Just what does a celebrant do? Muddy spoke to a Sussex ceremony star all about the special occasions she's helped create
When you want something different for a wedding, funeral or other ceremony and don’t think a vicar, priest or registrar is right for you, you can call on a celebrant to work with you on something unique. But just how weird and wonderful will they go…? Very according to Sussex-based Claire Bradford of Creating Ceremony who won Celebrant of the Year at the National Wedding Awards last year. She told us all about her fascinating world and how a celebrant works.
How did it all start for you?
At uni someone had created a computer careers test. It said I should become a politician or a minister of religion and I thought ‘a minister of religion sounds close but I’m not really religious enough’. I was an English teacher, did admin for the Church of England then became a life coach for 15 years. Then we were going to have a celebrant for a funeral… it made me look more into it… how it’s like the priestly thing but without having a religion. One night I thought I just needed a sign… then the next day I was at my networking group and someone said “have you thought about being a celebrant, because I think you’d be really good. ” I did a friend’s wedding and that was it…
Besides weddings and funerals what else can a celebrant cover?
Vow renewals, baby naming, a house warming, or even a divorce – it can be really positive like a rebirth, or something that helps the children, a healing ceremony. Grayson Perry conducted one in his last series. Then there’s coming of age ceremonies, even start of the menses or menopause… it’s not for everyone but we can celebrate all of life, even the shitty bits!
What unusual ceremonies have you done?
As part of a comic con I did a Star Wars wedding. They had to promise to make the Death Star a comfortable home! We also did a surprise on stage for a couple who were really into Star Trek, they thought they’d won a competition then one of them dropped to one knee… Afterwards I did a Vulcan blessing. Actually, Star Trek comes up a lot and at the end everyone does a Vulcan salute.
A couple are getting married at Newhaven Fort and they want references throughout to things they are into like Stranger Things and Harry Potter, RuPaul and musicals.
I’ve had weddings for people who are really into sailing and we’ve done a hand fasting ceremony with yacht cords instead.
Last year I conducted the live wedding from the Royal Albert Hall for ITV’s This Morning with Holly and Phillip (who I used to have a big crush on!)
What’s the process of working with a celebrant?
If I’m available on the date then I have a no obligation meeting with them. I think it’s important, especially for weddings, that both parties should be 100% ‘hell yeah’ about me doing their ceremony. Then if they want to go ahead I will give them a questionnaire about their love story.
With some we’re emailing constantly with ideas and get to be friends, others will want to do it all nearer the time. I tell them “use me as a human Pinterest board!” Then I will do a draft and read it to them. If one or both are in tears that’s a good sign! Then we’ll tweak it a bit and do a rehearsal. We develop that relationship over months, sometimes even years. I only do one ceremony a day so I’m not rushing to another.
Can you include religious elements?
Yes, a registrar can’t but a celebrant can. Also, if you don’t want a religious ceremony with hymns you can still get people to sing along. ‘You’re just too good to be true, can’t take my eyes off of you…’ is a good one especially when it gets to the ‘do do do do’ bit! At baby namings sometimes we have nursery rhymes or the hokey cokey!
Are your weddings legally binding?
No, if you want that (not all couples actually do) you need to visit a registry office before or after. I had one couple who didn’t want a traditional marriage who called it a ‘forevering’. Hand-fasting ceremonies traditionally lasted for a ‘year and a day’ and you renewed it. A marriage is a social contract, legally binding or not.
Because we are less mainstream we can have the ceremony anywhere you want, so outdoors is fine, or in somebody’s house, all cool. I did a wedding last year for a couple in a hospice. The staff completely transformed the cafe for them. I was asked to do one once in a dungeon for a polyamorous couple but that didn’t come off.
What are ceremony trends at the moment?
I think there are more with a simple pared back look and style, so it’s all about their story and bringing that out into the rest of their day. Also there are ideas and traditions around weddings that the couples I work with are starting to question.
I’ll do pretty much anything for a ceremony, so long as it doesn’t offend or involve sacrificing a goat on an altar, except say, “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” You are nobody’s possession. Also rather than “you may kiss the bride” I prefer something like “now seems a good time for a snog!”
What do you think of the show Married at First Sight?
I love that programme! I shouldn’t but I’m such a big romantic and falling in love is a risk anyway. I do advocate people work for it but are also realistic and if it’s not working out don’t carry on with all the resentment.
What’s on your ceremony wish list?
I keep thinking it would be really great to have a magician as part of a wedding ceremony, pulling the rings out of nowhere. I’d love to do one abroad somewhere especially in the mountains. I know a celebrant from Iceland who puts up pictures of the most amazing places. Closer to home, there’s a place called Two Woods at Pulborough which is a lovely place with a big redwood forest forming a natural aisle.
This is the best job in the world, I get to tell people’s stories, whether that be their love stories for weddings or their life stories for funerals.