Double the fun, double the cost: what it's like to plan two weddings, from the couples who did it

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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From George and Amal Clooney to Giselle Bündchen and Tom Brady, A-list couples are no strangers to celebrating their weddings more than once. However, multiple weddings are no longer the preserve of the rich and famous, as couples seek to reconcile religions, traditions and families in different countries. Here, Sarah Biddlecombe meets three brides who married their husbands twice, to find out if tying the knot multiple times is a practical decision – or a logistical nightmare.

Rachelle Arpin, 31 from Canada, has been with her Londoner husband Simon, 28, since December 2013. The couple, who live in Putney, had an intimate wedding in their local pub three weeks after getting engaged, followed by a bigger event attended by their friends and family less than a year later.

Simon and I have known each other since 2008, but things only got serious between us when he visited me in Canada in early 2013. By December of that year I’d moved to London and we had been living together for nine months when he proposed to me on the beach in San Sebastián.

Neither my husband nor I fancied a big wedding and we didn't want to spend a year planning it. While we weren’t opposed to eloping, we knew our families would be upset if we didn’t share the occasion with them.

We started making arrangements but quickly realised that three weeks' notice to come to a wedding in London wouldn’t work for everyone. When we found out our dads couldn’t make it, as mine was in Canada and Simon’s was in Thailand, we decided to have another wedding later and bring both the families together.

So we had our first wedding three weeks after we became engaged and got married at Wandsworth Town Hall before our the reception at the Prince of Wales pub, where we had rented out the upstairs dining room.

We call this our ‘surprise wedding’ as only a few people were in the know, including our mums (who were our witnesses), our flatmate (who was our best man) and a few close family members.

At this point we still hadn’t announced our engagement to our friends in London and had made all the arrangements in secret, so when our 25 other guests arrived at the pub they didn’t know we were engaged, much less that they were about to attend a wedding! Even the pub staff had no idea we were planning a wedding reception.

We then had our second wedding eight months later and hired a rowing club along the Thames in Putney. We organised a short ceremony so it was actually a wedding, not just a party, and met with the officiator before so she could tailor the ceremony to our style and our story.

We had about 60 guests, including my two best friends from Canada and the two best friends I have made since moving to London. I wore the same dress that I wore to my first wedding – I know a lot of ladies who would disapprove but I didn’t want two white dresses that I would never wear again.

The ceremony itself was short and sweet as we had done all the formalities and paperwork at our first wedding. Our best man, Martin, and best lady, Isabelle, said a few words as part of the ceremony and brought the room to tears before we wrapped up with a toast. Then we got on with the dinner and dancing.

Our first wedding was somewhat unconventional so the fact we had two weddings seems normal. The set-up gave us a bit more flexibility to do things our way and not give in too much to pressures to do things in a certain way. I think we both agree the first wedding was our favourite as it was truly ours to do what we wanted.

Although the second was also really fun and memorable, it was mainly for our family and friends abroad.

I’d definitely recommend having two weddings to other couples, as long as you want to do something different with each. I certainly wouldn’t want to do two large weddings! But if you want to elope and have a big party later – go for it.

Stephanie AbdelRahman, 25, and her husband Ahmed, 22, have been together for nearly two years. The couple, who live in Wembley, had a lavish ceremony in Ahmed’s home country of Egypt followed by a traditional English wedding in Norfolk.

I met Ahmed while I was on holiday in Egypt in May 2014. He is related to some friends of mine and, while he took a liking to me, I wasn’t interested at first. However, things developed between us when we were held at gunpoint and robbed – I have never seen anyone try to protect me and care for me the way he did.

Ahmed proposed in the typical Egyptian way of asking the eldest male who could speak for me whether he could marry me. He asked his uncle, who lives in the UK and is one of my friends, and he in turn asked me on my husband’s behalf. I didn’t think twice – I just knew.

Our first wedding was an Islamic service held in Alexandria, Egypt, in a hired hall designed for weddings in December that year. Pretty much everyone and anyone came, including my husband’s family and friends, along with my mum, dad, brother and his partner. You don’t pay by the head for weddings in Egypt, so it was pretty much an open invitation. There must have been well over 300 guests.

Our entertainment included dancers, two live singers, a band and a DJ in between. We ate traditional Egyptian food with halal meats, mashi and pastries and sat under a canopy of flowers and lights. The bride and groom are expected not to eat in front of the guests so we were taken to a separate room for our meals – I was so relieved to be alone with my new husband that I think I hardly ate. 

My family and friends were blown away by the Egyptian wedding. It was just so amazing. The only downside was that, traditionally, we were not allowed to kiss on the lips or drink any alcohol.

It wasn’t my decision to have a second wedding as the one I had in Egypt was perfect. But from the moment it was over, all my parents could talk about was how we would have to have a second one in the UK. I think they felt they needed to play a bigger part as in Egypt they were treated like any other guest. Weddings in Egypt are purely about the bride and groom whereas here, the bride’s family traditionally play quite an important role.

The idea of a second wedding became a must and my mum began planning it as soon as we got back, even though my husband’s visa hadn’t been approved. We even had to rebook it at one point as my parents had arranged a wedding before the groom could even be here.

In the end we had our second wedding, minus a ceremony, in a stately home in Norfolk. The guest list was kept to family and a few close friends as well as my mum’s friends: there were probably less than 150 people. None of my husband’s family were able to make it. We had traditional English food, including salads, chicken and a trio dessert, as well as a bread board.

I had a nice time at the second wedding, but it wasn’t exciting and felt a bit forced. Especially the speeches – there were about five, including a song performed by a friend, and I had to request they were cut down otherwise it would have turned into an open mic.

I preferred the Egyptian wedding by a long way. I wanted that wedding and it was special to me in so many ways, because my husband designed it as a surprise for me and it was so different to anything I could have imagined.

I wouldn’t recommend anyone else having two weddings because I don’t think it’s necessary unless you really want to or there are religious reasons to do so. But if you have your dream wedding the first time round, you will only be dissatisfied with anything else. I didn't plan anything for either of my weddings – the only thing I had a choice about was my dress. 

It later surfaced that my mum never got to choose her wedding. Although I was stressed and annoyed at first about having to do it all again just to please others, at the end of the day it made them happy and I got a great excuse to wear my dress again, so I can’t complain.

Melissa Bengough, 34, from Australia, has been with her British husband Nick, 36, since November 2012. The pair, who live in Camden, had their official wedding ceremony at a Cattle station in Australia followed by a further celebration in a pub in London.

Nick and I met online on 8 November 2012 and were together for two years before Nick proposed. It was very sweet: he had arranged to do our first three dates in reverse order and planned to propose in an Emirates cable car, but he got excited and proposed when we were walking through Sydneham Hill woods next to a disused railway tunnel. It was certainly not what I expected but really beautiful and very Nick!

Being from different countries, Nick and I both had long-term friends and family from Australia and the UK that we wanted to be part of our wedding celebrations. We saw the celebrations as two parts, rather than two weddings, and each was really different but reflected who we are as a couple.

The official ceremony was in Australia and was the bigger of the two parts, as my family is considerably larger than Nick's. It was tricky organising this main part of the celebration from London but my family, particularly my sister, Nikki, and my cousin, Trisha, (both bridesmaids) were really instrumental.

The Australian wedding was held outdoors at a Cattle station in the middle of nowhere. It was a four hour drive from Melbourne followed by a 45-minute bus ride to the venue, which was in Kergunyah, Victoria.  

It was a beautiful and idyllic spot that really captured my Australian home and we had a Lego/vintage theme as Nick loves Lego. We drank cocktails and had a sit-down dinner with some dancing towards the end of the night, although we didn't go on to the wee hours as we had hired a bus to take everyone back to the town and finished around midnight.

The UK celebration came about a month later and was much more low-key but still really special.  We hired a private room at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden, near where we lived, and our friend Johan made us a fantastic playlist. We had finger food, so people mingled more and it was much more of a party.

We thought about saying our vows again but decided against it as the moment was at our legal wedding and not something you can replicate. Instead, we ended up doing our first dance to Stand By Me by Ben E King, which was the song I walked down the aisle to in Australia. This felt really nice and worked perfectly as we didn’t have a first dance in Australia.

We had speeches at both weddings as the day was just as much a union of our friends and family as it was us joining together. Right before the first wedding was also the first time Nick's parents met mine, which added to the sense of joining our families and friends together.  

We wanted to have two weddings as just one wouldn’t have captured who we are as a couple. We live in London but go to Australia once a year and see ourselves moving there one day, so feel very spread out over both countries. Both sets of parents were a bit surprised at the idea, as it seems lavish to have two weddings and that wasn't how it was done in their day, and my mum was worried about the Australian wedding being less special by having two.

The most important thing for us was to have everyone be included and feel as important as they each are to us. It was so special that Nick's parents traveled to be part of the Australian wedding, this was a really loving gesture on their part.

We don't have a favourite wedding. While our Australian wedding was beautiful and special, the event itself was considerably more stressful than our London wedding, which was more of a chance to let our hair down.

I would definitely recommend having two weddings to other couples as one of the biggest comments I hear from people about their weddings is that they were too short, went too fast or they didn’t get a chance to speak to everyone. By having two celebrations you can stretch it out for longer and have more of a chance to enjoy every aspect of it.

Main image: Getty

Other images: provided to Stylist for publication via interviewees