Teenage sweethearts, Gemma and Jamie, married at Upwaltham Barns in West Sussex. They chose a mixture of themes and added heaps of homemade touches to personalise their day. Gemma and her family painstakingly made bunting, wedding stationery and hunted for vintage accessories - I’m sure you’ll agree the results are definitely worth it!
How did you feel when you first met?
We first met when we were just teenagers, I was 14, and he was 15. I had a massive crush on him, despite the fact he had pink hair, piercings and a slightly odd dress sense. We got on so well and I followed him round like a lovesick puppy. I honestly knew there and then that I loved this boy. At that point in our lives though, it wasn’t to be; we drifted apart and didn’t see each other again.
Then about four years later, I was at a friend’s 18th birthday party and he walked in. My heart flipped; he was even more gorgeous and he no longer had pink hair! We got chatting, swapped phone numbers and shamefully, I got extremely drunk! Luckily, that didn’t put him off keeping in touch.
We went on a couple of dates to the cinema and he eventually asked me out by text message - what an old romantic! I made him wait until the next day for an answer, but we’ve been inseparable ever since and seven years later I’m married to the man of my teenage dreams.
Tell us about the proposal – how did it happen?
Jamie decided one morning that he wanted to treat us to a nice breakfast, which isn’t really out of the ordinary, he quite often does that. However, this time he took us to a rather fancy hotel where we sat and had a lovely full English breakfast. He then said we should pop to Arundel - we love it there and quite often spend our Sunday mornings pottering around the town - so off we went. We wandered down to the river near the ruins and I remember leaning on the wall looking across the river telling him how one day I’d like to live in one of those houses. Next thing, I turned round and he was on one knee asking me to marry him! Through all the tears and excitement, I almost forgot to say yes!
I was totally surprised, and hadn’t expected it in the slightest. Little did I know, Jamie had been to my parents’ house a couple of days before and waited outside until they got home so that he could ask my dad’s permission to marry me.
What made you choose Upwaltham Barns?
Jamie and I had decided that we wanted our wedding to be a relaxed, intimate day with all of our closest family and friends. We were both against the idea of having a church wedding as we’re not religious and it wouldn’t have been right for us. I didn’t want the standard registry office wedding, so I set about scouring the internet for places to get married and have the reception.
I eventually found Upwaltham Barns. I’d always envisaged something picturesque and magical, and Upwaltham Barns fitted that perfectly. I was totally in love.
How did you feel when you first saw it?
We pulled onto the immaculate gravel car park completely surrounded by the gorgeous South Downs and walked into the stunning courtyard in the middle of the barns. I was utterly breathless. It was the place I'd always pictured our wedding to be.
Jamie, mum and I were shown around by the owner of the barns, Tim, and I was desperately holding back the tears all the way around our guided tour. I then stepped into the main barn where we would have our reception; there were twinkling fairy lights on the roof beams and candles flickering away in little recesses in the walls. I couldn't take the grin off of my face - I knew this was the place! I looked at Jamie and he was grinning too, thank goodness!! It was the perfect, intimate, romantic, country wedding venue.
What were the best things about it?
I can’t really put my finger on one best bit of Upwaltham Barns. It’s about the whole package. The owners, Tim and Nicola, clearly love their barns and that shines through every time you speak to them. Nothing is ever too much trouble.
The caterers, Nibbles2Nosh, are true professionals; they know weddings inside and out and do a fantastic job of making everything runs like clockwork on the day.
The setting is beautiful; you have your own corner of the South Downs for the day, no interruptions. The fact that you can have your whole day there, for us was just perfect. It meant that once people were there, they could relax and have a great time.
How far in advance did you book?
We booked Upwaltham Barns literally as we were driving away from our first viewing in April 2010, which was a year and 4 months before our big day! Even that far ahead, the choice of dates was limited. It’s a popular venue, and there’s very good reason for that.
Where did you find your wedding dress?
I bought my dress from Truly Gorgeous in Chichester, which is a lovely small boutique dress shop. The staff, Lindy and Sunai, are really lovely and spend lots of time getting the fit right for you.They had to take my dress down a whole size but you would never have known!
The dress I wore on the day was not the one I’d originally chosen as ‘the one’. My, mum, sister and I had gone dress shopping and the first shop we went into stocked some gorgeous Ian Stuart dresses.I tried a few of his giant princess dresses, which were not my style at all, but then I tried on a fabulous fitted one with a huge flower on the front and I loved it. It was so quirky! We then trotted off to Truly Gorgeous where I picked out some dresses to try, but I wasn’t feeling any of them. Sunai asked if she could pick one out for me and I readily agreed. I stepped out of the dressing room in the dress she had picked and my mum burst into tears, something which hadn’t really happened so far in the great dress hunt! I stood looking in the mirror and just wasn’t sure. My mum was adamant this was the one, but I still loved the Ian Stuart dress.
So, a couple of weeks later I took my bridesmaids to see my lovely, quirky dress. The shop assistant handed them tissues, ready for their tears when they saw me. I stepped out of the changing room and there were a few tears from my longest friend, but not much else. My sister and my other straight talking best friend said nothing. I stood staring at myself in the mirror and at my bridesmaids. "Are you sure you like it?" was all I kept saying and of course, they cooed and said they loved it. But as I looked at myself I realised it was me who wasn't sure. I was forcing myself to love it because it was stunning, but I don't think it was truly me.
I quickly called Truly Gorgeous and asked if they could squeeze me in to try on the other dress so I could show the bridesmaids. I stepped out in the dress called Caldera by Blue by Enzoani and saw my girls, each one of them in tears and so was I. I looked in the mirror - my mum had been right all along. She had been championing this dress from the moment she saw it. IT WAS STUNNING and fitted like a glove. I can’t believe I almost missed it!
What accessories did you wear on the day?
My headpiece was from Ivory and Co. Tiaras. I wasn’t really a fan of the princess style tiaras so immediately knew I wanted more of a headpiece. We went to the National Wedding Show where Ivory and Co. had a stand. One of the owners was wearing a silver floral headpiece - it was gorgeous and so sparkly. I wanted it!
I’m not one for sticking to tradition, so when it came to shoes I was not going to settle for standard comfy ivory bridal shoes. I think I bought three pairs before I found ‘the ones’, but in the end I chose some stunning cerise pink satin stilettos. I just loved that they occasionally peeked out from under my dress and shocked my guests! I definitely chose style over practicality, but it was worth it. I stayed in those shoes until about 9pm and then changed into a gorgeous pair of diamante flip flops!
I was having trouble finding jewellery that was right for my dress. I originally wanted a real statement necklace, but because my dress was quite detailed it would have been too much. Eventually after hunting high and low my mum remembered that she had a silver Swarovski necklace with matching earrings. They were perfect; very simple and just enough sparkle.
For my perfume, I chose something I’d not worn before - Princess by Vera Wang, which is really fruity, floral and quite unusual. Whenever I smell it now, it takes me back to the wedding day.
As far as underwear goes and because the dress was fitted so well, I didn’t really need it! I bought some very pretty blue knickers with ‘The Mrs’ written across the back in Swarovski crystals and also a blue garter.
Did you have something old, new, borrowed and blue?
My something old was a silver sixpence that one of my bridesmaids had given me. Something new was my dress, something borrowed was my necklace and earrings and something blue was my garter.
Where did Jamie buy/hire his outfit?
Jamie chose his own suit. He’d originally planned to go suit shopping with his best man, Sam, but we were passing Dickies one afternoon and thought we’d pop in together and have a quick look. By the time we came back out it was all sorted!
He chose to wear pinstripe trousers and waistcoat with charcoal tails and a purple cravat to match the bridesmaids’ dresses. He’s always had a quirky fashion sense, so the pinstripe was just his style! He also chose to have purple Lego bricks for cufflinks - he’s such a geek like that!
What did you think when you first saw him?
I’d seen him try on the suit in Dickies, but that didn’t compare to what he looked like on the day. He looked so handsome. I was such a lucky bride!
Tell us about your bridesmaids
Deciding who my bridesmaids were going to be was an easy task. I chose my little sister Harriet, my niece Lucy and my best friends, Keighley and Amy. They were the best four bridesmaids I could’ve asked for.
The bridesmaids all wore the same style dress by Forever Yours. We found a really nice style and colour that suited all of them. I think it’s so important for all of the bridesmaids to be happy and comfortable in what they’re wearing and to have a say in the dress choice. Luckily, it was easy. We all agreed on the same dress, which just happened to be the first one they tried on! Looking back at our wedding pictures, they all looked absolutely stunning.
Who were the best man and ushers?
Jamie knew exactly who he wanted as his best man and ushers. There was no question; it had to be his best friend Sam as best man, and his friends Mike, Bob and Matt as ushers. They are all such great friends of ours. I was completely overwhelmed at how seriously they all took their duties; it really did warm my heart to see how involved they got and just how lucky I was to be gaining such great friends through marrying Jamie.
The ushers wore the same suit as Jamie, except they had silver cravats which we thought was a nice touch. The dads wore a different style jacket for a more classic look.
What was your ceremony like?
We wanted to make our wedding ceremony meaningful to us so we put together our own vows and asked two of our bridesmaids, Harriet and Keighley, to do readings for us. It was such an emotional ceremony that even the registrar was close to tears!
We wanted a fun twist on the ceremony so the music I walked down the aisle to was an instrumental version of ‘God Only Knows’ by the Beach Boys. We signed the register to instrumental versions of ‘Alejandro’ by Lady Gaga and ‘Hey Ya’ by Outcast, covered by Vitamin String quartet. We then walked out to ‘Must Be Love’ by Madness! It was a lovely way to put our personal stamp on the ceremony.
Who walked you down the aisle?
My wonderful dad walked me down the aisle. It decided to pour down with rain just as we were walking from the cottage to the ceremony barn, so we dashed across the courtyard and all bowled into the room! I had complete tunnel vision and could only see Jamie. My heart literally jumped, but from that moment, I suddenly felt so calm. I gave my dad a big kiss when we got to the top of the aisle - I was so proud of him!
What’s your best memory?
My best memory of the ceremony was the laughter. The fact that there was lots of laugher, tears and emotion meant everything to me. We never wanted a stuffy ceremony.
What was your theme?
Our theme was a sort of mixture of vintage, shabby chic and English country garden.
How did you style your day?
Upwaltham Barns has a natural beauty and we didn’t feel that it needed too much decorating. We just dotted a few bits here and there to put our own stamp on it. My mum and my niece Lucy had spent months making lengths of gorgeously pretty bunting, which we hung around the barns.
We spent hour upon hour in antique shops, particularly the Corn Store in Pulborough, buying gorgeous vintage bits and bobs. I won’t lie, it had become an addiction! My favourite find was the vintage steamer truck that we found down the lanes in Brighton. My mum, sister and I spent a couple of evenings re-lining it with some pretty Cath Kidston fabric and I turned it into our table plan. I was so proud of it!
We also put together a sweet table; we bought tons of our favourite sweets and used them to fill old jars, cake stands and dishes. We bought old fashioned sweetie bags, scoop and tongs to go with it. They went down a storm with our guests and the band!!
We decided against a formal guest book but instead had a message table where we provided old-fashioned postcards. We asked our friends and family to write us notes and put them into a vintage suitcase. We read all the messages whilst on our mini-moon and had lots of funny and touching words that we will treasure for a lifetime.
Spriggs Florist did our flowers. I’d been to see a couple of florists before I visited Samantha at Spriggs, and none of them had an ounce of the passion that she has. Samantha knew exactly what I wanted without me having to say much. She even understood my baked bean tin idea!
We’d decided that I wanted a mixture of English country flowers arranged in teacups, teapots, milk bottles and various other containers. I turned up at Samantha’s studio armed with boxes full of containers, not really sure what she’d be able to do with them. When I walked into the barns on the day, the flowers looked magical and the smell was divine! The top table was a beautiful glass cake stand with a huge mound of gorgeous flowers - it looked better than I’d ever dreamt it would.
We handmade all of our stationery - the place cards, table plan, invitations, programmes, drink stirrers. You name it, we’d made it! It took so much effort, but when we walked into the barns on the day and saw it all come together, it was so worth it.
As the ceremony was at the barns and the bridesmaids and I were getting ready in the bridal cottage, we decided that a car would be a waste of money. So we hired Florence, the VW camper van from Vanilla Splits.This was used as transport for Jamie and his ushers, but also created a great focal point in the courtyard. Everyone loved her! We then camped in Florence for a couple of days as our relaxing ‘mini-moon’.
We had beautiful handmade fabric hearts, which my lovely mum had painstakingly made. I think she made 40 in total! They were given to the ladies as favours. For the men, we had jars of chutneys, which seemed to go down a treat!
Kids activity bags
We had some very young children at the wedding breakfast, so I thought it would be a good idea to put together some activity bags. I filled a large gift bag with colouring books, toys and books, tiaras and wands for the girls and whoopie cushions for the boys! We also made ‘I Spy’ kits, which consisted of a disposable camera, a list of things to take pictures of and a large pencil to check them off. The kids then handed the cameras in to us. We thought it was a great way to keep the children entertained, but also a way of getting some photos from a different angle!
We had our cake made by the wonderful Jenny and Debbie of Sugar and Lace Cakes. I’d been recommended them by a friend who’d told me they were amazing. I sent them a picture of the cake I wanted and they did it… to the T! My friend wasn’t wrong. It was a four tier cake made of chocolate, vanilla sponge and carrot cake (Jamie’s favourite). It also had a dummy tier on the top to balance the look. When I saw the cake, I was completely stunned - it was so grand!! It really was exactly what I’d wanted.
I remember the caterers asking me “would you like the whole thing cut up?” and I thought “What? You can’t cut it!” It was just too gorgeous! It tasted delicious too and everyone complimented us on it.
Who was your photographer?
Danni Beach, our photographer, was out of this world. Jamie and I are terribly un-photogenic, ask us to pose for a picture and we tend to gurn!! We chose Danni because her style is very relaxed and as a result she captures the natural atmosphere and emotions of the day. She was on hand throughout the day with advice and help for us; the first thing she did was re-do the men’s cravats and she gave Jamie and me a great tip for our first dance. At times we wouldn’t know what we’d have done without her. I think of her as a fifth bridesmaid. And the pictures… they blew us away! We are still struggling to pick the photos we want in the album - there are just too many brilliant ones to choose from!
Were you inspired by any celebrity weddings?
I wasn’t really inspired by celebrity weddings, but I was thoroughly inspired by weddings of other brides. I trawled through magazines and online wedding blogs every day and took ideas and inspiration from them.
Tell us about your reception
We had gone to Kate and Claire at Nibbles2Nosh and explained what we wanted “comfort food, nothing too stuffy”. They knew exactly what we were going for. We really wanted our guests to enjoy the food - we’re not foodies and neither were many of our guests. We decided to choose a goat’s cheese and onion tart to start, a full lamb roast dinner for main and a warm chocolate brownie with ice cream for dessert. It was delicious, but I was just gutted that my appetite had completely disappeared, so I didn’t manage to eat much on the day!
Completing our table plan on paper was quite easy really. It only took a couple of attempts to get it just right, but we’re not really the types to worry too much! We displayed it in a huge vintage steamer trunk, which was a real talking point!!
For the top table we chose a round table as opposed to a long table, because I think you can talk to each other better when you’re all sitting facing each other.
We catered for 72 people at the wedding breakfast, or rather Nibbles2Nosh did, and they did a fantastic job. On the brief moments when I got just to sit and look, I could see the immaculate waiters and waitresses flowing out of the kitchen and serving the food like a well-rehearsed dance. It was seamless!
More people arrived in the evening making the numbers up to around 140. Nibbles2Nosh served up bacon and sausage rolls, which went down an absolute treat with all of our guests!
The speeches were tear-jerkingly funny, heartwarming and memorable. Jamie spent most of the time laughing through his, which in turn made all our guests roar with laughter - we all looked hysterical!!
I was so proud of my dad. He’d worked hard on his speech (though he’d never admit it!) and reduced me to tears with his beautiful words about me and his new son-in-law. What he said really meant a lot to us.
Then there was the best man’s speech; just as you’d expect he told a couple of embarrassing stories about Jamie and even told everyone about my dislike of washing up. Cheeky so and so! But then he said what great friends we were, and that was me reduced to a sniveling wreck.
I asked the men to give me copies of their speeches because I really will treasure their lovely words for ever.
We hired a band called The Lionels and they rocked the roof off the barns!! Everyone was up and dancing the whole night! Jamie and I didn’t leave the dance floor very often and when we did, we were itching to get back and throw some shapes! It’s not very often you get to dance in a wedding dress, so I had to make the most of it!
Our first dance was to Jack Johnson’s, Better Together. This had been our song since we first got together. We used to play the album over and over again. I’d once written the song in a Valentine’s card to Jamie, so it seemed only right that this was our first song. The dance itself was certainly… interesting! Neither of us can dance particularly well and the song we chose didn’t make it any easier. So we bumbled our way through, school disco style and just had a good laugh. Even looking back now, we wouldn’t have had lessons or choreographed anything - it’s just not us!
What stands out most about the day?
One of the most memorable moments for me was when the band had finished their set, but came on to play us one more song, “Someone Like You” by Kings of Leon. All I remember is Jamie and me in the middle of all our closest friends and family, singing their heads off and jumping up and down around us. I remember looking at each other and thinking “We did it, we really did it!” I’ll never forget that moment.
Based on your own experience, give us some top tips
- Don’t worry about what you should do on your day, do only what you and your hubby to be want to do. It’s your day so do it all your way.
- Make sure you set a limit for when everything needs to be done and stick to it. We decided that anything that wasn’t ready two days before the wedding wouldn’t get done and wasn’t worth panicking about. You really need that day before the wedding to relax.
- Make time to see your groom on the day; everyone gave us this advice beforehand, so we made sure we did. In fact, we spent most of the time together anyway!
- The one tip Jamie kept handing out was that a groom should neglect his usual grooming routine before the big day, so that you essentially look like the wild man of Borneo and then get a fancy hair-cut and shave on the day before the wedding so that your bride is overwhelmed by how handsome you look!
- Don’t leave that slab of carrot cake that you pestered the caterers for on the roof of the campervan all night!
- On a serious note, get involved with the planning and preparation; don’t leave it all to your bride. You really will appreciate the fact that you’ve had an equal input in your big day.
For keeping to a budget
- We knew that the barns would take us to the max in terms of our budget and we were paying for the wedding ourselves. I got a second job and Jamie did overtime for 18 months. My best advice is, if you really want something, work really hard to get it. It was totally worth it on the day and you forget all about the hard work at that point!
- Don’t get into debt for your wedding day. Jamie made this a rule and we’re so glad he did. As tempting as it was to stick bits here and there on the credit card, we didn’t. We can’t imagine having our perfect wedding day turned into burden.
“If we could do it all again, we’d...”
...do things exactly the same to be completely honest. We really wish we could too! The only thing I think I would change is we’d have had a videographer. We foolishly thought it would be a cringe-worthy waste of money. Now, we wish we had a professional video of our amazing day.
Tell us about your honeymoon
When I arrived at the bridal cottage at Upwaltham Barns, there was an old-fashioned record player sitting on the floor with a brown tag saying ‘Play me’ and an envelope saying “open me”. I was already emotional at this point, so my bridesmaids rallied around and put the record player on. It was Jack Johnson’s album. I opened the envelope and inside was the most beautiful love letter from Jamie and at the bottom he’d written ‘P.S: Dinner is booked for 7:30pm on 7th September 2011 at the Gramercy Tavern.’
I literally shrieked. The Gramercy Tavern was a restaurant we’d been to on our trip to New York! And just in case I didn’t remember, he wrote ‘PPS: That’s in New York by the way’. I couldn’t believe he’d done all this without me knowing. I remember thinking at that point that I really am marrying my best friend.
We had a few days cruising about in Florence in the VW campervan and what a great few days they were. I’d highly recommend a holiday in one of Vanilla Splits’ VWs as it really is the perfect way to relax and unwind - you really can’t rush!
Then after returning Florence, we zoomed off to spend a week in New York City. We had been before, so we decided that this time we would just chill out whilst we were there. We didn’t need to rush around from tourist spot to tourist spot, we just ate great food, shopped, sat in parks and ate more good food!
If you’d like to visit Upwaltham Barns, please telephone 01798 344815 or email Isabel
Images courtesy of Danni Beach Photography