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Annie Richardson - North West Celebrant of the Year

PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 February 2019

Annie Richardson found out about celebrants while on holiday in Australia

Annie Richardson found out about celebrants while on holiday in Australia

Archant

As St Valentine's Day approaches, we speak to a celebrant whose working life is all about romance

Honey mead and handfasting ribbons use in ceremoniesHoney mead and handfasting ribbons use in ceremonies

Annie Richardson has not yet been asked to officiate at a nudist wedding ceremony but it’s probably only a matter of time. ‘I’ve been asked to officiate at all sorts of ceremonies but no, so far, no nudists!’ laughs Annie, who is currently the North West Celebrant of the Year.

Annie, of Heath Charnock, near Chorley, didn’t know what a celebrant was until a chance meeting with one four years ago when she was on holiday in Australia. ‘I discovered that a celebrant can conduct any sort of ceremony that a couple wants – vow renewals, public declarations of love or weddings. The ceremonies aren’t legal, so couples will often pop along to the register office a week or so beforehand in order to get the piece of paper,’ says Annie.

As soon as she returned home she decided to give up working in a school and underwent training. ‘It is such a lovely thing to do and Lancashire is full of romantic locations from pretty villages to the dramatic backdrop of Pendle. I’m convinced that it has the most romantic couples anywhere,’ adds Annie, who is already taking bookings for 2021.

She prides herself on getting to know each couple before the ceremony. ‘It’s important I know their story – where they met and how their love progressed. A key moment is the proposal itself which usually takes place somewhere significant, such as where they had their first date. It is still usually the chaps who propose and most of them are fairly good at keeping it a secret,’ she explains.

Before deciding on the type of ceremony, Annie asks the couple to write out their vows on special handmade paper, which she then keeps.

‘The first time they hear each other’s vows are at the ceremony itself and there are always, always tears. I quite often have a tear in my own eye,’ says the self-confessed romantic who married her own husband, Steve, 18 years ago on the day before Christmas Eve.

‘Our wedding took place in a register office,’ says Annie, who operates under the title The Rivington Celebrant. ‘The wonderful thing is that a celebrant can conduct the ceremony anywhere. I’ve officiated on yachts, beaches, restaurants, back gardens, historic homes, glamping pods and, the fashionable choice of the moment, in teepees.

‘The ancient tradition of handfasting is popular, especially since the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge incorporated it into their ceremony. The groom places his hand over the bride’s and especially woven silk ribbons are then tied over them, so that when they are slipped off they form an everlasting knot.’

Apparently, it’s where the saying “tying the knot” originates.

‘It’s traditional that mead is presented at the hand fasting – the honey in it symbolises the sweetness of love. Other couples like to jump over a beautifully decorated traditional brush at the end of the ceremony, as it demonstrates that they are leaving their old lives behind and beginning a new one together.’

She can also arrange a wine box with a difference. ‘It’s a handmade engraved wooden box. The couple choose a wine to put in it – hopefully one that will mature in five, ten or even 25 years. It’s then locked and sealed with wax, not to be opened until that special anniversary,’ says Annie, who also officiates at the naming ceremonies of babies.

Annie always likes to involve the wedding party in the ceremony. ‘Ring warming is an ancient tradition and is becoming popular again. The rings are put in an embroidered pouch and passed around. Each person holds them and makes a silent wish, so that when the couple exchange them, not only are they filled with their love but the love and good wishes of everyone important to them.’

And it’s not just people who get involved in the ceremony. ‘People like their pets to be involved, often as ring bearers. One couple’s Labrador did eat the flower garland around its neck but they’re mostly well behaved. It can be people that cause problems rather than dogs. On one occasion a bride’s father took the dog for a walk around Downham, lost track of time and didn’t turn up for the pictures,’ laughs Annie who has also organised horses to carry the bride to the ceremony.

A perk of being a celebrant is a wardrobe full of lovely clothes, so would Annie discard them for that nudist wedding? ‘Probably, so long as it didn’t involve jumping from a plane or abseiling – they’re my lines in the sand!’ u

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