There’s just so much enthusiasm and joy in Alison of Alison Saunders Celebrant words today – you can’t but help to be drawn in. Alison creates ceremonies with warmth adding personal touches to make sure that your ceremony reflects who you are. Her inspiration comes from your stories and her sense of humour ensures that your ceremony is never bland and never dull. And like all good celebrants, she has an innate sense of the ebbs and flows, the right times to inject humour, the right times to lead and the times to let a moment just be. Memorable ceremonies that start off your married life together are something that you will cherish for the rest of your life – after all these are the moments your life changed in the best possible way! Alison shares her story!
How long have you been a celebrant?
I’ve been a celebrant for almost 4 years, and my very first wedding was 3.5 years ago, on Anzac Day… wow that went quick!
Images by Two Click Photography
Why choose to be a wedding celebrant?
I’m really good at talking LOL!
No seriously – I’m a great presenter / facilitator, it’s what I’ve done for over 15 years. When I added my creative writing #skills and my desire to do something that added value… well, it was a no-brainer.
I’m also really good at getting to know people… it’s always amazed me the personal stuff people will share with me (long before being a celebrant). I think I have one of those faces that people just trust… I did briefly toy with the idea of being an international secret agent but then I got old hehe.
How have your former career and life experiences contributed to the celebrant you are today?
My former career was all about customer service. For over 20 years I managed frontline teams, I presented and trained and coached them on delivering quality service. I spent a lot of time standing in front of groups of people communicating with them. And much of that communication involved “getting to know” something and then putting it into a form that made it interesting and easy to take in…
For me, my background has groomed me to perfection for being a celebrant. Let me qualify – for being a damn fine celebrant #gottabragabitsurely
Image by James Billing Photography
How important is it to have a talent for, and be able to craft words that are meaningful to each couple?
It’s funny – for me this is crucial. I can’t imagine doing a ceremony where I didn’t put in the effort to make it meaningful to that couple. And to do that, my love of language and ability to write an engaging, amusing, touching ceremony – well, as I say, crucial.
What I am learning is that not everyone values that kind of ceremony. And that’s ok. I’ve come to terms with the fact that, like many things in life, I’m not going to appeal to everyone. For the people who value the ceremony in the same way I do, well, I’m going to make it something truly extraordinary.
Image by Alvaro Fuentes C
You seem to have a good sense of humour! How important is this in your profession and does this help your connection with couples?
Hehe… I like the think I’m funny… people do laugh along a lot of the time too so surely it’s not just me 😉
Truthfully the ability to have a giggle is really important to ease what is, let’s be frank, a pretty strange situation. I mean how often do you sit down with a complete stranger and share the story of your life, love and relationship with them?
So to me, yes, a sense of humour is important. When it comes to getting to know my couples, it takes the tension out of the situation. Everything feels a little less terrifying when you know the person you are trusting to write your ceremony doesn’t take themself too seriously.
I think it’s also important within the ceremony.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a stand-up comedian (if that’s what you are after I can provide you some recommendations ;-P) but well timed laughter can release the nervous energy that comes over all couples on their big day. Getting married is an intense, emotional moment in your life, but it’s also a joyful one – so laughter is not only OK, it is as welcome and wonderful as those heartfelt tears.
Images by Shaun Guest
How would you describe your style?
I’m not a free-styler. I do follow a script (which I’ve written ahead of time) but that’s not to say that I won’t adlib where the opportunity presents. For me I find that it relaxes my couple (and me tbh) to know that I know what I’m going to say.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m stiff or formal. Far from it, I’m all about relaxed, “real me” feels. I can adapt, I will read the crowd, and my couple, and I will go with what’s happening on the day.
What is the best part of being involved in a wedding ceremony?
For me it’s getting to know my couples. There are so many stories and everyone is new, different… I love seeing all the ways in which humans can express / demonstrate love. The moments of self-awareness, patience, laughter, connection… what’s not to love?
Image by Oli Sansom Photography
How do you find out from the couple what they are looking for in a ceremony, their style and the things that would appeal to them?
I spend time with them.
My preference is always to have at least one face to face meeting (geography permitting) so that I can get a feel for what makes “this couple” tick. I get cues from the way they are together, I hear little things in the conversation (the gold nuggets) that guide me.
And of course, I ask them!! It’s not my bloody wedding, so I have a conversation with them about what they love/hate about other ceremonies they’ve been to, the vision they have, their limitations and preferences… that’s the foundation for my creative process.
How many meetings do you typically have with the bridal couple to plan the ceremony?
I average two (2) meetings with each couple to get to know them and agree the flow / inclusions they want for their ceremony. This is also when we take care of all the legal paperwork. There are usually a few emails back and forth, there is homework for my couple when I’m writing a bespoke ceremony, and we work on vows and the like.
And then for those that are keen, we also have a rehearsal usually in the week before the ceremony. The final touchpoint, we take care of any last minute items and calm the nerves ahead of the big day.
Is it better if we have lots of ideas of our own, or if we don’t have a clue, how can you help us craft our ceremony?
There is no right or wrong, truly.
If you have a firm idea of what you are looking for, then I will work to that. If I can see a way to make the ceremony flow more naturally then I’ll suggest it. If there is something I think you might appreciate that you haven’t mentioned, then I’ll share it.
Equally, if you have no idea, them I’m absolutely the one who will help you create your ceremony. I have a litany of ideas, options, suggestions which we can work through. And I promise that this is an entirely pain-free process – cross my heart!
What does a typical wedding day look like, for you?
Most of my ceremonies are mid-late afternoon or evening. I try not to book other things in for the morning of a wedding day but I do like to be in a celebrant frame of mind. So, after a lovely walk with my little Frenchie and the mandatory coffee stop, I usually spend the morning taking care of admin of some sort. This keeps me focused.
I do a final check of my equipment, make sure I have everything I need, then I throw myself into the bathroom to put on my party-face & frock.
I always aim to arrive at the venue an hour before the ceremony so I can meet and greet the other vendors (venue coordinator / wedding planner, photographer etc) and set up my PA.
True fact – I am yet to have completed my “set up” before first guests arrive. The record was arriving at a venue 75 mins before a ceremony to find guests already there. In their defence they’d travelled from the country and weren’t sure where they were going / how long it would take… but seriously, go for a drink somewhere people! 😛
Image by Oli Sansom Photography
What are the little things you find yourself doing before the ceremony to assist the wedding party?
There is so much that happens in this time… I’ve fixed flower arrangements (victim of Melbourne winds), entertained little ones (and big ones), helped finish set up / putting chairs out, guided grandparents to their seats. I chit chat with the wedding party, make sure the best boy/girl has the rings, I straighten ties, pins, button-holes. I will help the guitarist with his soundcheck or give instructions to the person controlling the music… and I triple check everything.
But most importantly, I concentrate on keeping a calm happy energy… it will all happen as it will happen by that time in proceedings, so no point worrying about it any further.
Do you have some tips you can give the bridal party to assist the bride and groom just before and during the ceremony?
Trust me. Let me take charge, you just relax and be with each other.
Do whatever feels natural – if you want to hold hands, then do it! If you want to kiss (yes, I know, even before I tell you you can!!) then kiss each other for goodness sake!
Look around. Take in the love that is shining back at you from the family and friends that have come to witness your wedding.
And don’t forget to breath. It really will be OK, I promise.
Image by Two Click Photography
Does your job finish at the end of the ceremony?
No, not quite.
We’ve done most of the legwork by then, but there is still the paperwork to complete. My job is to make sure that it all gets lodged with the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. I do that both electronically and in hard copy.
How do you wind down after marrying a couple?
I’m an extrovert. And by extrovert I mean hands-down, poster child extrovert, who gets so hyped up from being around people and sharing in special moments (like weddings ;-)) that I actually need to do something fun after a ceremony.
Sometimes I have a roadie, so we’ll go out to dinner or to a pub so I can relive your ceremony with them, talk and laugh and generally enjoy the moment.
If I don’t have someone to play with, then I’ll come home and take the fur-child to the park to play soccer – he’s an awesome defender – so I can release the pent up energy and give him some exercise at the same time. Happy puppy 🙂
Image by Matt Krumins Photography
What hobbies and interests keep you grounded away from the wedding world?
I’ve mentioned the fur-child a couple of times. He definitely keeps me “grounded”. He’s ridiculously cute and makes me laugh, out loud and so often… I truly don’t know how I’d live without him.
I love doing all sorts of different things to keep fit and active – gym yes, but also dancing, hiking, kayaking, archery. Had to give up boxing because, as I hinted at earlier, I’m getting older… sigh… but I used to love throwing a good double jab, straight, hook, jab combo at my coach.
I bake. Everything and anything – cakes (done a few wedding cakes in my time), cookies, tarts, puddings, souffles, croissants, sticky buns… you name it. I love trying new recipes, it’s a great reason to get my friends together to try my latest creation – also saves me from eating it all!
What a fun story to read. Thank you Alison! Energetic, caring and fun – a great combination to have in a celebrant who will send you on your way into your married life together. To find out more about Alison Saunders Celebrant visit the website.
Headshot by Anna Taylor Photography