When we ask newlyweds to think back on what they wanted most for their big day — and we’ve interviewed hundreds of them over the years — the most common response is “For it not to feel like a wedding!” But in a monsoon of flower crowns and macaron towers, how do you see beyond the usual tropes and actually pull off a non-cookie-cutter affair? For the answer, we decided to interrogate the cool couples whose weddings we would actually want to steal — right down to the tiger-shaped cake toppers.
Here, we talked to Michael Fosbery, an HR analyst, and Héshàn Fernando, who works with children with psychosocial difficulties. One’s from Australia, one’s from Sri Lanka, they live in England and got engaged in Greece, and this spring they were married at a chateau in the Champagne region of France.
Héshàn: We love cooking and we have dinner parties all the time, and we wanted the wedding to be a bigger version of that. We told our chef, “We want what your grandma would make for a special family occasion.” Originally, we were going to get married in Australia — we were living there when we got engaged in August 2017 — but we were in a friend’s wedding in Ireland —
Michael: The groom was talking about how they went around France to get their alcohol because it was a bit cheaper, and it was a nice little thing to do before the wedding. I just made an off-hand comment —
Héshàn: “Let’s cut out the middleman and just have a wedding in France.” I said, yes let’s do it. And that was it. Our friends and family are all around the world and we needed to pick a place.
Michael: We thought, okay, we could do France or Italy, but I think France is a little bit more accepting if you’re a gay couple.
Héshàn: At that time we got engaged in Australia, marriage equality still didn’t exist there. It came six months later.
Michael: From there, once we decided on France, Héshàn did a lot of hard work. He’s the research man.
Héshàn: It was literally looking at dozens and dozens of chateaus. When we went to the Chateau de Mairy, they were so lovely and so welcoming. I still remember tasting the chef’s lobster coconut bisque — I ate that and said, yeah, he’s our chef.
Michael: We went in winter, in February, and there was a freak snowstorm the night before. So the first time we ever saw it in full bloom, so green, was the day we arrived for the wedding.
Héshàn: I had a very strong vision of what I wanted, and Michael and I have similar tastes. But most people didn’t speak English and I don’t speak French and that was a barrier. I’d make word documents with photos and the fine details of what I wanted, then put them through Google Translate. We were told about a flower farm where you can go and pick your flowers and that it was a very romantic thing to do.
Michael: We had originally thought maybe we would get all our flowers from there, but we didn’t want to create too much stress for ourselves. We worked with a florist, Atelier Marie Guillemot, then just got some little flowers here and there to finish it off. We had the chateau in the background, and it was really green. If we had something too elaborate, or too bold, it wouldn’t have worked with the setting. And practically, we didn’t want big flowers on the tables that would get in the way of eating.
Héshàn: I didn’t want too many flowers, either, because: it’s two men getting married — I wanted a lot more greenery than flowers. My family, they’re super conservative. They don’t approve of me being gay. Michael knew that I might be a little bit upset about that during the time of my wedding, so he made it really special. When we got there, he had scavenger hunts prepared for me every day of the weekend.
Michael: I schemed and plotted with my best friend to arrange a few different things. I gifted him two things on each day — some bath bombs; a photo album of just us — and my friend wrote out all these riddles. One gift was a drawing of our first true moment of connection, in the back of a car, when we both touched each other’s pinkies.
Héshàn: I love having baths! I cried over the bath bombs. He was like, Why are you crying over bath bombs. And he wrote me a love letter with Bert and Ernie on it, because I always say we’re like them — he’s a little bit grumpy. The first time I ever saw Michael I was with my friends at a party and I saw him darting inside. I said, “Oh, he’s cute,” and my friend said, “He’s only 18.” I was 23 at the time so I said, “Ugh, too young for me.”
Michael: We’d seen each other at a few different events. I definitely eyed him up at some point. I just remember the moment walking into the room at one party, and he was standing there, and we both looked at each other. There was just a moment of — you knew exactly where this is going. I remember his smile at that moment, and I always will.
Héshàn: He turned 19 and I thought that was fair game. That was eight and a half years ago.
Michael: Our friends had told us, “8:30 on the wedding morning, we’re waking you up.” I was half awake when they all poured in and jumped on us.
Héshàn: They made a music video and surprised us with it.
Michael: I love Hamilton, I love musical theater. They’d filmed a reenactment to “Satisfied.” The amount of effort that went into it!
Héshàn: Then we got ready together. That was important to us — we’ve been together eight and a half years, what’s the point of not getting ready together? And we decided to walk down the aisle together, too. We were already committed.
Michael: To be separated just to walk down the aisle, I thought — why? We are a couple already and this wedding doesn’t absolutely define us, it strengthens us. We used an online suit supplier, The Drop, and went to their offices in Shoreditch to do the measurements. They produced these amazing identical tuxes. They fit perfectly. Some people were like, Oh, will one of you wear a black tux and one a white tux? No. We wanted to be equal, we wanted to be the same, wearing the same thing. It’s probably one of the most traditional things about our wedding, wearing tuxes.
Héshàn: The officiant was my former boss, Charna Mintz, who is American. She lives in Seattle but she used to work with me in Australia. She knows both of us very well and has been a really good mentor for me. We wrote her a script for the Buddhist Sinhalese ceremony. Essentially, this ceremony is based on a story about a goddess who fell in love with a mortal man about 3,000 years ago. All the other gods got together and they made this thing called a Poruwa, the stage that you get married on. Only the people getting married can be on it, and when you’re on it, you embody the goddess and the man. Then you give gratitude for all the people that have taken care of you in your life.
Michael: You take seven piles of seven betel leaves. It’s meant to represent the last seven generations of your family, and you’re giving thanks for those generations for allowing you to both be here. We don’t really do such a thing that much in a traditional western wedding, and it was such a beautiful way to acknowledge the people who came before. My grandmother was so touched by it, and so were my mom and dad.
Héshàn: All these people have taken care of you, and now you two make a promise to take care of each other. I really the idea that it’s not about God, or anyone else. It’s about you and saying thank you, which is really important in Buddhism and really important for me and Michael.
Michael: You traditionally give a gift as well to the parents as part of the ceremony, so we gave back to our parents — well, to my parents, because Héshàn’s weren’t there. We gave my dad cuff links with our family crest on it, because Héshàn’s been doing a lot of research for our family tree. We gave my mom a locket with a photo of her wedding, her mom and dad’s wedding, and a photo of us when we got engaged, with the dates of all three weddings.
Héshàn: After the ceremony was over, we walked to the front of the chateau for cocktail hour. We had an oyster bar because I love oysters, and blinis with salmon or radishes, and these emmental cheese puffs. The best thing were these macarons that looked like a normal macaron but the filling was foie gras. I only had one and I still regret it.
Michael: I had two. It’s my wedding, I’m allowed. We had big magnums of Champagne. We’d had a dinner the night before so a lot of the guests had already gotten really comfortable with each other.
Héshàn: There was probably about 40 minutes while we were taking pictures and stuff and we didn’t want our guests to be bored, so we brought croquet sets and bocce so they could drink and play games and be merry. We had 54 guests and over 30 of them stayed at the chateau because it’s huge. Apparently, King James I, when he was overthrowing England, he lived in France and he lived in that property for a few years as well. During World War II, the Nazis occupied it as well, so we were like, ha-ha, a gay interracial marriage. Really sticking it to the Nazis.
Michael: The dinner was outside. I was really particular on how we had the meal set up — I wanted two long tables so it was quite intimate. We wanted people to share the food, so that you had that little bit more interaction, like, Can you pass me that dish, how did you find that dish?
Héshàn: We had a seared tuna salad, and scallop ceviche. After the entrées, Michael’s best friend spoke and my best friend, the one who introduced us, spoke. After dinner Michael’s parents spoke.
Michael: You can see in the photos where Héshàn is crying so hard — I got his friend to help me learn some Sinhalese, his mother tongue. So I did part of my speech in Sinhalese so only he could understand, and it got quite a reaction. He was very touched. It was probably my favorite part of the wedding.
Héshàn: Then the band came out. I looked at literally 200 bands before finding Ellen Birath and the Shadow Cats, from Paris. They’re a six-piece jazz band, but an upbeat jazz band. People were coming from such a long way away — we didn’t just want a DJ. We wanted it to feel a bit special. Our first dance was “Fools Rush In.” They did ’50s-style songs, and one really upbeat cover of “Like a Virgin.”
Michael: Then we cut the cake, by L’Cakes. It was chocolate cake, because I am a chocoholic, with chocolate ganache and raspberry between the layers, with buttercream icing. There were flower petals on it, and of course Bert and Ernie.
Héshàn: The property is quite big, so noise wasn’t necessarily a problem to anyone. So basically, it went on until everyone was really tired and sleepy and too drunk to dance, like four in the morning.
Michael: I don’t know how I stayed up, but it must have been the euphoria, the adrenaline, so so happy. At 4 a.m. I was like, why is it ending? I snuck out, back into the darkness to the tables where we’d had dinner, to drink it in. I didn’t think Héshàn had noticed but then his head poked out of the chateau. Little by little people trickled out, and we just sat there, drunk in the moment.