Photo by Photography by Roderick Pullum
Planning a wedding is famous for being stressful, especially when it comes to trying to please various family members all at once. Sure, you could always elope, but some couple really do dream of celebrating their love with friends and family. One way to make the planning process quicker and drama-free is to take a queue from celebrities and have a surprise wedding! That’s what Kimber Westphall and James Clonts IV did for their October nuptials. Watch their wedding highlight video below to see how their 250 guests reacted to the surprise ceremony, and then read Kimber’s steps to planning the big day.
Videography by One80Three Media
Read this real bride's advice on hosting a surprise wedding in five easy steps:
As soon as we got engaged, I had the idea of a surprise wedding and shared it with my fiancé, James. We both loved the idea of giving our guests an experience they may not have ever had, nor would have again. When else can you surprise 250 people at once? We had to act quickly since we knew an “engagement party” would be the perfect excuse to get all our family and friends under one roof to pull off the surprise.
I searched “What’s an appropriate length of engagement to still have an engagement party?” The consensus was that you could stretch it up to five months. The tricky part with planning a big party in a short amount of time is securing a venue. The average wedding takes 12-14 months to plan, so I had to work fast. The venue we chose was my first choice and the first one I called. Of course, I was hoping for a Saturday just a couple months after the proposal – but that was out of the question. So I practiced patience and graciously accepted a Friday date four months from when we got engaged. It was enough time for us to plan, and for me to lose 18 pounds for the big day! And honestly, having a shorter engagement was crucial so we didn’t have to keep this gigantic secret for so long. The next step was telling a very small trusted circle of parents and close friends, so everyone could be on the same page.
Once the venue was secured, I felt confident that I could get the ball rolling on save the dates. Then I’d iron out the little details like the menu, flowers, and band. Even though we weren’t having a “wedding” (as far as our guests knew), we wanted to let them know this was the only chance to celebrate with us, as we told everyone we were eloping in Italy. When we told close friends and family of our elopement plans, several of them said they wanted to fly out for the Italian rendezvous. So to quickly put the kibosh on plane tickets being purchased, we pivoted and told everyone we were eloping just the two of us and rolling it into a honeymoon right after. We divulged that even our parents wouldn’t be in attendance to our abroad nuptials. Of course our parents were in on the plan and knew this was all fake, as we didn’t want to keep a secret this big from them. We also needed them to encourage family and friends from afar to come to our engagement party. We didn’t want anyone to feel like we were being sneaky and dishonest; we just knew that these little fibs were necessary to pull off the master plan. The surprise would be worth it, and very special!
One of my biggest worries was that people would think our party was a casual, come and go thing. So we knew we needed to flash our cards a little bit, and encourage our guests to make a night of it. On the invitation, we branded the party as “Bash Before They Dash” and we made clear that this was a seated dinner with dancing that had a start and end time. We also prompted guests to wear party attire. I wanted to make sure everyone arrived on time, so I included a “seated dinner” time on the invite. Little did our guests know, that would be showtime for the ceremony and big reveal!
Four months quickly came and went, and my fiancé and I were so ready to reveal this big surprise to our wedding party and guests. My 15-page run of show was finally ready to be put into play! Our wedding day was so relaxing because there wasn’t the hustle and bustle and orchestration of coordinating tons of schedules – no rehearsal or rehearsal dinner the night before. As soon as guests began to arrive at the venue, we greeted them cheerfully in normal clothes. I was in a short white cocktail dress and my fiancé wore a suit he had hanging in his closet. About 30 minutes into the cocktail hour, the two of us scooted off to “take photos on the roof.” That’s when we quickly changed into our formal wedding attire and waited in a secret hiding place.
Our un-knowing wedding party was prompted to meet the photographer in the lobby right before dinner so we could “get a sunset photo” before we were seated for dinner. The gang was corralled and ultimate shock ensued when we revealed ourselves to them. While we were all behind the scenes, passing out bouquets and boutonnieres, one of our dear friends who officiated the wedding let the other guests in on the secret. Since she’s a comedian, it seemed totally normal that she would wrangle the crowd and raise a toast. She asked everyone to be seated and raise their glasses to toast to us finally choosing a wedding date: that day. The crowd was piecing it together – some quicker than others! Then the stand-up bass and violinist began playing “Canon in D” and programs were passed out, reading “Welcome to Our Surprise Wedding.” Then the ceremony took place; right in the middle of everyone thinking they were about to eat dinner. It was the most exhilarating moment and chills still surge through my body every time I think of it!