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Inside the Staffordshire wedding of Sarah and James

Sarah Lianne Keates (33) & James Eric Cleaver (34) were married at the Upper House Hotel in Barlaston in November last year 

In pictures: Sarah and James married in November 2019 at the Upper House in Barlaston. The Christmas themed wedding celebrated love and all their favourite festive things.
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Office supervisor Sarah and delivery driver/retail assistant James met through an online dating app in August 2015. They had their first date two weeks later and never looked back. On 4th August 2017 James proposed while the couple were enjoying a nice meal at a local restaurant. 

“James proposed to me at Miller & Carter 3 days before my 31st birthday,” said Sarah.

“The proposal was typical of James who hates being the centre of attention. After ordering the food and drinks he told me he had a gift for me and pushed the ring box across the table – and as he did he told me to not make a scene!

“I opened it to a beautiful ring he had picked himself. I put the ring on my finger and James asked if that was a yes – I told him he needed to ask a question if he wanted an answer so eventually he did manage to say: ‘Will you marry me?”.

Read more: How to get your man ready for the big day

The wedding 

The couple decided to have the ceremony and reception at the Upper House in Barlaston on 30 November 2019. They went for a Christmas theme to tie in nicely with the time of year. 

“It is both our favourite time of year,” says Sarah, “so we decided as the wedding was so close to December that we would have it as the theme to celebrate not only our love, but our love for the festive season.

“I loved the Upper House. The whole wedding area is on one level which I loved as I didn’t want guests and myself having to walk up and downstairs to get from room to room. The grounds and decor are truly spectacular and wedding planners Sam & Ellie are wonderful – nothing is too much trouble when planning your special day.

“We had a special light up bottle made for all those special guests who couldn’t be with us on the day. I also had a picture of my Grandad on my bouquet with me.”

During the ceremony, both Sarah and James’ mothers did a reading and Sarah’s sister and James’ brother were witnesses. They also had a pianist play throughout the day. 

“It just created a lovely atmosphere as guests were arriving and especially during the signing of the registrar, ” adds Sarah. 

“During his speech my Dad joked I was really named after the Thin Lizzy song and I had Sarah on the playlist for straight after the first dance, which he joined me for.”

Guests were given chocolate coins as wedding favours and place cards were made in the shape of mini wreaths. They also had a chocolate table which included Christmas treats and any guests who stayed over at the hotel at night got an advent calendar to celebrate the next day being the start of December.

Other special touches included tables being named after the couple’s favourite Christmas films including Love Actually for the top table, The Snowman, Miracle on 34th Street, The Santa Clause, Bad Santa and Elf. The younger children all had Christmas colouring books to keep them entertained during the speeches and were also given disposable cameras to capture the day from their point of view.

After the ceremony the couple had a drinks and canape reception including prosecco, Budweiser and Kir Royale cocktails. The canapes were beef finger sandwiches, chicken and stuffing bites, duck spring rolls and cheesy oatcakes. The couple chose to have a classic three-course wedding breakfast which included soup, pate, beef bourguignon, roast pork and minted cod. Guests could choose from Limencello cheesecake, fruit crumble and salted choc pot for dessert. In the evening a buffet was served along with an ice cream van and wedding cake.

At night, the couple had a DJ who made sure there were plenty of Christmas tunes on the playlist.

Read more: Inside the Staffordshire wedding of Kayleigh and Stephen

The dress 

Sarah’s princess-style dress was from Lucy Alexander Bridal in Stafford. 

“My mum brought my dress for me,” shares Sarah. “We were enjoying afternoon tea in the town one day and after a quick search I realised they stocked the Morilee dresses which I had always wanted to try on. As I suffer with Ulcerative Colitis I knew I didn’t want anything tight or restrictive around my stomach area so was initially looking for more of an A-Line dress. We walked in and Lucy and her mum Tracey were so welcoming, we didn’t have an appointment but there was nobody in so they were happy for us to look at dresses and for me to try a few on. We went back to the shop three weeks later and I tried several different dresses on – all different styles – and finally settled on a beautiful Morilee dress that felt so different to anything I had seen before.

“It was so flattering – it covered my stomach area so I wasn’t conscience of that, however it was sparkly and sexy on top with lovely strap details on the front and back and the skirt was massive! Much bigger than I imagined I would have, however, it was made with tulle so was wonderfully light and on the day I felt like a princess all day in the dress – never once was it too heavy or got in my way dancing.”

First dance: Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre by Sam Smith. “It was the first film we saw as a proper couple so felt it was fitting for our first dance as Mr & Mrs.”

Your top tips for creating your wedding: “We couldn’t have done it without great help from family and friends – especially my mum who helped with so much stuff in the build up. We made our own place cards and vases for flowers and she spent so much time helping us make it special. So if anyone offers to help definitely take them up on the offer up.

Any lesson learned? Wish I had been able to take more in – it goes way too quickly – I would tell future brides that it’s your day so enjoy it and make decisions that you’ll look back and be happy with.

Did you have a honeymoon? A honeymoon is planned to Croatia.

What is life like as a married couple? “It feels completely the same as before but with the added bonus of being able to say husband and wife, which is lovely.”

Describe your wedding in 3 words “Absolutely truly magical.”

Photography taken by New Road Photography 

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