Leilah Cooling and Nick Parkinson: A DIY wedding with a festival vibe

22 Feb 2019

After travelling the world together, Leilah and Nick’s day was all about celebrating with their friends and family in Devon

How did you meet?

We met at the University of Exeter in 2005.

Tell us about the proposal.

While living in Canada, Nick and Josh (one of his best men) built a barge, kind of like a large raft but with an outboard motor. On my 30th birthday and our 10 year anniversary, he told me to wait for him on the lakeside and that we were going to have a picnic on the bank. As I was waiting I saw the barge crossing the lake towards me decorated with fairy lights, balloons, candles and a dinner table. He cooked me a three-course meal in the middle of the lake as the sun set, creating a rosy alpenglow over the surrounding snow-capped mountains. Nick is a musician and as we finished our dinner he recited a six-verse poem, dropping to one knee in the last verse and concluding with his proposal.


It was now pitch-black, a beautifully clear starry night. With no clear landmarks on the shore, Nick then took us the scenic route to a dock where our friends greeted us with fireworks and fizz. They jumped aboard and partied with us before a friend drove us to a hotel. Another friend had prepped the room with rose petals, bottles of bubbly and chocolates. A load of our amazing friends had helped Nick pull it together. It was an elaborate team effort and a miracle they all kept it secret for 2 months.

What was the theme for the day, and did you have a colour scheme?

We wanted a relaxed, casual festival vibe with elegance. Our venue was perfect for this. The essential infrastructure was there but we could bring in whatever we liked and were given free rein of to do what we like.  We had close family staying in the house and guests stayed in bell tents in our glamping village.  



We had an international theme representing our love of travel and adventure. A “Where in the world are you sitting?” seating plan directed guests to one of 14 different tables named after countries we’ve travelled to. We had luggage tags for place cards, flags for centre pieces and a travel themed photo booth. We showed our love for skiing with ski boots as vases and a shot ski on the bar. We created a festival feel to reflect our backgrounds working in (and partying at) festivals and club nights, with a three day celebration and lots of entertainment.


The main thing that brought the whole theme together was the décor and styling. The main colours were gold and neutral to match the bridesmaids dresses. We had lots of greenery for the floral decorations on tables and wildflowers for the bouquets. We spent months collecting and making everything ourselves. We made bunting, a willow hoop for the alter backdrop, a seating chart, chalkboards, signage, order of the day pallet sign, wood rounds, a huge statement piece for behind the head table, a photo booth, garden games like giant Jenga, limbo and Cornhole, a glitter station, and our own favours which were CDs of a DJ mix by Nick. Nick built a wheel-able 12-volt sound system which we used for music during the ceremony. We spray painted and upcycled picture frames and candle holders. We used lace curtains from charity shops and made them into throws. For the rustic look we used hessian, hay bales and collected all the greenery ourselves. With the fairy lights, lanterns, candles and fire pits a bohemian feel was created. 


After the success of our festival vibe wedding, and our many years of event experience, we have now set up our own wedding planning, décor styling and bell tent rental business, Unity Event Design. 

What venue did you choose and why did you choose it?

Ash Barton Estate, Brauton, North Devon. We wanted somewhere in the South West and researched more than 40 places - nothing came close to our love of Ash Barton. It has a stunning house that close family could stay in, space for guests to camp and for a bell tent glamping village, a choice of 12 spots to get legally married in including wild flower meadows, an oak tree and pond, a huge barn with tables, chairs, stage, bar, dance floor, a games room, a pool, loads of walled gardens and courtyards and the freedom to be as creative and DIY as we wanted. There was also no curfew and no corkage fee and we could bring in whatever suppliers we wanted.



When did you know when you’d found ‘the’ dress?

I was living in Canada at the time and wanted to wait until I was back in the UK to try on dresses. We went dress shopping for one of my best friends and I realised that if I waited until January 2018 it would be cutting it fine. A good friend of mine organised a day in Vancouver. I loved so many of the dresses I tried on and probably ended up trying on about 30. The last boutique we went to was ‘Truvelle’ – I tried on the Jasmine dress by Laudae and instantly knew it was the one. The boho daisy lace fitted with the vibe of the wedding perfectly and I could straight away imagine myself in it at the venue on the big day. 

I also wore silver daisy earrings from my mum’s shop, Nomads, in Wales. And I wore white and gold glittery Puma trainers, as you’ll never see me out of a pair of trainers.  


Who were your bridesmaids?

They were best friends from different walks of life – Bron and Beth from school; Lottie, Lou and Marte from University and Laura and Lucy from living in Canada as well as my sister, Emily. They all chose their own dresses from wherever they wanted. I wanted them to feel happy in what they wore and they all have such different characters that I wanted to shine through. I gave a colour scheme but was pretty relaxed with it. They all came together perfectly. We also had Nicks 2 nieces as our flower girls.



What did the mother of the bride wear?

She does a lot of business in India and wore a dress that a family who make a lot of her clothing and textiles for her business, Nomads, made for her.

What did the groom wear? 

A blue Alexandre of England suit with matching blue ‘Nike Air Max’ trainers.



Tell us about your floral arrangements.

A very good friend of ours does floristry and bought locally grown flowers from BJ Richards Flowers. They made all the bouquets, Leilah’s flower crown headdress and the buttonholes. The mother and sister of the bride and the mother of the groom foraged tons of greenery for the table garlands that ran down the middle of the banquet tables.



Often the aspect that makes a wedding original to the couple is the detail – tell us about the details of the day.

  • On the Friday we had a relaxed dinner around the camp fire. On the Saturday we had a ‘help yourself breakfast’ before the ceremony, followed by drinks, live music and garden games in the courtyard.
  • After dinner we had a mass group dinner table game before the dancing began to the band ‘Saturday’s Exit’. We moved the late night DJs (the groom himself and friends) into the derelict chapel and danced until 5am. We had a hilarious and impressively well attended Survivors’ photo!
  • On Sunday we had a pool part with DJ’s on the patio, a barbecue, garden games and a slip and slide.



  • On Monday, guests could join us for a surf down at Saunton Sands and fish and chips in rented beach huts. We made everything ourselves as we are both creative and Nick is a handyman.
  • We asked everyone to bring a dish as most of our friends and family are foodies and love cooking and foods from around the world.
  • We had lots of garden games, including a slip and slide as we are both big kids.
  • We also had a shot ski and ski boot vases for our love of skiing and a glitter station for our love of festivals and partying.


  • There was also a photo booth themed with props from around the world to show our love of travel.

The whole wedding was very DIY and everythings was collected, decided, made by us. We even made our wedding rings for each other.

How did you feel as you walked down the aisle?

Leilah: Ecstatic! Nick is my world and I could not wait to marry him. We’ve had the most incredible and adventure-filled 12 years together so seeing him then filled me with such joy and excitement. Another adventure lay ahead and this moment topped everything we had shared so far. I was so eager to leave the room when the ceremony started - I just wanted to see him and that massive, gorgeous smile of his. 


Nick: I was completely overwhelmed to see all our friends and family there too but down by the beautiful pond, under the oak tree, it was such a peaceful, calm setting.   

How did you make the ceremony personal to you?

Leilah: A very good friend played the hang drum as people arrived. We both wrote our own vows and Nick’s father and one of the bridesmaids did a reading. She read ‘Oh the places you’ll go” from Dr Seuss which was very fitting as we lived in the mountains for years.

Nick: A friend of ours sang our favourite song as I walked down the aisle. Another friend sang ‘Stand By Me’ as it was a song that Leilah used to sing with her dad before he passed away.  


What was your most memorable moment?

With years of adventuring and travelling, it was having all our friends and family from all over the world coming together, meeting and dancing like crazy with us for our first dance. We chose ‘Sweet love’ by M Beat & Nazlyn. It starts slow, sampling an old soul tune, and breaks out into a lively jungle/drum and bass tune.  Nick and I met from him being a DJ and playing this song. It shows our fun loving characters and our love of having all our friends and family joining in and dancing with us.



What was the most challenging aspect of planning this wedding?

The guest list - having lived all over the world we wanted so many people to be able to come and join us. By having bring a dish and no corkage fee we were able to have a large guest list.

Tell us about your wedding cake: 

A friend made a two-tier cake with beautiful edible flowers. We were so shocked when we saw it as hadn’t even planned to have one, as people were bringing desserts for the dessert table. Nick’s dad also had a sword that was a family heirloom so we cut it with that.



Did you have any other entertainment?

In the afternoon over drinks in the courtyard, Nick’s brother played on the keyboard and his mum and dad sang a few songs. In the evening our friends band, Saturdays’s Exit performed before all our friends and Nick himself DJ’d. 


Did anything go wrong on the day?

We had smoke grenades to use with the photographer for our portrait photos. With the wind direction and conditions they didn’t work as planned. Craig, the photographer, was great though and got other great shots instead. 

If you could go back and change anything, what would it be? 

We had planned to set off fireworks and light some floating candles for the pond after the band played. However by this point everyone just wanted to dance and we were moving the music into the chapel. We decided not to do it as would be moving everyone again and everyone was having too much fun where they were. We’ll save them for another special occasion. 


Where did you go on honeymoon?

Two days later we went to Portugal for our best friends stag and hen do’s, so we had a couple of days to ourselves before and after. After, we went to Colombia for five weeks.

Do you have any advice for couples in the planning stages?

From the very start write down your top three priorities, e.g. venue, dress, band. Whenever you start to get carried away with the planning or the budget starts getting out of control remind yourself of the most important factors and that you actually don’t need those super expensive invitations, or whatever it might be for you.


Steal their style:

Venue: Ash Barton Estate
Photographer: Craig Barker Photography
Soloists: Friends Lizzie Kirwan, Alex Johnstone, Eleanor Viola, Bean Downes 
Band: Saturday’s Exit
Caterers: Hog roast by Greendale Farm
Glass Hire: Majestic
Dish and cutlery hire: South West Event Hire
Flowers: Friend Charlotte Merryweather
Cake: Friend Taz Mitchell
Make-up and hair: Friend Hailey Hobbit
Décor, planning and styling: Unity Event Design
Bell tent glamping village: Unity Event Design

Click here for more DIY wedding inspiration. 


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