As I embark on a new journey with the Alternative Wedding Group I was unsure of what I should write for my first blog. Inspiration was quickly taken from my business partner’s first blog entitled ‘are UK wedding venues discriminating against black couples?’ I read the blog amazed by how identical some of the issues raised were to my experiences of getting married. I felt myself nodding my head at each point, thinking, “this happened to me…” It hit me in that instant that my first blog should be about my experience of getting married and some of the challenges we faced as a British couple of African-Caribbean descent getting married in the UK.
After dating my child hood sweetheart for just over ten years, I decided to ‘man-up’ and make an honest woman of her. In a surprise weekend getaway to the Romantic city of Rome, I got down on one knee in front of the famous Trevi fountains and proposed on Valentines day. As cliché as it may sound, I was totally head over heels in love with my woman and wanted to show her (and the world) that I was serious about her and our relationship.
Being an event manager with a career spanning over ten years and having planned and coordinating many weddings, expectations for my wedding grew amongst my social circle. The pressure was on for me to deliver something that was nothing short of amazing whilst simultaneously balancing the wants needs of my then fiancé (who is also very particular about what she wants). Traditionally, it’s usually the bride that takes the lead in planning the biggest day of her life, so already, we broke that tradition as I was the one with the experience and know how.
The planning started and I knew exactly how I wanted our wedding to look and feel. My fiancé wanted the true fairytale wedding and by all accounts it was important that we got the venue right. Without going into too much detail on the lengthy venue search we conducted, we booked the second venue we visited which was a beautiful property in Sutton Coldfield, despite seeing a dozen more after. The moment we entered the property, we knew it was the one. It carried the same feeling when we brought our first house. You actually can’t put your finger on why you want the one you want but you know when you know! Yeah, it was that unexplainable feeling. The only problem was they didn’t offer Caribbean cuisine nor did they allow external caterers in. This was a huge problem as we desperately wanted this venue but we did not want to compromise on our culture and living in Birmingham, a multi-cultural diverse city I didn’t think we should have to.
So what do I do? My mission was very clear, have the venue of our dreams and have the cuisine that represented both my wife and I. Firstly, I wrote a four-page complaint letter to the head office of the hotel chain addressing my concerns. I didn’t want the venues’ interpretation of Caribbean food as offered as some kind of pacifier, I wanted the real authentic thing. Most black people, particularly my family can be very unforgiving when it comes to their food and if it was something they didn’t like, they would make the world know about it. I wasn’t willing to take that chance. I was fortunate enough, at the time to be employed by Marketing Birmingham, Birmingham’s strategic marketing agency that worked directly with the property’s management as well as other venues in the city. Although it was never admitted, I am certain that this also had some influence on the venues decision to allow an external Caribbean consultant chef to work with their head chef to produce a succulent Caribbean wedding breakfast for the first and last time in the venues history. Unfortunately this dilemma of having the choice of authentic Caribbean Food Vs Amazing Grounds/Venue is an experience that is common amongst black people in the UK.
Despite all the venue troubles I encountered, the thing that tipped me over the edge was the difficulty of finding black figurines to sit on top of our wedding cake. You would think that in today’s day and age (in the last 5 years) something like that would be readily available from most cake outlets. Wrong. My wife and I searched high and low, went to numerous wedding fairs, spoke to various caterers and cake makers and the response was the same “we don’t do them here, sorry”. Now, don’t get me wrong, we found black caricatures/comical figurines, however that’s not what we wanted. We wanted the black figurines that were of class and poise, similar to the hundreds of figurines available to our white counterparts. One lady actually said to me,
“Why can’t you have a standard one? They are very popular”
Instantly I flipped and spent at least 10 minutes explaining (or shouting rather) why it was important for us to have cake figurines that somewhat reflected us. “Our ancestors didn’t go through hundreds of years of slavery for us to be treated like we don’t exist” blah blah… Thinking about it now I actually feel sorry for the poor shopkeeper that got the brunt of my pent up frustration but it felt like once again black people were being sidelined. How dare she imply we should have a white couple on top of our cake and be content with it because they are ‘popular’? Popular for who? It was meant to be the most important day of our lives and yet we were subjected to have a couple of figurines on our cake that none of us could relate to. Are you serious?
In the end, after searching online we ordered the figurines from America that took up to eight weeks to arrive. As we unraveled the packaging we were excited but yet anxious and worried that it may have been damaged during transit. It was almost like the figurines was a box full of diamonds because of how delicate we were in opening its packaging. It’s probably because of the troubles we went through to get them in the first place. However, they arrived in one piece and was just how we envisaged them to be.
It is for the aforementioned reasons why the Alternative Wedding Group is necessary in the UK. Having a wedding service that accommodates to the cultural, cross-cultural and none traditional couple is a first of its kind and something that has the power to produce amazing cultural weddings with the specialist knowledge that is required.
I am sure you are probably wondering what the wedding day was actually like? Well, despite all of the challenges, we had a fantastic day that met, exceeded and surpassed all of the expectations of us and all those who attended. Let’s just say its one of those weddings that will be talked about in years to come…
Truchio Powell – Director