Get married… don’t get married; thousands of couples have had to alter their altar – or bimah – plans this year in line with the ever-shifting rules. Kari Colmans interviews resolute newlyweds who tied the knot against the odds in true Covid style
Everybody needs good neighbours, as the well-known song goes. But despite living just doors apart for most their lives, Claudia and Richard, both 32, didn’t meet until they were 16 at a friend’s New Year’s Eve party.
She was dating someone else at the time, and they’d go for clandestine, lockdown-style walks.
It wasn’t long before they became a couple, staying together through their teenage years and university. They amicably split at 21 to see the world – she went travelling, while he studied abroad – and it was a further eight years before they got back together romantically.
Claudia had recently returned from her time abroad when they both decided to go to the same tapas bar one evening.
Richard volunteers his first of many calamitous anecdotes – they don’t stop laughing throughout our Zoom interview – as he remembers the night, and Claudia questions if he “really” wants to share this story.
“I was sitting having something to eat and suddenly I realised my napkin had caught fire,” he says. “I ran into the street holding this blazing napkin, waving it into the air trying to put it out, just as Claudia’s three friends walked into the bar. It was a unique re-introduction to the social circle.”
But Richard’s napkin wasn’t the only flame to reignite that evening, and the couple soon got back in touch, albeit just as friends at first.
A few years passed by and it wasn’t until three years ago that the couple got back together. Cue Richard with another calamitous story regarding the big proposal, while Claudia sighs and smiles at the memory with an
“I took Claudia to Iceland to propose,” says Richard. “The trip was a birthday present. We rented a car, drove from landmark to landmark, as you do. I planned to pop the question in front of the famous Gullfoss Falls waterfall, but there were too many tourists.”
It was the right move. “I hate being the centre of attention!” Claudia cringes.
Next stop was one of the famous national parks. Richard veered the car away from the path to find a secluded setting and Claudia “majorly freaked out”, prompting her to scream: “What are you doing?!”
In the panic, Richard managed to wedge the car’s wheels under a heap of snow and sludge, leaving them stranded off-road, all the while with an engagement ring burning a hole in his pocket.
They laugh about it now. “We are eternally grateful to the Icelandic couple who stumbled upon our car and rescued us!”
In the end, after a long day, Richard pulled up in front of a less than alluring hydroelectric power station. “It doesn’t sound romantic,” he concedes, “but the ground was super stable. And she said yes.”
Fast forward to 2020 and it seems making the best of a bad situation has become the couple’s forte.
While many have chosen to become legally married by English law, saving the Big Fat Jewish Wedding bit for after the apocalypse, Claudia and Richard have done the opposite.
“We got married on 6 September,” says Claudia. “It was the same date as my dad’s wedding six years ago. Although at the time you weren’t supposed to get married in a home, we found a Jewish loophole because we can get married anywhere. We also managed to hit the 30-person sweet spot before they changed the rules again.”
Rabbi Goldstein from Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue performed the ceremony, while the rest was “all very DIY”. The bride went for a white lacey ASOS number, and it was all “very low-key, very chilled”.
Although at the time you weren’t supposed to get married in a home, we found a Jewish loophole because we can get married anywhere. We also managed to hit the 30-person sweet spot before they changed the rules again
The flower arrangements were home-made, they had finger food and a buffet and music from an iPad.
“We didn’t want to detract from what will eventually be our big day,” says Richard. “We didn’t want that to get watered down.”
Despite the numerous Covid restrictions, the wedding ceremony was just the tonic their friends and family needed. “It provided such relief for everyone. The guests were so grateful to be able to just come and let their hair down and feel normal for one day.”
Part Two is set for 2 April 2022, and they’re hoping to be third time lucky on the date change. The party will take place at The Ned in London. Claudia will get to wear her Pronovias dress, while Sensation band pumps out the tunes.
“We still want our wedding,” they agree. “We don’t want to compromise,” adds Claudia. “We’ve done the Jewish bit, so all being well, there’s just the ‘big fat wedding’ part left for 2022. We’re having a celebrant conduct a humanist ceremony with Jewish traditions thrown in, such as Richard smashing the glass.
“This will allow those family and friends who weren’t able to be there in September to see us say our vows.”
“It provided such relief for everyone. The guests were so grateful to be able to just come and let their hair down and feel normal for one day.
Currently wading through the second lockdown, they both seem cheerful and still very much in love. Claudia reassures me that Richard “keeps himself to himself” in his home office working as a sales manager, while she occupies the kitchen space, home to her blossoming Greenfox bakery business, which she started in January, before the banana bread bandwagon gained momentum.
Aside from her signature ‘brookies’, a sensational brownie cookie hybrid, her specialty is wedding cakes. “I’ve loved being on both sides of the wedding drama, being able to give personal experience, advice and perspective to my clients” she says. “I got in there early, ahead of the game. Apart from planning two weddings, it’s kept me busy – and sane!”
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