Polly & Dave’s last-minute wedding turned nautical dream elopement

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 | Photography by Michael Crowe<
Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

The Offbeat Bride: Polly, trainee mental health nurse

Her offbeat partner: Dave, in the Navy

Date and location of wedding: Plymouth Hoe and The Refectory Bar at the Plymouth Gin Distillery, Plymouth, UK — 06/05/2013

Our offbeat wedding at a glance:

For legal and budget reasons, we had to get married on short notice. I wasn't working at the time, and we couldn't afford to have the wedding of our dreams at an idyllic venue with catering and a band and real live human people sharing our joy.

Dave wanted to get married in Vegas. I'm a swing dancer so I wanted a vintage theme with pretty food, teacups, a blues/jazz band, dancing, a pretty frock, and some victory rolls. I moved to the UK from Dubai to be with him a year ago and, even if we could afford to get weddinged “properly,” I would have struggled to assemble a guest list of my nearest and dearest, who are speckled across the globe. So we compromised… and improvised.

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

An electric blue '50s-inspired cocktail dress from a High Street retailer chose me and gave me the idea of incorporating a nautical feel to our day, with Dave being a sailor and us living in Plymouth.

Our intimate wedding began with a short, civil ceremony at the Plymouth Register Office, followed by a leisurely stroll along the Plymouth Hoe, where we read our vows in the elusive Great British sunshine overlooking the sea.

We continued down the cobble-stoned Barbican (famous district with quirky little shops, fish and chip places, and people out for a pint), to the historic Plymouth Gin Distillery for snazzy cocktails, a secretly ordered chocolate duck wedding cake, and a surprise first dance to our favourite song played on piano.

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Our first kiss as husband and wife

Tell us about the ceremony:

Coming from cultures with very different traditions, Dave and I have always felt strongly about following our own path and creating our own traditions. We weren't particularly bothered about being historically accurate with our attire as long as we felt like a million bucks on the day and our looks complemented each other.

Newlyweds and witnesses

Dave is not a suit/tux kinda guy so, much to his parents' horror, it was jeans and rolled sleeves for him all the way, smartened up with a waistcoat. It was important to me that he very much felt part of the planning process and that he felt comfortable in himself on the day. We are both last-minute people and, in true form, we found our two mandatory witnesses 45 minutes before the ceremony: an old shipmate of Dave's from the pub and a lady who closed her handbag shop on the Barbican to witness us getting hitched.

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

We were so lucky that our registrar was a lady with a smashing sense of humour and glam style. There was a funny moment when she fumbled pronouncing my complicated maiden name and made us all laugh. It was great that she picked up on our vibe and made a serious occasion match our personalities.

We had written our vows separately, and reading them was a very intimate moment. When Dave read his, he did the same thing he did the first time he “said” “I love you”: he held my hand on his heart without saying a word. This choked me up so much I've never been so grateful for waterproof mascara.

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

Tell us about your reception:

Even though we had no reception or guests, it felt like we were sharing our special day with all of Plymouth as we walked down the Hoe. We're a people-watchy couple, so this felt so authentic. People were congratulating us and stopping to take pictures. Some thought we were modelling in a photo shoot as we had a photographer following us around.

Surprise wedding cake for Dave

Wedding cake

Cutting the cake

I had secretly ordered a little two-person chocolate brownie cake with a white chocolate duck topper from a local cafe/chocolatier. At home, we have a whole bookcase full of ducks collected over the years from our travels, and they have a special significance to us. The look on Dave's face was priceless when we saw it.

But nothing could top his reaction to hearing the pianist at the cocktail bar playing a familiar tune. Unbeknownst to him, what he thought was the bar's entertainment was actually a pianist who had volunteered to learn and come in to play our song (Train's “Hey Soul Sister”) so that we could have a real first dance, a tradition I felt so fortunate to be able to incorporate. Dave is not a dancer so the only way to have a dance was to bring out the big guns and ambush him by making him an offer he simply couldn't refuse.

Surprise first dance

Crossing the street on the Barbican

What was your most important lesson learned?

We had three weeks to plan our little intimate wedding and to come to grips with the bureaucracy of English marriage law. I also underwent a short mourning period for the wedding of my dreams that was about to elude me. Thinking back on it now, it feels like all the uncertainty should have felt quite scary. But actually, there was something surprisingly liberating about just… going with it. With a bit of luck, a bit of planning, and the blessing of the good ol' unpredictable Great British weather, we ended up incorporating every single element that mattered to us, even if they all took on a bit of an unexpected form.

Nautical dream elopement on @offbeatbride

We just celebrated our second anniversary, and I am comforted by a feeling of acceptance of the wedding that didn't happen the way I imagined. I actually no longer care for that dream wedding. Our real wedding couldn't have been more genuine and true to ourselves. It's as if it had been written in our stars.

I enjoyed every step of the planning with Dave, concentrating on getting our little celebration “just right.” When we stripped away all the fanfare, what was left was the stuff that really mattered. I usually get stressed planning stuff, so I was surprised at how naturally things unfolded when I just LET things happen and let go of my preconceived checklist.

Making faces at first sip of rather strong cocktails

At the Refectory Bar, Plymouth Gin Distillery

View of the Refectory


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Comments on Polly & Dave’s last-minute wedding turned nautical dream elopement

  1. This is incredibly beautiful! I was practically sobbing by the end!! Thank you so much for sharing.

    • I’m so touched this has brought you tears (hopefully happy, lovey dovey ones). It’s my pleasure and I’m beyond honoured to have been featured on Offbeat Bride. Thank you for the kind words. <3

  2. This is so beautiful! I wish I had read this 11months ago. Now, almost one month away from my wedding day, I feel so overwhelmed by it that I feel I should have simplified the process. But I am sure that everything will be allright in the end! Can’t wait for the day to finally come

    • Everything will be alright, I promise! Just don’t sweat the small stuff and be nice to yourself! If it all gets too much, just remember nobody is going to hang you for not executing the event planning exercise down to the letter. Your wedding a celebration of your love and a declaration of your commitment, not a checklist ticking test. We are our own harshest critics. Dare I say it, be fearless about doing what makes you happy. And if that includes losing some excess nonessential wedding planning baggage, prioritise your sanity over things like decorations or niceties. It’s nice to have the little luxuries, but your day will be every bit as perfect if you gave yourself a little wiggle room and forgave yourself for deviating from the master plan. And nobody will ever know! I won’t tell if you don’t. 😉 And in 5-10 years’ time, none of it will matter. What will matter is that you married your soul mate and the people who love you most have been rooting for you ever since.
      Thank you for the sweet comment and apologies for not posting earlier. My bad entirely. Took me ages to acquire the photos and even longer to find the time to write our story in a way that did it justice. Two years later, I could delay no longer!

      • You got me really emotional right now. Was not expecting such a sweet answer 🙂 this means so much to me! thank you for all the advice! I am sure everything will be all right 🙂

        • Now THAT was a lovely message! Thank you for telling me that. It makes me feel so good to know I can help you. 🙂
          You deserve every bit of it! It’s no different to what you would tell your best friend if she was feeling super stressed. So why wouldn’t you deserve the same reassurance?

  3. Absolutely beautiful. I’m glad that changing plans last minute ended up working so well for you both – I can definitely see how intimate and true to yourselves the ceremony was from these pictures alone.

    • Thank you, Jordan! It was a bit of a fluke, I must admit! I like to take these things as a sign from the Universe that I’m on the right path. The emotions in the photos are sincere and therefore a bit of a reality check on the priorities in life. A “proper” wedding would’ve been a great party, but not having a party didn’t make it any less of a wedding. I’m actually glad the decision was taken out of my hands because no doubt I would have totally stressed myself out with the event planning and I would have been deprived of the joy of anticipating the big day.

  4. More power to ya, lady! My fiance and I decided to do the same thing a week ago and we’re getting married in ten days. I’m so glad to hear about another couple doing it and having no regrets!

    • Yay!! Good luck with your special day! You will love it! You must feel such a weight lifted off your shoulders.
      I was surprised by how many people said they were envious that Dave and I got away with this. Many couples have families who want to be present at the wedding and I can appreciate that not everybody is in a position to have a whimsical elopement. I can only hope that our story inspires people to focus on the “real” stuff – the stuff that really matters, whatever that might be for them. I have received some very touching feedback on this story and I’m glad people feel moved, encouraged, and inspired by our humble little elopement.

  5. Gorgeous photos! I particularly love the one of you cutting the duck cake. My partner and I also collect ducks so totally understand how delighted Dave must have been when he saw it!

    • Thank you! Ducks are awesome so you clearly have good taste. 😉
      When I went to the chocolatier to request a cake, I only flippantly asked for a duck topper. To me amazement, the girl pulled out a duck mould! I couldn’t believe my luck. It was simply meant to be. 🙂
      It was Dave who said he loved ducks when we first met. It was my first present to him – I scoured the length and breadth of Dubai to find him a little duck, only to find a set of 2 rubber ducks in a toy store. He named one Boris and the other Mathilda. He was on a ship at the time and we had a 2 and a half year long distance relationship. He took Boris and asked me to keep Mathilda. Every time we were reunited, so were the ducks. Now they always travel with us when we stay at a hotel or go on a journey. They’re the world’s best travelled ducks!

  6. Holy moly you guys are so gorgeous! The duck cake made me tear up a little bit (ok a lot!).

    We are eloping in October and we are both so excited that we do not know what to do with ourselves, so seeing this post is giving me pterodactyl sized butterflies 🙂

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