Not The Royal Wedding: The Poignant Ways Family Can Make Your Big Day Truly Special

'It feels special and right.'

Weddings aren’t just a chance to celebrate love between two people. For many couples, the day is also a way to recognise their love for all those around them.

For those taking part in HuffPost UK’s ‘Not The Royal Wedding’ series, which follows couples getting married on 19 May, the same day as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the occasion is an opportunity to ensure their nearest and dearest are there every step of the way, from brothers as best men to nieces as flower girls.

When Julie Spencer, 48, walks down the aisle to marry Gary Miller, 50, the moment will be made even more special by the presence of her dad who will turn 86 just before their wedding. “My dad missed my first wedding due to a serious illness and since then my mum has died, so it is really important to me that I have him there,” says Julie. “He is currently being treated for prostate cancer, which has made him even more determined to get well and walk me down the aisle.”

Left: Julie and her dad. Right: Gary and Julie.
Left: Julie and her dad. Right: Gary and Julie.

When Jo Want, 33, marries Will Tarran, 35, she will share the walking down the aisle moment with her dad, but her mum and grandma (who she calls mama) will walk in ahead of them first, followed by her bridesmaids.

“To have my whole family give me away feels special and right - they all get to make sure I go,” Jo laughs. “I know it’s tradition to have your father give you away, but I wanted my mum and mama to be part of that too, especially as my other grandparents won’t be with us.”

Jo and Will.
Jo and Will.

Emma Tretton, 26, and Rachel Sutton, 27, will forego tradition and have only their mums walk them down the aisle at their wedding. “My mum has been there throughout my life, more than my dad,” Rachel says. “Therefore it feels more natural for her to give me away as she is a big part of my life.”

Similarly, Emma says she has always been closer to her mum and her step-dad than her father. She originally asked her brother to walk her down the aisle but he didn’t want to upset other family members so she says her mum felt like the perfect option. “I felt bad that I didn’t ask her straight away but she understood why. I can’t wait to have her by my side.”

Both women are looking forward to walking down the aisle with their mums: “I’m really excited, I reckon we will just giggle all the way down,” says Emma, while Rachel adds: “I think we will both be nervous with everyone watching us.”

Rachel and Emma.
Rachel and Emma.

The act of ‘giving away’ the brides is just a small way friends and family members can be involved. In memory of her mum, Julie’s first dance will be a square tango with her dad to ‘Love Is Here To Stay’ - her mum’s favourite song - by Frank Sinatra. Gary will then take over and they will dance together as husband and wife.

Julie and her dad have squeezed in a few practice sessions already, spending hours dancing away in the kitchen and hallway - that was, until her dad’s knees went. “We have left him a copy of the song and he has written down all the steps in his dance book so he can practise,” Julie adds.

She’s both “excited and nervous” about the dance: “I did feel emotional when we practised as my mum loved the song and it brought back memories of when I used to ballroom dance with my dad on holiday when I was a little girl.”

Emma and Rachel have chosen their sisters to be bridesmaids, while Rachel’s younger brother is their page boy and Emma’s nieces are their flower girls. But for Jo, the choice was a little more stressful: “I either had to have about 20 bridesmaids or just my sister and my niece, so I’ve gone with the latter. I’ve got quite a big, mixed group of friends and I would find it impossible to choose a smaller number without worrying I’d upset anyone.”

For the grooms, family also come first. Gary has chosen his two sons to be best men, while Will says his twin brother was his “automatic” choice. “Being twins, we’re very similar, so I’m a little worried that, like I did for him, the stag do and speech will be a bit last minute,” he says. “But in the end I’m sure he’ll do a great job.”

Will might be readying himself for his brother’s speech, but he and Jo will have to wait until 19 May to find out who will be giving readings during their ceremony. As part of their “festival-style” humanist wedding, they have put a selection of friends and family directly in touch with the celebrant to make independent plans.

“The readings will be a surprise for us on the day,” says Jo. “But if they decide not to do it, that’s fine too - I don’t want anyone to feel under pressure.”

It’s clear both family and friends are crucial to our couples’ big days. Now they’ve deliberated over who’s doing what, it’s time to get going on the honeymoon plans. We’ll be hearing more from these couples soon, along with Shailesh and Monica, Mike and Alexia, and Dafydd and Ceri.

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