If you’re busy wedding planning, our chat with the wonderful marriage celebrant Charis White is a must listen. We spoke all things writing your own vows, seating arrangements, outdoor weddings and COVID-19. There is advice and we promise, a bunch of great stories you’ll want to hear too. Check it out.
Anthony Hi, guys. Welcome to another episode of Till Death Do Us Podcast.
Anthony I’ve done a number of these now and COVID has really fuelled my desire to speak to all sorts of suppliers around town and today I have the pleasure of speaking to Charis White. She’s a celebrant in Melbourne. Bit of a legend, really. She’s been around for over seven years. And in that time, she’s conducted over 750 wedding ceremonies. That’s an amazing number. And she’s got so much great advice today. I can’t wait to share this with you all. So enjoy. And as always, if you’ve got any questions about your ceremony and what you’ve got planned, please reach out. We’re here to help you.
Anthony Charis, welcome. Thanks for your time today. It’s really exciting to be speaking to you about all things wedding celebrancy. How are you going?
Charis Yeah, great. Thanks so much for having me. It’s lovely to speak to you, too.
Anthony Now, I know you’ve been a celebrant for many years. Tell me a little bit about, you know, when it all started and how you got into it.
Charis Sure. So, yeah, I’ve been a celebrant for just over 10 years. So way back when in the planning process of my own wedding, I just loved weddings. Obviously, I got married myself and thought, what can I do in this industry? And because I have a background in singing, I was singing for Opera Australia at the time and I sort of thought, if I can sing in front of people, surely I can speak in front of people. So when my first born was six months old, I went back and studied this course all those years ago. And literally the course was, I think over a weekend. It’s changed a lot now. But did this course and then had to do some online components and then write to the AG’s department and then got registered. And I think, you know, in my first year, I probably did, I don’t know, maybe 10 weddings. And it sort of blossomed to be over 100 a year.
Anthony Fantastic. I mean, do you remember your first wedding?
Charis Oh, yeah.
Anthony It’s one of those things that never leaves you, even for us as videographer’s. I still remember that first wedding I ever shot, you know.
Charis Oh, yeah. No, I actually had a girlfriend come and she just sat in the car for me. My support system. Oh yeah. No, I was totally nervous. I can I can picture what the bride was wearing and where I was. And I remember the rehearsal vividly. Oh, I totally remember it.
Anthony You know, talking about rehearsals and the couple, what we do within the wedding space, it is such a personal service. How important is it within what you do, celebrancy, how important is it to have that really good rapport with couples and how do you nurture that? What do you do before even, you know, maybe booking a couple or when you first meet with them?
Charis Yeah. I think it’s really important. And obviously, everybody has an individual style and not every couple will gel with a celebrant that they think they’ll gel with. So I always will, pre-corona, I used to meet my couples at a restaurant or a bar just in High Street, Northcote. We’d sort of chat through everything. I never put pressure on my clients to make a decision, so sort of leave it open ended. We have a great chat over coffee or a glass of wine. Sometimes we fill in the notice of intended marriage, which never locks them into a celebrant. But it’s quite hard sometimes to get together to fill in that form. And then I just leave it open ended and then we’ll often meet again and have a Skype conversation once they decide that they wanted to book. And then I’ve got a sort of a book of resources that we go through together and chat about the style that they’re thinking they want their wedding to be. It’s very important for me too to actually sort of have some relationship with the family. So if we do have a rehearsal, it’s so lovely for me to meet the parents. I had a bride recently, I was at the Lake House in Daylesford, actually, and the bride saw that I was there through my Instagram stories and said, oh, my gosh, my parents are there, and I said, tell them to come find me! So her mum came and found me and we had this lovely chat. And then again of course at the rehearsal. And by the time the wedding came around, really, it was like an old friend, you know, they knew me. I knew them. It was this lovely, meaningful relationship. And it makes it so much more special when I have that all encompassed relationship with the family.
Anthony Yeah, absolutely. Having seen you work so many times, you do bring such a personal experience to each service. And it really shows. Just how much time you invest in each couple. And it is so important, you know, couples don’t realise that, you know, as a celebrant, you need to have some sort of backstory. You need to know how they met and, and what is it about them that’s unique to them. And that always comes through you wedding ceremonies.
Charis Thanks Anthony, that’s lovely.
Anthony How do you structure each ceremony? What what process do you go through with each couple?
Charis Yes. So, you know, obviously every story is unique. And that’s my greatest challenge. To sort of capture their story and get as much information about their relationship as possible. So basically, I sit down and chat about their day and write down some notes, and then if I meet them again via Skype, I do the same thing. Or if there’s some holes in the story, I’ll ask them a bit more and then I get them to fill in a questionnaire. And I never get them to do this together because two questionnaires with these, you know, I think it’s about 30 questions there. If they do it individually, it means that I get a great cross-section of their relationship, but I can put it together in a really meaningful way. If they do it together, it’s just half the content to write the ceremony from. So I always say, a more expansive questionnaire means a better ceremony. And that is the truth through and through. Some of my work has been by people who’ve written really comprehensive answers to those questions. It makes for a great ceremony.
Anthony Sure. Do you ever find some couples cheating and doing it together or?
Charis Oh, yeah. And you know, the one question, you know, it’s like, what do you love about your fiancee? And it’s like, oh, she’s got great eyes and a beautiful smile. And I’m like, well, I could’ve told you that myself! I always say, you know, you gotta to give me something because I’m effectively a stranger to these people. So that is my greatest challenge for them to break down those barriers and feel comfortable enough with me to give me great content.
Anthony Yeah, absolutely. And it is so much actually about that, isn’t it, breaking down those barriers so that they can totally open up. And that’s a hard thing for people to do, isn’t it? I mean, it really is.
Charis Oh, and some of the questions, you know, I often get responses from people going, oh, gosh, that was really hard. I never had never thought about that question before. And it was really hard to put pen to paper and come up with, you know, an answer for you. And so it is nice for them to then share once they’ve written the questionnaires independently to share them together and go, oh, wow. You know, it’s lovely. I often get, you know, often get great remarks from people going, wow, you really made us stop and think about our relationship in a different way.
Anthony Wow, that’s fantastic. That is really fantastic. So I suspect that some of those answers, you know, I kept I kept until the ceremony itself. Is that right?
Charis Yes and no. So, you know, every celebrant works in a different way. And, you know, sort of the new cool thing to do is to just say the ceremony fresh on the day. However, I always have got my clients to cast their eyes over it because sometimes people give me really inappropriate content. And then I weave it into the ceremony and they read it back and go, oh, gosh, no, no, no, no, no, no. So if I said that fresh on the wedding day and they’d never cast their eyes over it, I’d be worried about the looks I would get.
Anthony Right. Fair enough. Some of my favourite ceremonies are when couples write their own vows. And I think for me personally, it’s really important to write your own vows. What’s your advice for couples and how do you manage that process?
Charis Yeah, I totally agree with you. It’s it’s the most special part of a ceremony. And they are so individual and so unique and sometimes people have no idea where to start. So I do have a sort of a vow book that’s got about 40 different examples in it so people can look at it and get an idea of the structure and how many lines it should be and how big it should be and whether or not they want to weave humour through it or they want it all to be serious.
Charis But I often say, you know, longer vows can be challenging because if they want me to say it first, then they’ve got to repeat it. It can feel like they’re up there forever. And also I try to get them to be balanced. So if one person’s vows are really serious and the other persons are very humorous, I’ll go back to them both and say, you know, could you weave some humour through yours and could you weave some seriousness through yours?
Anthony Wow. Okay interesting.
Charis Yeah because I think it would be it would be very tricky for a couple to stand up there and one of the partners to say something and it be totally different to the others, so that’s what people often ask me. Look, if they are so contrasting, can you please come back to us and let us know so that they’re balanced and then, you know, it’s all from the heart. You know, you don’t have to overthink it. And I think that’s some will do is they try to write a mini monologue of, you know, hundreds of lines that it doesn’t need to be that, you know, just go with your gut and what you feel about your future husband, your future wife. And you don’t you don’t need to overthink it. And that’s my job. You know, I’m there to read over it. And if they you know, sometimes I’ll get vows back that have repeated a line in a similar way, two or three times between, you know, nine lines of vows. And they’ll say, oh, look, I just reworded this because we could get rid of these other two lines and then they read it back and go, oh gosh. You know, I couldn’t figure out how to do that. So, you know, trust your celebrant and trust the process of that as well.
Anthony Amazing. Such great advice. Absolutely. It’s interesting because as you talk and I’m reflecting on when we’re shooting ceremonies and there’s a reason why it always seems so seamless, and that’s because there is all this hard work being put in, you know, before the ceremony. It’s so easy to take for granted. What about memorising the vows? I’ve seen that done only a few times and I think it’s really special when couples do it because they’re looking into each other’s eyes. It’s just incredible, right? Oh, it’s somewhat risky. But what advice do you give, have any couples ever suggested that they do it?
Charis Oh, look, I don’t often tell people to do it. The reason is, is that as I’ve done over 750 weddings and I’ve only had one person successfully memorise them.
Anthony Ah the odds.
Charis He was a neurosurgeon I must add.
Anthony Yeah. Right.
Charis So and the reason is because I once had a groom who was like a deer caught in headlights and he just got through one line and he looked at me and he had forgotten them, which was fine. And I dictated the next line to him, but he just couldn’t grasp what I was saying. And the look of fear on his face was was so, I will never forget the moment. And I think it’s too pressure filled. So it is, although it is beautiful and amazing. And if they can do it, I highly recommend it. But does it happen often? No. So I would say give me your vows, about 2 weeks before your wedding day. I put them in the final draft of my ceremony so my couples don’t have to carry anything on the day. And then if they don’t want me to dictate them, then I stand next to them. So I’m not seen by the photographer or videographer and I follow along with my finger. And then I pause. And where I pause, they look up and they go again. And then I do the same thing. So that’s kind of like a seamless transaction where it’s almost like they’ve memorised them, but they don’t have the pressure of memorising them.
Anthony Yes, sure. OK, cool. All right. You know, the ceremony, weddings, beautiful ritual. And of course, for the most part, it’s there for family. You know, family’s such an important part of the whole day. Some couples want to involve their families and family members in many different ways. You know, like speeches at the reception, there’s a whole host of different roles, if you like. But what about within the ceremony? What are your thoughts on family members doing some readings or any other sort of part of the ceremony? What are your thoughts and suggestions there?
Charis Look, I love it. There’s nothing better than having a family included in your day. And, you know, every couple is so unique. There’s different ways that you can weave people in. Readings are great, because it also means we can vary the position of the couples through the ceremony so that you guys can get a different perspective on your videography and photography.
Charis So readings are great. Obviously, you know, we have nieces and nephews who are great ring bearers and page boys and flower girls, you know. And then we can you know, there’s all these other little rituals that some people love and some people don’t love. So you can always weave family members. But I think look, I just think about the whole day and the perspective that the photography of the videography can capture and how how special is that, that you can have those memories to look back on of these family members being weaved to the day and equally as important if you have someone who’s passed awa. You know, there’s lovely things that we can do to honour those family members, whether it’s in the lighting of a candle or reading or, you know, pausing in their memory, theirs. It’s a beautiful way to include people, so if people are up for it, I love it.
Anthony Yeah. Yeah. Fantastic. And on to the wedding rehearsal. Is it something that you recommend or do you just wing it on the day? Which which does happen, believe it or not. But what’s your what’s your thought?
Charis So, look, I guess my structure is a bit old school, so I always do rehearsal. So I know that it’s a thing that celebrants are trying to not do these days. And to be perfectly honest, to make things in a household effective, I’ve had to transcend my rehearsals to school hours, which has made my life, you know, it’s made my life easier because I was finding that I was out until 10:00 at night every night trying to do rehearsals with everybody. So I still do a rehearsal with every client. It just means that it’s done during the daytime hours and either at my house or at an inner city park. And if people want me to come to the rehearsal, then of course, I’ll always go to the rehearsal. So I always do them purely because I can meet the family members, which is lovely for me to have that relationship on the day. And also, I want my clients to feel comfortable. I want them to know where I’m going to stand. Where they’re going to stand. If we change their position in the ceremony, why are we doing that and where am I going? There’d be nothing worse than me going off to the side to do a reading and them not knowing what was going on.
Anthony Yeah, totally.
Charis I don’t want to stand up there and look like they’ve got no idea what they’re doing. So I think it’s really important and it’s important because it makes it a seamless transaction for you guys to capture too you know, it’s like, oh, I’ve read this once on a blog that it’s like a well choreographed dance. If you know what everybody’s doing. It’s so much easier for everybody to to be involved.
Anthony Yeah. And I’m thinking too to add to that. I mean, it’s important for the couple to not be thinking about what they should be doing next and just enjoying being there and realising and feeling this really important month milestone in their life, you know.
Charis Yes, 100 percent.
Anthony Rather than feeling anxious about oh, where should we be stepping, ect. So rehearsal is definitely important. We often get questions about this and we always handball it and say, look, you know, this is our advice, but also speak to you, celebrant. Two things. Firstly, couple of thinking of having an outdoor ceremony. What’s your advice? And also, you know, family members and how you do the seating at the ceremony. And this is the traditional way of one, you know, one person from the couple on one side and then the rest of the family on the other. What are your thoughts on both?
Charis So I always do the opposite of what you should traditionally for seating a family. So I make the groom’s side sit on the bride’s side of the bride’s family sits on the groom’s side because it means that the bride’s family are going to see her face directly if the couple is standing facing each other. So basically, I get the opposite to happen. So if we’ve got a same sex couple, like we get her parents to sit on the other brides side and, you know, the other bride’s family sit on the other side,so that they’re crossing and they can see each other’s space. There’s nothing worse than just seeing your daughter or your son’s nose. You want to be able to see their face. So that’s what I do. And look, I always say if the families at the rehearsal, I always say to the parents, this doesn’t suit everybody. And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to do it. So it’s to your discretion of what you feel comfortable with. But I know if it was my child getting married, I would want to see their expression. And then an outdoor wedding, I’m sure that, you know, I’m sure you’ve heard my story about the outdoor wedding that I got stuck in and had to buy a new dress.
Anthony No I haven’t heard that story, tell me.
Charis Well, it’s a ripper! it was at the Botanic Gardens. So this couple booked me from New York. They were born and bred in Melbourne and lived in New York. And when we had their rehearsal at the Botanic Gardens, there was thunderstorms predicted. And I said to them at their rehearsal, look, what’s your backup plan? You know, thunderstorms are predicted. And I’m not sure what what you guys are thinking, but we need to plan for this. And they just went. Not going to happen to us. Doesn’t matter. And I was like, well, no, you should plan for the worst case scenario. And the Botanic Gardens doesn’t let you have a marquee. So the only thing that they could do was get more market umbrellas. And I said, well, at very least, get as many market umbrellas as you can. So I’ve arrived for the rehearsal. And like, this is no exaggeration. Boom, crash, boom. The heavens open. And I’m sure you are aware of those Melbourne days when it rains like torrential rain coming in sideways. And I was sitting in my car and it was so heavy I literally could not get out of the car. And so I called every contact on my list and finally got through to the bride’s mother. And I’m like, I don’t know what, I can’t even get out of my car. I can’t get my P.A. out. I can’t even get out of the car, it’s raining so heavy. What are we going to do? And she’s like, oh, I’ve got no idea. So she got the groom to ring me, and there was this little rotunda in the Botanic Gardens. I said, meet me there. This is right above the ceremony space. I can’t remember the wall in space of where they were getting married. So he meets me there. And there’s a first birthday going on in this rotunda.
Charis And I saw that popped my head in and said, any chance you’re finishing up soon? We’ve got a wedding starting in a half an hour. It doesn’t look like we’re gonna be able to have the wedding at the spot that we were going to. And they’re like, sorry, now we’ve booked it. And I was like, OK, fair enough. So I said to the groom, what are we going to do? And he said, Oh, well, we’ll just have to push ahead. So in comes all of the guests and like, it’s raining so hard that the paths are flooded. And everybody’s trying to get space. But of course, the chairs were still set up. So I basically got and I took my P.A. sillyly of my bag and sort of set it up and said, look, can we just all grab a chair and put the chairs against this one tree and we’ll just have to huddle in.
Charis Now, the bride was waiting in the car and we had a break in the weather. And I was like, oh, you beauty. So I got on the phone and rang the bride and said, come on, quick, we’ve got to do it now. And she to’d and throw’d with the groom for about ten minutes, which was ten minutes too long. And another weather system came through. So at this point you have about 120 guests huddling under 4 market umbrellas. You’ve got the Blakes feast catering, huddling under their umbrellas. You’ve got me holding an umbrella over my P.A. system. And finally, I looked at the groom. Now, this was literally an hour and a half past the time that the wedding was supposed to start. And I said, we need to jump into action plan here because this to’ing and throwing, nothing’s happening. So we called Alto in the city. I loaded a couple of groomsmen in my car. Everybody got taxis. And of course, the weather was so heavy that there was flooding in the city itself. So it took literally about another hour to get into Alto. And lucky for me H&M were at the bottom of Alto because by this point I was wearing a long dress that had literally absorbed the water from the ground up. My dress was saturated. So the groomsmen, ones carried my P.A.. We ran, I ran into Alto. I run into H&M, grab a size 10 dress off the rack. There’s a huge line. It’s Christmas. So there’s a huge line of people paying. I ran to the front of the line and said sorry, I have to buy this dress, gotta do a wedding! Bought the dress, ran upstairs and got changed, put the dress on and realised that my underwear and my bra were so soaking wet that they started to leak through this new dress. And I’m like, oh god, what am I going to do now? So you can only use your imagination as to what I had to do.
Anthony I cannot imagine… yes go on.
Charis I come out of the bathroom and we have done the wedding and the irony of the day and actually Leo Farrell was a photographer. And the irony of the day is that you look back on these photos and they are flawless, like my hair. There’s not a hair out of place. This new dress complimented the shoes. It’s all worked out amazingly well. But in the end, you know, shoes and watches and P.A bags were ruined and, well.
Anthony And the P.A too!
Charis P.A was OK. It was my P.A bag, but I got home 4 hours later than I should have. It was it was epic. So the moral of the story is that…
Anthony There’s a few morals to this story… go on.
Charis If you have an outdoor wedding and no backup plan in Melbourne, then you are in trouble.
Anthony Totally. And, you know, not hiring a professional celebrant who knows what to do in that scenario. You’d be in big trouble. You managed to deal with that very, very well.
Charis Well, it was one to write home about that’s for sure.
Anthony Bear with me. That’s my five year old, obviously. So, yeah, look, epic story.
Anthony I think that probably the weekend that we were meant to have a wedding in Euroa and it got totally flooded out and the bride had to reschedule her wedding because it was just so bad.
Charis Yeah and you can’t plan for that. And Melbourne does that, you know, a couple of times a year. And unfortunately, if you if you’re not organised. Things like having to replan a wedding. That’s really tricky. As we know.
Anthony Like, totally. A couple of more questions. One is about, you know, COVID. It’s the inevitable question. I think it’s changing the world. And I don’t think the wedding industry is gonna be immune to that. It’s gonna change things for us. Where do you think weddings are going to be post-Covid? How do you think it’s going to change what we do?
Charis Well, I think, you know, first of all, people will have to maybe restructure their day.
Charis So, you know, if they’re wanting to get married, they’re going to have to realise that perhaps they’re not going to be able to have as many guests as they wanted to. Perhaps there’s not going to be a dance floor. I know that in the early days, the government wasn’t letting people cut their cake either. So, you know, you have to be prepared for, unfortunately, some of your dream things not happening. You can still have a beautiful, intimate celebration and it can be just as meaningful. But you’ll have to get your head around the fact that it will look different to what you originally thought, which is hard for some people.
Anthony The other interesting thing about COVID and weddings and social distancing. Yeah. I mean, you know, when we think about weddings in the past, it was all about family and bringing people together and the hugs and kisses. So I do wonder how that might play out. It’ll take a while. I think things will get back there, but it might take a little while.
Charis I mean, it’s you know, this is the challenge for everybody and myself included, because I’m a bit of a hugger. Is that, you know, all of those things are different now. And a wedding is an affair where everyone wants to come in and hug and kiss you. And and we have seen a few weddings in Sydney where you know, that people who didn’t know they had Coronavirus spread it to a lot of people. So people will have to be mindful of this. And certainly for me and, you know, social distancing the bridal party, I mean, this is a really tricky thing if you’ve got a huge bridal party in a small space. That’s not possible. So, you know, lots of things to consider for sure. It’s very different.
Anthony But on the flip side to all this, of course, is that I think there’s going to be a real sense of not taking your family for granted. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing. You know, I think if we can bring it back to what this beautiful ritual is all about and bringing family together, I think it could be, you know, a real gift to the whole industry and what we do.
Charis Oh, for sure. And I think, you know, there is always a silver lining in everything. And the silver lining in this is that, you know, what’s really important to people. And it’s relationships and it’s having, you know, your family. And if you have to have a small affair, well your closest friends, that mean the most to you and having a really beautiful time with them.
Anthony That excites me. You know, really does. Some of my favourite memories of weddings is when you walk into a room and you just feel the people’s connection and the love between people and you just you can just feel it straight away. And I’ve been to weddings where the budget was really low. I mean, it was just on a shoestring. And I’ve been to weddings where, you know, they’ve spent hundreds of thousands. And you can have those loving relationships in all kinds of weddings. And I think that’s really important. Sometimes people lose sight of what an actual wedding is all about, you know.
Charis And what’s really important for sure, and it certainly has affected our industry in a huge way, actually. I did a wedding at Stones of the Yarra Valley, my last wedding before we got shut down for the first time. And it was a beautiful, huge wedding. Lost in Love were the photographers. Toby Toby was singing and it was a stunningly beautiful day. And the ceremony had just finished. And I was packing up and the father of the groom came over to me and said, thank you for such a beautiful ceremony. And my P.A bag, was kind of hidden around the corner of the chapel because it was an outdoor ceremony. And I burst into tears. Toby Toby was singing this beautiful song and it was the most brilliant day. And actually, it was a videographer who came across my path and said, are you OK? And I said, Oh. I said, it’s actually changed, this virus will change our industry for a long time. And I think that he thought that I was being overdramatic. And I said, you know, I’ve been so fortunate to be a part of this for 10 years and so many beautiful, intimate moments. And I guess I was just grieving in that second for what that meant for the future of the weddings. And, you know, like you’ve just said, actually, maybe it just means that you still have as meaningful a day. It will just be on a smaller scale. And that is and that will be just as beautiful.
Anthony Yeah, totally. Totally. Charis, let’s end on a high. I know I’ve got many great memories of weddings. But what’s what’s some of your most? I mean, you’ve already given us some. But tell me what some of your most fondest memories of a wedding or weddings.
Charis Oh, look, I love when the door opens and, you know, and the bride walks down the aisle and that first moment of their partner seeing them. That’s just, I love taking that in. That’s incredible and incredible to witness. You know, them seeing each other for the first time. I’ve experienced so many amazing things, cultural, dancing, you know, prayers. I’ve been a part of sort of celebrations where it’s been cross culture, where there’s also been, you know, a priest there and me present. And I’ve witnessed things that I never would have, had I not have been in this industry.
Charis But one of the weddings that stands out the most to me, it was actually a groom who’d lost both parents and right at the vows. He had 2 sunbeams come down on him from either side of the heavens, essentially, whilst he was saying his vows. And it stopped us all in our tracks. And I think in that, that will stay with me forever in that moment. You know, it’s just never been so clear to me that, other people, other people are with us. And it’s so special for for everyone. And it’s an incredible thing to be a part of. So whether or not it’s a backyard wedding or a huge wedding at a big venue, they’re all equally as special in their own right. And it’s a real privilege to be a part of this industry.
Anthony Absolutely. Charis, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you. You’re an absolute professional. You’ve been around for so long and have, you know, been a celebrant to many, many couples. And it really shows and all the advice that you’ve given us today, so thanks so much for your time. I so appreciate it.
Charis No problem. Thank you for having me. It was lovely speaking to you.