Yes, you did read that correctly! This amazing UK couple, Simon and Lindsey, planned their elopement to South Africa in 5 days flat.
While chatting to Lindsey I was struck by how letting go of some control over the smaller details of their wedding day, allowed this almost magical space to be created, where very real and beautiful moments unfolded naturally.
Simon is from Johannesburg and Lindsey is from Michigan. They were both working in the UK when they met. Lindsey was just coming out of her first marriage when she met Simon. Despite some initial resistance, Simon’s motto of “resistance needs persistence” finally won her over. Fast forward four years and they are engaged, planning a beautiful big wedding in Tuscany, Italy.
If you were full swing into your Italy wedding planning why did you decide to elope?
The biggest reason was time. Our Italian wedding was planned for 18 months after Simon proposed and after six months of planning we were still a year away from being husband and wife. The six months of planning also gave us a taste for the cost and logistics which we began to fear would put too much anxiety and pressure on us and the day and we could be in danger of losing sight of the gravity and meaning of the day. We also hadn’t paid any deposits yet so we had nothing to lose.
Why did you choose South Africa as your elopement destination then?
Once the idea came to us it made perfect sense. We were already going, the weather in October is lovely (made even more special by the Jacaranda trees) and it is where Simon grew up and a place I have fallen in love with.
We were actually leaving in four days for a friend’s wedding in Johannesburg, so I said what if we get married now when we go to South Africa? We called our families to see what they thought about this idea. We didn’t want to upset anyone if they already had their hearts set on a big Italian wedding.
What were the reactions of your family and friends? How did you and Simon deal with the “why weren’t we invited” questions/disappointment?
Both of our families were so supportive of our decision and really just realistic about how much money we and they would save by doing it this way. My family was actually quite sweet in that they said that they felt like a smaller wedding was actually more ‘us’ and it sounded like this was what we were meant to do anyway.
We had a videographer to capture the day for the family who couldn’t be there and we also had a wonderful party with our friends in London when we got back. So we really did get to celebrate with everyone.
Where in S.A did you end up having your intimate wedding?
We had our wedding in the back garden of Simon’s family home in Johannesburg.
We know you planned your elopement in 5 days, how did you do this?
Yes, it took us 5 days to plan our elopement. Our friend’s wedding was on the Friday and obviously we were fully focused on that so as soon as Saturday came we started to plan our wedding and set the date for the following Friday. Simon’s family were just so wonderful and helped us plan absolutely everything.
Did you face any challenges in planning your elopement?
The only real hiccup we had was because I had been married before I had to have a decree absolute to give the registrar in South Africa to show I wasn’t still married and I couldn’t find mine.
I phoned the court to get a copy of my decree and in typical UK fashion they told me I had to apply by post. We had so few days before we left for South Africa that I asked if I could fax them the application but they said no, I asked if I could come and hand it in in person and they said no.
So now it’s the morning of the day we are meant to be flying out and I decided to go to the court anyway to see if I could get this decree. I was standing inline shaking and on the verge of tears because if this man doesn’t give me this piece of paper we were not going to get married. I went up to the desk and said, “I know you don’t normally do this but if I give you this application now, please will you give me the copy of the decree?” I’m standing there pleading with this guy trying to keep my tears back when he says “ya, if I can find it you can have it”.
He did find it! He doesn’t know it but he saved our wedding.
Did you include a lot of suppliers in your plans or was it more of a DIY day?
We had to make use of suppliers, mainly because we didn’t have time to do any DIY projects. We ended up having about 28 guests at our wedding. We hired a caterer to do canapés after the ceremony. We got a very standard but very beautiful carrot and beetroot cakes made from a bakery down the road, so that wasn’t even a proper wedding cake supplier. We bought a bunch of booze for everybody and got waiters to bring stuff around. We got a videographer so that my family that weren’t there could have a video. We also had a photographer and musicians for our day.
Tell me about the morning leading up to the ceremony.
I had a friend in Johannesburg who was kind enough to let me stay at her house the night before, we had a nice girly night in with a few other friends. When we woke up in the morning hair and make-up came and we all got made up and had snacks and Champaign together.
What were the highlights of your intimate ceremony?
It was very special to have our wedding in Simon’s family home with all of his closest family members. His family really did just pick up and help us organise and cover everything. Simon’s mom organised the flowers and his dad walked me down the aisle.
We both wrote our own vows. I had been married before so these vows were really, really serious to me. This hadn’t worked once but this time I really meant it and I wanted everyone to know I meant it. We had been to weddings before where people say their vows but you can’t even hear them because there are so many people or you’re in the back and I feel that this is what the wedding is about. If you can’t experience that with your friends or hear the emotion in their voice are you really sharing in that actual commitment?
So that is what we wanted people to realise, for the people who were there to hear our vows and for the gravity of what we were doing not to be lost on our guests.
Where there any special details about your day that you would like to share?
Neither of us are very religious but once we were standing in front of the officiant, he announces that he is going to do a reading. Now we hadn’t agreed on a reading, I can’t say anything but I’m thinking we didn’t agree to this…when he starts reading a passage from my favourite book ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ from my favourite section, which starts “Love is a temporary madness…”. I start sobbing because I thought Simon had told him to read it. Afterwards I said to Simon, “I can’t believe you had him read that, it’s my favourite how did you know?” And he replies very nonchalantly, “I didn’t know, he just picked it” so we still have a giggle about that.
Do you have any regrets attached to your wedding day?
At the time it was quite a regret that I couldn’t find a dress that I loved in time for our wedding. I ended up at one of the malls in Joburg and found a shop with four white dresses and only one wasn’t hideous and that’s how I chose my dress. At the time I sort of wished I could have had a “proper dress” but now that I look back it was the perfect dress for me. It was probably a lot better than what I would have ended up with if I did overthink it.
Did you celebrate afterwards?
Our reception was actually at Tokyo Star in Greenside. We both changed and just went and had a big dance there with our friends, so we winged that as well.
If you got to elope with Simon all over again would you do anything differently?
I don’t think I would, no. Maybe not Tokyo Star for our reception, I may have liked a place that had a DJ with the music I liked but other than that no.
Looking back is there anything about a ‘traditional wedding’ you feel you missed out on because you eloped?
Well I think I missed out on the stress! I didn’t really have any of that.
I’ve seen a lot of my friends getting married and in order to afford it they have to do a lot of DIY and Pinterest ideas. They have been really stressed for months leading up to their weddings and I didn’t have any of that!
We would have loved both of our families to be together on our wedding day but other than that I really don’t feel like we missed out on anything.
If you could share any of your insight or perspective with couples considering eloping or having a more intimate destination wedding, what would you say?
I feel like everyone has to do what’s right for them and there should be no judgments either way. You should look inward and look at your relationship and try to not feel those pressures from society. If what you genuinely want is to have a big wedding then you should have it, but if you’re feeling pressure because of so and so who got married and had these flowers or that dress, then those are the wrong reasons.
There is such a build up to this one day and even though it goes off without a hitch there is always a bit of a downer at the end. You’re left thinking, I’ve been planning a wedding for a year, now what do I do? It’s important to do what you want to do but ask your friends who have had a big wedding 6 months or a year later and they will probably say they wished they did it smaller. We enjoyed spending a lot of time with the few people there over having a lot of small talk with distant cousins on the day.
What are a few things you can now do/ that you did because you didn’t blow an insane amount of money on a traditional wedding day?
Although it’s not my character to go and spend the money we saved just because, we were able to go on a nice honeymoon and do it slightly nicer than what we originally planned.
We got to have a great party with our friends back in London.
We have put some money towards going to Mauritius on our baby-moon.
If we wanted to we could have a deposit on a house (a very small one if buying in London!).
We didn’t bring the stress of having debt into our married life, in terms of maternity leave I don’t feel that worried because we have a bit of a cushion.
*Friends please note this is not a wedding I was part of. I have featured it here purely to celebrate it!
Photographer: Damon O’Reilly
Rings: Pico Jewellers