Not even the rain could dampen the spirits for Hannah & Jon’s magical Wedding Day ….
Tell us about the proposal – how and where did it happen?
“Jon had planned an epic proposal but it didn’t quite go to plan. It’s a bit of a long story but one we’ll be telling for years…
We’d planned a surprise 30th birthday trip to Italy for Jon’s sister, Lizzy, over the Easter holidays in 2018. She didn’t know anything, just got in a car with her husband, and their daughter, Larissa, with a packed suitcase and they started driving. Jon and I travelled by plane and the plan was to meet them there and surprise Lizzy in the hotel we were staying at in Lake Garda. Little did I know that there was a surprise for me on this trip too! Jon and I had been to Lake Garda on our first holiday together and he’d planned a meal for the two of us at our favourite restaurant on the lake, Esplanade in Desenzano, before the others arrived. Unfortunately, we only brought a shared suitcase with us (luckily my nice dress was in there!) and Jon’s smart clothes were in the car with his sister and brother-in-law, so he wasn’t quite dressed for the occasion (in fact, he was wearing a now infamous white polo shirt which he more-often-than-not spills food on – and didn’t fail this time, having spilled some Carbonara at lunch!). When we arrived, the heavens opened and there was a HUGE thunderstorm – I didn’t realise until later on that Jon had actually planned for us to have our meal on a candle-lit jetty on the lake outside the restaurant…that didn’t quite work out! We sat at the same table as the last time we visited, and whilst I was busy looking out the window at the lightning, Jon tapped me on the shoulder and I looked round to find him holding open the box! I instantly started crying and obviously said yes straight away! I had no idea that Jon had secretly asked permission from my dad to propose, and the only other person who knew the plan was his brother-in-law. The lovely restaurant staff were obviously in on it and brought over a plate ‘Congratulations Mr and Mrs Alford’ written in chocolate sauce. 5 minutes later, Lizzy, her husband and Larissa arrived at the restaurant to drop off Jon’s smarter clothes which meant we had to abandon our planned surprise for Lizzy, but I think Jon stripping off in the car park whilst running towards the car to retrieve his clothes was a good enough shock for her! Luckily the pictures that were taken that evening were captured once Jon had got changed so I didn’t look ridiculously overdressed! We spent the rest of the evening enjoying delicious food and drink at the restaurant and chatting about what we wanted from the wedding, before heading back to the hotel and phoning our family and friends to tell them the exciting news.”
What was your first step in planning your wedding?
“I’ve always preferred handwriting and crafting over online pinboards, but since we were in Italy for the week, Lizzy and I (and Jon…) got planning straight away on Pinterest. I bought a beautiful leather-bound book from a stationery shop in Lake Garda which I ended up using as a scrapbook to stick in ideas, magazine cut-outs and business cards from suppliers. My parents bought us a ‘Wedding To Do’s’ book which was super useful – it had checklists for every part of a wedding and definitely helped me keep organised – I took it everywhere with me, even to work in case I needed to scribble something down (I don’t actually ever scribble anything down…this book was a thing of GLORY and I made sure I used the same pen and my neatest handwriting at ALL times!). The first thing we did before booking or buying anything was write a guest list. We then had an idea of what we wanted from the venue including its capacity. We then shortlisted our venues and put together a list of dates we preferred for the big day, including the anniversary of our first date which at the time was about 15 months away.”
What made you choose your wedding venue?
“Jon, my mum and I visited 2 venues less than a month after the engagement – the three of us have very similar tastes and agreed on almost everything when we were wandering around! The second venue we viewed was Gosfield Hall on one of their Open Days. As soon as we arrived, we were instantly wowed by the beauty of the grounds and the friendliness of the staff – it seemed to tick every box. We wanted a venue which had some character and was picturesque and we loved the way the venue was split into different rooms for each part of the day, the food and drink options were outstanding, and to top it off they only had availability for our preferred date which seemed a bit like fate. I was very excited about the prospect of staying over in the Lady’s Chambers on the night before with my bride tribe and drinking Prosecco in the hot tub and Mum got very emotional at the vastness of the breathtaking Roccoco Suite! Whilst we were exploring the venue we bumped into an old work colleague of Jon’s, Gaynor. Gaynor was a Personal Wedding Manager at Gosfield Hall (and managed our wedding for us), and in another moment which seemed like fate, we knew it was meant to be!”
Wedding budget: how did you organise your wedding budget?
“We are very lucky to be able to say that our parents generously handled the budget for the wedding. We didn’t want to go over-the-top with things that weren’t necessary. To start with, I got very excited about things like photo booths, sweet carts and outdoor games, but realised very quickly that at the end of the day, our priority was actually to make sure everyone had enough food and drink (emphasis on the drink…) and that we wanted as many people on the dance floor as possible!”
Inspiration: Did you use blogs/social media/magazines for ideas?
“Our main source of inspiration was magazines, particularly as I was obsessed with chopping them up and sticking them in my scrapbook! We enjoyed reading the Gosfield Hall’s ‘Real-Life’ wedding blogs as well. We attended a wedding fayre in London with our mums – to be honest all that was good for was collecting freebies…I think we went at the wrong time as we’d already booked a lot of our suppliers at that point. We went to Gosfield Hall’s September Dinner Date with our parents which confirmed to us that the food was great. And we also went back for another couple of Open Days which helped us picture how the day would flow.”
What were your wedding “must have’s”?
“As we’re both music teachers, our number 1 priority was to make sure that the day was filled with good music. We looked into several bands online, but wanted to see something live before booking, so we found The Blue Lion Band. They’re sort of like a Pic ‘N’ Mix band where you can select which instruments you want and you can also choose which music you want them to play from their set list and give them 3 requests to learn especially for your big day. They put on a showcase in London which we went to with Jon’s parents, and we thought they were great so we booked them for our evening reception. We also sourced a pianist, Luca Dimitri from a website called Function Central, who played during our ceremony and welcome drinks.”
“Food and drink, and plenty of it, was another must. We loved the choice of Canapés and Cocktails available for our welcome drinks, as well as the menu choices for our Wedding Breakfast. The main thing we agreed on is that we wanted the planning of the day and the day itself to be completely stress-free, and I’m pleased to say that we achieved this.”
Styling your wedding: how did you personalise your big day?
“We really liked how the venue looked without overdoing it with decorations, so we kept this quite simple. Mum, Jon’s mum and I handmade a few things such as musical heart bunting (which also doubled up as a favour for guests), fairy light centrepieces, musical confetti cones and table place names, but aside from that we made sure that our flowers (from Megan at The Willows), cake (from Helen at Amelie’s Kitchen) and stationery (from one of my bridesmaids, Charlotte) complemented our colour scheme which also tied in nicely with the aesthetics of the venue. A colleague of mine, Claire, designed and laser cut our musical cake-topper which I spray painted to match the pale pink/rose gold colour scheme. We certainly didn’t want to go over the top to distract from the attraction of the venue, and small things like this we have been able to keep and use to decorate little corners of our house to remind us of our wedding.”
Wedding photographer: how did you choose your photographer?
“Our photographer was Jasmine Jade, and she is on the list of Gosfield Halls’ recommended suppliers. Gaynor strongly recommended her and as soon as we met her we could see why. We felt she’d known us for ages and had an immediate grasp of what sort of couple we were and the style of photos we were after. The package we went for meant we met with her a few times before the big day, including for an engagement shoot, so we were super comfortable with her being around. Jasmine has photographed weddings at Gosfield Hall countless times so knew all of the best shots which meant we didn’t have to worry about a thing on the day. It actually rained for the entire day, which I was initially gutted about, because I’d seen in Jasmine’s portfolio the stunning photos that could be taken in the grounds of the venue, but as Jasmine walked into Roccoco Suite on the morning of the wedding, she’d already come up with plan B and I didn’t care about the weather anymore.”
Describe your wedding attire?
“I had an initial idea of what sort of dress I wanted – lacy, off the shoulder and quite fitted – and pictures of these sorts of dresses filled the first few pages of my scrapbook. As soon as my mum, Maid of Honour, Catherine, and I visited the first wedding dress shop, these are the dresses we picked out. I felt quite disheartened that of the 15 dresses I tried on in this shop, none of them suited me – and no one cried which was definitely a bad sign! I made more of an effort at our next dress shop appointment. I spent a bit more time on my makeup and curled my hair to make me feel a bit more dressed up, and this certainly helped make me feel more like a bride.”
“We walked into Nell Amore on Halstead Highstreet (which has now relocated to J’adore in Coggeshall) and I was initially worried at the smaller size of the shop. My mum picked out a dress which was being displayed in the window – it was not the style I had in mind, but clearly that was something I had to let go of! As soon as I tried it on, mum and Catherine said they heard me say “ooh this is quite nice actually” – something I hadn’t said yet! As the shop assistant, Heidi, secured the buttons I knew that this was the one. I walked out to show mum and Catherine and they both welled-up. YES! I hadn’t seen my best friend cry I think ever – my mum cries all the time – so this was definitely the dress for me. I’d obviously become obsessed with the show ‘Say Yes To The Dress’ and was so excited to finally answer the question! As well as being beautiful, the dress was super comfortable, and as it wasn’t fitted, I could eat as much as I wanted on the day without having to suck it in – result! The dress was paid for with money that my grandparents had left, which made it even more special. It was a very emotional day and we celebrated with Prosecco back at mum’s. Mum kept the dress hidden in her wardrobe between fittings to keep it a secret – we loved winding up my dad and Jon by saying it was orange with green spots…that joke got old very quickly!”
What accessories did you wear on the day?
“I accessorised with a veil from Nell Amore – something I originally said I didn’t want – but it finished off the look perfectly. I added a bejewelled hair comb, also from the dress shop, to sit on top of it and the jewels of the comb matched the beads on my dress. Mum also gave me the garter from her wedding which had some blue ribbon on it so it was my ‘something old’ and ‘something blue’. I also managed to find shoes with similar jewels on them from River Island. I wanted to make sure I was comfortable on the day, so went with flat sandals instead of heals. I rarely wear heals anyway so it didn’t make sense for me to blister up my feet and sacrifice being able to walk around freely (plus, if I did wear heals I’d be the same height as, if not taller than, Jon and I wasn’t having that)!. I had bra cups sewn into the dress so could go bra less which was brilliant! I bought pants from Ted Baker, but annoyingly they were too white and showed through the dress so I had serious VPL – so I wore my trusty backup nude pants during the day and changed in the evening.’
What did your partner wear?
“Sticking with local suppliers, Jon chose a suit from Hardys on Halstead Highstreet. As I was keeping my dress a secret, he also kept his suit a secret which I hated! It was the only part of the wedding that I didn’t have control over, but he promised that he’d keep to the colour scheme we’d agreed on. He chose a lovely navy 3 piece suit with a pale pink tie and pocket square which matched the exact colour of the bridesmaids dresses! He got it completely right and looked super handsome. He also managed to find some pink socks to really tie in the theme! Jon’s mum bought him some cuff links to wear as a gift and this finished off his look nicely.”
Tell us about your Bridesmaids, Groomsmen and their outfits?
“Jon had 4 Groomsmen: Best Man and brother David, brother-in-law, my brother Robert and best friend Jamie. The groomsmen, my dad and Jon’s stepdad wore the same as Jon and they all scrubbed up really well!”
“I had 5 Bridesmaids: Maid of Honour and oldest friend Catherine, best friend and musical twin Grace, best family friend Jemma, best uni friend Charlotte and sister-in-law-to-be Lizzy. They all got on extremely well, and were supportive every step of the way! I asked them by meeting with them individually and giving them a card and pocket mirror and promised not to turn into Bridezilla. Larissa, our niece, was our flower girl and she was the only one who was allowed to steal the show on the day! For the bridesmaids’ and flower girl dresses, we went to Bridesmaid Boutique in Bulphan to pick out their dresses. It’s a great little shop with a dress in every style and every colour – another Pic ‘N’ Mix of options! It was amazing, everyone liked the same colour (Rose Quartz) and style and it suited them all, they looked beautiful.
Our flower girl, Larissa, wore the cutest white dress from Dessy and it came with a matching Rose Quartz ribbon which tied into a bow at the back. Our mums also looked stunning on the day, with outfits from Condici complete with wonderful hatinators.”
“The bridal party was all on top form on the day, although we expected nothing less after the incredible hen and stag dos they organised for us – Jon and his 12 stags went on a canal boat around Oxford and my 14 amazing hens organised an incredible trip to Staffordshire!”
“I was a bit of a Bridezilla and wrote out a colour-coded running order for the big day (possibly a bit over the top…) so they knew what was going on and little jobs they needed to do…although Gaynor had EVERYTHING under control! As a thank you I gave my bridesmaids and my mum personalised silk dressing gowns to wear whilst we were having our hair and makeup done, and I hung them on personalised wooden hangers as a keepsake.”
What was your biggest wedding splurge?
“We unashamedly spent the most money on food and drink at the venue. As I said earlier, we wanted to make sure our guests had plenty to eat and drink over the course of the day and they certainly did! We opted for some of the supplemented items on the menu and our parents generously paid for us to have an open bar which meant the drinks never stopped flowing!”
What was your biggest wedding saving?
“There are a couple of savings we managed to make. My wedding ring was on sale and we got it for half price which was a great find considering there was only one that fitted my engagement ring! The suits from Hardys were very reasonable and looked very expensive. Other than this I think we saved a lot of money on not choosing to have unnecessary extras!”
What was your ceremony like?
“Our ceremony was held in the Queens Gallery. We didn’t have a religious ceremony, but really liked the traditional look of this room and I loved the long aisle! Our pianist, Luca, performed a selection of pieces whilst guests were arriving: Clair De Lune by Debussy, Just the Two of Us by Bill Withers, I Get A Kick Out Of You by Jamie Cullum and Isn’t She Lovely by Stevie Wonder. As the bridesmaids walked down the aisle, he began to play the piece I Due Fiume by Einaude. This continued as my dad walked me down the aisle. This was a very special moment. I’d bought him some cufflinks for the day which said ‘Today a bride, tomorrow a wife, always your little girl’, which sums up our relationship really well.”
“As soon as we started walking, dad spotted Jon was crying and pointed it out to all of the guests! We had two readings: Jon’s brother-in-law read lyrics from the song More by Frank Sinatra and my Auntie Juliane read Ordinary Morning by Joyce Grenfell. As we signed the register, our pianist performed What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong and Can’t Take My Eyes Off You by Andy Williams which are 2 of our favourite songs. As the sun came out at the end of the ceremony, we walked back down the aisle to Everything by Michael Bublé.”
Tell us about your drinks reception and wedding breakfast?
“Considering the weather, we were lucky enough to hold our drinks reception outside in the courtyard. We had plenty of Cocktails and Canapés to go round and keep our guests occupied whilst Jasmine, Jon and I escaped for our photo shoot. We had Prosecco, Strawberry Daquiris, Pimms, and beers, and Basil, Feta and Tomato Crostinis, Tempura King Prawns, Mini Scotch Eggs Smoked Duck Croquettes, Bang Bang Chicken and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries – Gaynor even organised for one of everything to be sent up to our room to make sure we tried all the food! Our pianist, Luca, also stuck around and entertained the guests with some more music which was great.”
“For our wedding breakfast we’d organised for some Eye Spy and Place Your Bets activities to be put onto the tables to help our guests mingle. This led to some fantastic pictures, and I think it got the guests who didn’t know each other talking – nothing wrong with a bit of friendly competition in betting on how long you all think the speeches will be! Our meal was perfect. For starters we had Prawn and Crayfish Tian or Roasted Artichoke and Asparagus Tart, Beef Wellington or Roasted Vegetable Wellington for mains and then a trio of desserts with Eton Mess, Chocolate and Salted Caramel Brownie and Créme Brulée.”
“Whilst all of my efforts were spent on enjoying every mouthful, I think Jon’s mind was elsewhere in mentally preparing for his speech! I think it’s natural to worry about whether the speeches will go down well, but they were perfect. Dad started off, after a huge round of applause fuelled by Jon’s stags chanting! Dad had included props in his speech and managed to include a picture of the time I performed for Boris Johnson (who had recently been elected as Prime Minister) and a framed childhood blankey. It was the perfect balance of funny and emotional and he remembered to thank all of our suppliers – I would expect nothing less from my dad! Jon’s speech was, again, very well-prepared and emotional. He extended our thanks and appreciation to our parents and our wedding party for everything they’d done to make sure we had the perfect day. I think he was very relieved to get his speech out of the way! Jon’s brother and best man, David, finished off by telling a few funny childhood stories about Jon and the stag do. All three speeches were very well prepared and were received incredibly well by our guests, they couldn’t have gone better!”
Tell us about your first dance – what song did you chose and why?
“Our first dance was to Never Too Much by Luther Vandross. We asked the band to perform an acoustic arrangement of the song and they absolutely nailed it! We aren’t the most gifted dancers so didn’t prepare a choreography, but we did practice a couple of moves to make sure I didn’t look like a complete melon!”
Did you have a band or DJ for your evening reception?
“We alternated the use of our band and the Gosfield Hall DJ, Jason. Our guests were up dancing all night (they had no choice as it was absolutely chucking it down outside!). The Blue Lion band were fantastic at entertaining everyone, and Jason played some great tunes to keep everyone on the dance floor. We gave him a list of songs that we wanted to play and our guests gave him some requests too. My bridesmaids even bought a cardboard cutout of Ainsley Harriott (hen do joke!) so he was able to be centre of attention when Jon and I were off mingling with our guests! We’d ordered equal amounts of our three-tiered cake (Chocolate and Salted Caramel, Carrot Cake and Cherry Bakewell) so that we had plenty to feed our guests and some to take home after. Alongside the plentiful cake, we opted for the evening BBQ.”
Based on your own experience, give us some top tips:
“The morning after, we were up early and decided to take a walk around the grounds before breakfast. At breakfast we were able to get round and speak to guests that we didn’t get the opportunity to speak to on the day. My parents also hosted a pizza and Prosecco after party at their house which allowed us to prolong the celebrations even more! We wanted to remember everything that happened so decided to have a picture guestbook. My bridesmaids were in charge of going round to all of the guests to make sure they’d taken a picture on our instax camera and stuck it into our guestbook with a message!”
“We agreed before the wedding that we’d make an effort to sneak off to have some time to ourselves and reflect on the day – advice that I’d read on other blogs and magazine articles. Jon and I really enjoyed the process of planning our wedding, if I could do it all again I would! I loved the organisation of it all and having lots of excuses to get together with family and friends for outings to fittings or meetings with suppliers. We really made the most of the experience and didn’t get stressed about anything.”
Did you go on a honeymoon or mini-moon?
“We booked our honeymoon through Kuoni to the island of Kuramathi in the Maldives. We left 2 days after the wedding and it was absolutely INCREDIBLE. We were thoroughly spoiled by our parents and they surprised us with Business Class seats which made the journey even more exciting! It was 2 weeks of absolute paradise, and we tried to make the most of everything, as we will never have the opportunity to go again. Generous contributions to our honeymoon from our guests meant we could experience so many memorable moments such as a private lobster dinner on the beach, snorkelling with sea turtles and spa treatments galore!”
“We genuinely enjoyed and made the most of every minute of the lead up to the wedding and most importantly, the day itself. We couldn’t have asked for anything more from Gosfield Hall, Gaynor, our family and our friends – they all gave us the most perfect day that we’ll never forget. Thank you!”
Purchase & Hire – Tell us who your suppliers were:
Wedding attire: Dress, veil and hair comb from Nell Amore in Halstead, now J’Adore in Coggeshall
Suit, tie and pocket square from Hardys in Halstead
Bridesmaid’s and Flower Girl dresses: Bridesmaid Boutique in Bulphan
Mother of the Bride Outfits designed by Condici from Cocos in Benfleet
Hatinators from Ann-Marie’s in Hitchin
Wedding rings: Ernest Jones and Beaverbrooks
Wedding cake: Helen from Amelie’s Kitchen
Invitations and Stationery: Charlotte Docwra
Photographer: Jasmine Jade
Band/disco/DJ: Luca Dimitri from Function Central The Blue Lion Band and Gosfield DJ Jason
Wedding favours: Musical hearts made by my mum, place names written by Hannah.
Flowers: Megan at The Willows
Hair and Makeup: Lipstick and Locks in Halstead
Balloons: Balloons by Mel in Halstead