This story was published on Woman.
Beer festivals, birthday parties, and airports aren’t your usual wedding venues, but for these kiwi couples, they were the perfect place to tie the knot. Vegas bride Sharon Stephenson shares her celebrations.
1. Sharon Stephenson and Martin Haughey
The bride wore white, the groom wore blue, and Elvis’ outfit has so many rhinestones in it that it was probably visible from space.
I was that bride and that was my Las Vegas wedding in 2008.
I met my husband Martin in a dirty London pub during my OE and we’d spent years avoiding the marriage bullet. It’s not that we’re philosophically against marriage – we both love attending other people’s weddings – but the thought of being the center of attention and spending so much money on something we couldn’t drive or live in , left us cold. Plus, we’ve never been particularly good friends with tradition.
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When the opportunity arose to get married in Vegas for a magazine story, we jumped in.
One April afternoon, an Elvis impersonator led me down the aisle at Graceland Chapel, north of Vegas’ infamous Strip, under a heavy Nevada sky. Only we, the chapel owner and a photographer, were our witnesses. Elvis joked dad and sang Love Me Tender and can’t help but fall in love when we legalized our union.
It was cheesy, it was funny, and it was “we”.
Apparently we’re not alone. More and more couples around the world are saying “I Do” in all sorts of nontraditional ways, from Klingon and Harry Potter weddings to underwater ceremonies dangling from a cliff, parked in a drive-through, and everywhere in between.
As we approach the wedding season, I speak to three couples who have taken the unconventional wedding route.
2. Penelope Johnson and Sam Gruar
Penelope (PJ) and Sam know all about weddings: they have lost the number of ceremonies they have held at their three Arrowtown restaurants in the past decade.
But when it came to their own wedding, they didn’t want to go the beaten traditional route. “I love other people’s weddings, but the thought of organizing things like place settings and a wedding registry is a headache,” laughs PJ.
The couple had been engaged for five years after Sam, 38, suggested while they were on vacation in Peru.
But they had put all of their savings into their restaurants and a brewery that they opened last year. So there was simply a lack of money or time to “host a big meringue wedding”.
To celebrate their 40th birthday last July, PJ, Sam and 20 of their friends were scheduled to fly to Ibiza, where the couple had previously worked at the world’s largest nightclub.
“But then Covid happened. We thought, why don’t we have my 40th in our restaurant, but turn it into our wedding? “
They sent out 220 birthday invitations to make sure Sam’s Auckland family and PJ’s Christchurch whānau would be there.
“It was shortly after the lockdowns and people really wanted to get out and travel. We ended up with over 220 people! “
PJ, who loves to get dressed, found a top at an Arrowtown boutique and a designer made her an off-white satin skirt. The only ones she betrayed in her secret were the bridesmaid and the best man, PJ’s hairdresser, rock designer and mother.
“When the flowers arrived, some of our 36 employees asked if it was a wedding, not a 40 ..”
The first of August was warm and sunny, and at 5:30 p.m. PJ went upstairs to change into her wedding dress. “Sam gave a speech about getting tired of my Facebook relationship status and read,” It’s complicated “and that I would change it to married tomorrow! Everyone starts to clap and laugh. “
A bagpiper led PJ into the room before walking across the bar to Ladi 6’s song Like Water.
The couple had written their own vows – “Sam said,” I’ll never make you listen to UB40 or Simply Red, “says PJ.” And mine was, ‘I’ll always allow you to have crazy ideas’ “- and her two dogs were ring bearers.
A lot of food and drink followed in the three neighboring restaurants as well as dancing to the two DJs who had flown in from Auckland.
“We went to bed at midnight, but the party lasted until 2am. The next day there was a lot of headache! “
The couple are currently waiting for the borders to open so they can honeymoon in Spain, but PJ admits she wouldn’t change anything on their wedding day.
“It was such a festival of life and how happy we are in New Zealand to be able to gather together when so much of the world is still restricted. It was a dream day. “
3. Renique and Logan Williams
A crowded airport isn’t a dream destination for a wedding, but this is where Renique and Logan Williams got married two years ago.
The couple, who met at Otago University, hadn’t planned on mooring at Auckland International Airport, but the timing wasn’t on their side. “We had planned a traditional wedding on my parents’ Reporoa farm in March 2019, but the friend we were going to marry had not qualified as a wedding celebration,” says 30-year-old speech and language therapist Renique.
When the Auckland-based couple met Samantha Johnson at the wedding party at a barbecue, they told her about their dilemma.
“Sam said,” Why don’t I do the official paperwork first and then your boyfriend can still help out at your farm wedding, “adds Logan, also 30, who works in education and development.
It seemed like the perfect solution until travel agent Sam called the couple to say she had been offered an overseas work trip and that she should fly on the day they agreed to get married.
“She said, ‘I have a two-hour break at Auckland Airport so I can marry you if you want.’
We had a great relationship with Sam and thought we’d rather be married by her than by someone in a registry office we didn’t know. “
On the last Saturday in February, the couple and two friends drove from their home in Mt. Albert to Auckland Airport as witnesses. They chose the international terminal because “it seemed more glamorous than the domestic terminal!”
“Sam asked us if we wanted to get married at the sushi place or the bar, so we went upstairs to the Blue Marble Lane bar and ordered champagne and chips. Sam said the official words and we signed the papers. Then we had a quick kiss and that was it. “
Even though the ceremony was so brief, Renique admits that it was better than she’d thought. “The fact that something so big was happening in our lives, but nobody around us knew what was going on, made it pretty exciting. We didn’t even tell the bar staff. “
That evening they went to dinner with friends and two weeks later they had their traditional white wedding in front of 120 people.
The couple, who are expecting their first child in February, went on their honeymoon in Vietnam and Singapore a few months later.
“We had a giggle when we passed the airport bar. It still seems pretty surreal that we got married there! “
4. Callie Fleegar and Sandi MacKechnie
Imagine a craft beer festival. Now imagine a wedding between plaid shirts, beards and IPAs.
This is what happened to Callie and Sandi, who were married at the annual Wellington, Beervana beer festival in August 2018.
It was the culmination of a relationship that began in 2013 when 31-year-old Wellingtonian Sandi met 30-year-old American Callie at a party in Vancouver.
“Sandi was the first woman I ever dated,” Callie says in her soft American expression. “I studied in Vancouver and Sandi moved there for her OE. We met at a friend’s party and I loved her kiwi accent. I’m ashamed to say that I knew nothing about New Zealand except Lord of the Rings, but I thought Sandi was an amazing woman. “
A few years later, things started to falter when Sandi was fired from her graphic design job, and Callie, too, shortly after.
“With that, we’ve finished applying for Canadian citizenship,” explains Sandi. They didn’t feel like moving to Oregon, where Callie is from, and moved to Melbourne for a year. But in 2016, Sandi moved to Wellington with her partner to be closer to the family.
Although both women knew they had found their soulmates and suggested Callie not long after they arrived in New Zealand, saving up for a home meant a wedding was not a priority.
But then the craft beer-loving couple saw an ad on Facebook from the Wellington Brewery Garage Project, which was launching a beer called We Choose Love at Beervana – and to market the brew, they invited couples to either get married or to renew their vows.
“We are absolute opportunists. When we saw the ad, we didn’t hesitate.”
They had never been fans of a traditional ceremony and had often dwelled on wedding ideas, including getting married at dinner just with their families.
“I can’t imagine standing at the end of an aisle and everyone is watching me,” says Sandi. “It makes me wince. Plus, we’ve seen so many people stressed out about organizing large weddings. We say, “Why are people doing this?”
They showed up in Beervana around noon on a Saturday, one of four couples who were married during the two-day festival (and another four renewed their vows). Both were dressed casually in black jeans and white tops.
“We wanted to be able to enjoy Beervana afterwards,” says Sandi.
When about 4,000 thirsty punters whirled around them not knowing what was going on, the wedding reception and Beervana organizer, Beth Brash, conducted the 10-minute ceremony. Garage Project and Wellington employees stood on a plate as witnesses.
“We had written our own vows the night before,” says Callie. “It was probably the only traditional thing about our wedding.”
The couple didn’t tell anyone but their roommates, but instead called their parents at the five-star hotel they had booked that evening.
“Our families would of course have loved to be there, but they loved us,” says Callie. “It was a wonderful way to get married, only we among all these people had a good time. The fact that no one there knew it was going on was pretty cool too, like having a secret just for us. “
Though their plans for a honeymoon to South Africa, where Sandi was born, have been thrown out by Covid, they are pouring their energy into the townhouse they recently bought in Petone.
“My advice to anyone considering marriage is to do what feels right for you. It’s about what you want, not other people. “