Being a short lead bride

If you really can’t wait to get married, why not fast-track your big day? One bride reveals how she planned her wedding in four months and shares her key decisions along the way…

On 18th August 2010, holed up in our VW campervan in a wet field at a music festival in Wales, Marcus Mackay proposed to me.
As any bride-to-be will appreciate, in the immediate excitement that follows you saying ‘yes’, your thoughts become immersed in sweet bridal bliss and all sorts of crazy romantic ideas for the wedding start to fill your head. However, I quickly realised that Marcus wasn’t enjoying discussing potential seating plans whilst watching his favourite band! So I made my head (and mouth) switch off. Until it was time to talk sense…
For Marcus and I, ‘sense’ was to get married soon. We had always spoken of marriage as making a commitment because you knew it felt perfect at that point in time, so we made a decision to set the date as soon as possible. If something gets in our way of marrying soon, then so be it, but we both wanted to do our utmost to make it happen.
We soon learned that planning our wedding became a priority over all things. So how did we manage to plan our big day in minimum time? Initially, it was all going to depend on finding a venue that was available on the right date and at the right price for us…


My big day checklist in a nutshell

16 weeks – venue search begins
15 weeks – venue confirmed
13 weeks – engagement party
12½ weeks – rings designed and ordered
12 weeks – parents meet! Guest-list drawn-up and finalised; budget discussed
11½ weeks – dress hunt one
11 weeks – Marcus chooses and buys his suit and shoes
10½ weeks – caterers, musicians and coaches booked
10 weeks – invitations finished, printed and posted
8 weeks – my dress and bridesmaids’ dresses ordered
7 weeks – cake confirmed
5 weeks – honeymoon booked
4½ weeks – photographers, alcohol and catering equipment ordered and finalised
4 weeks – hen do!
3½ weeks – dress picked up
3 weeks – final touches for outfit bought or made
2½ weeks – flowers ordered
2 weeks – stag do and final ‘crafty touches’ made to table decor
1 week – final outfit accessories bought and adjusted (including my shoes and coat, underwear and bridesmaids’ coats)
1 day – table plan, table laid and flowers arranged

16 WEEKS TO GO… the venue search Having worked in hospitality and events for over five years, I’ve had the privilege of getting to know some of the best venues in Scotland, so this gave me an enviable head start on research. At that point, we had Crear in Argyll and two other ideas on the table (the parent-pleasing Glasgow University Chapel then Hotel du Vin or ‘Glasgow fabulous’ Park Circus, then Stravaigin), so we ‘felt them out’. It’s vital to put the groundwork in first. Always check your preferred dates are free and that the price doesn’t scare you. Only then book an appointment so you can get all your questions answered. This makes the decision-making process a lot easier. After all, there’s no point falling in love with a venue you can’t afford or isn’t available – that’d be wasting precious time.
We did our homework one weekend then sat to chat things over, but none of our initial options felt quite right; either too many pound signs appeared or we couldn’t imagine our friends and family in those venues. I gently suggested going ‘all traditional’ by having it at my family home in the Lake District. So, two weeks from our engagement, there it was – our wedding day all perfectly mapped out between a local church, my family home and the village hall. It was exactly what we were looking for and ticked all the boxes: availability, budget and sentimental attachment. After booking the venue, we were faced with an ambitious schedule in order to make our perfect day happen. There were some parts of the planning that just fell into place, whereas others took more careful thought, research, teamwork or a more realistic outlook.

Claire and her three lovely bridesmaids

11 WEEKS TO GO… finding the dresses The first dress hunt consisted of me aimlessly walking into bridal shops without appointments, fingering through one white dress after another, with sales assistants laughing at my ‘dream’ of ordering a dress in under three months. I rummaged through vintage and charity shops too, hoping that ‘the one’ would appear, but getting a dress sorted needs time, dedication and planning, so I tried to cover a few of those requirements with my third dress outing to London. My chief bridesmaid was based there, so she suggested some shops. Following some online and magazine research, I decided to email ten different shops and designers with my plan.
My email read like this:-
This email either excited them or scared them off, which is exactly what I wanted. As with the venue hunt, there is no point creating false hope with a supplier that can’t deliver in time or to budget. Do your research and lay your cards out on the table – it makes things happen much more quickly. After setting up five meetings in London over the course of a weekend, not only had I found my stunning dress (by designer Juliet Poyser), but I’d been invited back for a refit before the weekend was over, saving a second trip to London.
On the same trip to London (minus my two other bridesmaids), chief bridesmaid Helen and I went shopping for their dresses. I had noted all the girls’ measurements and dress style preference down in the hope of finding them one-off vintage numbers, but I had two days and a big city to conquer so Helen told me to ‘get real’. Instead, we settled on a colour (navy) and went on a mission around Debenhams. We had ten minutes to each bring five dresses to the fitting room and make a decision. I picked up four navy dresses and one black ‘wildcard’. It was this little black dress by Ben di Lisi that made the grade – bang on budget too!

4 WEEKS TO GO… the hen do and delegation Between my bridesmaids, I had a fashion designer, a teacher and an artist – and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect trio. For my hen do, I briefed them to get all my far-flung friends togther and for it to be a complete surprise to me, apart for the final afternoon which I wanted for ‘crafts’. Essentially, this was me recruiting all my friends into making the small, fun, DIY elements of the wedding that I knew I wouldn’t have the patience, foresight or time to do in the lead up. They called it a ‘Claire sweat factory’; I called it ‘crafternoon’! We made mulled wine sachet favours with labels which would act as name place tags and tin can vases adorned in tartan fabric. My bridesmaids were also integral in making the ‘small details’ come together – they arranged the flowers the day before the wedding; made the buttonholes and coiffed each other’s hair on the day. All these elements made the whole day much more personal, helped free up precious planning time for me and also helped save money.
Delegation is key when planning a wedding with such a short lead-time, so don’t be shy about getting friends and family involved. Other aspects that Marcus and I enlisted help on included:-
The cake – ordered in Inverness and delivered by Marcus’ family
The ceilidh band – arranged by Marcus’ dad
The village hall – since my mum lives in the village, she was able to get all the information we needed for the caterers such as table and chair quantities. She also liaised with the church florist and local vicar among other things.
The tableplan – the village hall had never held a party of this size before, so I needed my computer-whizz brother to map out how the tables would sit using his CAD program. He translated this onto the tableplan, made from an old door we had at home.

1 WEEK TO GO… the final touches We arranged lots of details that really stamped our personality on the day:-
Transport – getting driven to the church in our campervan and leaving in Marcus’ Karmann Ghia
Music – having our favourite Frightened Rabbit song scored for the organ and played as I walked down the aisle. We walked back up the aisle to an old 1940s’ song played on a gramophone, then paraded from my mum’s house to the village hall to the skirl of the pipes.
Tableware – I run a vintage tableware company, so I had the whole archive to raid. I used vintage china for our teas and coffees; cake stands for serving a Scottish cheese collection; vintage glassware (mixed with tin cans) for the flower displays and a vintage typewriter for our ‘interactive’ guest book.

IN HINDSIGHT I don’t deny my brain was a mess and consumed in all things wedding-related for four months solid. I was very stressed in the week leading up to the wedding as I had taken on so many DIY elements, but I honestly don’t think I would have done much differently had I chosen to get married a year later. So… let me raise a glass to ‘fast-track weddings’, followed by a long and happy life together.

• More control of your vision
• It CAN save you money
• It makes the day have a ‘communal’ team spirit feel
• More scope for personalising the day
• Fun preparing all the DIY elements in the lead-up
• Takes time and effort, which many busy brides-to-be may not have
• Needs lots of support from friends and family
• No-one overseeing the running of the day which can add to stress
• Feeling a lack of perspective of what is important by getting too wrapped up in the details

Legal – find out from your local registry office if it’s legally feasible in such a short time before booking anything.
Be realistic – you will undoubtedly have to make compromises somewhere.
Research – speak to suppliers before going to meet them and be open with your short lead plans and budget.
Make notes – I found writing down the whole ‘running’ of the day with an agenda with who was responsible for what was a great help.
Use initiative – can you double your hen do as a wedding prep opportunity? Many hands make light work after all!
Be decisive – decision-making is the thing that makes wedding planning take time – so be quick and don’t change your mind.
Be flexible – maybe your dream venue is only available on a Thursday rather than a Saturday.
Stay organised – set yourself goals for each week, and stick to them.
Communicate – with things moving so fast, make sure you remember to tell all those involved what stage you are at (including your husband-to-be).
Enjoy the challenge – doing it quickly may sound stressful – but it isn’t. Enjoy it.

Claire Butler Mackay runs vintage tableware hire company Butler and Taylor.
07525 813865,
Photos by Mirrorbox Phototgraphy.