk to her, the more I looked the more she infatuated me. I had fallen in love instantly.“
Dawna said, “Our eyes met across a crowded dance floor, and then Chris rescued me from a drunken bum who was insisting on showing me his best dance moves. We exchanged numbers, not realising that we were about to embark on a long-distance relationship.”
When they spoke, the first thing they realised they had in common was that they were both single parents – Chris had Callum, Corey & Caoife and Dawna had Alexander.
As Dawna said, “We racked up thousands of miles travelling by train or car. Initially we spent every other weekend together until the time was right to meet each other’s children.
It wasn’t always easy; long distances, my small 2 bed flat trying to house 4 young kids and 2 adults on a weekend, but eventually we both managed to sell our houses, and then Chris and the children made the move to Edinburgh not long before the arrival of our baby, Brody.”
9 years later, Chris and Dawna finally got to speak their vows to one another – which they wrote in secret just to make the excitement and the emotion of their day even more special!
Before that, though, Dawna’s bridesmaid Gillian read us that most popular of all wedding poems, He Never Leaves the Seat Up, by Pam Ayres. It’s popular for a reason – not just because it’s funny, but also because it’s so true!
When couples are speaking their vows, I like to give them a bit of space because what they’re doing is a bit magical. They’re creating their future in their own words, while speaking it to the person they love most of all in the world. It takes a bit of courage to do that, but as Dawna told me later, it was worth it!
“Writing our own vows and keeping them a secret from each other was exciting and honestly was such an incredibly emotional experience.“
With half the wedding party being English, they’d never been to a humanist wedding before, but everyone commented on how personal and meaningful it was, and just the overwhelming feeling of love!
We knew from the start that we wanted a humanist ceremony, and having been to our friends’ wedding and because you did my grandad’s funeral service, we knew you were the one.
The pre-work/homework felt a bit daunting at the start but sharing our stories as a couple brought back such special memories.
It most definitely reminds you what getting married is all about!
Too right it does, Dawna – and I’m so glad you had such an amazing day. These photos are all by someone I see a lot at the moment, Karol Makula, and you can see why he’s in such demand! He’s done his own blog on Chris and Dawna’s big day which is well worth checking out – you can see even more of his work here.
You can tell from Karol’s blog that the party continued well into the night – and I know that everyone had a really great time!
I love that sparkler idea, don’t you? Thank you so much, Dawna and Chris for allowing me to be a part of your most important day ever – long may you keep that flame of love burning in your hearts!