Read on for her best advice on what to do at your wedding – and what you absolutely shouldn’t!
Sammi and Simon’s traditional English wedding – with a Lord of the Rings twist
Thanks for chatting to us today, Sammi! Let’s start with your incredible manor house venue. How did you pick your venue?
The venue was one of the most important aspects to me from the beginning. I knew it was going to be a big part of the day – not the place we happened to get married in, but a part of our wedding. I wanted it to have a soul and tell a story – or else there’s no point. It could be anywhere.
So how did you go about looking for your venue? I imagine they don’t order venues by soul online. (Though they should…)
We’d just moved to Surrey before we got engaged and we’d absolutely fallen in love with it, so we decided we wanted to get married locally so our friends and families could experience where we lived. We decided we wanted to find somewhere within an hour of where we lived.
After that, we started thinking about the type of wedding we wanted to have. Simon wanted something a bit more relaxed and intimate, like a converted barn. I’m a big Harry Potter and Tolkien fan, so I wanted a castle… but it wasn’t quite in the budget!
Did you have a fixed budget at the point you started looking for venues?
We had a rough ballpark idea – that renting Anne Boleyn’s childhood home would have definitely taken us over! – but we didn’t know from the get-go exactly what the budget was going to be. We didn’t really have anything nailed down in the beginning – we didn’t know if it was going to be relaxed, if it was going to be formal, we didn’t know how many people…
A lot of that came after we decided on the venue. That set the scene for everything else.
So how did you decide if you were going to go with something more relaxed, like a barn, or something more formal, like a castle?
We realised we both liked older venues, so we started looking at places based entirely on the outside. If it was olde worlde, we added it to the short-list, and then we visited to judge the inside!
What we found though was a lot of the older properties had been bought by a corporate chain and gutted for corporate events. The personality of the buildings had been stripped out, until it was a really big conference room with a nice view. Everything was just cream, cream and cream.
You’d have to put so much work in to make it personal – or else just hire the venue to take photos on the outside and have a marquee on the lawn. But we didn’t want to do that. We wanted to have something that would be amazing on the outside and lush and rich inside, wherever any part of our wedding would be.
We didn’t want a venue that felt like a production line. In fact, that’s what really turned us off a particular hotel group.
They made you feel like you were on a production line?
They put us in a production line.
…like, with hats?
What? What do you mean?
What do you mean?!
We went to see a venue. We were being shown around by the representative, seeing all the rooms, and she took us into the reception hall where a couple had literally just come out of their ceremony. All their friends and family were standing there, having drinks, and the representative was using their wedding as promotion to get another wedding in.
That’s somehow worse than what I was picturing.
The bride came over-
How is it still getting worse?
-and she was – rightfully! – annoyed. ‘Erm, excuse me, what’s happening here?’
And the representative told her she was showing the rooms because it helps other people to visualise how the rooms can be decorated in different ways.
(Noises of professional wedding anguish)
It was horrible – especially considering the budgets they were talking about.
Imagine you’ve spent a fortune, you’ve chosen this venue, you’ve got your theme, and your wedding is now basically advertising to get somebody else on board. It absolutely turned us off.
From there, we decided to only look at independent venues. We didn’t want to be just another number for somebody. We wanted to find a beautiful place that cared about our wedding.
And you found Loseley Park.
We did. We knew right away. The moment we walked into the main hall, my jaw dropped. I said, ‘It’s Hogwarts!’ And Simon just laughed and said, ‘Right, there’s no point looking anywhere else!’
We just knew. Whatever the cost was going to be, we knew we’d find a way to make it work. Even it it meant having a tiny wedding with our immediate family – that was where we wanted to get married.
It hit everything on our wishlist. It dates back to Elizabethian times – and still has items from Elizabethian times in it. There’s a cushion made by Queen Elizabeth that you can touch. It’s museum stuff that’s not behind glass!
In your face, Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn!
But best of all, they had a barn, so it never felt like either of us had to compromise.
That’s fantastic! It’s so important to remember the day is for both of you, and make sure it represents you both.
It did. It was so perfect, I hugged the housekeeper.
Well… I’m going to put that in the don’t column, generally speaking, but going with your gut is a good way to make a decision on venue. Was there even a discussion?
Not really. We’d brought some friends with us – one of my bridesmaids and her husband – and we asked them what they thought, but it was a very emotional choice. It was like when you buy your first home; when you walk in, you just know.
So if the friends you’d brought along to weigh in on the venue had hated it, would you have just ignored their opinion?
It was helpful having them there, to talk about the different venues and different ideas for what we could do, but at the same time, we didn’t want to bring people along who were so close to the wedding, they might influence us away from something we loved. Because our parents helped a bit with the budget, it would have had more weight if they’d come along and said, ‘This is going to be too expensive.’ We would have felt we had to listen to that.
Having friends there meant we got a second opinion and we had people we could bounce ideas around with, but it felt like the final decision was still ours.
So, you chose the venue before you’d really decided on a firm budget or nailed down other decisions – would you say that influenced the other decisions that you made for your wedding?
Yes. That set the tone. I was initially thinking I’d have a more low-key dress but, because Loseley was a bit fancy and grand, I decided the dress needed to be spectacular – a big-impact, Disney princess sort of piece.
How did you find your dress?
I went wedding dress shopping! I’d never done it before and I wanted the full experience people talk about, going and trying on dresses with your friends and a glass of champagne.
I hadn’t been to a single wedding fair or looked at a single wedding magazine – I went in cold turkey, not really knowing what I was looking for. I just told my bridesmaids to choose what they each liked, and I’d go from there.
And how did that work out?
They had… very different ideas.
My maid of honour is American and I learnt what Americans like is very different to what the UK offers. She liked glitz, diamante, frills – a lot of stuff. My other bridesmaid picked very different outfits. But all three of us wound up loving one dress – that was fifteen grand.
That was my food, my venue, all my entertainment, and some. Not happening! So I decided to look at the second-hand market.
How did you find looking second-hand?
It made me miserable.
So many people were mis-selling – the dresses weren’t in the same condition as they were showing in the photos. And being so cost-driven ruined the experience of getting a dress for me. The people were super nice, letting me try their dresses on, but going round to other people’s houses instead of trying on dresses with friends and a glass of champagne just wasn’t a pleasurable part of the wedding experience. I was just getting a dress to provide a function.
I looked quite aggressively for around four months – which was about half the time we spent planning – but the cheapest dress I could find that was close to what I liked came up about £600, £700. Looking at the budget, I realised I could afford about £1,000 on the dress and since the photos were going to last a frickin’ lifetime, I decided to go for new, for the sake of £300, £400. And that transformed the experience for me.
Less than a year is a really ambitious time to organise a big, traditional wedding like yours – especially without a planner! How did you find it?
Yup, that checks out.
We took the date because the venue had it available but it would have been a lot more comfortable to have a year – nine months was really tight!
What was the hardest part of wedding planning for you?
Actually, the toughest thing I had to do was tell people we were having a kid-free wedding.
A lot of our friends had already had kids when we got married – there would have been twenty-three kids at our wedding, the majority under six – and it would have been an entirely different day to accommodate them.
We decided after we sent our save the dates so, for close friends and family, I called people individually to let them know. And that was the most difficult part of the entire process.
People said, ‘But you’re not a parent, you don’t understand. It’s not as though I can just stop being a mother or father, who am I supposed to leave my kid with?’ I got told the difficulties, how they were going to have to plan a babysitter, how they were not going to be able to stay for the entire day so would I prefer them for ceremony or the evening…
I felt so guilty. Especially hearing it from family, because they felt like their kids had a right to be there. I wound up crying to Simon, wondering if we’d made the wrong decision and if we should change it. But I’m so glad we didn’t bend. All those people who had made it really difficult at the beginning said they had a wonderful evening away from the kids. Thank God!
That’s always a really difficult one. There is a point, around ten, eleven years old where you can see a kid might feel left out of a wedding. But a kid six or under absolutely won’t feel left out, and will change the dynamics of the day. But the worst thing to do in that situation is break the rule for some people – it’ll only cause grumbling from others! I’m glad you stuck to your guns.
Me too. And I’m also glad I never have to have those conversations again.
Is there anything you did bend on that you regret now? Or anything you wish you’d done differently on the day?
One thing I really regret is putting myself last on the day. I’d spent all this time planning and I couldn’t let go. I quite checking my email, checking in with the best man, and I let my bridesmaids and maid of honour get their hair and make-up done before me, so I could keep checking in. The problem was, they asked for changes, wanted to make sure everything was right so, by the time it was my turn, we only had forty minutes left. I wound up rushing to get ready.
Advice I always give my friends who are getting married now is: put yourself first on the day. Be selfish with that one bit. You’ve organised everything, you’ve worked so hard, on the day, you need to reap the benefits and come first. And ask someone to take your phone away so you can chill out!
That’s a good tip! Any other regrets?
Looking back, I would’ve done my own make-up. I like quite strong eye make-up, I like smoky eyes. I was excited to have someone else do my hair and make-up but I just didn’t look like myself. It was dewy and light. It looked beautiful, but it wasn’t me. And, two, three hours later, after being overheated in a big dress, I looked blanched. Three different women put their blusher, their lipstick and eyeliner on me, because there was no colour on my face!
That’s a great point. It’s fantastic to have a professional in, but you want to make sure you look like yourself – even if that’s not the style the professional would prefer on their portfolio! Anything else?
I got a little bit too merry, too early.
It was lovely to have a glass of bubbles in the morning, but because I drank too much early doors, I was a bit squiffy when the speeches were happening and I wish I hadn’t been.
We didn’t have a videographer but – thankfully! – I’d asked my brother to record the speeches on mobile, so I’ve got them forever. I’m so glad I did. Out of everything from the day, I think my dad’s speech is the thing I treasure the most. Honestly, it makes me cry. It’s beautiful.
That’s a fantastic point: you don’t need a videographer to get a recording of your wedding. And even a phone recording of a speech is better than no recording at all!
I’ve made a point of recording wedding speeches on my mobile since then and sending them to the couple afterwards, because it’s so important to have them recorded. And so easy in this day and age!
I love that you’re actively helping other couples, with your hindsight! Is there anything you wish people had told you?
Nobody ever told me, you kind of get a bit of an anti-climax after your wedding.
The post-wedding blues! I’m so glad you brought it up. I think it’s so common but no one actually discusses it. It’s one of those things I wish I’d known about, too.
I really struggled with it. I really struggled with just going back to work and back to normal. It was like the last year just disappeared. The party’s over, you’re no longer engaged. And after surviving for so long on so little sleep, doing so much, having this purpose, and then suddenly it wasn’t there – I just went, ‘…Now what?’
I didn’t feel like a Mrs the next day. But we did have cake! That helped!
Cake always helps!
I’m so glad we ordered it for us, not our guests. It was so good. The caterers chopped it up and we put some in the freezer. You know how you’re supposed to leave it until the next year? Yeah, that didn’t happen. We had to order cupcakes in the same style for our anniversary instead.
Yes. Had to.
Absolutely had to.
That actually leads us into the best part of the interview: the great decisions you made! Of course, we have to talk about the Lord of the Rings element to your day. There are so many fantastic details and nods in your pictures. You named the tables after different areas in Middle Earth, with figurines from that area on the table, you had signs and decorations inspired by Lord of the Rings, and even mushroom-shaped sweets as favours.
Yes! Although one of our friends missed the theme and thought they were nipples…
…So let’s talk about how you hit on that theme and how you worked it into the day. The, uh, Lord of the Rings bit. Not nipples.
I’m a big fantasy and Tolkien fan. From the beginning, I had so many wonderful ideas on how to work elements into the day, but I didn’t want it to be a token wedding. It was a traditional wedding with accents of things that were very, very dear to me and to Simon as well.
It was important that it wasn’t a Loseley wedding, it wasn’t a Tolkien wedding, it wasn’t a traditional English wedding, it was a Simon and Sammi wedding.
That’s so important to remember! Your day shouldn’t look like anyone else’s.
We really wanted to have something that belonged to us and would stand out. We decided to bring a logo across the day as well, of our initials joining to make a W for Wilder, our married name. It runs all the way through our wedding, the same as the Lord of the Rings accents – it’s there but not everywhere, so you can see our personality running through.
‘Personality’ is the perfect word for your wedding! You brought in a special touch I’ve never seen before.
Yes, my extra surprise for the wedding! Nobody knew about this at all. I had this genius idea near the end of my wedding planning. The budget was set in stone so I wasn’t sure if it would work. I decided to sell some clothes on eBay to raise the money and do it as a surprise.
And I’m the type of person that, if I buy a surprise for Simon, I’m like, ‘Do you want to know? Do you want a clue?!’ So, to keep something like that was so difficult.
But, considering his reaction and hearing everybody’s feedback afterwards, it was worth doing. It was the cherry on the cake.
It was bums!
It was Brazilian carnival dancers, with their bums out!
I wanted to tie something into my family heritage. Simon and his groomsmen were wearing kilts for his dad, who’s part Scottish, and I wanted to embrace my mother’s Brazilian heritage as part of the day as well. Especially since Simon proposed to me in Brazil – it was a big part of our love story.
And they were amazing. They came out during our first dance and Simon just did a double take! It’s the part of the day everyone still talks about!
What to steal – and what to avoid!
- Organise your venue first! Not only will it dictate the rest of your budget (and, erm, the date), it will help inform the style of your wedding. A rustic, shabby chic theme is going to feel out of place in a five-star hotel serving a six course meal and an elegant, formal wedding won’t look at home in a bowling alley. (Though it’d make for some interesting pictures…)
- Look at smaller suppliers. An independent wedding vendor is going to care about making your wedding perfect for you in a way big chains just can’t.
- Be careful whose opinions you ask for early on. You might feel pressured to do exactly what your parents suggest if they’re helping towards the budget in a way you won’t with your wedding party.
- If you don’t have a videographer, ask a friend to record the speeches on their smart phone so you still have a recording to look back on later.
- Make sure your day feels like you! Work your personality into the day. It’s your wedding, not anybody else’s, and it should feel that way.
- Consider adding a little surprise to the day that your guests aren’t expecting – but only surprise your partner if you’re certain it won’t embarrass them.
- Be aware you might get the post-wedding blues! It’s normal to feel a bit out of sorts after everything you’ve spent your time organising is over. Make sure you and your partner keep the celebration going a bit longer to ease the blues. (And eat some cake!)
- Do anything for your wedding that you don’t enjoy. It’s not worth driving yourself mad hunting down a second-hand dress for the sake of saving a little bit of money – especially when you want to have the big wedding dress experience with friends and champagne.
- Bend! It might be hard explaining to people why you’re having a kid-free wedding – especially close family, who might feel entitled to dictate what your wedding should be like – but if that’s the decision you’ve made, stick with it! It’ll be worse if you break the rule for some people and not others.
- Keep planning on the day! Whatever will happen, will happen. Give your phone to a friend. Relax and enjoy the day!
- Put yourself last! You’re the one who’s put the time, effort, and money in – you should be the one who looks good in the photos! Do your styling early so you’re not rushing before the ceremony.
- Try out a drastically different look; you want to look your best, but you still want to look like you! If you want to try a different make-up or hairstyle look, at least do a trial before your wedding to make sure you like it.
- Hug the housekeeper.
Photography by Michelle Lindsell. Venue Loseley Park. Dress by Maggie Sottero. Kilts by Moss Bross. Flowers by The Gorgeous Flower Company. Design work by the bride under Wilderland.design. Carnival dancers from Salsa Direct. Cake by The Crumby Bakery.