Ask the Expert | Celebrant Zu Gatward of Affinity Fair

Choosing your celebrant is a crucial part of planning the wedding ceremony you’ve always dreamed of, and yet for many couples it’s left to the last minute! A great wedding celebrant not only conducts a personlised ceremony to reflect you as a couple, but is also involved it’s seamless flow from music cues to guest liaison.

We caught up with one of the UAE’s leading wedding celebrants, Zu Gatward of Affinity Fair, to learn more about her and her company, and also to get some top tips when it comes to planning the perfect ceremony…

How did you become a celebrant?

It was by chance! Was working as a Senior Event Manager for Mercer up in London and had enough of commuting after 5 years. My husband saw an ad in the papers that Kent County Council was looking for a marriage officer. 3 days a week – admin, registering couple for their notice of marriage and scheduling for the registry office. I went for an interview and left with the job! I was chronically underpaid, but I was happy!

Within 3 months was recommended to train as a registrar to register births, deaths and marriages, and after 6 months of intensive training, decided to go down to route of registering marriages only (I knew I was too emotional to register deaths). From there, I further trained to be a celebrant.

The funniest memory was when I did my very first batch of ceremonies in the registry office. I had 5 that day to conduct. After the first ceremony ended, my manager asked how long did I think that ceremony was? I said, oh.. about 15-20 mins, but it was actually only 5 minutes! That poor couple must have not known what hit them! Had to really slow myself down and take lots of pauses in between my sentences. Thankfully I was much better by the time I got to the last couple.

How long have you been a celebrant in the UAE?

Unofficially I did 2 ceremonies when I first got to Dubai in 2005. A word of mouth from friends and thought, why not. Then went on to full time work for the next 10 years. Then in 2015, I decided that I had enough of working long hours, long travel days away from home and my 2 girls and remembered the best job I ever had – being a registrar and celebrant, that’s when Affinity Fair was formed.

Why is a celebrant so important to the ceremony?

Quite often the ceremony part of the wedding can be overlooked. This is the one aspect of the day that you can make it your own – memorable and special for you and your partner or the family, with your own vows and promises to each other, personalised readings, rituals and music…. The sky is the limit!

I went to a wedding recently that did not have a celebrant to conduct the ceremony, it was lovely but certainly not cohesive. The glue, which is the celebrant, was missing. Guests had no clue when to sit or stand, the musicians did not know when to start the wedding march and when to stop, the sound technician did not know when the couple were going to say their vows…suffice to say, a wee bit messy!

As celebrants, we are conductors of your ceremony. We take your ideas and your vision and mould it into that special, seamless ceremony you dream of.

How do you personalise the ceremony to the couple?

When I get a query, I would normally arrange to meet my couple either in person or via a zoom call if they are not local to the UAE. That initial chat is very important for me and the couple to get our first impressions of each other.

Once we have done that and agree on moving forward with each other, I ask the couple to complete a “getting to know you” questionnaire. Questions like, how and when you met, what qualities made you attracted to each other, what are your vision for your future together, etc. From the information they are comfortable in providing me with, I will create a personalise script for their ceremony.

Sometimes you get couples who over share, and sometimes you get couples who don’t want to share at all! You try your very best to make it a special ceremony for them, and I work with them to incorporate what is important for them on their special day.

What makes a wedding ceremony memorable?

Writing your own vows does make it memorable. This is not for everyone as many couples prefer the “repeat after me” option as they are not sure of what to write/say. Even the most outgoing bride and groom gets rather shy and overwhelmed on their wedding day, but I do offer them help in writing their vows should they request for it.

Let your wedding party have a bit of fun! Try to relax and go with the flow, those weddings are the best! Not every part of the ceremony must be serious. Include a funny/sweet/touching reading during the ceremony. These can be lyrics from a song, a poem, a recital…anything goes! I once had a wedding where two of the bridesmaids wrote their own song and performed it during the ceremony with a ukulele…it was brilliant!

Music! What you choose as your wedding march sets the tone for the whole ceremony, and many couples think about this quite late into the entire process. My most memorable one was a couple of dog breeders who chose the song “Who Let the Dogs Out” as they exit music down the aisle… what a hoot!

Add a ritual to your ceremony. There are so many to choose from and they each have their own history and tradition behind it. It’s such a lovely opportunity to include bride and groom’s family traditions.

What tips would you give to couples planning on writing their own wedding vows?

Give yourself time and space. Don’t be in a hurry figure out the words. I find brides tend to have a lot more to say then the groom who would somehow manage to say the same things in lesser words! Think of what got you to where you are today and wanting to be married and be in each other’s lives.

What do you love most about what you do?

Being able to help and be part of someone’s special day and celebrating the day with them. It’s all about connections and memories which brings joy and happiness at a ceremony be it a wedding, a renewal or naming their little ones.

How do you package your services, and how does the process work?
  • My starting fees is AED3,000 (AED500 deposit to block the date) and this includes:
  • An obligation-free first meeting
  • Unlimited phone or email contact 
  • A welcome letter with vow choices selection for their wedding vows and ring exchange for the couple to choose from
  • Personalised and beautiful ceremony
  • A ritual element should they wish to have one such as sand unity, handfasting, love letter time capsule, etc (items for a specific ritual are not included in the cost. Sometimes couples do ask me to procure on their behalf)
  • A commemorative certificate along with a holder for keepsake
  • A rehearsal/meeting before the ceremony to ensure their ceremony will run smoothly

I do however offer a 10% discount especially when I get renewal of vows where you only have the couple with no guests.

What should I couple do next if they are interested in having you as the
celebrant at their wedding?

Couples can contact me via my email address, WhatsApp message, Instagram or Facebook account and of course through!

Facebook | Instagram | Profile Page

Call Zu today to book your appointment on +971 50 2576127. Happy planning!

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The girls at weddingsonline

The girls at weddingsonline

The girls from the UAE's newest wedding community with real weddings and lots of gorgeous inspiration!

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