The Knowledge: Robyn Pattison, Wedding Celebrant

One of the things I love the most about the wedding industry is how we love to network. From photographers and make up artists to celebrants and stationery designers, we eagerly jump at the chance to meet new people and catch up with old friends. Perhaps this is because many of us work alone or in small teams and so the need to socialise regularly becomes even more important for our well being. But there's also something else: a collective passion to make every wedding the very best it can be and a belief that the only way this can happen is to share our experiences, insights and ideas so we can learn from each other and ultimately invest this knowledge into the weddings we become part of.

Over time I've become friends with many wedding specialists and my highest recommendations are listed on my website as The Circle Of Trust.

Today I'm delighted to announce that each month I will be featuring a conversation with one of the Circle so you can get to know them better and pick up some tips and ideas along the way. Welcome to The Knowledge.

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Photo by Alegria Photography

This month I have the great pleasure of introducing one of the best wedding celebrants in the business: Robyn Pattison. Weddings come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from registry offices to the big, fat, gypsy variety. But none of them have any legal significance without the involvement of a wedding celebrant. Robyn is the hardest working celebrant I know and she is ruthlessly efficient in learning everything she can about her clients in order to take their ceremonies beyond the ordinary and make them as personal and meaningful as possible. After a busy season Robyn has just returned from a well earned family holiday in Bali.

Hey Robyn! Firstly, how was Bali?!

It was great! I only get a few days holiday a year (always in the dead of winter!) because that's not supposed to be wedding season. I've already done 60 weddings this year so it was definitely about time to recharge and spend some time with my husband and my kids! Although I did spend quite a lot of time using the wifi by the pool and answering emails from new brides and grooms. Now it's well and truly back to work!

And I imagine it's going to be another busy season coming up! You're one of the most established wedding celebrants in Sydney and recently won the best in NSW for 2011 as voted by your clients. What's your secret to being so loved?

You are too kind Milton! I do believe that you get back what you put out. I put a LOT of hard work, dedication, and love into to every couple I marry. I'm not a plumber - I can't go back later to fix a leaky tap, so I have to treat every wedding as though it's the only wedding I will ever do, and of course it is the only wedding for each couple (usually) so I don't cut corners. Oh, and I never leave a wedding without a hug and a photo with the couple, and then the love just seems to come back!

So there's a lot more to finding the right celebrant than just someone who's available and has a mic?

That's just box-ticking! Anyone can pick up a microphone and talk, but not many people are really fabulous public speakers who can truly engage and entertain a large group of people who expect to be bored. Not many people care enough to try. Personality is everything. You should know you have found the right person if you are excited to listen to them. If they aren't excited and enthusiastic about celebrating you, how will your guests feel if they have to listen to them?!

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Photo by Matthew Mead

Good point! So how many weeks or sessions does it take to work through all the details and really get to know your couples?

I meet my couples at least twice, or as many times as they need me, plus rehearsals if they want them (the more time I spend with them the more excited I am on the big day!). Then there's hours and hours of writing ceremonies. I never, ever do the same one twice so that takes a huge amount of preparation. But it's absolutely worth it when the groom's mother comes rushing up to hug me because she has never been to a wedding so personal or so entertaining before this one, and she laughed and cried the whole way through. Or when I get a text message the next day from the newlyweds who are about to board the plane, saying how much everyone loved the ceremony.

There are always clear trends in aspects such as dresses and hairstyles, but have you noticed any trends with ceremonies?

People are starting to pay more attention to the ceremony itself - finally! After all, it's the most important part of the whole day. Without the ceremony it's just a big, expensive party! With a fabulous ceremony the party has already begun and everyone is talking about it! I tell everyone to forget the bonbonniere and just make sure you don't bore the pants off your guests during the ceremony instead. The ceremony is starting to be treated more like an event with the comfort and enjoyment of the guests being taken into consideration: champagne service or refreshment stands, food, beautiful decorations, lots of DIY details, with humour and personality.

Cool! While we're on the subject of trends, quite a few celebrants are now using iPads. Have you gone techy or staying traditional?

I love my iPad! No more stoppping to turn the page, no more wind flapping my pages around, no wasting paper. Best thing ever!

Do you have a favourite wedding venue?

Oh, there are so many! But I do love the ceremony venues that have a really good option for bad weather (like Taronga Zoo where it's light and airy and surrounded by glass, but there are walls and a roof to protect against rain or harsh sun). The weather is so unpredictable at the moment, you can never tell what will happen. Wet weather back ups at different places - or worse - different times of day are a real problem as are gardens with no shade in the middle of summer.

Robyn, you're well known to be pretty fluent in several languages due to the huge range of cultures you've work with. How many are you up to now?

Ok Milton, the truth is that I speak English VERY well and I also do the fakey fakey phonetics in Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, German, Spanish. I'll do anything to make non-English speaking guests feel welcome and valued, and a few words of welcome can go a long wasy to showing them we care and respect them (sometimes my Cantonese and Mandarin phonetics are better than the groom's! Ha!).

And I imagine you're pretty familiar with a whole range of cultural ceremonies and traditions?

Most of my gorgeous couples are not of Anglo Saxon descent. I work with a lot of Chinese and Vietnamese couples and I'm starting to do more Indian / Hindu fusion style ceremonies too. I am pretty familiar with a range of cultural backgrounds and (importantly) parental expectations of what a wedding should be. Sometimes (often actually) the part I play in the day is the only part of the entire day that actually reflects who the couple really are and how they live day to day. The rest of the day can be all about cultural and parental expectations, so I make sure that I give them something that is truly their own. Having said that, I am open to anything!

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Photo by I Love Wednesdays

At one of my weddings the bride surprised the groom with a birdcage full of butterflies for him to release. What's the most unusual or exciting thing you've seen?

One of my first weddings was very, very unusual. We were in the national park. The bride came down to meet us on her hands and knees, crawling through the bush. The bare chested groom, also on his hands and knees, crawled around to meet her and they played a tribal-style game of cat and mouse until he finally "caught" her. That was just the start of what was one of the most deeply moving, absolutely personal and romantic ceremonies I have ever been a part of. Although it sounds quite odd they were a very spiritual couple, dedicated and connected to the earth and they did it their way!

And the longest time a bride has kept her groom waiting?

Two and half hours! It was my second ever wedding. I had to entertain 150 guests for all that time whilst fielding comments and questions from the guests. It was hot - almost 35 degrees! The guests were cranky and sick of waiting and there was no shade and no water. Really awful. I never did find out why she was so late...

Actually that's a serious point as sometimes you have 3-4 ceremonies in a day, right?

True! Timing is so important. No one likes a late bride. Being late messes up the timing of the entire day, and if you are really, really late you might miss out. Three in a day is normal for me in busy months which sometimes means it's three costume changes on the run to make sure i coordinate with the bridal party! I never get tired of it. I bounce into every wedding exactly the same way because I may have already done two weddings that day but that was for two other couples and I have never married this one before! I've never, ever been late either. But four is hardcore! I've only done that a couple of times.

I'm sure you've seen the video doing the rounds of the bride singing down the aisle. Seen anything like that yet?

No brides singing for me yet - I'm still waiting for that one! But I did have a groom sing to his bride as a surprise before his vows! It was so beautiful that everyone was crying, including me!

Well it's not a wedding without a few tears, hey? I suppose that means you're always fully stocked with emergency tissues?!

I buy packs of tissues in bulk! Then I give them to the groom to hide in his pockets. It's his first job as a husband to wipe his bride's tears (and quite often his own). If the groom doesn't have them they usually have to be pulled from the front of the bridesmaid's cleavage!

Finally Robyn, do you have a quick and easy tip for our couples?

Smile! This is your big, beautiful day so make the decision to laugh and smile through the whole thing. Leave all the stress and worries about things going wrong on your pillow when you wake up and enjoy the day! Oh, and dont worry about the ceremony - I'll take care of that!

Thanks Robyn!

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