Traditional weddings are becoming a thing of the past, as more couples throw out the rule book. We meet Tristan and Duncan who did just that and hosted a three-day extravaganza that will live with them forever at Crathorne Hall Hotel, North Yorkshire.
Traditional wedding breakfast, top table, the cutting of the cake, first dance, seat covers, matching bouquets… there are so many rules that come with a traditional wedding, but what if you want to break with convention, turn the other cheek to etiquette and forget the typical protocols of who does what and when? That’s exactly what Tristan Cairn and Duncan Holdsworth did when it came to their special day.
First off, they decided that it should be held over an entire weekend. “We wanted it to be about good food and drink, great company and pure escapism. The wedding was as much about our guests as it was about us – after all they have all been a part of our journey, getting us to where we are today, so it was a great excuse for all of our family and friends to just relax and enjoy themselves.”
The pair discovered Crathorne Hall during their first year together when Duncan worked in nearby Stockton. Being almost 200 miles from their home in Little Waltham, Essex, they would both travel up on Monday and return on Friday and Crathorne Hall quickly became a favourite retreat. “We were initially won over by the warm welcoming staff, coupled with the delicious food, and to then find out that three of the team were to have their wedding where they worked, we thought it must be good.
“We have so many fond memories of staying here – from cocktails on our balcony in the middle of winter, to cosying up next to the open fires and exploring the nearby Yorkshire moors,” explains Tristan. “It doesn’t feel like a hotel, it feels like a grand stately home, in fact it reminded me of my grandparent’s place in Northumberland, which made it feel even more special.”
Due to the fact that half of the family didn’t really know each other, the weekend kicked off with a murder mystery on the Friday, which incorporated everyone’s jobs so they could get the chance to know one another. “It worked very well. The dress code was tweed and tartan inspired-smoking lounge and hunting lodge chic and everyone really got into the spirit of it,” recalled Tristan. “Duncan’s grandad is a bit eccentric and he turned up in a silk dressing gown and a red fez with a long tail. A lot of our guests really got into the different dress codes and changes, bringing two suitcases each with them – suffice to say, the bell boys got very well tipped that weekend,” he laughs.
The following day after breakfast they had their ceremony in the hotel, followed by a champagne afternoon tea dance, which was themed around big hats and bright colours, and then a three hour interval. The evening’s theme was black tie with sparkle, and that’s when the newlyweds had what you’d call their wedding breakfast, except they were all sat round the same long table and the food was anything but typical.
The pair wanted a Michelin Star dining experience with many smaller courses like a tasting menu and the idea came about through their love for the two Michelin Star Raby Hunt Restaurant. “We were originally going to try to get their chefs to come to the Crathorne as I wanted the catering to be really high end, but after eating at the hotel a few times we were confident they could meet our expectations.
“Some of the things we asked for were so out of the norm, but they really came on board and embraced it. I work in catering so I’m well aware of the pressure the chef was under and considering he and his team were catering for so many people yet managing to deliver such small beautiful meals packed with intense favour is incredible. We couldn’t fault it and nor could the guests, and we had a lot of tough critics with many of them in the restaurant business themselves,” says Tristan. “Our favourite was the mini three-tier wedding cake that everyone had which as you cut into the top layer oozed chocolate sauce – that was the chef’s idea. We obviously told him what we didn’t want and discussed those guests which had dietary requirements, but we actually left a lot of the menu up to him and apart from tasting four of the key dishes we left the rest as a nice surprise. A good chef is like an artist and we trusted him entirely, I’m so glad we gave him free reign” added Duncan.
In terms of décor, the pair played up to the hotel’s own features. There are a lot of deep red and gold hues in the paintings and flocked wallpaper for example, which worked well with the handmade tartan runner that ran down the centre of the table – that in turn influenced the waistcoats and the flowers. “To be honest it was more about crystal glasses, silverware and white cotton tablecloths,” said Tristan. “We wanted to show the hotel off, and with their big beautiful varnished wooden leather backed seats, chandeliers and gilded framed oil paintings we didn’t need much else.”
On the theme of avoiding customs, Tristan didn’t want to hire a photographer or have the whole day bogged down with guests taking photos, which he personally found to be so jarring at so many other weddings he’d been to. “A very good friend of ours runs shybrides.co.uk, and she calls herself a 'ninjatographer' – it’s basically a unique style of blending in, so her photos look like they’re taken from the eyes of a guest. She was attending the wedding anyway and wanted to help, so we let her take a few pictures on the Saturday,” stated Tristan.
When it came to entertainment, the guys needed someone for the entire day and to cover three events. After scouring the internet they found a band called the Retrosettes, not only is their music retro but so is their dress and all of their kit. “They couldn’t just be a band as we needed a couple of songs performed by an acoustic duet for the ceremony which they learnt [Paradise by Coldplay, You by Robin Stjernberg from Eurovision 2013], a more acoustic sounding three-piece band with a double base for afternoon tea and for the evening a much bigger amplified five-piece set-up with a guitarist and drummer. In between that we needed a pianist to play jazz while we were having dinner, so they had to be really flexible. They were perfect and when some of the guests had dropped off come the final part of the evening, the size of the band was ideal for the room and everyone left to have a nice intimate set for a few hours.”
By their own admission, the couple put a huge proportion of the budget into the suits, and got them handmade by a tailor close to where they live. “After previously having a bad experience, we wanted to recreate that scene from Pretty Women when she’s treated like a queen, trying on new outfits and everything is brought to her. We were in the quaint town of Saffron Walden and spotted what looked like a sweet older gentleman’s clothes shop, but turned out to be an extensive range of tweed, tartan and tailoring. They really looked after us – from labelling all the bags for the different days, as we changed our outfit three times, to getting us coffees and helping us browse all the options. It was a perfect experience for us.”
The pair had a similar experience with the rings. After trying on a few they came up with their own designs and were looking for someone to hand make them. Having found a jeweller who said they’d be able to do it, they then subsequently let them down ignoring Tristan and Duncan’s phone calls and shunning them when they returned to a store. “After feeling really upset about the whole thing we went to Cornwall for Duncan’s birthday to cheer ourselves up. We stumbled across a beautiful stone barn in the middle of the moors near Penzance, and it turned out to be a silversmith. We spoke to the owner, Abigail Brown, who was currently exhibiting at the V&A Museum and she also happened to do wedding ring workshops. She said we’d be able to make our rings just a few days later. It was the best day, and Abi presented them to us with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a bottle of Champagne, even taking us to a local thatched village pub for lunch.”
Despite so many special personal touches, the ceremony was the best part of the weekend for them both. “I thought Duncan would be more emotional than I was, as the showman I thought I could hold it together, but as I walked into the room I had to stick my tongue in my cheek really hard to stop myself from crying. It was so weird having everyone looking at us but not feeling self-conscious or embarrassed. It was the part that we had the least planning for – we did it the night before in fact, but it was just perfect.” Duncan added: “It was the greatest weekend of our lives and true to Tristan’s words, I was really blubbing during the vows. We then stayed as married grooms for another week before our honeymoon in a cottage by the sea in Scotland with our dog Flynn – it was the perfect end to a perfect wedding.”
SUITS: Rob and Rebecca from Gray Palmer, in Saffron Walden, Essex
HAIR: Ultimate Grooming barbers in Yarm
ACCESSORIES: Duncan’s mum, Kim, who is a seamstress, made the waistcoats
RINGS: Handmade at Abigail Brown silversmith
PHOTOGRAPHER: Friend Kate Gallow
FLOWERS: Tristan’s mum, Jan, who is a flower designer
BAND: Helen and Paul Bytheway, plus band members and jazz pianist Andrzej Baranek, of the theretrosettes.com
WEDDING WEBSITE: tristan-and-duncan.gettingmarried.co.uk
WEDDING LIST: prezola.com
CANAPES (theme of homely rich food in a mouthful)
- Parmo - Middlesbrough delicacy consisting of chicken and Parma ham deep fried in breadcrumbs and topped with a white béchamel sauce
- Ballantine of chicken with pistachios and red onion marmalade
- Battered fish with crushed peas and pancetta
- Black pudding and caramelised onion sausage roll
- Smoked salmon, lemon and caper
- Cider and white onion soup with curried bhaji
- Earl Grey smoked duck breast, pear and saffron chutney
- Pancetta wrapped monkfish, spiced lentils, lemon oil
- Venison loin, parsley risotto, chocolate espresso jus
- Blood orange sorbet, shortbread and lemon balm
- White chocolate covered Wedding cake, layered with beetroot parfait, pistachio sponge, and a runny chocolate ganache on the top layer