When people talk about weddings, they discuss the venue, dress, food (sit-down meal or buffet), number of guests, overall theme. The ceremony itself is whittled down to ‘Are you writing vows?’
It’s no surprise that little thought is put into a process where couples don’t have much say. Registrar-led weddings have become the alternative to religious ceremonies, but there is a third option.
With a 49% increase in Google searches in the past year, celebrant-led ceremonies are growing in popularity as more couples look for personalisation — bespoke scripts, rituals, and references that reflect them and their love story.
To learn more about celebrant ceremonies, I spoke with Roxy Hayde – otherwise known as Roxy Celebrates Love. Roxy is a leading London wedding celebrant, but also performs ceremonies across the UK and abroad.
1. What is a celebrant-led wedding and what are the key benefits of having one?
People sometimes think the only ways to get married are with a registrar — either in a registry office or at your wedding venue, or in a church. Both can have their limitations.
Registrar ceremonies are formulaic — it can feel like once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. They follow a strict script and time allocation, have little room for personalisation, and focus mainly on the legal element of marriage.
If you’re religious and a church wedding is meaningful to you, great, but for most of the UK population who aren’t, getting married in a church can feel inauthentic.
Celebrant-led weddings are the third way. Instead of the focus being on the law or God, it is on the couple themselves. Your celebrant will work with you to create a totally unique wedding ceremony that tells your love story as a couple. They’ll spend time getting to know you both so they can write a bespoke ceremony full of wonderful anecdotes about you and your relationship. They’ll also reflect on your journey together and what you mean to each other.
All celebrant styles are different, but my aim is to tell your story in a fun, laughter and love filled way. Celebrant ceremonies can either follow a traditional ceremony format, but with tones of personalisation and character, or can be quirky and include all kinds of different elements, including song, quizzes and symbolic acts. You can write your own personalised vows to each other, and stand up and tell your partner what you mean to them in front of everyone you love in a way that you can’t in a traditional ceremony.
One thing is guaranteed — your guests will be treated to one of the best ceremonies they’ve ever seen. Instead of it being a boring formality before the fun begins, couples who have celebrant ceremonies often say it’s their favourite part of the whole day. When done well, your ceremony can start the day off right and set the tone for the party that follows. It will have your guests talking afterwards for all the right reasons. The feeling is one of joy, laughter, fun and celebration, rather than clock watching and waiting for the bar to open.
Plus, you don’t have to get married in a licensed venue, so you can tie the knot in your garden, in a field, up a mountain, on a beach or anywhere you like.
If you want to break from convention and treat your guests to something memorable, modern and unique that truly represents you, a celebrant wedding could be the answer.
2. What made you decide to become a celebrant?
When I got married, I didn’t really know about the world of celebrants. We had an amazing wedding, but when I look back on the day, the ceremony was probably the least inspiring part. When I saw a celebrant ceremony for the first time, I had massive regrets about not knowing before.
As I sat and watched that first celebrant ceremony, which was such a celebration of love and happiness, I knew at some point I wanted to train to do the same. From being a group facilitator, I knew I had many of the skills required. It also combined my love of love, writing and storytelling (a muscle I hadn’t flexed in many years, since doing my degree). Getting to fly alongside a couple during one of their most important life moments is the best job in the world.
3. How should a couple choose or search for a celebrant?
Once you have decided on your venue, book your celebrant as soon as possible. Celebrant weddings have been around for a long time, but have exploded in popularity over the last few years.
Instagram is a great place to begin your search. There are lots of resources out there, like the Celebrant Directory or Find a Celebrant tool on the Humanists UK website.
Whatever your method, make sure to pick someone you feel would represent you best and deliver what you want from your day. All celebrants are different, so shortlist those you speak to most. Arrange to speak with at least a few celebrants so you can hear about their process and check that you gel.
Also look at testimonials, reviews and photos from weddings your shortlisted celebrants have done to help make your decision.
4. How does the process work? What would be the first steps to planning a celebrant ceremony?
Every celebrant is different, so I can only speak for myself.
Once I’ve had an initial meeting with a couple, if we decide to work together and I’ve booked them in, they will make a deposit payment and sign a contract to secure their date.
We start properly working together on ceremony planning around 6 months before the wedding. This starts in the form of a questionnaire before the planning meeting, which gets people thinking about the ceremony in a bigger way.
The planning meeting is essentially me asking all kinds of questions to understand you as individuals and as a couple. During the planning phase, we can talk about what you’d like to include in your ceremony and I can make suggestions of things I know work well.
Then, armed with all the information I’ve gathered, I’ll write a totally bespoke, original wedding ceremony.
5. Is a celebrant-led wedding legally binding?
Celebrant ceremonies aren’t legally recognised in England and Wales yet. But, it’s looking like they will in the coming few years, as they are in Ireland and Scotland. For now, you need to do the legal part separately.
The ‘legal bit’ of getting married is incredibly straight forward. It involves paying around £40 at a registry office and having two people witness you signing the register. In this simple ceremony, known as a “2+2 ceremony” – there are no vows, no aisle entrance etc.
Some couples choose to go to the registry office with their parents or bridal party the day before their celebrant ceremony. There are many ways to do it, depending on how much an event you want to make of the legal element.
When you consider the expense of getting a registrar out to your venue of choice (costs vary depending on location, season, day of the week etc. — but in London they can be well over £1,000), having a celebrant wedding that makes your day stand head and shoulders above the rest is a bit of a no-brainer.
Plus, many celebrant ceremonies turn out to be more cost effective than doing things the traditional way. To get married by a celebrant, you don’t need a licensed venue. Unlicensed spaces are often considerably cheaper, resulting in a huge cost saving on what can be a very expensive day.
6. Can the celebrant ceremony feel less special if the legal bit is done separately?
Couples I work with exclusively and consistently feedback that having the legal bit as a separate entity in no way takes away from their big day.
The legal part is essentially the equivalent of registering a birth or a death. It’s a formality, the paperwork. You don’t celebrate the day you register your child’s birth — you celebrate their birthday! The same logic applies. All the couples I work with see their anniversary as their big celebration; the moment they shared their love in front of all of their family and friends.
7. What if family and friends don’t feel comfortable with the idea or believe a registrar ceremony is better?
I’m a big believer in doing your wedding day the way you want. If you plan your wedding around your family and friends, you’ll end up in a mess. The day is about you and what you and your partner want, not about conforming to traditions or what other people’s ideas of a wedding ‘should’ be. My experience is that more and more couples are leaning away from tired tradition and making their wedding something that gets them excited and celebrates them.
Regardless of whether you choose a celebrant-led wedding or not, as someone who is married, I can safely say that doing things on your own terms is the only way to enjoy the process of planning a wedding and the day itself.
8. What’s your overall advice to couples planning a wedding?
As mentioned in the question above — do it for you! Not for anyone else. It’s your day, don’t compromise on what you want to appease others.
You can find out more about Roxy and her ceremonies via Instagram.
Have you ever been to a celebrant wedding before? Read next: How Much Should You Spend as a Wedding Guest?