Wedding of the Week: Sarah Cunliffe and Ali Raoufian

04 Jun 2018

A fusion of two cultures; Sarah Cunliffe and Ali Raoufian's Persian meets British wedding was filled with beautiful details from start to finish

How did you meet?

On Tinder. Our first date was on a Sunday afternoon where we met at a lovely pub (The Dove in Hammersmith) for a game of backgammon, with dessert and wine.

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Tell us about the proposal.

In a hot air balloon over Bagan at sunrise, in the middle of a trip backpacking around Myanmar (Burma). Ali actually proposed with a placeholder ring and then upgraded me to the real thing on Christmas Eve. He had designed it with help from my sister and had it made in Iran (where he was born); a modern 18ct white gold six claw set, single stone (1.05ct) brilliant cut diamond ring with a pair of small graduating brilliant cut diamonds on each raised shoulder.

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

The theme was rustic elegance. Our colour scheme was lavender grey, silver, burgundy, and sage green.

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

Lains Barn in Wantage, Oxfordshire. It had the wow factor as soon as we saw it. We knew from the outset that we wanted a barn wedding, and we wanted somewhere we could have both the ceremony and reception.

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When did you know when you’d found ‘the’ dress? Which designer? How many dresses did you try on?

I wanted to wear a pre-loved dress, and found a magical treasure trove of a boutique in South West London - in Twickenham called Gillian Million. For me, it was less about the designer (which ended up being Morilee), but the dress itself. I didn’t want a strapless dress, I did want lace and once I stepped inside the beautiful Gillian Million shop I knew I wanted to find it there.

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What did the bridesmaids wear?

Lavender grey floor-length dresses.

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Where did you find your suits?

The suits were all bought from Next, one of the only retailers to accommodate Ali's 6ft 7" best man! The groom wore the same suit, but also a Ted Baker waistcoat. Ties were from from Calvin Klein, and the mother of the bride made silk pocket squares made to match the ties. The groomsmen all wore colourful Happy Socks.

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Tell us about your floral arrangements.

All the flowers were done by my mother and my aunt following a pre-dawn buying expedition to the new Covent Garden Flower Market two days before the wedding. The ‘flower balls’ hanging from the ceiling beams in the barn as well as the flower arch really were impressive. My mum had also painstakingly dried hundreds of roses since the summer, so all the confetti was biodegradable. The barn was beautifully decked out in 50ft of bunting also made by my mother, to fit the colour palette.

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

  • Pictures as place-settings. We found pictures of us with every guest (from any time in the past 30 years), and using Lalalab we printed vintage square Polaroid-esque photos for each person’s place setting, propped up on wooden logs recycled from another friend’s wedding. What gave it the wow factor was that we hand-wrote personal messages on the reverse.
  • Peg-your-Polaroid. A piece of twine ran the length of the barn bar area, with every person’s name handwritten in a beautiful calligraphic script on brown luggage tags. A Polaroid camera was available, with props for those that wanted to use it, with the instruction for each guest to take a picture and peg to their name tag. It was a great way to ensure that we ended up with a picture of each and every guest.
  • First look - Ali and I saw each other before the ceremony started. We knew that once we’d gathered all our favourite people in one place, we wouldn’t want to leave to have photos taken, so instead we did a ‘reveal’ in the mid-morning. Walking up to Ali my heart was pounding. Having that moment without standing in front of a hundred people made it feel incredibly intimate, and such a lovely way to start the day.

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  • Pimp your prosecco. A selection of cut fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries) along with a rainbow-coloured selection of Belvoir Fruit Farms cordials allowed guests to create their own prosecco cocktails.
  • Order of service – especially given the unfamiliarity of the Persian elements of the wedding to our British guests, Ali’s cousin helped illustrate an order of service – this also included a crossword for our guests to see how well they knew us (or learn a thing or two).

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  • Corn toss – a US-favourite lawn game in which guests took turns throwing bean bags at two raised platforms with a hole in. My dad made the platforms, and my aunt custom-made decal stickers of each of our silhouettes to decorate.
  • Backgammon – a nod to our first date, and an Iranian firm favourite pastime. Backgammon boards were out on tables for guests wanting a break from dancing.
  • Tributes to Ali’s mum. Ali’s mum Zinat sadly died when he was 11. She was much loved, and there were lots of touching tributes: in the order of service, in the speeches, and also a very nice photo of her on her own wedding day to Ali’s dad, Mo. We also had framed photographs of family weddings going back several generations on both sides (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents).
  • Sparkler send-off. Leaving the wedding to the sparkler-lit faces of our friends and family gave our departure a magical feel.
  • Wedding favours were ‘Meant to Bee’ Honey jars filled with natural mountain honey from Iran, with labels we designed ourselves consistent with our wedding stationery.

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How did you feel as you walked down the aisle?

Both my parents entered the barn with me and walked with me to the head of the aisle, though after a kiss from each, together they walked down the aisle ahead of me – symbolising ‘we’ve brought you this far, but this last little bit you need to do on your own’. However I then froze… I stopped breathing and with everyone’s eyes on me, my heart started racing. How did I think I’d be able to do this without a supporting arm? As everyone turned to took, I visibly took one deep breath, composed myself and took the first step (very happy to be in flat TOMS, especially given the uneven 17th century threshing floor).

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How did you make the ceremony personal to you? 

Readings were from The Velveteen Rabbit and Captain Corelli's Mandolin. We danced back down the aisle to a live rendition of I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown, performed by three friends on cello, piano and vocals – such a fun, upbeat song that had lots of people clapping and dancing too.

The ceremony was also split into two parts, the British part with a lovely registrar, and then the Persian ‘aroosi’. Our registrar opened our wedding with the sentence ‘You think you are here because of Sarah and Ali, but they want to thank you, and say that they are here because of you’ and then gave a touching tribute to Ali’s mum. It was the perfect start to the day, to acknowledge those who had made us who we are.

Before reading our vows, Ali and I together proclaimed what we wanted our marriage and home to be like and asked our friends and family to help us uphold it. Sharing vows we’d written ourselves (and hearing them for the first time that day) was beautiful. Ali even publicly promised to tame my wayward eyebrows and tell me when I have toothpaste on my face.

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What was your most memorable moment?

We each have different favourite moments but firmly agree on two…

1. Immediately after the ceremony we had five minutes to ourselves hidden away in the former lawnmower shed at the back of the barn. A chance to catch our breath and revel in the moment – officially married, before walking out for the confetti toss.

2. As we took our seats at dinner, we looked around the barn and saw guests notice the vintage Polaroid prints at their place setting. We watched their faces as they relived the memories of various holidays/nights out/schooldays, and when they realised there was a personalised message on the reverse. It was then SUCH a delight to walk the room, and reminisce about all those moments with our guests.

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What was the most challenging aspect of planning this wedding?

We were living apart, so lots of decisions were made over Skype and Google Sheets... it would have been much easier sitting on a sofa doing it together.

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What was the most important investment for you?

Getting the right venue. Also, buying the Polaroid camera (and plenty of film) was an investment we were really happy with.

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What song did you choose for your first dance, and why?

Al Green - Let’s Stay Together. The tempo was perfect to dance to and we agreed wholeheartedly with the sentiment.

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Did you have any evening entertainment?

Yes, we had The Cumberland Ceilidh Band and Persian dancing – demonstrated by Ali’s cousin Rana, then everyone had a go. We also had a knife dance (before cutting the cake). In Persian weddings, the couple has to pay for the knife to cut the cake. Friends took turns to dance with the knife, asking for money from the groom, but when they took the money instead passed the knife to another guest (traditionally just females but two of our groomsmen had a go too) to continue the knife dance. This continued until Ali’s sister finally gave us the knife – in exchange for cash AND his credit card. 

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Tell us about your wedding cake.

The tastiest wedding cake I’ve ever eaten. Four layers, each a different flavour: red velvet, carrot and grapefruit, lemon and poppy seed, and amaretto (from bottom to top) with buttercream icing and adorned with flowers to match the bouquets. A huge effort from our good friend, Sophie, and a resounding success with our guests.

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

Consider when you have access to the venue and how much it’s possible to do if you can only get on site on the day (like we did). Fortunately our groomsmen were all heroes who set every single detail in place, from the fairy lights to the sweetie bar… but having been able to do that the day before would have been so helpful, and made the day much more relaxed. Also, to eat more wedding cake. 

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Did anything go wrong on the day?

Unfortunately we somehow didn’t get a photo of me/us with just my family (parents and siblings), which is a real shame. I’d encourage other brides to make a clear list of the photos you must have, and give it to your photographer to tick off.

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Was there anything you wish you’d known before?

Get a label-maker earlier on – SO helpful.

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Where did you go on honeymoon?

The day after the wedding (Sunday) we had a brunch with family, then on Monday we flew to South Africa for a three-night mini-moon in the Drakensberg mountains, staying at a stunning self-catering cottage - Ama Casa. We then joined the rest of my family for a two-week ‘family-moon’ on safari in Zambia.

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

It worked well for us to not think about it as just one day: planning a brunch with family the morning after, dinner with close family and the bridal party the night before, dinners in the week run-up with family/friends visiting from abroad. It all helped to ensure that the day was less pressured. At brunch the morning after it was especially fun to be able to relive our (and their) highlights from the day before.

Steal their style:

Wedding dress: Gillian Million, Teddington, www.gillianmillion.com
Dress alterations: Lisa Galea, Twickenham, lisa.galea@yahoo.co.uk
Hair & make-up: Marianne Christensen, rahbek11@yahoo.com
Band: The Cumberland Ceilidh Band, www.facebook.com/cumberlandceilidhband
PA system: James Walton at THAT EVENT COMPANY, www.that-event.com                       
Photography: Dale Stephens, www.dalestephensphotography.com
Videography: Mark Shipperley, https://markshipperleyfilms.co.uk
Cake: Sophie Moir (friend)
Floristry: Kathy Cunliffe (mother of the bride) and Rose Glen (aunt of the bride)
Persian buffet: Zohreh Gharagozlo (aunt of the groom)
Tesla chauffeur: Ben Medlock (friend)
Illustrations for wedding stationery: Pam Glen, Ghazal Raoufian, Zoe Webber

For more real wedding inspiration, pick up the latest edition of Bride magazine. 

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