what i did in la…

Spent some time with these two.
When the Ant to your Dec lives an 11-hour plane ride away, it sucks. A lot. But on the flip side, you get to casually drop into conversations that, “Yeah, my best friend lives in LA. No big deal.” then casually swan off to see her, while reminding people that your best friend lives in LA. Because it is a big deal. Vicki worked ridiculously hard to get there and she works ridiculously hard now she’s there, and has über-important meetings with big-wigs at Fox and Universal and Paramount, and sometimes I’m so proud of what she’s achieved, I could burst. I also got to hang out with my 2yo goddaughter, who is quite simply the coolest. She’s a one-woman stand-up show, and is going to grow up to become Amy Poehler. I also loved that she kept forgetting my name (‘Auntie El’) and instead opted for ‘Teacher’.
 
1-What I did in LA via {what you fancy}
 
Checked out Venice.
I’d been to LA once before but hadn’t got as far as Venice, so that needed to be put right, stat. We walked the length of Abbot Kinney (which, to style bloggers, is retail cat-nip), meandering in and out of shops, and chattering away nineteen to the dozen. We strolled through the canals, drooled over the gorgeous cottages and wondered out loud how these people got so rich. Turns out a lot of the places on the canals are passed down through generations, so it’s not so much making money as getting lucky in the family lottery. Gah.
 
2-What I did in LA via {what you fancy}
 
Went to Shutters on the Beach.
New England decor is my jam, so Vicki knew I’d fall in love with this hotel. My ‘just going to the bathroom’ visit turned into a full-on stalking of the place… and one day… one day… we’ll stump up the obscene per-night cost and stay in one the rooms, which I’m sure are just as dreamy.
 
3-What I did in LA via {what you fancy}
 
Sat on the Friends couch.
Vicki and I aren’t just Friends fans. We’re the Friends fans. As in 17/17 on this quiz without breaking a sweat. It’s also our comfort blanket – stick on a Friends episode when we’re feeling blue and it cures all. So, getting to sit on the actual couch in actual Central Perk was a major highlight in our lives. We also saw Phoebe’s guitar, the guys’ foosball table and Monica’s see-through shirt from when she sung karaoke. Our 15yo selves’ heads exploded that day.
 
4-What I did in LA via {what you fancy}
 
Ate an In-N-Out burger.
Okay, so Shake Shack and Five Guys may have taken their sweet time and finally come over to British shores, but we still don’t have In-N-Out. I just pray to the burger gods that some day we will. It’s mind-blowingly good… so good, in fact, that there was a queue of about 20 cars in the drive-thru but no one inside the restaurant at the counter. I asked Vicki why, and she just shrugged, “People don’t like getting out of their cars.” What can I say? I get it.
 
5-What I did in LA via {what you fancy}
 
Dined at Nobu Malibu.
To those who don’t live in LA, and who read celeb magazine on a weekly basis, the city is a bit like a safari. You want to see the Big Five (movie star, TV star, reality star, sports star, singer), and if you don’t see at least one, you’re disappointed. Since the last time Vicki went to Nobu, she saw Kourtney Kardashian, Lord Disick, Adam Sandler and Miley Cyrus, she promised me that the odds were in our favour. We ate our sushi and sipped our drinks (both phenomenal) at a snail’s pace in the hopes that Taylor Swift was on her way. Sadly, it wasn’t to be, but with a view like this (on left), who cares*? We also went to The Castaway restaurant, near her house in Burbank, and it was perfect. With festoon lights, a view of the sprawling city and a wedge salad that I’d happily eat for every meal ever, I’d definitely recommend a visit.
 
6-What I did in LA via {what you fancy}
 
*okay, slightly, but hey, on my flight to NY the next day I saw everyone’s favourite Z-listers, Mark Wright and Michelle Keegan (non-Brits, don’t even bother Googling). And Gael García Bernal, who is far more talented, so let’s just focus on him instead.
 

spinning: a beginner’s guide

I first encountered spinning when watching Romy and Michele’s* High School Reunion in 1997. Phoebe Buffay and Mira Sorvino were basically doing rising trot on an exercise bike, and I was intrigued.
 
Then I promptly forgot about it for 10 years until SoulCycle was born, and the world and his kale-eating wife were making beelines for pitch-black, musty-smelling rooms at the gym, with a mid-noughties club soundtrack thrumming out of them. Making everyone else in the gym feel guilty they weren’t astride a bike in the dark.
 
But I stood strong. I resisted. It’ll all blow over before you can say ‘kettleball swing’, I told myself.
 
What to expect from your first spinning class via {what you fancy}
 
Well, it didn’t, did it? The more I planked outside the spinning studio, the more intrigued I became. I also heard that you can burn an inordinate amount of calories peddling away in front of someone shouting orders at you down a Britney-esque microphone. Plus, Brooklyn Beckham is totally into it and he looks like he’s got life sussed. I wanted in.
 
After signing up and resisting the urge to call and cancel, like, 48 times, I sauntered into the studio 15 minutes early. Y’know, to show I wasn’t afraid (exercise bikes are like horses – they can smell fear). I saw someone else draping their towel across a seat to bagsy it, so I casually followed suit… plumping for a bike on the back row, just to be safe. The room soon filled up with people of all ages, shapes and sizes – and I figured if they’d come back for more punishment after their first class, it can’t be that bad.
 
Our instructor was very friendly but she was definitely of the ‘I’ve got a body like Jennifer Lopez under here’ ilk. I told her I was a first-timer, so she fiddled with my bike seat and gave me a quick Spinning 101: Stand up on the pedals when I tell you to, pedal faster when I tell you to, and change gears when I tell you to. The gears were an innocent-looking dial on the bike frame – I just needed to twizzle it. Easy. She asked if I’d ridden a road bike recently. I nodded confidently. I just didn’t tell her it was circa 1994. In Center Parcs.
 
Feeling a little bit like I was in a kids’ roller-disco (flashing lights, pumping music, but minus the Slush Puppies and slouch socks) I started peddling. I don’t know if I was doing it right, but no one else in the class gave me a ‘what on earth are you doing, you eejit?’ look, so I carried on. We all happily peddled along to a weird club version of Eminem… so far so simple. Although at one point my little legs were peddling so fast J-Lo singled me out and told me to calm down and change up a few gears to make it harder. Ah. It did seem a bit effortless. I just thought it was my ex-horse-rider’s thighs making light work of it all.
 
We then started an uphill climb. This is when, in real life, I would probably opt to get off the bike and push it, perhaps stopping off at a pub halfway up for a G&T and some honey-roasted peanuts. Sadly, dismounting and roadside refreshments weren’t an option… so instead I put my back in to it. For motivation, I conjured up images of my fitness instructor of choice, Jillian Michaels, yelling at me that, “I want you to feel like you’re going to die.” I puffed, I wheezed, and I sang along to the Rihanna song in my head – hopefully not out loud, but I can’t be sure, it was very loud in there – as we made the epic climb. It may have been a gentle hill for all I know, but it felt like I was winding round the Pyrenees.
 
Finally, J-Lo released us from our standing position and I lowered myself back onto the sweet seat of comfort. Well, ‘comfort’ in the ‘it’s all relative’ sense of the word. We chugged back water, caught our breath, and I wondered how many club-style Eminem songs they could possibly play in one class.
 
After a couple more mountains/hills/gentle inclines, the clock on the wall told me I’d made it through a whole spinning class without collapsing. Joy. Rapture. Exhaustion. Oh, and a sore behind (I might take a sheepskin saddle cover next time – that’s a thing, right?). But, man, did I feel self-righteous.
 
So, if you’ve been eschewing spinning classes for years – as I have – I say go for it. I now go every week and am even considering signing up for a second weekly class. I know! I’m practically Gwyneth! Let’s just not mention the fact I often reward myself with a double cheese burger, sweet potato fries and a frozen margarita on the way home. Paltrow wouldn’t approve.
 
*No, that’s not a typo. Yes, it made me cross, too. Still… great film.
 

my top 10 beauty heroes

It’s only been in the past few years that I’ve been into beauty products and looking after my skin. Previously I’d just use wipes to get rid of make-up, then go straight to bed (yes, the make-up came off, but that’s not to say my skin particularly thanked me for it). As for make-up brands, I’d opt for the cheapest on the shelf, and prepping my skin was non-existent. But as the natural youthful glow we take for granted in our early to mid-twenties wore off, and too many late nights and stressful jobs took hold, I knew action needed to be taken before my laughter lines were no longer funny.
 
So, I swotted up. I read the Beauty sections in magazines I used to skip over. I pinned dewy-skinned looks on Pinterest and found out how they achieved them. I listened to experts’ recommendations. I started building an understanding about my skin type (sensitive/combination) and what I can do to get it looking its best. So – if you’re anything like me – you may be interested in hearing about my absolute favourite beauty products right now… the ones that live up to the hype and more, and the ones that are constantly on rotation as they bring back certain memories. Let’s delve into my make-up bag, shall we?
 
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{The make-up bag}
 
Clarisonic Brush // You need one of these in your life. Simple as that. They’re pricey, granted, but the amount of times you’ll use it per week will make it more than worth it. It’s a complete game-changer, your skin will feel so smooth the first time you use it, you won’t be able to stop touching it. I use mine about 3-4 times a week and I honestly wouldn’t be without it. I tend to follow it up with…
 
Balance Me Radiance Face Mask // This feels like such a luxurious product. It contains ground walnut shells that gently buff away any dead skin cells, soothes your skin and loads it up with lost moisture. It smells gorgeous (that’ll be the rosemary and lavender) and leaves your skin feeling and looking radiant. I leave it on for a good hour to get the most out of it.
 
Essie ‘Ballet Slippers’ // I wore this colour on my wedding day after seeing it referenced as the ‘perfect nude’ everywhere. So, we’ve got history. It has just the right balance of pink and beige tones, and looks glorious with a tan and strappy gladiators. Sometimes I stray and go for coral toes in the summer, but on my fingers I tend to stay faithful to this subtle hue.
 
Stila One Step Correct Colour Corrector // You know when you wake up in the morning, approach the mirror and your skin is all, like, ‘I can’t believe you made me get up at this ungodly hour… I’m going to throw a hissy fit and be all red and blotchy and unattractive just to teach you a lesson.’ That? Well, this is when Stila comes to the rescue. It looks weird on your fingers – that’s the green in the helix – but once you’ve primed your skin with it, it’s like you’ve given your face a bacon sandwich, a black coffee and the promise of a mid-afternoon nap. It just calms it down so it’s ready to cooporate. And BB cream or foundation goes over it like a dream. My secret weapon.
 
Origins Plantscription Anti-Aging Power Eye Cream // This little cult classic is never leaving my bathroom cabinet. It’s really light and sinks in effortlessly, so you only need a tiny amount. And it keeps fine lines at bay like nobody’s business. Even if I’m about to pass out from tiredness, I always make sure it goes on before bed.
 
Liz Earle Cleanse & Polish // Now, this. This stuff is GENIUS. I’m not kidding. I think this product single-handedly turned my complexion around. After I take off my eye make-up, I slather this cleanser all over my face and neck (don’t forget to look after your neck, ladies) then dunk the cloth in almost-too-hot water. Cover your face with the cloth like you do with those amazing lemony hot towels at the Indian restaurant, and you’ll feel all the stresses of the day evaporating from your pores. Give your face a wipe, splash with cold water, then tell me it’s not the most heavenly product ever invented. Follow up with a generous layer of night cream and your skin will be singing the next day. I’ve given it as a present to so many people, and I’m sure at first they’re thinking, ‘nice, she thinks I have bad skin.’ I really don’t. I’m honestly just sharing the love.
 
Bourjois Little Round Pot Blush in ‘Rose D’Or’ // For nights out I tend to reach for my NARS powder blushers, but for every day you can’t beat Bourjois. A tiny dab on the apple of your cheeks and it gives you that healthy I’ve-just-run-though-a-meadow glow. If I’m rushing out without a face of make-up, sometimes this is the only product I’ll use. And it’s a bargain.
 
Giorgio Armani Luminous Silk Foundation // I never knew what the hell I was doing with foundation before I discovered this industry favourite. I had bad experiences with orange jaw lines, trowelled the wrong colour on either too thick or too thin, and mostly just sacked in the whole idea since I ended up looking a complete mess. After researching natural-looking foundations that enhance your skin rather than mask it, this name kept coming up. Best money ever spent. I usually just use a small blob and mix it with a BB cream or highlighter, and bingo… flawless skin.
 
Benefit Laugh With Me LeeLee // Aww, my wedding perfume. It was a change from my usual Marc Jacobs Daisy, and I’m so glad I switched it up for my big day. Every time I spritz it on, it takes me back to getting ready at my brother’s house with my favourite girls the morning of my wedding. There’s a light blend of citrus, jasmine and lily blossoms in there which smell like pure summer, and the bottle’s a pretty little number. Please don’t ever discontinue this, Benefit, I beg you.
 
Bondi Sands Self-Tanning Foam // Recently discovered this after a foray with St. Tropez (“ooh, smart guy’s a rhymer…”). Would never go back. It smells like coconuts, not biscuits. First win. It doesn’t streak and doesn’t make you look like you’ve rolled in Doritos. Ding-ding-ding. I use the lighter version, apply with a mitt, leave it on overnight and shower it off in the morning. Hey presto… even, natural tannage. Total convert.
 
So, there you have it… the teacher’s pets of my beauty arsenal. But I’m always looking for new wonder-products – do you have any you’d like to share with the class?
 

a week in marrakech

A few weeks ago, Tom and I headed off to Marrakech for a sunshine break. Sadly, although we did get to see a smidgeon of sun, the temperatures in the whole of North Africa took a substantial dive the exact week we’d chosen. It also rained. A lot. So, there was nothing else for it, but to turn our planned fly-and-flop into a city break. Although I made sure that ‘city break’ involved lots of reading and napping time, obviously. Let’s not get crazy.
 
We stayed at the ClubHotel RIU Tikida Palmeraie, just 15 minutes from the main square – Jemaa el-Fna – and it was the perfect choice. The pool went on for weeks (just a shame it was too chilly to even dip a toe in), the food was go-back-for-thirds good, and the staff were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. And I’ve been to Thailand. For the days when it was warm enough to sit out on a lounger (albeit swathed in numerous layers), I devoured a pile of books. Including The Miniaturist, which was just as mesmerising as I’d heard. And when it was too cold, I found a cosy little nook that I’d curl up in with a giant bag of Cheetos from the gift shop. Holiday happiness, right there.
 
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But when we weren’t slothing, we headed out into the great unknown. I love an excursion, especially when the lovely people at Thomson do all the legwork for you, so all you need to do it show up on time for the bus. On one of our trips we took a walking tour around the old fortified city and had a chance to dive into the souks, which has been on my wishlist for years. If you’ve been there yourself, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s an experience. It’s an assault on the senses. It literally thrums with activity… there’s incessant drumming, you’re offered the weird and the wonderful from every direction, you can smell sweet and sour spices in the air, and it’s more than just a maze of stalls. It’s a tangled web of tiny alleys and passageways that go on forever, all looking exactly the same. Do not attempt to navigate them yourselves because you will get lost… I don’t care how good a sense of direction you have. There’s no 80′s David Bowie to help you, either.
 
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The souks were another level of crazy, and I can’t say that I’d visit them again in all honesty, but the eye candy for interior design fanatics like me almost made it worth it. Perforated gold lanterns that would look stunning above a kitchen island, a rainbow of ceramics that would make a cultured addition to a coffee table, throw blankets at prices that make you want to buy two more suitcases for the journey home. If, like me, the thought of haggling for your chosen item cranks your anxiety levels up a notch, then head to the nearby Berber Cultural Centre. It has all the goodies you’ve eyed up in the souks, but the (incredibly reasonable) prices are set in stone, and the shop keepers leave you to browse in peace.
 
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On our walk through the city, I was aiming my iPhone at everything. Intricate tiles (oh, the tiles), tranquil white-washed courtyards, and the local wildlife, including this very contented feline…
 
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Archways, fabrics, dress materials. Interior inspiration was everywhere. If it wasn’t for the fact that Tom reminded me that I already have a zillion cushions at home, you can betcha I would have smuggled home many many new companions for them.
 
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Let’s talk about the food. Because it was magnificent. We ate our body weight in cous cous soaked in all manner of delicious spices, tender lamb stews, sweet orange slices sprinkled with cinnamon (trust me, try that one at home) and, yes, random buffet food combinations like pizza with a side of roast beef. One night we had a tasting menu at a riad. Not only was the restaurant out of this world – twinkly lights, sumptuous courtyard, all the Moroccan trimmings – the food was so god-darn-good, Tom and I still have lengthy conversations about it.
 
Tom – That chicken pie, though…
Me – That salad platter, though…
Tom – That tagine though…
Me – Those pancakes, though…
 
You get the picture. Also, the mint tea. Not the same as the bog standard peppermint stuff from Twinings. It’s meticulously prepared and served in a shot glass. Oh, and forget your sugar embargo and make sure you add a lump or two, I promise you it’s worth it.
 
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So, the verdict on our Marrakech holiday. It was the perfect blend of loafing and exploring, with food that I’m still dreaming about, and that gratifying feeling of seeing somewhere completely removed from your everyday routine. Like a great book, it does stay with you for a long time… but whether I’d go again, well, the jury’s out. Although, that chicken pie could well be enough to convince me.
 

our wedding & a new start

It’s been over 18 months since I last posted on a regular basis… so, why start up again now? Well, two reasons, really. For one thing, it’s mine and Tom’s 2nd wedding anniversary today, and I’ve been meaning to post our photos (taken by the beyond talented Jodie Chapman) for, well, a very long time. When I was working on the redesign of the blog these past few months, I figured this would a good time to kick things off again. So, go grab a glass of bubbly, because you can be sure that for the majority of today I’ll have one in my hand.
 
The other reason? Well, since scoring a day job as a blog writer back in January last year, the motivation I used to have to come home and write till the wee hours was no longer there. Finally I didn’t have an events job I hated with every fibre of my being, and I didn’t need the creative outlet that {what you fancy} had always been for me. I came home from work and relaxed… but still kept reading my favourite blogs. Then, lately, that fire’s come back. I miss my blog. I miss hearing from you guys (well, whoever’s willing to come back at this point!). I miss being part of the community of which I currently feel like a bit of an outsider. I don’t know how many times a week I’ll be posting and it may not be as regular as it once was. But I feel like I’ve things to say and share, and I very much hope you’ll pop by from time to time to see what’s going on. And, as always, I’ll be on Twitter, Instagram and (most frequently) Pinterest, too, if you want to say hi.
 
Ok… formalities over, let’s get down to business. Let’s journey back to 21st September 2012. Our wedding took place at Shenley Cricket Club in Hertfordshire, chosen mainly because it was pretty much a blank canvas, so I could go to town with decorations – while most brides dream of the perfect dress, I was pinning pictures of flowers in mismatched containers, streamers and festoon lighting. It also meant we could have the ceremony outside, something that’s a bit of a rarity in this country. As our guests journeyed in from around the country – and the world, for that matter – the rain held off, and I thanked our lucky stars we’d not plumped for the wash-out that was July and August.
 
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I got ready at my brother’s house near the venue. Looking back, it was one of my favourite parts of the day. Jo Adams – MUA extraordinaire – worked her magic on my bridesmaids and me, while we listened to Taylor Swift and shovelled down plates of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. While the kitchen was a hive of activity, there was mostly a feeling of calmness. That everything was how it should be. Apart from one terrifying moment when Tom texted me with this humdinger: “Is now a good time to talk?
 
Sorry, what now?? This is NOT something you want to hear on your wedding day. With shaking hands I called him… turns out he was asking what I wanted him to do with the presents for the wedding party. That’s right.
 
Anywho. Hair and makeup was easy. I’d asked Jo for hair like Elizabeth Olsen and makeup like Kate Bosworth. These were my inspiration pics, along with the resulting look.
 
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I love people who follow briefs to the tee. While we’re on the subject, here’s the hair inspiration my bridesmaids (my two best friends and sister-in-law) sent me and the final looks.
 
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Like I said, Jo’s a genius. If you want to feel like a million bucks on your wedding day, she’s your girl.
 
I designed my wedding dress myself. I’d fallen in love with a Temperley empire-line frock, but had swiftly fallen out of love with it once I’d clocked the price. My mum found a one-shoulder number on sale in a local wedding shop for the bargain price of £100, and while it wasn’t anywhere near what I was looking for, we both knew that with the right seamstress and a bit of imagination we’d get there. It took several metres of fabric from Goldhawk Road in W12 and a few panicked last-minute alterations, but I was over the moon with the result. A one-of-a-kind dress that was exactly what I’d envisaged, down to the last detail. It also probably came to about £350 in total. Gotta love a bargain.
 
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My shoes were Kate Spade (‘Isadora’ sandals – no longer available, but there’s always eBay…) and my earrings were Stella & Dot (available here). I had two wedding necklaces – for the ceremony I wore an antique gold locket (my ‘something borrowed’) my mum had worn at her wedding. Inside was a photo of my beloved dad. For the reception I switched it for a bespoke statement necklace, designed by Doloris Petunia. My finishing touches came to way more than the cost of my dress, but I figured I could always wear the accessories again, so it was definitely worth the extra money.
 
wedding-accessories
 
When we arrived at the venue, all I felt was excitement and happiness. Not a single nerve (and I hate anything that means I have to stand in front of a crowd). My brother walked me down the aisle, with my girls in front of me. My processional song was ‘Dream’ by Priscilla Ahn.
 
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We reached the end of the aisle and I saw this face…
 
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I was coming home. That’s the only way I can describe it.
 
Two of our close friends performed the readings – ‘Love’ by Roy Croft, and the lyrics from the song ‘All I Want is You’ by Barry Louis Polisar. One a conventional choice, the other… not so much. Both of them said exactly what we wanted to say.
 
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That was followed by vows we’d written ourselves – the tears nearly came, but adrenaline was on my side – and then the crowd-pleaser…
 
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We signed the register, posed for the snap happy…
 
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… and walked back up the aisle to the tune of ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice’ by The Beach Boys, the happiest-sounding song ever made. And then I kissed my handsome new husband again…
 
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Because, well, how could I not.
 
With the drinks and canapés doing the rounds, and my cousin playing Rat Pack tunes on her saxophone, we drifted off on our own with Jodie to get our pose on…
 
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… before heading back to the crowds to get a few group shots. One of my favourite pics is this one of the mums looking beautiful in their finery (mine in mint, Tom’s in pink)…
 
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Let’s just have a close-up, cos they look so lovely…
 
mums
 
I don’t think their smiles could’ve got any bigger, quite frankly. Speaking of smiles, the second mine slipped when I was wishing more than anything that my dad was here to see me on my big day, I felt someone take my hand in theirs…
 
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That’s why she’s my best friend.
 
(And on a side note, from behind can you even tell she was 8.5 months pregnant at that point? Thought not.)
 
We headed into the marquee at the perfect time – 2 minutes later the heavens opened.
 
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We took our seats as man and wife…
 
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[The glitter letters were created by Erin Hung of BerinMade, who I’d also worked with to design our confetti-inspired invitations.]
 
Then it was time for my absolute favourite part of weddings. The speeches. And when it’s your own, it’s even better. Every speech was heartfelt, funny, moving, and perfectly delivered.
 
speeches
 
The best men’s speech had everyone in stitches…
 
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… apart from Tom, who clearly thought if he covered his eyes, the stories would stop. They didn’t.
 
After a BBQ-style wedding breakfast was the cutting of the cake, made expertly by my sister-in-law’s sister (who’d be on GBBO if I had my way).
 
wedding cake
 
And on to the first dance (‘18th Floor Balcony’ by Blue October). We hadn’t practised our moves, and it probably showed… but regardless, I’ll never forget it.
 
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Yup, we were pretty damn happy at that exact moment.
 
Others – including Tom’s parents – joined us on the dancefloor, while the whole marquee glowed under the lanterns.
 
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And a single candle flickered for all our loved ones who couldn’t be there to join in the fun.
 
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Finally, it was time to let loose on the dancefloor. But that’s a whole other story.
 
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Happy anniversary, TB. Thank you for making me the luckiest.