Rowing champion Mahé Drysdale’s grin couldn’t have been any wider, as he watched his beautiful bride, Juliette Haigh, make her way down the aisle towards him.
On a wet, windy and wild Waikato day, in the woolshed of their Cambridge farm, the Olympic heroes have finally married, after seven years together, in an intimate, rustic and ultimately perfect ceremony.
With a face like a little boy whose Christmases had all come at once, the gold medallist looked as though he couldn’t believe his luck that the woman in white walking towards him was to be his wife.
“Juliette just looked absolutely stunning,” he told the Weekly. “As soon as I saw her, everything was right.”
“It felt amazing,” Juliette (30) says.“And so special to head towards the man who, after all these years, was to become my husband. Everything in that moment was perfect.”
Preparations for the big day were less than smooth – not that the famously laid-back couple were worried.
With severe weather warnings issued for the wider Waikato region and gusts of wind up to 120km, Mother Nature was not on their side.
They were forced to shift their dream ceremony from outside the guesthouse – which they’d painstakingly renovated for the big day – into the adjacent woolshed. It was a last-minute decision that saw the entire bridal party scrambling to prepare.
Mahé’s groomsmen (Thornton Williams, Garth Tremeer and Gary Roberts) and other friends were out in the pouring rain with only hours to go before the ceremony, fixing holes in the woolshed roof and hammering down a new floor.
Old carpet was retrieved for a makeshift aisle, cut into shape with a chainsaw, while a fence bordering the property was cut down, so the bridal car could pull up right at the door.
But this unconventional preparation only made the day more special, as the couple saw family and friends rally to make sure nothing disrupted the event. In the end, nowhere was more fitting than the woolshed.
“The rain just added extra excitement!” Juliette says with a laugh. “I loved that it was raining. I was so excited, nothing could upset the day. We were getting married, no matter what. With everyone crammed into the woolshed, it made it more intimate, more special. It was incredible.”
“[The weather] was one of those things forced upon us,” Mahé (34) adds. “We literally pulled it together in a day. To be able to do that and have it as great as it was – it was pretty special.”
There was never anywhere else the couple wanted to get married. Their house, the first place they lived together, holds many incredible memories, as well as their Olympic medals and countless trophies.
“It was important to us that we married at home,” he adds. “There’s nowhere else.”
Both sets of parents had made almost weekly trips to the couple’s 16-acre farm to help get the property into shape, which meant the wedding was turned into what the parents called a “labour of love”.
“My mum had even been out with the sewing scissors, cutting the grass around the daffodils,” Juliette says.
The big day started early for Mahé and Juliette, who had followed tradition and spent the previous night apart – Mahé at their home, while Juliette stayed at the reception venue.
The bride woke early for breakfast with bridesmaids Rebecca Scown, Megan Webster and Mel Cash, before retreating to a neighbour’s cottage near her and Mahé’s home for hair and make-up, while sipping Pelorus Vintage 2002 champagne.
The groomsmen, in between fixing the woolshed, enjoyed clay-pigeon shooting off the deck of the house, while Mahé spent his last few hours of bachelorhood wrestling with the computer, trying to print his wedding speech.
Mahé’s mum, Robin Owens, bustled through the house, grumbling that her other son Pete, one of the MC’s for the day, had lost the bag containing the ribbons that were supposed to adorn the bridal party’s Rolls-Royce. Juliette’s brother, Chris, was also on MC duty.
With 10 minutes until the start of the 3pm ceremony, Mahé and his men made their way across the paddock to the shed, and with a final “go well, big guy” from Garth, the groom stood in front of the guests… and waited.
Although she looked for a break in the almost torrential downpour, Juliette, running traditionally late, decided to make a run for the car that would take her the 50 metres down the driveway. Her three bridesmaids helped usher her into the vehicle, while still in their silk dressing gowns.
Arriving at the shed alongside dad John, Juliette followed her bridesmaids up the steps, shielded by a massive green umbrella, plucked from the couple’s outdoor furniture set.
Hitching up her Jane Yeh lace appliquéd, ivory silk and tulle gown to avoid the mud puddles, the bride made her way down the rose petal-strewn aisle, as family friend Jesse Reynolds played piano and sang David Gray’s This Year’s Love – the lyrics of which they changed to reflect their relationship.
Above the aisle hung a 1930s boat that Mahé’s mother Robin had bought – a fitting reminder of the sport that brought them together 12 years before at West End Rowing Club.
As she stood with Mahé as the last strains of the song finished, Juliette beamed at her soon-to-be husband.
Celebrant Nathan Twaddle – a 2008 Olympic bronze medallist who took on the role just to marry his friends – kicked off proceedings, saying he was “packing himself”, but “absolutely chuffed” to be presiding over the big day.
Among the guests were Olympic coxless pair champions Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, and fellow gold medal winners in the double sculls, Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan.
Over the sound of torrential rain pummelling the corrugated iron roof, Nathan Twaddle welcomed everyone.
Almost 150 guests crowded into the makeshift venue – the first six rows seated, the others made comfortable on hay bales covered in white linen.
“Mahé and Juliette are the best of friends,” Nathan said.
“Because of their bond, they have achieved what they have in sport and in life. In their case, one plus one can equal three. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
“Yes, they’ve been hugely successful in the same sport, but the challenges they’ve faced individually have been unique.”
“Juliette said to me, Mahé is her favourite thing in the world. She loves his determined, loyal, caring, supportive nature, and the fact he encourages her to take her own path.”
“And Mahé, well he isn’t one to necessarily wear his heart on his sleeve, but for as long as I’ve known him, it’s been clear what his intentions were for Juliette. I know he loves her caring, empathetic nature, and her ability to be completely with him in his darkest moments and his finest hours.“
After readings from family, friends Ruth Hatton and Emma Twigg – the latter reciting the poem He Never Leaves the Seat Up to much laughter – Mahé and Juliette exchanged vows that they wrote together.
Alexander Mahé Owens Drysdale and Juliette Anne Haigh – partners and best friends – promised to encourage, inspire and treasure each other, to laugh with each other, and to comfort each other forever.
Nathan then asked for the parents of the bride and groom, Penny and John Haigh and Robin Owens and Alan Drysdale, if they were happy for their respective son and daughter to marry – the answer being a resounding “yes”.
And with a final flourish, tinged with relief that he hadn’t forgotten anything, Nathan pronounced them husband and wife.
Mr and Mrs Drysdale – Juliette is taking Mahé’s name – then signed the register on a table that she described as “really rustic”, and walked back up the woolshed aisle, hand in hand to Home by Phillip Phillips. A fitting song for a ceremony that took place at undoubtedly the perfect venue.
They then walked outside, through a guard of honour made up of oars, held by members of their rowing club, West End. As if by miracle or some divine intervention, it had stopped raining for a few moments,
“I still can’t believe we’re married,” Juliette says, clutching Mahé’s hand.
“Marrying Mahé is completely and utterly right. That’s the simplest way to put it. It’s what was supposed to happen. We just made the last commitment that we’ve made in every other way.”
Incredibly, neither felt many nerves before or during the big day, apart from when Mahé was waiting for Juliette at the altar.
“I was surprised at how emotional I was,” he says. “But as soon as Juliette came in, I was good again. I didn’t cry, but the tears weren’t far away.”
“It’s a big thing for him to say he was close to tears!” laughs Juliette.
After photos with the bridal party, the newlyweds made their way to the reception venue in Hora Hora in a tucked away converted helicopter hangar, on the banks of the Waikato River.
The couple took a few moments before joining their guests for a three-course meal, and then, fittingly, shared their first dance to Romeo and Juliet by Dire Straits, made all the more ironic, yet meaningful, given the pragmatic nature
of the newlyweds.
They then cut their three-tiered chocolate whisky cake, made by Rocket Kitchen and decorated by Juliette’s dad John.
“He’s not a cake decorator, he only ever did my birthday cakes as a kid,” Juliette says.
“But it was special to have him do it. We didn’t know how he was going to decorate it, but he did an amazing job.”
In keeping with tradition, the couple are heading off on their honeymoon on Sunday, but to a very special place – the island of Mahé, in the Seychelles Islands.
“We’re going to see where my name came from,” he grins.
“He’s never been there before, so we thought this was the opportunity to go. We’re really looking forward to it,” Juliette says.
But as they prepare to leave their friends and family for a few short weeks, the words of their wedding readings will ring true as they begin their new life together.
“He’ll be more than just her husband, he’ll also be her friend. And she’ll be more than just his wife, she’ll be his soulmate ‘til the end.”
Photo Editor: Amalia Osborne • Photography: Perspectives Photo + Cinema • Photographer’s assistant: Laura Vink • Hair and Make-Up: Sharon Kenny Make Up