2020 has sure come with its challenges, for Keshia East, 28. It has been testing to say the least and the year that was supposed to be one of the happiest and most exciting years of her life turned sour. According to a study by hello-safe.co.uk, 80% of 2020 weddings have been rescheduled for next year, meaning the wedding industry will have to cater for around 160,000 more weddings than usual next year. Keshia decided to turn lemons into lemonade and tells GLAMOUR that upon reflection, 2020 forced her to realise the most important things in life and getting married in the middle of a pandemic was the best decision she could have made.
My now-husband and I decided to get married during the pandemic, and although people might think it’s an odd decision, we had our reasons. We’ve been together for four years and have a very interesting ‘first-meet’ story. My partner’s mum was a huge fan of my sister, Fleur East, who was a finalist on the 2014 series of the X Factor. She used to go on a lot about my sister, so one week he decided to watch her on the show and it just happened to be the week where she performed with family and friends on stage. So I was on the stage dancing next to her to ‘I’m every woman’ by Whitney Houston and he saw me there and was like ‘I need to know this girl, I need to find out who she is!’. He tried to follow me on twitter, instagram, etc… I didn’t see anything because at the time, with my sister being on TV, a lot of people were reaching out. Fast forward two years later, someone retweeted something he had said and I really liked it so I retweeted it. He eventually plucked up the courage to message me: ‘Hey Keshia..’ and then we started talking. He had essentially been looking for me for two years before we actually had our first conversation.
We got engaged in May 2018 after being together for two years. He proposed to me on a Paris trip which I assumed to be a big elaborate birthday present. It was in a suite at the Shangri La in Paris with an impeccable view to the Eiffel tower; the most beautiful, grand and romantic moment.
We didn’t rush to plan, but by September I had an idea of where I wanted to get married, it was in the South of France. So we went on a trip there together and found the venue and started planning from there. We set down the date for the 23rd of May of 2020. By January, we were done with the planning, had the dress, venue, invites sent out, and wedding party set.
Come early February, we had sadly agreed to postpone the wedding as France started to put restrictions on weddings as Covid-19 cases started to rise in Europe. The guests split into two, one half really wanting to still go for it; the other half of the guests sensibly encouraged us to postpone purely due to fear of the unknown. So we made an executive decision three months before the big day to postpone to September this year. The venue had agreed and we went along with it, leading by faith that the virus would be gone by Summer. As things started to unfold, by the end of February, we had decided to postpone it yet again to May 2021.
Our original wedding guest list had 120 people and then we wanted to have a big registry and party after in London for anyone that couldn’t make it. It’s common within African culture to have huge guest lists, second cousins, third cousins, plus all their partners and kids at the wedding. Now, during this whole process in February, my parents were quite instrumental in the decisions we were making. My dad did encourage us to postpone as he knew that even if guests came, they would have been stressed about it and might have not enjoyed it.
Losing a parent
A month later, in March, my dad suddenly and tragically passed away. It was a very unexpected heart attack in the middle of the night. We got woken up and it was all very traumatic. For the following two weeks I cannot recall much of what had happened. When something so traumatic happens, it’s like there is a mental block. I was losing things, things I still haven’t found to this day – my bank card, glasses; I was all over the place.
So considering everything that was going on, it was a blessing in disguise making the decision to cancel early instead of having everything piling up. With everything going on, I wasn’t able to communicate to anyone in general, never mind worrying about wedding stuff. I just wanted to focus on my dad.
Losing my dad two months before my scheduled wedding date played a big factor in me wanting to change the wedding completely because I had this idea in my head of what I wanted it to look like and what I wanted it to be – and my dad was obviously a big part of that picture. The minute he was taken away from that, I knew that wedding was never going to be the same. Everything I had planned just wasn’t going to feel the same for me anymore.
I also realised that when you go through a horrible period in your life, you have so many people that support you and rally around you, which makes you really appreciate them even more. It’s not just a simple text, it’s the people that call you and come to your house. That moment made me realise that the 120 person guest list wasn’t really necessary. I didn’t have 120 come to the house to see if I was ok. You want people at your wedding to be there at the good times but also you would hope that those people would be there at your worst times. It was the people that went out of their way to make sure I was ok that I really wanted there at my wedding day more than anything else. I no longer felt the urge to designate a date tailored to this grand guest list, but rather plump for one convenient for my future husband and I.
Growing up I did dream of a big wedding, like the ones Disney told us about, but when you get older and life happens, you just need to do what’s right for you, your partner and your family. There is nothing wrong with a big wedding. Getting married is not about the wedding day, it’s about the quality of your marriage and choosing another human to be with, as well as build a life with. I think you can have that and still have a big wedding. Truthfully, that’s what we originally wanted. When Covid came, we could either have the fancy wedding but move it to next year, or I could have the marriage (which is what is most important) right now. When I was faced with this decision, it wasn’t even something that I had to think about. That’s what’s important to me and that’s what I want to happen. When the government announced 30 people restrictions for weddings, I had no problem with that. Even if the rule said five people, we would have just made it work because for us at this point, that was what was important for us.
Time is of the essence
After a few weeks of grieving, dealing with the traumas of the global revolution caused by BLM, sprinkled with a life-changing pandemic, this summer was truly the time of realising things. For my partner, the decision to get married this year felt easy too. Since I’ve known him, he’s always been a ‘time is of the essence’ kind of person. That is one of the things I loved and still love about him. He too had been through a very traumatic experience so it was only right he would see life in those lenses. In fact, as a young football player, he had a cardiac arrest on the pitch at age 19. He actually died for a minute or so, was fortunately revived, but had to have a pacemaker put in. Naturally, a life-or-death experience at that age changed him. However he’s very positive and strong, so you wouldn’t know it from meeting him. Early on in our engagement people would say: ‘He’s a young guy, is he sure this is what he wants’. But because he literally had a near-death experience, he’s very sure in what he wants, he’s very determined to live life to the fullest and he doesn’t believe in wasting time. He was my rock throughout this grieving period.
Putting everything into perspective we just decided – why waste time? I have aunts that are over 80 years old. If I waited until next year, there would always be that fear of not giving them the chance to be there on my wedding day. I basically decided that I can’t take a chance on losing anyone else.
The planning and wedding
Once we decided it all became so exciting. Everything that came with that was so stress-free and a blissful organisation. We planned it all in a month. The original registry date was October the 3rd, but there were rumours that we would have a second lockdown in October (which ended up happening), so we didn’t risk it. I went to my local church and asked the vicar if he could marry us. We did the pre-marital classes and the rest of the planning was very DIY. I pretty much did everything by hand; I ordered booklets online, ordered the confetti bags, stamp and the confetti itself and put them together the night before.
My sister Fleur did the marquee, my cousin did the decorations, my in-laws sorted out the drinks, my mum and aunt handled the food. It was a family effort. Everyone came together to make the wedding happen in four weeks. It was probably better than what I think I could have done in France. No bridezilla, not guestzillas. The small things really made it. I got to do the two minute walk home from the church, with my uncle and my mum. We got pictures with every single guest. Everyone managed to get a slice of our delicious three-tiered cake. It was 23 degrees and sunny.
Overall, I didn’t spend more than £2000, that’s including the dress, church contributions, booklets, drinks and food, (we didn’t have a DJ), we had a marquee in the garden, so there were no venue costs.
None of the guests needed to fly from abroad. We both had three friends each there, the rest was all close family members, and no bridesmaids. There was no pressure on anyone else, and the people there already knew that they’re special and appreciated. We got married on the last weekend that the government allowed 30 people weddings, as then the new rule reduced it to 15. All the stars aligned.
I’m no longer having my France wedding next year. The next morning after the wedding, we woke up, looked at each other and my husband turned around and said: ‘So when are we going to talk about the fact that the France wedding isn’t happening.’ However, there were a lot of people that couldn’t be there that we still cared about, and they would have very much enjoyed celebrating with us, so we decided that we should do a big wedding anniversary party in September next year. As for my unworn big fairytale dress, I will probably keep it because that dress needs to be seen, I don’t know where I’m going to wear it, I don’t care if it’s for a child’s christening, I need to fit it somewhere.
We did the best we could with the cards we were dealt with. In an Instagram era, it’s easy to think that you would need the most extravagant situation to have the perfect day. I soon realised, ‘Wow, is this all I needed to do?’ If I knew this was all I needed I would have got married in 2019, and made sure my dad was there. I did always dream about getting married in a special time, that’s why we picked 2020, we didn’t realise it would come with all these trials and tribulations, but it was still the most special day for me, my husband and our family.
My DIY, pandemic wedding was the best day of my life and I feel like a very lucky woman because despite everything, love prevailed.