MONDAY 4 JULY, 4.30 PM, EEST
I am writing this on a very big ferry to Naxos, a beautiful Greek island in the Cyclades group, having left Athens at 4pm this afternoon. Opposite me is my husband Alex, asleep on his now rather dog-eared copy of The Catcher in the Rye. There are lots of cool, laid-back Greek passengers smoking, reading and talking animatedly. I am leaning on the July issue of Vogue and there is a lot of azure blue surrounding me. Out of the corner of my left eye my wedding ring is glinting in the beautiful sunshine. I feel very content.
The bright azure blue floor is finally dry following yet another spillage by me, of tea, on an unfortunate man's suitcase. Perhaps being married may actually in some inexplicable way cure me of my clumsiness, but the magic has not starting working yet. Anyway, I digress. Five hours on a ferry seems like a perfect opportunity to write, specifically, about our wedding day. I desperately want to capture all the memories before the last little drops of detail evaporate. I want to remember every last bit but already my brain is filling up with new treats - the honeymoon so far, what to do when we get back, the future.
So, as the bright orange sun sets quickly into the horizon, piercing a brilliant amethyst sky, I am going to do my best to write it down as quickly as I can.
So from a busy ferry sailing on the Aegean sea to a quiet Farmhouse in Suffolk...
WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE, 7AM, BST
I open one eye and wonder firstly where I am and then what time it is. The slumberous moment subsides and I quickly realise I am in my comfy big bed in the Farmhouse at Haughley Park Barn, Stowmarket, and it is 7am. Last night, I literally woke up on the hour, every hour and worry that poor Danuta, my best friend and bridesmaid fast asleep next to me, probably did not catch a wink either. I feel excited, nervous, rather nauseous - a whole bunch of emotions. When we finally got to bed last night, I felt very little in this big bed and worried that I would not sleep at all. I had woken up during the night only to see my dress hanging up on its soft satin hanger, glinting mischievously at me in the moonlight. It almost seemed to say 'YES Greenbrook, this really is happening' as I had crawled back under the duvet and prayed that sleep would finally come.
So, at last it is morning. A quick, quiet peek out the curtains reveals a beautiful view and no rain. Yes! As if on cue, the glamorous mother-of-the-bride opens the door with a huge mug of tea and an enveloping hug. 'This is it, your wedding day!' she says. It feels like the first day of school, Christmas Day, being on the aeroplane to Australia, and meeting Alex Kirby (a friend of Joseph Brownett) for a secret drink in Holborn, all at once. I hug her again and sort of do not want to let go, and so return the hug for just a bit longer.
Downstairs to the Farmhouse kitchen for a breakfast of poached egg on toast and cereal as ordered by Mrs Greenbrook. I can barely eat, but Brides magazine dictates that I MUST eat, regularly in fact, and that is, like, The Bible. The mood is light and fun. My big sister Jo Foreman, with baby bump, arrives with a cheery smile as does Roy a few seconds later, father-of-the-bride looking remarkably calm as if it was Saturday morning at the Greenbrook House and we had all paid a quick visit before he settles down with a bacon sarnie to watch the racing, rather than his middle daughter's wedding day. Then, the final piece of the jigsaw, little GB/AKA Michelle/AKA Mich; bronzed and very Australian and already making everyone laugh. I am already showered and sporting a very bright aqua playsuit, which was the only thing I could remove from my honeymoon suitcase earlier that morning without creating a packing disaster. Note to future brides - please do bring something white and bridal to wear while you are getting ready. I look more beach than exquisite bride-to-be, an image that sadly the photos will always remind me of.
A knock at the door and the amazing Nicola arrives with her makeup box of tricks. 'I think the hairdresser is here' says Roy, spotting Nic's husband Aaron parking the car outside. Much hilarity ensues as we all wave at 'Aarono' our stylist, before the real stylist, Nic, and us girls head upstairs to the bridal room to get ready. Rollers in, Madonna playing out of the iPod and champagne chilling and the preparation begins.
The amethyst bridesmaid dresses are hanging up, the ivory shoes are lined up neatly on the floor and Chanel Coco Mademoiselle Eau de Parfum is waiting elegantly on the dressing table. A delicate white gold bracelet in a gold padded box is resting amongst the other sparkling accessories, a present from Dad last night, engraved with the words Nicola, with love, Dad. 29.6.2011. This had provoked the first round of many tears.
Nic operates with military precision to get the bride and three bridesmaids rollered up and in makeup. Jo the florist arrives with the flowers, and they are vintage and vibrant in shades of peach, amethyst and rose-pink and I adore them. In the background, Mark the photographer snaps away and puts everyone at ease, wowing the ladies with his invaluable knowledge of all things bride (Have you got a crochet hook? Um, a what? etc) and keeps the conversation running smoothly to ward off any nerves with only a couple of hours to go. With the Foo Fighters gig in only a few days, Mark recounts to me a tale of him and his wife at a gig in Brixton and Dave Grohl using her shoulder to lever himself into the crowd. 'She tells people she's never washed that shoulder since', says Mark, as I laugh, looking absurd in aqua with huge rollers protruding from my head, but feeling quite calm. I look out of the window and see my future brother-in-law Craig playing football and I smile - it is so nice to have him and Mich back albeit for a short time.
It feels safe, surreal, and quite wonderful all at the same time getting ready in the Farmhouse with everyone chattering and laughing - like being hidden in a brilliant cocoon and we are all having such a good time. News from the Chapel suddenly comes courtesy of my Brother-in-Law, Mr Jon Foreman looking suave with a beaming smile. 'The Groom has arrived!' he announces up the stairs. Reality hits home and although my legs start to shake like jelly, I cannot wait to see Alex. I go off in search of my Dad, peeking my head around the door to his bedroom where he is stealing a secret moment to practice his speech. I know I will never ever forget this moment.
All of a sudden, time is accelerating too quickly. I can literally feel everything rushing past my ears with a whoosh. Nic's magical intervention has transformed my hair into a voluminous retro up-do, my Emmy hairpiece that I had loved from the moment I saw it and will always thank my Mum for persuading me to buy, is secured to my head with a hundred grips.
My makeup is finished but I am far too nervous to look in the mirror. It is now time to get into the dress and I don't know how I am going to do it, as I honestly can barely stand up. Jen, my dear Mother-in-Law-to-be in vibrant emerald-green pops up the stairs for a quick farewell and I squeeze her hand and tell her how amazing she looks.
I am in the dress with the help of my Mum and Jo, Mich and Danuta and for one fleeting moment I find myself on my own as everyone disappears to their rooms to make last-minute touch ups. Time literally stands still and it is indescribable. It was all I could do not to guzzle the glass of champagne someone had helpfully put in my hand. Chloe, the gorgeous flower girl suddenly arrives with her Mum, my cousin Gemma, looking stunning as ever. Chloe looks adorable in her dress and loves her flower basket. The bridesmaids look absolutely beautiful as I knew they would and I think I am going to cry. Jo tells me not to look at her as she will start crying too, but I cannot help it, the baby bump is peeking out from her dress and I want to give my future niece/nephew a little rub. Mich comes over and again, I think DO NOT CRY and ruin all of Nic's hard work.
The veil is fixed in place and I say my last goodbye to my Mum, breathtakingly stunning in muted silver with matching hat, before she makes her way to the Chapel.
I carefully slip my feet into my wedding shoes, made by Emmy for the day in taupe suedette and finished with rose gold bead detail to compliment the headpiece. I descend the stairs, carefully and meet Barbara and Wendy, our Registrars, in the Farmhouse dining room for a quick run through of events. Suddenly, it is time to go and we all depart for a short walk to the Chapel. As my feet crunch against the gravel, I hold onto my Dad for dear life and sneak a glance at him - so handsome in his suit, very calm, his eyes shining as he looks ahead at Jo and Mich. The amazing man who has made me roar with laughter all my life, said goodbye worriedly at many airports, given me advice and soothed numerous tears and injuries - I feel so proud and swallow a lump that is rising in my throat.
Now just outside the Chapel, we are greeted by Steve the Toastmaster who looks truly resplendent in a bright scarlet jacket. He is happy and calm as he lines us up ready to go in, the billowing Chapel curtain concealing the one hundred and twenty guests inside. I can hear Mendelssohn's Wedding March, but it seems really far away, like in another time and place. Suddenly, the girls enter the chapel and I can hear gasps. As Barbara has instructed me to do before I make my entrance, I start counting 1-2-3...I feel a bit like I am falling...4-5-6... or sky diving out of a plane again, 7-8...'Ready?' asks Roy with a grin... 9-10... the curtain goes back.
It is like a photo flash. I retain one camera-still in my mind of all our guests in the Chapel, all the people I love dearly smiling and crying happily and it is magnificent. I see Rob (more fondly known as Skee) first who gives me a huge encouraging grin, then Rufus, Seb and Tony all looking dapper and then a quick glance to the left reveals 'Aunty' Kate in the most gorgeous blue, next to her husband Dave, and then lots of other smiling faces come at me far too quickly to absorb. Lastly, I see my gorgeous Despina and her husband Richard, and then my eyes are drawn to the front and all I can see is him. Alex, so handsome in a grey suit, looks absolutely amazing as his head slowly turns around, tears fill his eyes and he smiles that beautiful smile. 'Oh my God' he mouths, and then winks at me, smiles and tries to hold it all together as I try my hardest as well.
The ceremony passes by so quickly; my dear friend Sarah reads an extract from Captain Corelli's Mandolin so beautifully that it reduces my Mum and Dad to tears. Alex and I say our vows and I fluff my words and try not to cry, and my nose is running and Barbara says gently 'could someone please bring Nicola a tissue'. Could someone please stop this moment in time so it never ends? Please? The best men Craig and Mark look simply splendid. As do my Mum and Dad to the left, and Alex's Mum and Dad to the right, Jenifer and Philip, and I feel I might burst with pride. Somehow, the vows are over and it is now finally time to kiss Alex, hurrah, and we are married to the sounds of a huge cheer! We sign the register, as our chosen songs play in the background.
Angus and Julia Stone's 'Just a Boy' catapults me back to our last day in Australia together in 2008 and Everlong by the Foo Fighters, well, for so many reasons. It is time to leave and to the sound of To be Surprised by Sondre Lerche we float down the Chapel and I try unsuccessfully to look at everyone and smile while wanting to look at Alex at the same time and take him all in. Physically impossible of course, but if I could have done it, believe me I would have.
We are now outside in the bright, warm sunshine, and we can finally greet everyone. I am so blown away by how stunning and gorgeous everyone looks. Pimms and champagne is being served on the lawn, the vintage bunting is billowing in the gentle breeze and everybody appears to be in tremendous spirits and very relaxed and it is wonderful to watch. Photographs are taken with proud parents, Uncle Richard, the gorgeous bridesmaids and best men and Steve is overseeing proceedings expertly as I talk to my amazing guests.
First up is Team HR, AKA Linda, Alex D, Harriet and Gemma who are on top form and smiling and it is like being in Kiln House again, except I am in a wedding dress. I spot two of my best mates, Sarah who is glowing from her reading with her smiling boyfriend Chris, and Ben with his beautiful fiancé Vikki, chatting to each other. They are reunited for the first time since our Downsview Primary School days and we reminisce and I want to hug the life out of both of them. I spot Gin and Al and Ben and Laura, all looking so amazing and happy and think how lucky I am to have met them through Alex, I have so many amazing memories already of time spent with them. Vicky and Paul are laughing and look so happy and then Maxine and Mickey come over and say what a lovely day they're having. If our reception this evening is anything like theirs was, then I know we have done a good job. I give my godmother and cousin Sharon a kiss and ask her partner Marc to keep snapping away on his professional camera. My cousin Dave is with Julie who I'm happy to be introduced to and I tell him I have put extra vegetables in his dinner tonight as I know he loves them (not). I can hear the loud crack of croquet balls and the playing of other garden games and it is so serene and lovely and brilliantly British. I give Emma and Steve a kiss and go off in search of my husband. En route, I see Barbara and Dennis and go over to say hello, trying not well up as I give Barbara a hug as I have known them all of my life.
Alex and I sneak off for a walk in the blooming maze of the Secret Garden (with Mark emerging every now to photograph the moment) and there is so much I want to say but I cannot say it all at once. Without warning, Mich appears out of a bush, armed with a comb and a can of Dry Shampoo. She sprays my fringe to within an inch of its life to refresh it and I am grateful to have secret stylists that pop out of the foliage and then disappear into the day. Back to the lawn and all of a sudden time to start the receiving line which provides an opportunity to say hello. To everyone, hurrah!
We are announced in as Mrs and Mrs Kirby to boisterous cheers and it is amazing as we walk into Haughley Park Barn and see all of our lovely guests seated at our Cornwall-themed tables with the fairy lights twinkling against the wooden beams. It is time for the wedding breakfast to begin and Peter, the legend that is our wedding DJ, gets the celebrations started with an eclectic mix of music which includes Dean Martin, the Drums, The Smiths, Stevie Wonder and many more. The food smells delicious and the retro sweets in candy pink bags seem to go down well (Mich is tucking into her bag before the starters are served and I give her a big smile). Much vino is consumed, at the request of Mr and Mrs Greenbrook, and I feel so relaxed and happy. I look over and see Janine, Jonathan, Aimee, Lauren, John, David and Deanne on table Gorran Haven all laughing and smiling. Janine catches my eye and we have a little dance, across the room and still in our seats, just me and her. That's Amore by Dean Martin plays and I look over at Danuta and tell her 'this one's for you D!' and we have a little dance too. Gareth comes over to the top table and says excitedly 'this is the best wedding music EVER, I've got every single song on my iPod!' and we grin.
The dinner is in full swing now and there is much merriment and frivolity. Uncle Steve has Aunty Nellie's hat on and the Naughty Table (Val, Jim, Derek, Janice, Dave, Kate, Celia and Phil, you know who you are) are causing havoc at the back. If You Wanna be Happy by Jimmy Soul comes on and I glance over at Karen, KP to us, who is wearing all my favourite colours in one stunning dress, and smile as this song reminds me of her and very happy holidays spent with our families. Dad and I stand up and do a quick sweep of the room and ask each table 2 very important questions - 'Are you having a good time?' and 'Do you have enough wine?' to which we receive a very loud and happy 'YES!' from each Cornish table in return. My Aunty Ann and her children, my lovely cousins, are all smiling on Cawsand Bay and John is holding Chloe on his lap while Gem looks on proudly.
It's time to cut the cake, or rather demolish it. We have slightly massacred our beautiful cake made by our favourite pub in the village of Bramfield, but Alex and I laugh at the mess we have made, and hope it is still edible when our guests are in need of something sweet later on in the evening.
Toasts for the speeches are handed out and I feel excited; this is always my favourite part of any wedding. Dad's speech is perfect and I take a guess that it has been reviewed by Mum before the final version goes live - it is funny, poignant, very emotional and even contains a reference to the much loved Crystal Palace Football Club which is met by chant of Eaaggggglllesss from the South London massive in the crowd, the loudest I am sure coming from Neil AKA Smoothie and Marco. Poor Alex and John and Leslie, loyal West Ham supporters. Dad reads out a message from Joe and Alexis and I cry, as I wish they were here so much. Without Joe, today would not have happened.
Alex stands up - welcoming the ladies, gentlemen and Spurs fans in the room (sorry Matt, Martin and Seb). He is very nervous and there is a fleeting moment where the carefully prepared speech disappears from his iPhone (ever the designer). Order is quickly restored and he is speaking and reducing me to tears and it is just so beautiful, especially the reference to the love we share through the good and difficult times. 'We have the best time, all the time and I love you so much' he concludes and I couldn't agree more. Awooga! heckles the ever brilliant Jaimi from 'Harlyn Bay', after having exhausted all normal heckling options.
Craig, Bestest Best Man one of two, takes the stage and absolutely smashes it. It is hilarious and he is on top form - just the right side of funny, not too crude or excruciating for Alex and as the fantastic Paul and Harinie say later, it is just brilliant. I love it and guffaw the whole way through, a brief tear shed as a message from Randall and Kade is read out from New Zealand, as Alex laughs along, looks nervous and blushes slightly.
Coffees and First Dance...
Time for coffees outside in the Courtyard, with vibrant Union Jack cushions on the chairs and fairy lights twinkling in the tree, and the arrival of the evening guests. Vicki looks just amazing as do Naomi, Tash, Sharmayne and Sue who rock maxi dresses and colour blocking and are just exquisite. Jean and John Mepsted arrive and I feel like a child again and it is so nostalgic and lovely to see them. Likewise with Jean and Trevor, who have known since I was a baby and spent many a happy holiday with. All of a sudden it is time for the first dance and Steve asks us to take the floor. Steve is the perfect Toastmaster and I wonder if at this point he can also work miracles and do a Scott Bakula and Quantum Leap me back to 7am this morning so I can do it all again? We dance to Love, Love, Love by Donny Hathaway and I do not want to let my husband go. Ever. The dance floor fills and people start to join us. I finally get to talk to people individually and I am blown away by everyone's kind words. Seb and Sarah look so gorgeous, vintage, like old movie stars and Seb's words actually reduce me to tears. I spot Anne-Marie and Norman, dear friends of my parents, and I laugh and hope Anne-Marie is going to be her usual life and soul of the party.
The party starts with some Madonna and I have a little moment with Lou - super sassy in black dress and red lipstick - my fellow Madge geek. The dance floor is soon full thanks to Peter, DJ extraordinaire and it is non-stop dancing with requests coming at him swiftly. Skee dances past wearing Des' fascinator and the amazing Braham, Greenwood and Crosbie families, plus the lovely Ryan and Gem, with my Godmother and Aunty Joy in tow really get the party started and dance ALL NIGHT - I love them all. Cousin Simon looks so dapper in his suit. Rufus and Lorraine are terrific and are making an impact, as is Deanne and quite rightly so. Stevie Wonder gets Martin and Matt up and Aims and Lauren, looking wow, wow, wow, lead the hen girls in re-enacting the 80s Fame mega mix of Bath-Hen-Weekend-fame. Then, it's time for a little UK Garage and we are transported back to Pals Bar (people, you know who you are). Even Jonathan Mole is dancing although I'm still silently disappointed he didn't wear his 2wentys holidays t-shirt as he threatened to. I do not want the night to stop or end and when Peter plays Wicked by M-Beat featuring General Levy I know at that special moment I won't forget tonight. The sight and sound of everyone, and I mean everyone, dancing to Jungle from 1994 (big shout to Auntie Nellie - you are amazing) really is Incredible. Vicky and Jo are dancing with Danuta and it is like old times; it just needs Despina who is happily chattering outside to complete my beautiful girls. Dan, Sarah and Rob are dancing and appear to be in their element. Tony is dancing to SL2 whilst talking to Aunty Kate and it's a sight to behold. Nic, looking unbelievably foxy, has not left the dance floor all night and we have a moment of saying how special our friendship is.
10pm strikes and a mini-disaster is on our hands - the evening buffet is nowhere in sight which could result in some very hungry guests and nothing to soak up the wine. Disaster is soon averted as Jo, Mich and I find the evening buffet next door, in the Chapel room waiting to be freed of cling film and devoured in all its rustic glory. Announced by Mich in a way that only she could, she ascends the stage to grab the microphone off the unsuspecting Pete and shouts 'Right you lot. While you've been having a good time, I've been working hard next door making you loads of food...' and with that the buffet is open.
Mark and Gemma are dancing beautifully, like true professionals and I think how those dance classes are really paying off. Craig joins the girls for I Think We’re Alone Now and I teach him the routine. He is good. Too good really, and I wonder if he is a secret Tiffany fan? I spot Jason and Sarah and truly cannot wait for their upcoming nuptials in November. I get to meet Sarah and Vicky, respective partners of Alex's friends Ian and Ian, (honestly), and hope they're ok and not too overwhelmed by the musical hybrid of classic wedding pop/indie/UK Garage etc. I am dancing with Smoothie to Girlfriend by NSYNC and Nelly and SHOUTING very loudly. Alex tells me to eat something but I honestly do not want to waste a single drop of tonight, it's 11pm and only forty-five minutes of dancing with everyone remains before we go! I hold his hand but he is called away again....
11pm, and mini-disaster No. two strikes as I am accidentally 'chinned' by an over-enthusiastic dancing guest and worry that I cannot actually move my jaw. All throughout Like a Prayer I deliberate inwardly whether jaw is broken or if it aches just from smiling ALL DAY. Jo Tully grabs my arm and she looks so beautiful and I cannot believe I known her since I was born, she has always been like a big sister to me. Singing along I remember Islington-Hen and screeching along to this song in a happy champagne haze.
Time is literally running out, everyone is dancing and Time of my Life comes on so I know it is nearly the end. Mich is the 'Johnny' to my 'Baby' and performs a dramatic dance routine, joined in probably by every female guest present that makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Then, it really is time to go. I do not want to. I really do not. I sit down for a moment to catch my breath (and look for my shoes) and KP soothes me and asks gently 'Nic, are you ok?' and I say 'I don't want to go, we are having such a good time' and emit a kind of sob. Skee spots the tears and comes over, still wearing Despina's feather fascinator, to try to make me laugh with his all the best Peter Kay impression. I laugh through (maybe) broken jaw. Then Mum comes over to ask if I am ok, and I tell her through tears 'I don't want to go' followed by 'I think I have broken my jaw'. She hugs me gently and I feel like a child and not a 32-year old married woman. It feels like everything is all right at this moment in time and always will be. I have never loved her as much as I do now. A quick feel around my jaw from Mum and the diagnosis is that there is in fact no breakage - a well-practised Mum-tactic that she even has to pull out of the bag on my wedding day. As if by magic, the pain disappears and we really do have to go now.
Exiting through the biggest guest arch ever, I hold Alex's hand tightly and we duck under the hundreds of faces that fly past us far too quickly, but it is gorgeous just the same. Then, one last goodbye in a big circle, with Girls Just Wanna Have Fun on repeat while we say goodbye to all of our amazing guests.
As I leave the Barn and go forward with Alex into our next adventure, holding hands, the party is in full swing behind us and New York, New York is playing out. The guests are waving and clapping and blowing kisses and their silhouettes are getting smaller and smaller. Suddenly, Mich shouts 'NIC!' and we both turn around quickly to wave goodbye to her and all the other guests, the Barn lit up in the moonlight. I am crying of course, but I look at Alex and I cannot wait for our life ahead.
I cannot ever really truly describe that final moment or the day itself but I do know it was sparkling and wonderful and I loved it.
It was the Time of my Life.
Mrs Kirby x