It was in the depths of the Covid pandemic that Kees & Han first got in touch. They were locked down in Amsterdam at the time, but we had a great chat over Zoom, and I instantly knew they’d fully embrace the process!
In the first email I send to couples who ask me to conduct their ceremony, I share a post called Humanist Weddings – They’re a Guy Thing, which gently points out to grooms that the ceremony won’t be amazing unless they do their share of the heavy lifting.
After our Zoom call, Kees fired this one right back at me; the 10 red flags that tell Wedding Planners a couple aren’t going to make it. As he said, “Luckily no red flags that apply to us :-)”
Han and Kees are very experienced sailors, so they know all about the importance of planning. One of their first questions to me was, “how long is your average ceremony? We just need to factor that into our Order of the Day timings.”
It’s a good question. Have you ever wondered why TED talks only last 18 minutes? Our attention span is short, so my rule of thumb is to aim for around 30 minutes; that way your audience leave wanting an encore, not desperate for a drink!
Kees and Hannah had one hell of a story to squeeze into that time. As Hannah told me in her LoveWork, her brother Olly is a professional sailor who’d signed up to skipper a 70 ft yacht in the 2011 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.
Completely oblivious to Hannah’s existence at this point, Kees was preparing to do a Masters degree in London when one morning he saw a poster on the underground that said, “Achieve something remarkable – join the only global yacht race crewed by people like you” – APPLY NOW.
And so he did. He called his parents and – with great conviction and enthusiasm – told them about the race. They suggested “trying it out with a leg or two” but Kees was adamant. It was the world or nothing.
So, Kees cancelled his Master’s degree, dropped everything and signed up to race a 70ft sailing yacht 40,000 nautical miles around the world, pitted against 11 other yachts. Not just for one leg, but to circumnavigate the globe. Just like that.
Oh, and one more thing; until this point, Kees had only set foot on a boat 3 times in his life. “If I told you nothing else about my future husband,” wrote Hannah, “that would tell you everything you need to know.”
It’s a measure of how focussed she and Kees were that they managed to boil this wonderful story down to a single line in the ceremony, and Kees’s version got even less!
He’d met Hannah’s brother, mother and father long before he finally met her. They’d come close, but despite being in the same place at the same time on four separate occasions, they always just managed to miss each other – until the 5th of November 2014.
As Kees wrote, “we decided to stop for lunch in Lymington to do some batten repairs and say hey to Olly’s sister. We docked and Olly disappeared with one of the crew to get some replacement battens, leaving me and the others on board.”
“Not long after, a girl came walking down the dock. Black jeans, brown boots, long blonde hair and sunglasses. I remember glancing up and thinking ‘wow, she’s hot!’ She stopped at the boat and greeted us. I remember thinking I should play it cool, so I just said ‘hey, you’re Olly’s sister right?’ No idea what else I said, but I remember that moment like it was yesterday.”
There’s more than one lesson in what Kees and Hannah did. The LoveWork is designed to get you to remember everything that’s brought you to the realisation that this is the one person in the entire world you can’t live without, but that doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone every tiny detail of your story.
If your guests are mostly friends, then they probably know them already, and all they need is a one-liner to remind them. Sometimes less really is more.
On the other hand, if you’ve got a lot of people coming who you haven’t seen for a long time, then sharing those details is a guaranteed way to make them feel as though you’ve never been apart.
There’s no one ‘right way’ to write a ceremony. It all comes down to knowing your audience, which is probably why Hannah’s definition of the meaning of marriage got one of the biggest laughs of the day.
“2 people sailing short-handed who don’t lose their shit deserve to stay together.”
When it was time to speak their vows, Kees and Hannah chose to keep them a secret until the day.
Yes, it is ‘a high risk strategy’, but it raises the emotional temperature, and – in a way – it is the ultimate last-minute surprise wedding present.
Once I’d pronounced them married and they’d had their spectacular first kiss,
we signed the Marriage Schedule with their mums as witnesses.
Then Hannah’s brother Olly joined us for a rather special handfasting ceremony.
I love symbolic gestures when they are full of meaning, so I was delighted that Hannah & Kees decided to ask Olly to use three sheets to tie an Infinity Knot.
‘Sheets’ are the name sailors give to what we landlubbers call ropes, and the Infinity Knot requires three of them.
There’s a rather good demonstration of how to tie one here (it’s the second one, at 3′ 25″)
Kees and Han’s wedding was every bit as joyous as I had hoped it would be!
Along with these wonderful photographs taken by Michael and Alicja of Fotogenic of Scotland, they sent me some equally wonderful words, and once again, Hannah gets to go first.
“I have to say, I work in content writing and I find it hard to say how great your approach to our ceremony was. Not only was it special to us but after the ceremony so many people commented about how much they loved our ceremony, how personal and moving it was and how unique. Many people even said they had never been to a humanist ceremony before and they couldn’t understand why anyone would do anything else!“
“For us you were the perfect mix of smart and professional yet fun and entertaining. You made the day about us and not about anything else. You were (I hear) great at entertaining the guests before Kees and then my arrival and your ability to hop out of the shot when photos are taken is really cool!”
“I almost feel like I would like to chat to you more as you were so subtle and un-intrusive on the day it is like you floated in, rocked it and then left again. Just amazing!”
“Making your own ceremony together is not just emotionally wonderful – it is priceless. I have never been to a wedding before where people mostly comment on the ceremony – that is usually just something to get through, and in our case it seems that is not how people felt!”
“The best of luck rocking other people’s weddings – they are lucky to have you… Han & Kees x”
And I was very touched to get this message from the man himself, Kees, who said, “I know Hannah already wrote you an email expressing how happy we were with our ceremony and having you as our Celebrant, but I just want to reiterate it once again. We still talk about it regularly and I found myself at a work event the other day telling people about the joys of a Humanist wedding. So once again, thank you!”
That was a long post wasn’t it? Writing it has given me another idea. No matter how much of your LoveWork you choose to share on the day, it deserves to be properly preserved, so why not combine it with drawings, notes and photographs and use it to create your very own Book of Love?
The other reason I wanted to give this story more space than usual was to include all these wonderful photos by Michael and Alicja of Fotogenic of Scotland. I think they really captured the spirit of the day, don’t you?
So my heartfelt thanks go to them as well, and to the lovely team at the fabulous Byre at Inchyra too! Some of those apples made a delicious jelly later, with sage from our garden. It was a typically generous gesture from them to allow passers by to help themselves (so I did!).
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