Firstly, suspend your disbelief – you might think elopement has very little to do with spaces but you’d be dead wrong. We ran away because we couldn’t bear the idea of  getting married in the spaces available to us. We could have done it in our village church in Halsall but I would have been sad my Nana wasn’t there. We could have had a big, trendy corker in an old warehouse in London but we didn’t really want to be centre of attention. Any space we did it that involved being in close proximity to my volatile mother made me want to puke. So, we chose our own space, one that we both loved and would take us on a big, wonderful adventure. We eloped to get married in the space that was right for us.

Bride and groom kissing outside San Francisco City Hall
Truly the best day ever

Family matters

I had a chat to Hil, my excellent Mother in Law, this week to ask how we actually broached the idea of eloping and I’d completely forgotten we did it on Mother’s Day… we’re dead sensitive like that. We were really lucky was my Dad wasn’t bothered and Jamie’s parents were chill as fuck when we told them but I’m a firm believer that the people you love want whatever makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to ask, explain how much eloping means to you, assure them you’ll include them in the arrangements if that’s helpful or have a do when you return if that’s your bag. You can make people feel part of it without them having to physically be there and the fact you’ve considered their feelings when planning should hopefully make it less tough to take.

St Frances Fountain in The Mission in San Francisco is pretty much the best place on the planet

Where to go and what to do

Right you lucky devils, if you got past the starting post without getting derailed by fraught family, here’s where the fun starts. Arranging! But SO much less arranging than for a conventional wedding. Sit down with your partner, work out what’s important to you and then spin out the elopement plan from there. Love food? A New York elopement and then a three-hour lunch in the best restaurant in town might be nice. Part-time ramblers? Get thee to Gretna and then off on a camping trip around the Highlands. You can unpick where to go when you drill down to what’s important to you. Remember though, if you want to elope to most places that aren’t the UK or USA (if you’re based in Britain) the process can be a bit complicated unless you have planner to walk you through it. So if you want to be spontaneous and keep plans to a minimum then I’d go for the UK or the States.

Yes, we fundamentally got married in an enormous wedding cake

The Watts/Donaldson wedding experience

We talked a lot about what we wanted and knew that we would head for the States because it’s relatively easy to get married there. After toying with Nashville and a super-campy chapel wedding we realised we didn’t want to be married by Elvis and were after something a little more romantic. I think I actually googled ‘best places to elope’, stumbled across San Francisco City Hall and that was that. It was a heavenly space, in an area we wanted to explore, had a kitsch diner we could have a wedding breakfast in, loads of street art to snap in front of and meant we could honeymoon down the Pacific Coast Highway. Our personal elopement dream was realised.

Couple sit in diner in evening wear
Discussing the merits of the wedding breakfast burrito

The logistics

Please, please, please do some planning unless you’re off to Vegas and don’t care when or how you get wed. To get a decent time-slot for our wedding we took advice from our wonderful photographer, Kelly Boitano, a local and industry insider with all the tips. We went for a public civil ceremony, which means you get married with one or two other couples who’ve also chosen your time-slot. If you choose badly it can be a bit of a conveyor belt but with Kelly’s help we found a quiet period and actually found it really jolly to watch how happy the other couples were and still totally romantic. We also collected the wedding licence the day before so we weren’t rushing on the day. Be sure to consider weird things like that, that wouldn’t be an issue with a conventional wedding. If you want zero stress there are also wedding planners who specialise in elopements but they will cost sweet cash money. There aren’t many places you can just rock up and do the deed so we made sure we knew what we had to do, when, how and with which documents before we even booked the flights. Even with all that planning, on the day the beautiful rotunda we were most to have the ceremony was closed for the hall’s 100 year anniversary celebrations, complete with children singing happy birthday for the tv. But with the gentle threat of weeping, we were spared the 70’s celebration room and were scooted up to the jazzy balcony that usually costs extra to hire.

Bride, groom and officiant marrying them in city hall
This man was the most enthusiastic man we’ve ever met. At one point I’m pretty sure he reached out and stroked Jamie’s cheek

The threads

Depends what you want – you can do it in shorts and t-shirt, a bikini, a full ballgown, a football mascot costume, the choice is yours (probably not nude). Remember though if you’re not chilled enough to just get something out there, you need to transport that shit and in my experience, that doesn’t equal a first class upgrade no matter how many times you say ‘is it going to be ok to stow my wedding dress’. Looking for a suit/dress is a great way to include family members or friends though, making them feel part of the process so there’s brownie points to be had there.  I chose a fairly traditional dress from Katya Shehurina based on my Nana’s gown and then had two costume changes to high-street ones cos, you know, I love dressing up. Jamie bought a suit. It’s as boring as it sounds.

Nothing says love like a brown wall with a sign about candy, ice cream and lunches

The finishing touches

You can 100% do it all yourself but we knew we wanted proper photos for the family so we went to town on that. Get online to find photographers/makeup people/florists doing things you like and then email a couple, you’ll soon know who you vibe with best. I found my incredible photographer @kellyboitanophoto, sent her a really cheeky email saying how skint we were, how sorry we were that it was last minute but asking her if she’d be willing to shoot our day. She said yes, acted as an unofficial tour guide all day, was our witness and will be a friend for life. Sammy at @lambertfloralstudio was a total hero, telling me what would be in season when we were there and creating the bouquet of dreams all from the other side of the Atlantic. My hair and makeup lady Alana was the sweetest, we had a Beatles breakfast (playing not eating), she made me feel like a princess and laugh like a drain – a master in distraction. These people were my squad on the day and I was so grateful for it.

Couple kissing on Golden Gate Bridge
Exhaust fumes get us going

The aftermath

We called the important people a few hours after we did it, let them know we’d just got married if they didn’t already know or how it went if they did. We also sent across a few photos we got Kelly to take on our mobiles so they could have a nosey. What you do is up to you though, you can keep that day for yourself, call people straight after, live-stream them in, the possibilities are endless – just do the thing that suits you. We then left the phones to it and had the bloody best day ever. We ate breakfast burritos, we looked at the Golden Gate Bridge, we had an amazing Italian feast for dinner. It was the greatest day, just me and my best bud – albeit with a lady following us round taking photos. I’d also squirrelled away a list of friend’s email addresses and pre-prepared an email to send the morning after so I didn’t have to do a load of admin while we were riding the wave of post-nuptial bliss. Yes I am a genius, yes I’d make a great wedding planner.

I would like it noted that that fruit was nothing to do with either of us

The remix

When you get back you, and if you want to you can do it all again, knowing you did it your way (try not to sing that) when it mattered. You can do a little blessing for friends and family if you’re religious, a low-key pub lunch and photo sharing session or a massive, three-day festival blowout for friends. Plus, Brucey bonus, anything that doesn’t include the W word will probably cost less. We made sure we made a total fuss of our family so they still felt part of it, having a little do at home. We got Hil to read a poem at our churchy bit and got her a jazzy photo book from Ella’s Books so she can look at the wedding photos all the damn time. Then we had a big silly party with a Mr Whippy ice cream machine, homemade crazy golf, a fish piñata and pin-the-boobs-on-Dolly-Parton for our pals.

So my main piece of advice would be, if you want to do it then do it! The people who love you will understand if you explain how much it means to you to do it while ensuring they know they matter and you’ll do everything you can to make them feel part of the action. Your wedding day should be all about you, and if that means it being literally about the just the two of you then go for it – you only live once!  

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