Grab a cup of tea and sit down to enjoy this beautiful love story. You know it’s going to be a good one when even their names are perfectly aligned never mind their stars. Phil and Sophie both studied Philosophy at Warwick university where they met. The word philosophy is literally a combination of their names – Phil (love of) and Sophia (wisdom). I mean how amazing is that? At uni Sophie was a cheerleader and Phil played American Football and they met at American-themed night out in a local pub. “We hit it off straight away and were debating Sophie’s vegetarianism in no time…something I’ve since adopted. In fact, we had an entirely veggie intimate wedding. So I guess we know who the more convincing philosopher is!”
Sophie is originally from Harrow in London and Phil grew up in Warton, a small village in Lancashire. They now both live in Putney, London. Although Phil never wanted to live in London as a teenager, he says “London has definitely grown on me”. Phil is currently a teacher of theology and philosophy at a local secondary school. Sophie is Culture Architect for an online benefits company which sees her looking after employees’ wellbeing and engagement. Despite a year of pandemic uncertainty, constantly changing restrictions they had a beautiful, joy-filled wedding in August 2020. These words and photos say it all!
What sort of wedding had you initially planned?
We had originally planned a wedding for around 100 people in the day and 120 in the evening at Gaynes Park in Epping. Our theme was woodland fairytale due to the children’s literature side of my PhD as well as nods to other, favourite childhood/fantasy stuff we both love. We had also planned lots of little puzzles and details for the day that the guests could engage with, incorporating our love of board games and escape rooms. On top of that, we both love music and singing (although Sophie is the one with all the talent…I’m tone deaf!) so we were going to have a live karaoke band in the evening so our guests could sing and dance the night away…and so we could have a first song rather than a first dance to kick off the evening.
What affect did the restrictions have on your plans?
Being the organisers that we are, by the time the wedding came around, we had a huge spreadsheet with every eventuality and contingency possible. Considering just 2 witnesses and nothing else, to the full-blown thing! Given everything that has happened, and as unlucky as we were to have had our wedding planned for a pandemic year, we are genuinely counting our blessings. We managed to get our wedding when we could still have 30 guests. We managed a sit-down meal, and we kept the wedding at our chosen venue, Gaynes Park.
The main adjustments were having to reduce numbers to 30 people. And of course, incorporating all the restrictions in the lead-up to the wedding and on the day. It was more difficult where things had already been paid for or deposits had been paid. And then completely re-thinking the evening – definitely no karaoke band since no singing or dancing was allowed!
How did you cope with all of the uncertainty and changes?
As part of her job, Sophie is always thinking about what’s known as the “change curve”. This is the idea that when people face change they tend to go through different stages and emotions. The beginning is a really negative downturn of denial or resistance. This eventually comes back up as they re-assess, explore and then commit to the change. People go through this at different paces and that was no different for us.
In fact, I think one of the trickiest things for us, and probably a lot of couples, was managing conversations about big changes. One of us had already committed to change and was trying to find the positives, but the other was still mourning the loss of what could have been. There’s no doubt about it, losing the original plan – something we’d put so much thought and effort into – was, and still is, experienced as a loss. Sometimes we just had to sit with the sadness as original dates went by (hen-do, stag-do, tastings, hair and make-up trials, etc.) rather than constantly try to find the positives. At other times we just had to pick ourselves up and find the joy that was present in our new plans.
The hardest parts though were definitely the uncertainty in the lead up. No one is designed for that level of stress! and “un-inviting” people. We decided to do the latter all in one night and call as many people as we could. Everyone was so lovely and responded really well. However, there were a lot of tears and it was a heart-breaking few hours. Throughout the whole journey, our friends and family were amazing. They couldn’t have been a better support network. We really appreciated the creative and inventive ways that everyone helped make the build-up experience special. We were treated with things like the virtual hen-do and sending flowers and hampers to us.
How did you make the day feel special despite the restrictions?
On the day, we kept as many of the “little touches” as we could. We had Sophie’s hand-painted fairytale table decorations, which made things feel magical in the way we’d originally wanted. Really though, the main thing that made the day feel so special was simply the fact that we’d made it there! We were getting married, on the day we had planned, with the people we love most. I hadn’t seen my family since Christmas, for example. Most people hadn’t been around more than a few other people in a social setting since before the first lockdown. There was some initial hesitation of being in a group. But the sheer relief and joy of dressing up, socialising with others and celebrating something positive made it an even happier and more enjoyable atmosphere than we could have imagined.
What did you miss most about having the big wedding you’d originally planned?
Undoubtedly, there were lots of people we wished could have been there. And we still can’t wait to celebrate with them properly. We’re thinking of throwing an anniversary party in a few years to make up for it! But it wasn’t necessarily the size of the wedding that made us feel like we missed out. It was more the restrictions around things like not having a live band or being able to dance, or requiring everyone to wear face masks. And, especially because we’re both planners and very organised, we had been looking forward to the prep and lead up to the day, so those things being disrupted was tough – especially when those moments of excitement were replaced with uncertainty or stress.
Were there any positives about having a smaller wedding?
Absolutely! First of all, with it being a smaller wedding we could afford an open bar (big hit!). Also, we couldn’t come close to hitting the “minimum spend” on catering for the venue with the numbers we had. This meant we got to upgrade all the food to their top tier package which everyone enjoyed.
Secondly, because of the restrictions, the venue invested in a webcam for the sites where we were having the ceremony and the speeches, so those special moments could be broadcasted to family and friends who would have otherwise missed them. It also meant we could watch the ceremony again without having to wait for our wedding film, so that was great!
Also, because of all the changes, we actually had a friend make the wedding cake for us instead of a company which was the best decision ever. She made a phenomenal creation and, because she was so worried about something going wrong, she’d created a back-up which she gifted to us after the wedding and which we feasted on for the next week or two!
Finally, and most importantly by far, the smaller wedding meant we got to spend a lot of quality time with every single guest and they all got to know each other really well. In fact, some of our friends who met that day are now good friends and some of our married friends commented that, out of everything, the quality time with guests was the one thing they wished they’d had more of at their own, larger weddings. Sophie’s eldest brother even commented that it had made him want this type of wedding in the future. The intimacy of the event is the thing that makes us look back, smile and not regret our decision to go ahead at all.
What made you choose Patchwork for your gift registry?
I had done a lot of research into gift registries, comparing prices, styles, etc., and I came across Patchwork via Bridebook. As soon as I saw it, I knew that it had something the others didn’t – it looked so funky and fun. There was a childlike joy to it which fit with our wedding and our outlook on life, and this extended to the mission statement and how the team was introduced on the website. The more I tinkered with our page, the more I loved the bespoke and personalised nature of it. We both found it to be the most engaging registry we could find and we had so much fun creating it.
That’s so good to hear! What did you invite guests to contribute towards?
We loved the idea of giving time and favours, and we did want to get more creative, but we’d already received so much love and service from friends and family we didn’t feel we wanted to keep asking for that. So we went down the route of contributing to the honeymoon and tried to create a good range of prices and options for anyone who did want to contribute – everything from “a wee dram” of whisky to helping us upgrade to first class on the train!
Did you need to make changes to your original honeymoon plans?
You could say that yes…we re-planned a week in New York to a long weekend in the Lake District! New York is on indefinite hold (although, like many people with pre-booked holidays, we still have a lot of money still tied up in it – gulp…finger’s crossed) but we’d been eyeing up a luxury hotel in the Lake District called The Gilpin for a long time so we thought let’s just do that instead. The Lake District is my favourite place in the world, throw in a hot tub, room service and Michelin-star meals…heaven!
And how was your trip to the Lake District?
We ended up staying four nights in one of the Gilpin’s “ultimate spa lodges”. Oh…my…goodness! We’ve never experienced luxury like it. Each of their lodges comes with its own hot tub, sauna, steam room, treatment room, pond, etc. The food, drink and service was top notch, the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and the scenery was simply stunning. The four days felt like forever and no time at all. We couldn’t recommend it highly enough. We even got to meet one of our favourite Great British Menu chefs: Hrishikesh Desai, who is the head chef there. Of course, the trip came with its own Covid restrictions, but I think we were so used to these being everywhere that they had faded into the background by then, and the world and its troubles felt a million miles away.
That sounds completely perfect. You’ve experienced the first six months of married life in a global pandemic. How has that been?
As a married couple, we’ve loved it – lots of quality time together, getting to know our local area, and finding creative ways to stay occupied (this weekend we’re turning our flat into our own boardgame café). As people in a pandemic, we’ve faced a lot of the same challenges as other people, especially living in a small, one-bed flat. For example, I’ve definitely had to tone down my projecting now I’m teaching at a screen rather than a room full of students…especially as Sophie’s trying to host meetings in the next room. I got a break from the flat when schools re-opened, but Sophie has been at home since the initial lockdown. After staring at the same walls for so long she definitely started feeling like climbing them…but she’s decided to re-paint them instead!
And finally.. what’s your advice to couples thinking about whether to go ahead with a smaller wedding?
There is no right decision, there will be positives and negatives regardless, so set yourself a cut-off point for the decision and then commit. If you decide to go for it, then allow yourself and each other to be sad when you need to be sad, and then take time to list the positives that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. Be kind to one another when you’re in different head spaces, and maybe dedicate a certain time or space to have your wedding discussions. We only talked about the wedding on our daily walk or at dinner so that it didn’t become all-consuming.
Other than that, utilise the people who want to help – just let them in and lean on them. Sometimes the best course of action is to let others help.
The best piece of advice we received was from Sophie’s Great-Aunt Dorothy, who (being in her 90s and living in Canada) wrote in her card to us: “anything that is not about your love is of no consequence”. That really put things in perspective on tough days.
Thank you so much Phil and Sophie (and Great Aunt Dorothy) we absolutely loved hearing about and sharing in your celebrations. Congratulations from all of us at Patchwork and we wish you many more happy times as a couple. (Fingers crossed not all of them in a pandemic; even though you did do it really well).
If you’ve been inspired to set up a Patchwork to ask your friends and family to help you fund the things you really want, you can check out our wedding registry ideas and honeymoon fund templates and start dreaming and planning.
Ceremony and reception venue: Gaynes Park
Catering: Galloping Gourmet
Photographer: Owen Billcliffe Photography
Wedding film: MIKI studios
Wedding dress: Ivory & Co.
Honeymoon accommodation in The Lake District: Gilpin Hotel
Flowers: Daisy May’s Flowers
Cake: Phil and Sophie’s friend Tori. (Who doesn’t have a website but should have!)