How to Rock a “Lockdown Wedding”

COVID-19 forced our Dream Venue out of business, knocked our guest list from 250 to 4, and postponed our dates 4 times — but we ended up with something more special than we originally planned. Here’s how…

Chip Colquhoun
10 min readApr 13, 2021
Temporary tattoos from a Commitment Ceremony, rings from a Legal Ceremony, and hands held in anticipation of a Blessing Ceremony in 2022…


Like many, my fiancée and I thought 2020 had a good ring to it — “the year of clear vision” — so it promised to be the right time for our wedding. Our Dream Venue — a castle-esque school with huge grounds including a rose garden, a dance hall, a library, and enough room for around 250 guests — had availability that August. Moreover, their Summer price was a good 25% less than what smaller venues charged for Winter— though we wouldn’t discover that until later…

So by January 2020, we had a wedding celebration planned that would snowball all the passions that had brought us together: a Rock’n’Roll-themed festival vibe in a Beauty and the Beast setting.

However, that could never have been our “official” wedding. Our Dream Venue’s marriage licence had a limit of 150. We wanted all of our guests to witness our commitment to each other; after all, isn’t that the point of inviting someone to your wedding?

The solution turned out to be fairly simple: we’d have our Legal Ceremony in a registry office a week or so earlier, witnessed by our parents alone, then use the Dream Venue for a Blessing Ceremony. The presence of our closest relatives would ensure the “legal bit” still felt special — but since you have very little control over the content of a Legal Ceremony, it couldn’t be as much “us”.

The blessing, on the other hand, could incorporate everything that symbolised our relationship — bringing God, music, face-painting, chocolate, and even our cat into the ceremony.

Most importantly, though, we could craft our own vows to one another, and have these witnessed by a huge swathe of the people we loved.

By the start of 2020, deposits had been paid for a band, a Rock’n’Roll dance instructor, make-up artists, food trucks, a marquee, and of course Dream Venue itself — plus we’d booked our registry office wedding and arranged our notices.

Then the clarity of 2020 got murky…

Just Impediment

Ely Registry Office, where we finally tied the knot — with a “sign of the times” in hand…

The registry office got in touch with us first, roundabout the end of April: our Legal Ceremony needed to be postponed until Winter 2020 at the earliest.

At that time, my father was less than 2 months into chemotherapy — a situation that had made him “extremely clinically vulnerable” even before COVID-19 forced the country into lockdown. Given the uncertainty surrounding his condition — and also that of my fiancée’s nan — we went for the earliest date the registrar could offer: Saturday 7th November.

Days later, Dream Venue got in touch to say they recommended postponing too. Fortunately, they had availability exactly a year and a day later, and could do so without any fee or price change. Sorted.

Until October. This month brought a torrent of bad news — professionally (you can read about how I conquered those obstacles here), but also nuptially.

First, despite the government advice stating that weddings could have a maximum of 15 guests, our registrar got in touch to say their independent health and safety inspection had concluded that they could only have 4.

At first, our Legal Ceremony was only going to involve our parents. Due to the COVID-19 complications, though, we had invited my fiancée’s nan and uncle (the latter of whom was also carer to the former). Now we were faced with dropping some important close relatives.

While wrestling with that decision, we then received a crushing email from Dream Venue: the lockdown had hit them hard financially, and they were going into administration. As such, they could no longer honour our booking for August 2021.

We got over these obstacles though, albeit with some strain on our mental health. To try and make 7th November as special as possible, my fiancée ordered a floral arrangement and booked us a night’s “honeymoon” at a lodge, while I ordered some facemasks from Etsy embroidered with “7th November 2020”. My fiancée also left her engagement ring with the jewellers, so it could be polished and ready for collection together with the bands on 5th November.

With one week to go, the UK Prime Minister made his Halloween 2020 announcement that the second lockdown would begin… on 5th November.

The first working day after, those embroidered facemasks arrived.

Fortunately, the jewellers pulled out all the stops and got our rings to us on 4th November — so we wouldn’t have to endure the Yuletide lockdown without the engagement ring marking our betrothal. But the registrar lost no time in letting us know our Legal Ceremony would need to be postponed — again…

Bride and Zoom

Our Commitment Ceremony, held over Zoom with humanist minister Brendan Johnson

By this point, my father was thankfully in remission. The prospects for my fiancée’s nan were less certain. We still wanted that Legal Ceremony as soon as possible, so we again nabbed the earliest date they could offer: 3rd April 2021. By a curious mirroring of fate, that turned out to be one week after they partially eased the lockdown that had previously postponed our nuptials with one week to go!

Our solution to the guest reduction had been to say “Women Only” — i.e. our mothers (who would be the witnesses) plus my fiancée’s nan. In other words, instead of asking just one of our fathers to step out, we uninvited them both.

Not only was this the fairest option, it also left us with one space — which we filled with our amazing wedding photographer Timothy Winn. This way we knew the Legal Ceremony could be captured for the fathers to see it still. Since this had never been a consideration before, it meant we would get some professionally-produced keepsakes of our Legal Ceremony too — the first unexpected bonus of our “Lockdown Wedding”.

Back when we’d planned the blessing at our Dream Venue, we’d booked two incredibly creative and caring humanist celebrants: Becky and Brendan Johnson. It was thanks to their ingenuity, for example, that our cat was to be an integral symbol of our Blessing Ceremony: our wedding bands would be passed among our guests in his water bowl, so everyone could give the bands their blessing with his “help”.

Brendan got in touch with us about a month before our Legal Ceremony to ask if we’d like a “Commitment Ceremony” in advance. Again, this would allow us to speak our self-crafted vows to each other; the legal wording is essentially just a promise that you’re available to be wed, but our own vows could be infinitely more personal.

This beautiful arrangement provided the second unexpected “Lockdown Bonus”: our cat really could be part of the nuptials! He and Brendan were the two living witnesses to our vows.

In brainstorming this Commitment Ceremony, we chose to exchange temporary tattoos — our own choice of images printed on transfer paper from TheMagicTouch. Not only did this give us a reason to clasp hands while speaking our vows, but it left us with a visible marker of our personal vows that we would catch sight of when exchanging rings in the registry office.

Exchanging temporary tattoos whilst sharing our self-crafted personal vows during our Commitment Ceremony, delivered and recorded by our celebrant via Zoom. The smile is because our cat lent his voice in agreement with this moment.

Other foretokens of our later Blessing Ceremony were an exchange of chocolate — a handcrafted vegan cocoa jigsaw heart from The Amazing Chocolate Workshop.

Exchanging chocolate during our Commitment Ceremony. Free from the restrictions imposed by a registry office wedding, we were fully free to express our love for one another however we chose.

All this took place on 1st April 2021 — known to some as April Fool’s Day, to others as Maundy Thursday, to yet others as the Pagan New Year, and to yet others as the start of spring. In other words, we couldn’t’ve picked a more auspicious date!

“…in the presence of…”

With our “Lockdown Wedding” guests — from left to right: my mother, my wife, me, my wife’s mother; in front, my wife’s nan.

The registry office warned us in advance of the many restrictions for a “Lockdown Wedding”. As well as the (local) limit of 4 guests, the bride couldn’t make an entrance; the wording would be the shortest possible; any photographer had to stay in one spot; and we had a choice of their (classical) music or none.

On the day, though, the event was far more relaxed than we’d anticipated; the registrar and legal celebrant appeared acutely aware of the stresses caused by the pandemonium of the past year, and so seemed to go out of their way to make the ceremony as special as it could be within 15 minutes. They allowed our photographer to move, and also permitted us to capture the audio from the proceedings using a portable recorder so we could later produce an audio slideshow presentation of the event.

The restrictions on guests and movement, as originally communicated to us, had led us to rule out the idea of live-streaming the event; we couldn’t be sure there’d be a good angle or sound for anyone viewing remotely, it was an extra hassle to worry over, and we wanted our limited guests to feel they could be 100% present in the moment. Moreover, our fathers and uncle would be waiting outside in the car park — it would be even less fair on them if the ceremony they couldn’t witness was being seen by more digitally-savvy folks from the comfort of their own homes…!

Those reasons still hold; we have no regrets for choosing not to livestream. However, having been there, we now see that it would have been possible for couples who wished to do so, and our reservations around the positioning of any camera were unnecessary. If you’re planning your own Lockdown Wedding, this is definitely something to consider.

Finally trothed, we wandered around the cathedral city of Ely for photos — and thus our third unexpected “Lockdown Bonus”.

Afterwards, we went somewhere more scenic for group photos — for which our fathers and uncle could rejoin the wedding party. Then, while our guests departed home to set up a delicious wedding buffet, we wandered around the cathedral city of Ely with photographer Tim to get some extra shots.

This was all Tim’s idea. My wife and I are both creative people, but the pressures of wedding planning during a pandemic had left us unusually unimaginative when it came to deciding things like photo lists. Tim encouraged us to various picturesque spots for some fun and/or gorgeous photo ops.

And thus we had our third and final unexpected “Lockdown Bonus”. Had we been married as planned, we’d surely have received the congratulations of our guests — but now we were traversing the streets in our wedding garb, we were receiving congratulations and well-wishes from complete strangers!

The delight of this came largely from seeing the huge smiles on those who greeted us, and realising that we were sharing the joy of our nuptials with others — providing some much-needed positivity amid these pandemonious times.

Our Blessing Ceremony is still going ahead by the way — touch wood. It’s now booked for Easter April 2022 — just over a year beyond our Easter 2021 Legal Ceremony. It’s going to be a very different animal to our original plans — not least because the venue is more expensive but has a lower capacity.

But that celebration will include a repeat of our personal vows to one another, this time witnessed by many of our friends and family; it will involve our own music and creativity; speeches and toasts will finally be made.

And so, on top of everything, our nuptials will be continuing for an entire year…

Lockdown Licked

So if you’re planning your own “Lockdown Wedding” — or even a post-pandemic wedding, come to that — we hope our experience can provide you with ideas of ways to draw out some added benefits…

Arrange a Commitment Ceremony. Wherever you’re choosing to wed, this will allow you to solemnise your relationship in the most personal way possible. And for extra significance, include an element that you can have present at your later Legal Ceremony, to tie the two events together.

Share the joy. In these uncertain times, don’t underestimate the happiness you’ll give others by taking some time to pass the public in your wedding get-up; it’ll add extra delight to you too.

Arrange a Blessing Ceremony for as soon as possible after lockdown is wholly lifted.

And who knows? Maybe your nuptials will be more than you thought possible too… $;-)


Again, a huge thanks to everyone who made our “Lockdown Wedding” extra special: celebrant Brendan Johnson; photographer Timothy Winn; our kitten Tito; TheMagicTouch; our neighbour Samantha (who provided the laser printer essential for printing on the transfer paper); Wild Frost Florist of Somersham; The Amazing Chocolate Workshop; the registrar and celebrant at Ely Registry Office; our wonderful guests — our mothers, our fathers, Nanny Jane, and Uncle Mark; all the friends who sent us cards, some of which arrived in time to provide decorations for our Commitment Ceremony; all the many more friends who sent their congratulations via social media; and the many strangers who shared their well-wishes, congratulations, and/or smiles with us around Ely city centre.



Chip Colquhoun

A storyteller from birth (professionally since 2007), I'm happiest when I know I'm enriching the lives of others.