Normally, sharing your wedding day with four other women would be every bride’s worst nightmare.
But for five Kiwi couples, it didn’t matter that their special day wasn’t theirs alone, or that their ceremony wasn’t what any of them had envisaged – it was a day many of them thought would never come.
Brent McArthur and Amber Baskiville-Robinson, Chris Michl and Shannon Bradley, Chelsea Teese and Joe Williams, Arron Wilson and Philomena Flood, and Liahn Heperi and Wade Herewini all won the opportunity on radio station More FM to be married simultaneously aboard a Fiji Airways flight from Auckland to Nadi, 41,000 feet in the air – setting the Guinness World Record for the highest altitude wedding.
With two witnesses for every couple on board, the brides and grooms were serenaded by cabin crew, as they walked down the aisle of the Airbus A330, which had been lovingly decorated by Fiji Airways crew.
As slightly bewildered passengers cheered, they stopped in front of celebrant Helena Dixon, who read the group the traditional vows of love, honour and respect, as well as reciting some Dr Seuss.
After each pair expressed their love and commitment to each other, for better or for worse, Helena declared them to be man and wife – a moment which brought tears to the eyes of many of those watching.
While the experience was “surreal, crazy and absolutely mad”, all couples are thrilled they are finally married – and for some, it’s been long overdue.
Arron (41) and Philomena (40), from the Hawke’s Bay, have been engaged for an incredible 12 years. It was a day that ended their horrible “bad luck”, that’s seen them miscarry five babies in five years.
“It’s been a tough time,” Arron says.
“It’s just the year anniversary of losing our little boy – he was 23 weeks. We got a little depressed, and then Philomena entered this competition and we won.”
“It feels like our luck is changing,” Philomena adds. “Getting married like this has taken away a lot of stress, so maybe that will help. The doctors don’t have a reason why we keep losing the babies. And all of our friends have said how perfect this is for us. We’re pretty laid-back people, so we would never have got around to actually getting married!”
And while Brent (39) and Amber (35) can’t quite believe they’re now married – “Mr Unromantic here cried,” laughs Amber, poking Brent in the ribs – they too have had their share of rotten luck. The Wellington pair lost two deposits on venues for their wedding, their rings were stolen in a home break-in, and both of them had been made redundant.
“If this competition hadn’t come along, we wouldn’t have got married anytime soon,” says Amber, who met Brent online, three years ago.
“I was a bit nervous beforehand though,” chips in Brent. “I did three laps of the airport to calm down.”
And although it’s normally mum-of-three Chelsea (25) that gets anxious, fiancé Joe (28) admits he was “nervous as hell” before the ceremony.
“But getting married like this just seemed so right,” he says. “I feel amazing now. I feel complete. Our kids have always had the last name Williams, and now all of us can. It’s awesome. It’s how it should be.”
“It’s definitely not the way I pictured getting married, but I like being different,” Chelsea adds. “It was nice sharing it with all the other couples, but when we were up there, it was like it was just us.”
It was also a chance for the Christchurch couple to do something for themselves for a change – a sentiment echoed by Lower Hutt pair Chris (31) and Shannon (28). With four kids between them – one with severe disabilities – there usually isn’t a lot of time to spend together.
“We feel so relaxed without the kids here, but it is weird!” Chris laughs. Chris and Shannon are another couple that would have kept pushing back their wedding date, despite an incredible love for each other.
“We were both prepared to be single for the rest of our days, and that was okay,”says Shannon.
“I had my eldest girl with her disabilities, and Chris thought that because he lost an eye in a mountain biking accident, no-one would want him. We were two sad sack lost souls that found happiness in each other.”
And while they may be young, Hamilton duo Liahn (22) and Wade (24) are convinced they’re made for each other, with Liahn calling her new husband “the man of my dreams”.
“I’m just so happy we’re married,” she says with a smile.
“We’ve been trying to save for a wedding, but it’s so hard to justify, so I just thought I’d enter the competition and see what happened!”
And now there’s a sense of relief among the couples that their unions are finally official.
“It’s been the most amazing day,” sums up Joe.
“We’ve all got what we’ve always wanted.”
Check out some behind the scenes shots here.