Thinking of working as a wedding celebrant?
The realities of working as a wedding celebrant: from wedding day pressure to admin overload.
Thinking about training as a wedding celebrant and don't know where to start? Confused about who to train with? Worried about changing careers? Interested in what it involves on a day-to-day basis?
Reckon it looks like a fun, easy job and you're marching towards your boss's office as we speak, ready to hand in your notice and take the wedding world by storm? Maybe pop that envelope back in your pocket and have a read of this first.
If you’ve seen a celebrant deliver a wedding ceremony or follow any celebrants on social media, working as a wedding celebrant probably looks like the best job in the world. And it is, most of the time! I love it, and can’t see myself enjoying anything else anywhere near as much. It means I get to be creative and spend my days writing; it introduces me to so many interesting couples; and gives me the privilege of being an integral part of such a special day, celebrating love and commitment.
But there‘s a lot more to '#celebrantlife' than doing a bit of public speaking, getting a couple to say some vows, and hanging around for some canapés and prosecco.
Why am I writing this?
At least once a week, I get someone email or DM me on instagram asking about being a celebrant, and unfortunately I just don’t have the time to respond to everyone individually. Especially when they’ve never interacted with me before and just cold-message saying ‘Hi, I want to be a celebrant. Who should I train with? Can you tell me everything? Thanks in advance’. (I mean. At least try and butter me up a little before you ask me to tell you EVERYTHING!)
So, this is my solution: a blog post where I will attempt to answer most of these (very) frequently asked questions. And, in my usual unconventional approach, I’m going to do that by turning the questions around on you.
**Disclaimer: a lot of this will mostly be relevant to England and Wales, due to different regulations and legalities in other countries**
SO. You want to be a celebrant. but…
Have you thought about who you will train with?
I am a Humanists UK Accredited celebrant and trained in 2020 (online! During the pandemic! 8 hours a day on zoom! I had to use two pot-plants to represent the couple in my final ceremony assessment!)
Jokes aside, I did really rate the quality of the training. We were rigorously assessed and had to pass every stage before we could progress further; we were assigned a tutor and a mentor; and after passing the course had to have a real ceremony observed in order to pass probation and be fully accredited. I was part of a great cohort, and even though we were never actually all together in person we formed a real bond and most of us are still in a whatsapp group where we share ideas, gossip and enquiries.
I’d always considered myself to be a humanist, so the choice to train with HUK was obvious for me. I am an accredited wedding celebrant mentor and school speaker, too. I am totally non-religious, and would feel hypocritical to be leading any religious or spiritual elements in ceremonies. Independent celebrants can incorporate those things, and there are many independent celebrant training courses out there if that’s what you’d rather do. I can’t tell you how good they are or what they cost, but I assume you have google.
Have you thought about the initial outlay costs?
Training courses (good ones, at least!) don’t come cheap. Don’t get suckered into any that say they can teach you how to be an effective wedding celebrant in just a 2 day course for £600! As celebrant ceremonies aren’t legally binding, there isn’t technically a specific certification / qualification you need in order to conduct ceremonies - you don't have to train as a wedding celebrant at all. But I would HIGHLY recommend that you do. The help, support and resources gained from the training really are worth the investment. On top of the training fees, there will be other initial outlay costs such as a decent printer, stationery, and anything needed for delivering the ceremony on the day. And tissues. Lots of tissues.
Have you thought about whether you have the right mindset and skillset?
You don’t have a boss in this job. It’s imperative that you are able to motivate yourself to do the best possible job for your couples. I have to impose strict deadlines on myself, because I struggle to work without time pressure. And you might be good at writing, but how will you be with the delivery of the ceremony? Or maybe you’re a story-telling whizz and relish the thought of putting a ceremony together… but how experienced are you at public speaking? Can you keep your head in a crisis, and be the serene swan when the best person can’t find the rings or a kid starts screeching mid-vows? Are you totes emosh: will you be a blubbering mess every time you see a look of love exchanged between your couple? Can you build positive relationships with couples, their families, and other suppliers on the day? You could do the best training course ever created, but unless you’ve got a good base of all of these skills you might find it difficult.
And even if you do have a good skill base to start, be prepared to keep learning long after you have ‘finished’ training.
Have you thought about how you will get bookings?
Whoever you train with, the training providers aren’t going to hand you a list of bookings when you pass the course. Although there might still be mentoring and support in place, it’s down to you to get yourself out there and attract couples. For most people, this means setting up a website and utitilising social media.
There are also directories - paid and free - which you can sign up for. I did a paid directory for a while (until they stole my photo, used it without permission or credit, and made it look as though I had done my celebrant training with them… but that’s a story for another day!)
But you can’t just do the training and expect an instantly full diary. Getting started can be a hard slog. It’s one of those catch-22 situations where you need experience and examples of doing weddings to encourage couples to book you for their wedding… but you can’t get that experience without doing weddings! When you do get those first bookings, work really hard to schmooze with the photographer and ask permission to use their pics on your social media and website (make sure you credit them!) because pictures of you in action at a real wedding will be a huge help. There’s always the option of taking part in a styled shoot, too, to get some usable photos, but don’t be misleading by representing them on social media as being from a real wedding. That’s not cool.
Have you thought about what kind of celebrant you want to be, and what sort of couples you want to attract?
Funny? Soppy? Elegant? Romantic? Fun? Weird? Traditional? Relaxed? Geeky? High-end? Alternative? Hippie? No couples are the same, and no celebrants are either. It’s important to be yourself so that you create ceremonies that feel authentic to you and the couple. Take inspo from other celebrants, by all means, but don’t outright copy. That’s not cool either!
Have you thought about how many celebrants are already established in your region?
There are several other Humanist celebrants local to me. Luckily we get on brilliantly and are a great support for each other. It’s that cheesy line of ‘community over competition’, but we have a whatsapp chat where we share ideas and pass on enquiries we are unavailable for. They are also great back-ups if one of us falls ill and needs an emergency stand-in at the last minute.
I have heard the odd horror story, though, of new celebrants contacting an established celebrants in the same area to say hi, and being pretty much told ‘stay off my patch’ or warning that the incoming celebrant will have no chance of picking up bookings!
Have you thought about how much weekend working is involved?
Weekday weddings are definitely having a moment, but the majority of ceremonies are still on a Saturday. I don’t have kids so weekend working isn’t too much of an issue for me, but I do have a husband who works Monday to Friday and we don’t end up with many free weekends together - especially in the summer (I lost count of the number of impromptu BBQs on sunny days I missed out on last year). You might also find that some couples can only do enquiry calls or planning meetings at weekends, too, so it’s not just weddings themselves that take up your weekends.
Have you thought about how far ahead you will need to plan your life?
I often take bookings anything from 18 months to 2 years+ in advance. I don’t know if my favourite band might announce a huge tour date which I’ll have to miss. Or if I will decide to move house. I don’t know if friends and family will end up booking their own wedding for a date I am already unavailable for. Or if I'll get a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something… but I have to say no because I have a wedding. Chances of being able to have a casual summer getaway are slim.
Have you thought about how much time you will need to invest in each couple?
Enquiry video calls. Email liaison. Questionnaire sending / reading (if you decide to use one). In-person planning meetings. Note-taking. Chats via social media. Idea forming. Script writing (HOURS of it). Script tweaking. Script checking. Script finalising. Script printing and reformatting for a keepsake copy. Help with vow writing. Rehearsals or catch-up calls. Preparing materials for on the day. Travel. Everything you have to do ON the day. Checking in AFTER the day… it’s quite a journey.
Have you thought about whether you want to do it full time or as a side-hustle?
This is one of the main questions I am asked: how viable it is as a full-time job. Please don’t go handing your notice in on the first day of celebrant training. For most people, combining it with some sort of part-time work is probably the best approach, or there are celebrants who use celebrancy as part of their retirement plan. I’ll be honest, I still do some supply teaching on the side a couple of days a week on an ad-hoc basis. This is partly because I miss having work colleagues: it can get quite lonely working for yourself, and although I work really closely with couples and develop a relationship with them it’s not the same as staff room banter. The other reason is monetary. And on that note...
Have you thought about how much you will earn?
It's not the big money-spinner that people sometimes assume it is. As I have become more experienced, my prices have increased and I’d say I am one of the pricier celebrants in my region. Gone are the days of charging £350 (yep, that’s really what I charged for my first wedding in 2020!!) because the number of hours you invest in each wedding makes that totally unreasonable.
Much like certain members of the Tory party (hopefully the only time I’ll have anything in common with them) I’m going to decline the request to produce my recent tax returns, but… think about how many weddings are realistic to do in a year. That’s about 30 for me, if I want to stay sane and have some semblance of a life. Multiply that by the maximum price people are realistically willing to pay for a celebrant ceremony (varies depending on region and demographic!) Then take away the cost of training and accreditation fees, ceremony materials, printing, PA systems, business car insurance, tech, subscriptions, website hosting and setup fees, travel, clothes, and, of course, the dreaded tax… it’s not going to make you a millionaire. Most full-time office jobs would pay more.
Speaking of tax…
Have you thought about having to do a tax return?
Because you will have to, and it won’t be fun. You also need to consider the financial implications of being self-employed, especially if you plan to apply for a mortgage or a loan anytime soon.
Have you thought about the ol’ cozzie livs?
There’s no escaping the cost of living crisis, and people are making cutbacks. Unfortunately, a celebrant ceremony is something that some couples might decide is more of a ‘want’ than a ‘need’. Gotta prioritise that donut wall…
Have you thought about how much admin is involved?
Emails. Invoicing. Social media. Website stuff. It is NEVER ENDING. Especially social media. I daren’t even check my screen time because I’m pretty sure I might be sick if I do. So…
Have you thought about how organised you need to be, and how hard it will be to switch off?
It’s not just the wedding days that take up your time. While doing final prep for one wedding, you might be speaking to another couple about booking their wedding in two year’s time while also arranging planning meetings for weddings within the next 6 months. Even when I am on holiday, determined to be fully OOO and enjoying myself, I still end up checking my emails regularly and replying to enquiries that come in (even if it’s just a quick ‘I’ll get back to you next week’ message).
At the moment, I have 4 lots of planning meeting notes waiting for me to write up into beautiful ceremony scripts. Last night I had an 8pm catch-up call with my couple who are getting married on Saturday. I need to send an invoice over for a new booking. I have an enquiry call tomorrow night, and 3 more planning meetings in the next 2 weeks. I’ve just had a whatsapp from a June couple asking for feedback on their vows (I always want my couples to feel comfortable enough to reach out with any and all questions they have, but that can make it hard to switch off). I need to update the photos on my website and post something on instagram. I am currently writing this blog while at a 4 hour hairdressers appointment just because I need to make the time feel productive! And it’s not even peak wedding season yet…
Have you thought about how much writing is involved?
I LOVE writing. I love coming up with creative little twists and relevant references in a ceremony script. I love crafting every single one from scratch, matching the desired tone, and structuring it so that it all flows beautifully. But if the thought of taking notes for 2 hours in a planning meeting and then many, many hours sitting at a laptop writing every single ceremony from scratch doesn’t bring you joy, it’s probably not the job for you.
Have you thought about how much pressure and responsibility it is?
The whole ceremony from start to finish is in your hands, and that can be a lot. Even if there are other people involved, such as musicians playing the entrance and exit music, it’s on you to liaise with them and provide a cue card. (side note: never get roped into controlling recorded music yourself! If they are having music played through a speaker, make sure that job is given to a guest or a member of venue staff - but again, provide a cue card).
If you are celebrant at a wedding being held somewhere other than a wedding venue - think a random field, or at wedding at home - you are likely to end up taking on even more responsibility. Especially if they don’t have a planner or on-the-day co-ordinator helping them to keep everything on track and running smoothly.
And then there are the dreaded nerves. It’s vital that, even if you’re feeling them, you don’t show nerves on the wedding day. You are there for the couple, and if they can sense you are nervous it is likely to make them nervous, too.
I remember in one early wedding my leg was shaking and I could feel my face twitching for the first ten minutes or so, but the only comments I got from the couple and the guests were about how confident and enthusiastic my delivery was. Now that I have done almost 70 ceremonies, I don’t get nervous in the same way; I just get a lovely little buzz of excitement, joy and adrenaline. But if the thought of standing in front of 100 guests, 2 photographers and a videographer and conducting a 40 minute ceremony makes you a bit sweaty and jelly-legged then you might want to reconsider.
Have you thought about the pressure to look presentable?
A bit of a shallow one, perhaps, but: you are going to be in their ceremony photos forever. FOREVER. You can’t really rock up with last night’s eyeliner smeared down your face or hair that looks like you arrived on an open-top tractor (even if you did). Equally, you need to dress the part. Sometimes that’s wellies and waterproofs. Sometimes that’s something elegant and in-keeping with the black-tie theme your couple have chosen. Expect to need more wardrobe space.
Have you thought about what you’d do if it doesn’t take off?
I am aware that I have written this from the privileged position of being a ‘successful’ celebrant. I have as many bookings as I want, and probably turn down more enquiries than I take on due to date availability and logistics. I think my location is part of why I am so busy, and the fact that I was starting out just as weddings were allowed again post-covid meant there was definitely more of a demand for celebrant weddings than there might have been before. And, I’ll be honest: it’s also down to the fact that I have worked bloody hard and am bloody good at it.
But there’s never any guarantee. It can be disheartening when the enquiries aren’t coming in, or when you speak to couples but they choose to book someone else. Don’t put all of your celebrant eggs in one basket. Keep your expectations realistic. Having a back-up plan is always a good idea.
Re-reading that, you could be forgiven for thinking I don’t enjoy being a celebrant. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I LOVE it. When I am standing at the front of a ceremony with a couple I’ve formed a real bond with, and who have trusted me to tell their love story and celebrate their partnership on their wedding day, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be. Which is good, because I could never go back to full-time teaching. I love the tears. I love the cheers. I love the unscripted moments. I love when something goes wrong and we just roll with it. I love the banter and even the occasional heckle. I love being in a room surrounded by joyous people who are all there to have a good time and celebrate a couple’s love.
But I want to help dispel the myths and show the actual day-to-day realities of being a celebrant: you’re more likely to be spending most of your time answering emails in your dressing gown than living it up at a flash wedding venue.
The canapés are great, though.
Has this helped? Are there any other obvious burning questions you think I’ve missed? Let me know - but don’t forget to butter me up first.
I’m Louise Gather, and I am your go-to for kickass gatherings!
My specialty is writing and performing wedding ceremonies that are both heartfelt and hilarious – I can guarantee laughter, fun, and happy tears! I absolutely love my job, because every couple’s story and every wedding day is completely unique.