Them Wise Words – An interview with a Wedding Celebrant
If there’s one piece of wedding advice I’m always giving it out it’s this. Choose a bloody great celebrant. Don’t just get old-love Mary ‘cause she knew mum for 30 years and “yeah, pretty sure she still does it”, for $200. Honestly, Mary will probably be late, get the day wrong or make a giant mistake during one of the most important parts of your day – the actual part where you, you-know, get married…
There are are a long list of celebrants I could recommend who super awesome. They combine creating exceptional ceremonies with making everyone feel warm and comfortable – plus they throw down good intros/good outro’s/good jokes throughout. They don’t get in the way, they don’t do cliché and they don’t steal the show.
You can check some of them out here, here, here and here. They are, I maintain, one of the most important choices to make on your wedding day.
But to shed a little light on the topic, I thought I’d have a little chat with a guy who I regard as one of the best. A guy renowned for his down-to-earth humour, his free-flowing verses filled with little personal touches (not the physical kind), dancing in his car on Instagram and making marriages official all over South-east Queensland and Northern-NSW, week after week/year after year.
He’s well-spoken, he’s well-dressed, he loves a surf and he loves helping people sign their life away – ladies & gents I give you Ben Carlyle.
First of all, a bit about you, who are you and what do you do ma’man?
I’m a 40 year old dude, full-time marriage celebrant, proud Dad of two young boys, I have a pretty amazing wife and I’m a frothing surfer.
Yes you are.
Yeah it’s my piece of peace. I work hard but I get to hang out with my boys when I want and you know – can paddle out when the surf’s good… I also really love music and used to be in a band.
Were you the lead singer? Singer songwriter. Did you ever play music at weddings? Yes, way back 10 years ago I used to. But I cut it out so that I could just focus solely on being a celebrant.
Having been to your weddings, one thing I think you do really well is engage with the guests a bit at the start…
Fluffing the crowd, you mean?
Yeah, that’s it. Is that intentional?
Yeah I think so. I think we go to a wedding expecting to be told what to do, we arrive, grab a drink and get told where the toilets are. Then, when the ceremony starts it’s the celebrants job to tell people what’s happening next, fill chairs and get them ready to celebrate. If they’re not ready to celebrate by the time the bride walks down the aisle, you get that really lame ‘golf clap’!
You sure do…
I mean the couple have invited their guests because they think they’re great. That’s who they want there to celebrate with them, so it’s my job to make sure people are okay with clapping and getting involved, but also you know, turning their phones off and having a chat with their neighbor before things kick off too.
Yeah, you don’t want the last 5 minutes to be too nervous, it goes quiet.
Exactly, the groom is nervous and the tension is just building and building, instead of that we want people to enjoy themselves and for everyone to feel really comfortable and relaxed. From there, when bride walks in there’s just this very organic flow. It’s almost like I’m a game-show host, there so that the guests feel ready to laugh, to clap, to oooh and aaaah, and become part of the experience…
I love seeing that man. I feel like I’ve become pretty used to the way a ceremony works and some of the subtleties behind making them good vs bad. I can tell that a lot of effort clearly goes into creating a great ceremony. You’re a bit of a legend in these parts, how do you go about making it happen for the couple?
My thing is to connect with the couples’ vibe, their sense of humour, their language. I like to dig in – find out the kind of jokes they tell, work out their sense of romance and the things that are integral to them as a couple. I meet up with them or we chat over FaceTime. I don’t give them this huge, multi-page questionnaire. I really try to get them to be authentic about their relationship with me, and by doing in a way that they’re expressing themselves in their language so that I can really talk from their point-of-view during the ceremony. It’s a fine line between trying not to be a fly on the wall in their relationship and just getting to know them in this really honest way. Once I have the information I need I mostly freestyle the ceremony.
Also, I think the language that I speak with couples when we interact is also that language that I use on the day – so without being too cheesy, I think I just tell it how it is… I like to keep it free-flowing but in this mix between a fun//professional style (there’s never any mistakes or “shit, hold on everyone we need to go back and re-do that part”).
We met on Watego’s beach before an epic surf wedding back in 2015 – the bride & groom actually got married in the water that day, sitting on their boards while your words resonated above the water and my legs and fins flailed around hopelessly underneath it ( – while I was swimming/taking photos).
That was pretty cool, other than paddling out, any other ideas and/or tips to make your ceremony an enjoyable and important part of the day and not so run-of-the-mill?
If you’re not into them I think ditching some of the traditional elements is totally fine. I think there’s a really easy way to make a wedding ceremony be super cool and fun (and more like an expression of the couple). If you’re attending a ceremony and its shit, it can feel like it’s really long. But a 25-minute ceremony, if it’s awesome, can feel like you were there for 5 minutes, because it’s really engaging.
That’s the word.
Yeah. I mean, I think there are some things couples are doing now which are really cool and different. I mean, some couples are having their photos before the wedding, some couples walk down the aisle together…
Like, don’t do something that doesn’t suit you. There are only two components which are “must have”. (the Law of Marriage Monitum and the exchange of the Legal Wedding Vows).
You don’t have to have a sand-ceremony, 4 flower girls, a donkey or even a first kiss to get married. And you don’t have to have someone who’s really nervous stand up and read something that’s old and doesn’t suit you either.
I’ve seen a lot of stuff on the ‘gram recently with you dancing in your car wearing a nice shirt and a wooden bow tie. Is this something you do before a wedding? How did it start and when will it end?
Haha, I just really enjoy listening to music. It’s just about getting ready to get into celebrant mode. I’m surrounded by a lot of nervous energy on the day, so listening to music and then having a bit of a chat – it just relaxes & grounds me, and I suppose allows me to be a bit of an emotional coach on the day. It get’s me in the right headspace put it that way, makes me feel fun, and wedding ceremonies should be fun so…. yeah, one day I just filmed it and a bunch of my followers liked seeing it. My wife and my mum aren’t so keen on it though.
You mentioned you’re a family man and I know you’ve got a beautiful wife (Tarnie) who you work with on another little side hustle (Hitched In Paradise)…
Yeah, I’m a lucky dude to have such an amazing wife. We spend a lot of time together and still get along, plus she puts up with all my weird ways. We got married 9 years ago here on the Tweed Coast. I was super nervous – I could barely say my vows…
Lastly, what’s your one piece of wedding advice you’d give to everyone – something you think is universal?
I think that the idea of a wedding day being perfect is something that is a bit fairytaley. It’s often perfect in the way it ends up, but it pretty much never goes exactly as you’ve planned it to go. So I’d say; try not to get caught up in a vision of your day being a perfect sunshine filled, doves flying high, dirty-dancing-first-dance-routine-nailed, kinda’ day. Be prepared – shit goes wrong on the lead up to the day and that’s to be expected, you don’t want to get too hung up on it. Solid advice. Yeah, really it’s about the couples love & connection, that’s what everyone is there to celebrate…
Thanks for the chat mate. Always nice to talk to you.
No worries Tom. Who’s going to marry you?
Pfft, the day that it happens. There’s only one man for the job.
Pfft, you say that to all the celebrants!