The Growth of illegal weddings?

OK, I admit that the title is an attention-getter but there is some truth in it.  I’m referring to celebrant led wedding ceremonies which in England have no legal merit. Things are different in Scotland; there a couple can have a humanist style wedding in any format they want and get an official marriage certificate at the end.  Not so in England

So, if Celebrant led ceremonies aren’t legally viable in England (and that includes Surrey!), why are they so popular?

First, a few facts

There are almost four hundred thousand weddings every year in the UK. The Covid pandemic caused some havoc and delays but didn’t dampen the desire to get married. 

In my conversations with couples, I talk about three components to a typical wedding event. I refer to them as ‘the legalities’, ‘the ceremony’ and the ‘celebration’.  You must do the legal bit but the other two can be done at different times – or perhaps even not at all. 

To be legally married in England, you must attend a licenced location and sign the wedding register in the presence of a licenced registrar and two witnesses. There are administrative requirements about giving notice, confirming your ‘resident status’, declaring that you are free to marry and that you want to do so. Once you’ve done those and signed the register, you will be legally married. Bob’s your uncle, as the saying goes (or possibly he’s now your husband).

Most people want a ‘ceremony’ with family and friends (which could be religious or non-religious) where the couple say words of commitment, make promises and give wedding rings; a ceremonial ritual with glamour.

My third element is the ‘reception’ (‘celebration) where the couple and their guests, enjoy food, drink and festivities. People make speeches, propose ‘toasts’ and generally have fun.

Only the LEGAL bit is necessary, other two are OPTIONS

Registry offices and churches usually want to combine the legal and ceremonial elements, but you don’t have to do so. The nature of these institutions means that there are limitations and restrictions on timing, location and what can and cannot be included. 

A wedding celebrant can perform a non-legal ceremony anytime and anywhere, in a garden, on a beach, on a boat. You can even book a lap of the London Eye for such a ceremony.

But, in England, a celebrant led ceremony isn’t enough on its own to legally marry you. A couple must have done the registry office bit.

So if a celebrant led ceremony won’t legally marry two people (yet) in England, why do so many couples want to do it?  Here are four reasons from my experience:

  1. Recent restrictions forced them to have a small registry office ceremony and they want a bigger and better one with family and friends
  2. They want something very personal with style and content that registry office and Church restrictions don’t allow
  3. They want freedom of choice as to where they have their ceremony
  4. One partner is from another country and, having completed a ceremony there, they want another one for the folks ‘at home’

Whilst the title of this article is truthful, the freedom and scope of a celebrant ceremony makes it an increasing popular addition to the basic legal step of registering a marriage.

For more information, you can contact the author, William Freeman by telephone 07718 914739, email or via his website

To find a celebrant in your area visit the Fellowship of Professional Celebrants at

The ‘wedding speech’ terror!

Couples I talk to often seem anxious when it comes to speeches. It’s as if they feel they are an imposed burden that could spoil their wedding day.

   They say things like:

  “I’m not a good public speaker”

  “Dad is worried about making a speech”

  “Must we have speeches?”

  “Can we do them before the meal to get them over with?”

  “Do we have to do them if we only have a small group of guests?”

     It’s natural that people are anxious and nervous at the idea of making a ‘speech’; everyone is, so let me first of all put ‘wedding speeches’ into context. 

   A wedding is a celebration that your family members and guests have come along to share with you. Many of them will have given gifts. Someone will be paying for the food and drink (and entertainment) – often shelling out a large sum of money.

     In my eBook ‘Wedding Speeches for the Nervous’ (you can see it at, I recommend that you banish the word ‘speech’ from your thinking; a ‘speech’ conjures up the need for slick professionalism and humour and we picture famous presenters and actors far more talented than we ever can be. 

    How depressing!

    Now pause for a moment and think how you behave if someone comes to dinner at your house bearing presents. You would welcome them, thank them for coming and thank them for the gifts they brought. 

    A wedding ‘speech’ is no different. You are welcoming people and thanking them for coming – possibly highlighting people who have come a long way. You are thanking them for their gifts and good wishes. Every speechmaker will say nice things about the couple and their families.  People will propose toasts, and so on. 

   I tell the potentially nervous wedding speakers that they are not making a ‘speech’ as such; they are ‘welcoming guests’, ‘saying thanks’ and ‘proposing a toast’. In my aforementioned book, I give templates for each wedding ’speech’.

    It is your choice as to how many speakers you have; each one should have a purpose and finish with a relevant toast. 

   At a same sex wedding, you could have a parent or representative from each family as well as the two people being wed.

    I steer people away from the ‘let’s do them first and get them out of the way’ approach. Your guests will be hungry so I advise that ‘speeches’ come after people have had the chance to eat something.

    I also advise that speeches are done in a single session – i.e., not split between courses. Splitting the speeches breaks momentum and loses impetus.  The ideal spot, in my opinion, is after the main course has been cleared.  You could have them after dessert but this is also a natural point where people tend to drift off.

   But it’s your choice.

   Make sure your Master of Ceremonies knows your plan so he / she can get everyone ready. If you haven’t hired a toastmaster or MC, appoint someone to take on these responsibilities. 

  How long should a speech be?  My quick answer is ‘shorter than most of them tend to be’, but that’s another topic. 

 My eBook ‘Wedding Speeches for the Nervous’ (you can see it at, gives examples and formats you can follow. 

   I’ll end this with a toast, “here’s to you making a memorable speech and enjoying doing so. Cheers!”

‘Don’t delay – Plan today’

It’ll be a New Year when you read this and we all hope that 2021 isn’t as traumatic as the one we’ve just finished. Happy New Year to you all, whoever and wherever you are.

Uncertainly is very destabilising and, unless you are planning your event a long way ahead, we all still wonder how life will really be like over the coming months.

You might be forced to consider a smaller event that you had originally planned but don’t let that deter you from having your event on the day you want it. ‘Live streaming’ can make your live event reach an even bigger audience. My ‘Mini Toastmaster’ services can give your event extra organisation and glamour (I’m referring to the red tailcoat, not to me) and at a comparatively ‘mini’ price. Be assured, however, that I will still be my usual size.

I can give you a ‘Town Crier’ announcement clip (with whatever background you wish) to publicise your intentions to your chosen community.

My ‘This Is Your Life’ service will be tailored to include in your special birthday or anniversary celebration.

Covid (there, I’ve written the ‘C’ word) has upended most aspects of our lives but I recommend you refuse to let it cause you to cancel your event planning. I would be delighted to help you. Happy 2021!