Our Real Bride Editor Sonja Shares All the Details From Her Big Day (the first one!)

I’m married! The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind, I can’t believe it’s already been three weeks since our big day. The wedding, the celebrations, the time with our families, our honeymoon (we went to NYC and have just about got over the jet lag!)…were all wonderful. I’ve loved every minute of the Small Wedding/Wedding #1 and feel so lucky that I get to do it all again in 59 days (but more on that in my next post).


The Prep

I think because we had always thought of the church/the Small Wedding/Wedding #1 as just a small, warm up wedding before the Big Wedding/Wedding #2 in December, I thought I wouldn’t get nervous. I was so wrong. We spent the evening before with our parents, all of us together, which was lovely and then James headed off to a hotel for the night as we decided to stick with tradition (actually he went via Dubai Mall because he had to pick up his wedding suit. The night before! Who does that?! My husband apparently…) I went to bed early, convinced I was fine. I did so well…until 4am and then I was wide awake. Full of nerves, full of excitement, full of worry I wouldn’t know what to do at the church (Father Tim actually took care of everything and gave brilliant instructions), scared James would hate my dress (he loved it), petrified I would trip over (I didn’t!) and mildly concerned I would laugh during the vows (I did a bit, despite trying so hard not to).

I eventually got up around 7am and then time just flew, which it pretty much did for the whole day…as every married friend had told me it would!

My wonderful hairdresser George from JetSet came to my house at 9am and got to work, while I fought off the urge to open the bubbles – 9am was a bit early, but my nerves were getting worse, honestly I really thought I was going to be fine and suddenly I was a nervous Bride! I hadn’t had a hair trial with George, I trust him so just showed him my dress when he arrived and left him to it. I wanted to look like ‘me’ – I never wear my hair up or anything really unless I’m about to work up a sweat at Flywheel or on a sun lounger, so just had my usual blowdry, but a more fancy version.

George left at 10am just as the amazing Hannah Lisa (from Hannah Lisa Makeup) arrived to do my makeup. She’s fab. I’ve worked with Hannah before, so again didn’t have a trial. I just left my face in her very capable hands and loved what she did. It lasted all day too and was perfect for photographs – there’s a reason Hannah is a pro, and lovely with it too!

Sonja's bouquet

Mid-morning, my beautiful bouquet arrived from 800 Flower (along with some beautiful surprise flowers from the fab weddingsonline team!). I was so impressed by both the flowers and the service. My wedding planner Liesel from Aghareed (who is helping with the December wedding) pretty much sorted everything – and I really appreciated it. I sent her an image of the kind of thing I wanted and then she contacted 800 Flower and arranged for the bouquet and button holes (for the Groom and Father of the Bride) to be delivered on the morning of the wedding. I wanted simple white roses in a ‘bridesmaid size’ bouquet and they were stunning. They are still sitting in a vase, right next to me in fact. I have to admit they are looking pretty sorry for themselves now, but I just can’t bring myself to throw them away. They were so pretty and now remind me daily of our beautiful wedding day.

Our wonderful friends arranged for a car to pick me and my parents up from home and take us to Christ Church in Jebel Ali for the ceremony. I’m so grateful they did, originally I thought I would just book an Uber what was I thinking? The driver arrived early – which was fab and reassuring, but also turned my nerves and panic up a notch because he was outside and I was still having my make-up done. I wasn’t alone in the nerve stakes either – James messaged me saying he had been ready since 9.30am (the ceremony was at 12pm!) and was pacing around like a cat on a hot tin roof! So funny, we had no idea our casual little ‘small wedding’ would get us both in such a nervy tiz. I just kept saying to my mum (who was trying to calm me down, bless her), ‘I just need to get to James and then I’ll be fine’.

The Dress

Ahh, my dress! After too many sleepless nights to mention, I loved my dress when I put it on as much as I had when I first saw it in the boutique in London. I had got it when I was in London back in August, but left it to be fitted, which meant my Mum and Dad brought it out with them two days before the wedding. A month is quite a long time to not see a wedding dress. All sorts had been going through my head…will it go with my shoes, will it fit, will I like it…the answer to all (I think, anyway!) was yes!


It was an Eliza Jane Howell from the 2017 collection and I’m so sad I will never wear it again. It had lace and beading on the top, but the bottom was feathers. I’ve never seen a dress like it and what made it even better was the fact it was so comfortable…and, of course, that the Groom really did love it. I had told him the Wedding #1 dress had feathers on and can only imagine the images that must have rushed into his mind when he heard those words – none of them good, probably. If someone said to me they were wearing a feathered wedding dress, I think I’d have to take a moment to think of the correct response. But he thought I looked beautiful – which is what every Bride wants her Groom to think – and has said he now can’t wait to see the Wedding #2 dress…which will be long, very different to dress one and also feather free!

I wanted to stick with the something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue so, I wore Tiffany pearl earrings James had got me as a Valentine’s Day gift (old), my dress and shoes (new) and for the borrowed/blue a beautiful sapphire ring my mother in-law very kindly gave me. I wore my engagement ring on my right hand for the ceremony, so my mum attached the other ring to my bouquet with blue ribbon. I put it on as soon as my engagement ring was back in the right place on my left hand.

Not seeing the Groom the night before the wedding, something Old, New, Borrowed and Blue…Wedding #1 really did turn into something of a proper wedding after all.


Meet Me At The Church

As soon as Hannah was done with my makeup, I went upstairs to put my dress on and suddenly I was a Bride. I was about to get married, to be a Mrs – it all felt very exciting and also very grown up. We have a whatsapp group with our closest friends (hi, Weapons!) so images were being sent of everyone en-route. James sent one and it was lovely to see my husband-to-be, on his way to our big day and as excited as I was. He had fancy wedding hair and everything. I couldn’t wait to just get there, so off me and Mum and Dad went. Me saying goodbye to the cat for the last time as Miss Stephen. I was emotional, not sure he was. It’s about a 15-minute car journey, but it went by in a flash. Just as we were turning into the road where Christ Church is, I looked at my dad and we had a moment. I was determined not to cry, so I blew it away and saved my mascara.

We didn’t have a photographer for this wedding, my best friend from school is pretty nifty with a camera, so she took care of all the arrival and in the church shots – total star. That meant she was outside the church waiting for us to arrive and as soon as she saw me through the car window she started crying! I mean seriously, through the car window! I had just managed to hold back the tears, hadn’t even got out of the car and there I was, crying because she was crying.

Weddings, honestly – they are a complete rollercoaster of emotions. I never knew which emotion was coming and when.

Father Tim from Christ Church came outside and explained to my me and my Dad exactly what was going to happen and when. He was fantastic, all of my fears about not knowing what to do instantly went away. He then went back inside to take his place, while Dad and I waited outside for our music cue.



The music started playing and we began to walk. It was the first special moment, of many, that day that I will remember forever. (Writing that sentence put the biggest smile on my face and a little tear in my eye too actually. It seems those surprise wedding emotions stick around!)

Next time I’ll be writing about all the action, from inside the church and the private room at The Ivy…

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Sonja Stephen-Willn
Sonja is our UAE Editor and a bride-to be! An ex-magazine Editor and Showbiz Columnist, Sonja has swapped her love of celebrity gossip for stylish wedding loveliness. From rustic to vintage, beach to ballroom she is constantly searching for fabulous inspiration to share.

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