Festival of Love // Maria & Ben
To celebrate the year in which same sex marriage became legal, the Southbank Centre in London created a huge festival, aptly named the Festival of Love. It was a riot of love-based activities, involving ballroom dancing on the terraces, a flirting workshop, tips on how to write a love poem and a giant inflatable church. At the heart of the festival was the Big Wedding Weekend, where 70 couples – gay and straight, young and old – would either marry or renew their vows, live on stage at the Royal Festival Hall. When one of the couples due to marry, Maria and Ben, got in touch with me to ask if I would document their story, I jumped at the chance.
Maria and Ben got ready at the Park Plaza Riverside, with amazing views over the Thames. They were not due ‘on stage’ til mid afternoon so there was time to stroll down the Southbank, have a spin on the carousel, a chat with the skaters and a visit to the inflatable church. Maria looked fabulous in a 50’s satin dress and sky high electric blue velvet heels, and the two of them were overflowing with excitement. It’s estimated that about 6,000 guests attended the Festival of Love that weekend, and it was hard to not get swept along on a wave of absolute euphoria, so many people buzzing around and fizzing with anticipation. Maria and Ben had issued their guests with little party bags including pirate eye patches, transfer tattoos, and, crucially, name badges.
The wedding was opened by Jude Kelly CBE, artistic director of the Southbank. The ceremonies were to take place on stage, with the registrars there to make everything official. Nobody else could get married in Lambeth that weekend as all the registrars were attending the Big Wedding Weekend! The couples took to the stage, lit by a spotlight, to the sound of wild applause and cheering. As each couple had their moment, we heard a little bit about their story and how they came to be on stage that day. Each ceremony was short, and personal to each couple. There were tears and there was laughter. Music was provided by the London Gay Men’s Chorus, and at the end there was a huge sing-along to “It Must Be Love”. Incredible and goose-bump inducing.
There was plenty of champagne before dinner: huge plates of tapas, with the Big Gay London Band providing the soundtrack. No speeches, just cocktails and partying, including a mass first dance for all the couples. The amazing DJ Anna Greenwood, resplendent in a fairy-lit organza dress, was there to provide the party and boy did she provide the party. The Clore Ballroom was packed and to tell the truth I didn’t want to go home.
Quite possibly the most fun I have ever had at a wedding, with one of the most brilliant couples I could ever hope to work with. Favourites from Maria and Ben’s unique Festival of Love wedding can be seen below