Or how I survived flu, helicopters, a disgruntled Batman, English rain and the Predator to shoot one of the most epic weddings of 2016.
"There's going to be movie character special guests, and we've hired a marquee, the wedding will take place under a draped parachute, and we're both flying in in helicopters."
Well - to say I was excited about this wedding is an understatement to say the least. When a costume and set designer marries a helicopter pilot, you know you're in for one amazing day. Sure, we had rain and mud, and sure there was the occasional hitch, what with this incredible duo having created and organised the whole thing themselves. But Charley and Lee pulled it off, running the whole thing in a marquee and field in Hockley in Essex, and they did it with incredible spirit and style. Read on to see just what a crazy adventure the day was.
The day started with a couple of fairy bridesmaids, doing their hair, as fairy bridesmaids do.
Despite Charley's house being only a literal stone's throw from Southend Airport in Essex, her bridesmaid's Atlanta and Mimi had no idea of the aerial surprise awaiting them.
As a costume designer and art director, Charley;s yard was littered with the beginnings and endings of semi-human projects. But I, her supposedly clued-up photographer, still didn't really have a handle on the proceedings that were to take place.
For Charley, prep was not something she really wanted shot, but was very keen for us to capture the moment when her Dad saw her in her amazing Gainsborough dress and purple hair. Comprising a design of ruched pink with silver bows, and designed by Ian Stuart, Charley's fabulous dress was a real crowdstopper
And so, in blustering wind and rain, we made our way to the secret location, where the first surprise awaited Dad and the bridesmaids
October may not bring the best weather for helicopters, but this Autumn Wedding had been a year in the planning and our intrepid couple were not about to let a little thing like rain stop play.
I just love the look on Mimi's face here! I'm pretty sure we all pull that face when we're in for an unexpected helicopter ride. In her hand you can see she's holding a go pro. As there wasn't room for me in the helicopter, with Dad getting the ultimate treat of riding shotgun next to the pilot, I loaned Mimi my Go pro and Atlanta my little Fuji x100T.
Dad's looking pretty thrilled too, right? If a little apprehensive.
And if you have never felt the rush of taking off in a helicopter, take if from me, the next best thing is the rush of being right underneath it as the rotor blades chop the air and send wild gusts of wind barrelling over you.
So glad I had spare cameras to lend the girls so that we could still get footage for both the album and the film we were also shooting. We'll all have to imagine for now the thrill of flying over Southend Pier, but watch this space and the film should be posted up in a few weeks' time.
Meanwhile, my crew and I were rushing across essex to try and beat the helicopters, knowing they wouldn't be up in the air all that long. Sometimes being a wedding photographer is like being a paparazzi, all car chases and last-minute, snatched shots. When we arrived at the venue, the surprise guest movie characters had also just got there.
War Machine - from the Hollywood movie Iron man - looking suitably unimpressed by the English Weather. You can almost imagine him thinking "It's not like this in Los Angeles". Nonetheless, despite the rain, it was a warm day, which gave rise to the best quote of the day, when I was setting up the styled portraits and asked "Where's War Machine?" only to get the answer; "He's feeling a bit hot and tired so he's gone for a lie-down". Not what you expect from War Machine now is it? Lol.
Safely landed, with classic chivalry, Charley's debonair helicopter pilot helps her down.
and the girls, wings adjusted now they are on dry land, get our glamourous bride ready for her walk to the aisle across the fields.
And how beautiful does Charley look as her Dad walks her down the aisle, beneath a canopy of real parachute silk.
To be married by Gandalf, no less. Well this was a fantasy movie-themed wedding, so honestly, who else?
Led by Gandalf, Charley and Lee made their way across the mud to the marquee to sign the register...
While Pyramid Head from Silent Hill and Indiana Jones, ominously, quietly watch over proceedings. What could possibly go wrong? Gulp.
Then it was back to the parachute awning for the final vows.
To rapturous applause and smiles all round. Which is what weddings should be about.
.... unless you're Batman. Batman didn't look too happy. Predator looked happy enough, but Batman looks like he's been waiting too long for his glass of Prosecco.
Happily, Catwoman seemed to be having a pretty Grrrr....eat day!
and fresh from his recuperative lie-down, War Machine came to join the proceedings. I mean, you can't have family group photos without War Machine, right?
So our 'Everybody' group shot included those extra special surprise guests.
One of the big challenges to this wedding, was trying to combine the movie and fantasy style elements with the more traditional. As you can see below, and with some other staged photos, I have deliberately gone for a very stylised look, desaturated and high contrast, to capture a bit of the Marvel Comic poster look.
And then, boom, a dramatic turnaround in style, with warm flattering colours, and soft high-exposure skin tones for the straightforward group shots.
It helped a little that the sun came out, though of course, as you'll know, we photographers become like vampires in the bright midday sun and tend to run for cover to get that lovely glowing skin tone in our group portraits.
Loving all the purple. You can see how Charley being such a talented art director paid off on the day.
And then things got a little strange, with Predator deciding to strangle the groom. Lucky we had our very own rock and roll bride to come to the rescue.
For a moment it looked like he was going to chicken out and run away, stealing the helicopter
But we still needed it for some nice couple shots, so Kick-ass bride Charley saw him off.
and once more, the contrast from the day came through, from this lovely, romantic sunny walk from the helicopter... to a Comic Con, Marvel portrait set up with Charley and Lee's special guests.
Here's a still frame from the film which we were shooting at the same time - my videographer very kindly displaying my bald patch to the world, and also how I skimp on assistants and press-gang groomsmen into holding flash guns for me
Having been together four years, Charley and Lee clearly are relaxed together and were on totally the same page when it came to their photographs, easily posing with their Comic Con pals Batman, Catwoman and War Machine. Me, I still can't decide whether I prefer the colour or the black and white. What do you think?
And then it was onto the reception, watched over by a host of characters, not least, Charley's fantastic Alien.
and Star Wars Storm Troopers...
... and the Terminator and....
....and...and... oh my God!! Is that Arnie Schwartzenegger?! No, okay, it isn't, but a hell of a good replica Terminator, no?
And then, just as the meal was getting underway, and it looked like we could all take a little breather, along comes that rare miracle of nature, a DOUBLE RAINBOW!
Well if you care even a jot about the pictures you take, then you can't possibly let that go. So even though I was dying on my feet from flu and in need of a rest and some paracetamol and wedding barbecue food, I grabbed my awesome couple, who were totally game, and we made it outside in the light returning rain, to get this shot. It may be an imperfect shot, but that isnt the point is it. A lot of photographers would have passed on this moment in order to grab a bite and take a well-earned rest. But some of us, the hardcore ones, we go the extra mile. And I'm so so glad we did.
Post wedding breakfast and onto the speeches. And pretty soon there was that classic moment when the father of the bride delivers his speech, and the bride reaches for the nearest handy machine pistol and puts it to her head... because we all keep a few guns on the table at a wedding, right?
What I loved so much about this wedding was that it was totally bonkers and yet at the same time, was completely organised and made total sense.... also, thankful the guns were not loaded...
and to top it all, it was someone's birthday!
For most couples, when it comes to cutting the cake, they reach for the lovely silver cake knife left out for them.
Occasionally, some couples it seems, prefer something a little less delicate. Like - oh I dunno - like say a HUGE TERMINATOR-STYLE MACHINE GUN!?!
... or a Star Wars Light Sabre perhaps? Hard to know which would work best, given you have an Empire Strikes Back/Star Wars cake and a Jaws movie cake...
At weddings of course, a lot of people bring their kids, and Alien was no exception. He managed to mingle quite well really, making a whole bunch of new friends without, for once killing anyone.
And so to the first dance, and, naturally, it was out with the light sabres, like you do.
Although it didn't take long for love and romance to win the day over battling it out to save the Universe
As the party progressed, Superman kept a watchful eye over the guests...
Though it didn't stop one lady from stealing the limelight as she danced with an inflatable stormtrooper.... like you do....
But with all the craziness, and all the hard work, and all the amazing art direction, still the abiding memory for everyone from Lee and Charley's wedding will be the simple, warm feeling of togetherness, the abundance of love, and most of all, the sheer romanticism of the day.
Congratulations Lee and Charley and wishing you both a fantastic (literally) future together x
PS, if that has left you hungry to see more, here's the film we shot that day too - complete with bridesmaid go pro footage, some awesome first dance music and, in case we hadnt mentioned it too much before, some Helicopter action!