Under the guise of their 50th and 51st birthday party, Fiona and Dan threw a surprise wedding for their friends and family. A celebration of 30 years together and the promise of a lifetime more. Their day was filled with fun, light, laughter, and, most importantly – love. Behind the camera, Little Black Bow Photography captured the surprise and emotional candid moments from the day.

Fiona and Dan met 30 years ago through mutual friends while she was still studying at Newcastle University. “For me, I instantly knew I wanted to get to know him and be with him, so I chased him a bit, and our friends helped put us together in group situations, and then bang – we have had a wonderful life since then, travelling and building a home together, it was almost 30 years later, and we decided to get married.”

After 30 years together, the proposal wasn’t a grand display – instead, it was spontaneous and perfectly them. “Despite having stood in some amazing parts of the world over the years (like dining in the Eiffel Tower, walking the walls of Dubrovnik, wine tasting in Tuscany, snorkelling from a yacht in Tahiti etc.), the proposal happened in our bathroom/laundry one afternoon when I suddenly thought “wouldn’t it be fun to get married and surprise everyone at our birthday party”. So I raced home to tell Daniel, and suddenly I got tongue-tied and worried that after all this time, he might say no – finally, I blurted out, “Want to get married?” and he laughed at me and said yes – apparently, he had been thinking the same thing but decided to let me ask once I started stumbling around it.”

Fiona has worked in the wedding industry for over ten years and runs her own wedding cake business, Dragonfly Cakes. “I knew a lot of people in the business, so I was very lucky to be able to know who to seek out and approach that I knew would be perfect for our day. An added bonus is that after all these years, many of them are now good friends.”

The wedding took place at their home, a heritage-listed property built in the later 1800s – complete with established gardens. “As we were hiding the wedding under a birthday party, we had birthday signage and balloons in the driveway as people walked down, and then as they got to the back yard, they turned and saw the festoons and fairy lights, the neons and signage throughout the gardens (all from the amazing Kimmy from Love Glows), a bar set up (for Boozy Suzie bars) and an arbour and aisle for the wedding,” she explained. “We hired all the large pieces and chairs from The Event Artists – there were loads of places for people to sit around and mingle, and throughout the afternoon, there were plenty of spaces in the gardens and on the verandas for us to take our photos. We even had a pinata filled with fortune cookies and chocolates to play with, and we had a playlist on Spotify for the evening.”

They included a few beautiful, sentimental touches to the decor, including a string of photos of Dan and Fiona from the past 30 years from some of their most memorable adventures. Another sentimental addition was the flowers in the arbour created by Jasmine from As Sweet As Jasmine. “I didn’t want to carry any flowers, but I wanted an arbour to stand in front of – so we approached Jasmine, who I’ve also known for years and love her style.” She created this gorgeous asymmetrical two-pillar arbour that featured mostly green foliage and white flowers. The main feature? The 40-50 stems of Fiona’s grandfather’s original cymbidium orchids, which had somehow flowered at the right time. “My grandfather has been dead for around 46 years, so these plants are quite old, and my father has cared for them all that time. It was so beautiful to be able to include his flowers in our special day like that, especially since so many of my cousins from that side of the family were in attendance, so it was extra lovely for them to see it as well.”

Fiona wore a beautiful custom gown she designed with Caitlin from Studio C Bridal. The gown was made from stunning green lace and finished with bell sleeves and pockets. “Being a curvy gal, I knew that shopping off the rack wasn’t really much of an option, and I also didn’t want a white gown. I’ve known Caitlin for several years now as a friend, and I knew her background in costuming would be perfect for my body shape and what I wanted. So she was one of the only friends who knew about the wedding. We designed this amazing dress and then looked at the lace, and we suddenly found this amazing, perfect green lace with vines and flowers all over it – we both stopped and said: “That’s it!”… so that was ordered, and when it arrived, it was even more perfect. We modified the original design a little over the course of the fittings (we changed the sleeves to the beautiful bell ones that were on the final dress design) – it fitted beautifully, was very comfortable, and had pockets! It was hemmed to a length that worked perfectly with my heels and the flats I changed into after the ceremony.

The gown had some personal touches, including embroidered samples of handwriting from Fiona’s beloved grandfather and great-aunt sewn into the lining – as well as the costume brooch Caitlin attached to the back of the gown, which was handed down from her great aunt.

Caitlin also designed a cape to wear with her gown for the ceremony. She finished it with embroidered jewelled dragonflies and butterflies – a homage to Fiona’s home and business, Dragonfly Cottage and Dragonfly Cakes. “Caitlin and her husband were there amongst the rest of our friends and family, and she helped me dress and get down the aisle – I couldn’t have done it without her; she is truly amazing,” Fiona revealed. “My dress was my dream, and she made me feel so beautiful in it, which isn’t an easy task. Then at the end of the process, to learn that my dress was one of the last she would be making as she is closing her business – well, that made it extra special!”

Along with her custom gown, Fiona wore a necklace from her maternal great-grandmother’s collection that had been passed down for generations. “I had to get it restrung as the metal had broken, but it was important to me that I wore this necklace as I’d grown up seeing it in photos of my great-grandmother.”

As the wedding was a surprise, there was no wedding party. But Fiona’s dad did walk her down the aisle to one of their favourite songs – an acoustic version of “Take Me On” by A-Ha.

Dan wore a simple jacket from Rundle Tailoring, with Fiona stating: “Where else does a couple from Newcastle go when they need men’s wear?!”. He paired this with some chinos and shoes also from Rundles in similar neutral colours. Dan’s jacket also had a dragonfly pin on the lapel, matching his wife. “We went with more neutral colours, something that would look good against the green/bronze on my dress but also in keeping with having a backyard, garden wedding – it was important that he felt comfortable, and that was exactly how he was on the day.”

A whirlwind of storytelling, laughter and love – their ceremony was relaxed and quick to avoid friends and family sitting out in the hot sun for too long. “It was a quick ceremony conducted by the amazing Kez (also a friend) from Married by Kez. She wrote the most amazing ceremony from Daniels and my stories we sent her – to hear our life together summarised like she did was a true gift. We have had the most wonderful 30 years together. We didn’t have any readings, just the ceremony and our vows (which we kept from each other until the day),” she recounted. “Daniel wrote his in the form of a Dr Seuss-style poem which was so wonderfully him and mine were full of funny promises regarding how spicy I will make his food and how I will plan our trips together. It was really just us!”

To decide who would be their witnesses, they played witness bingo! “We put our friend’s names in two bowls (split into males and females) and drew one out of each. It was hilarious, and the end result was two of our wonderful friends being surprised and signing the registry with us.”

With so many unforgettable moments to choose from, Fiona struggled to narrow down her favourite. “Oh, there are so many – I loved everything we did; my dress, our rings, the food, the cocktails, everything, but one of my favourite details was the streamer exit we did after our ceremony,” she explained. “I sourced all these handheld streamer bundles that fitted like a ring over your finger, that you held in the palm of your hand, and when you threw them, they all flew out but stayed attached to your hand (sooo easy to clean up and all recyclable). It was an absolute riot of colour, with 38 bundles being thrown at once from both sides of the aisle – so much so that I got caught about halfway down and couldn’t move cause I was being held like I was in a giant spider web. It was hilarious, made for the absolute best photos and everyone was laughing sooo much!”

When asked how he felt about the wedding, Dan had this to say: “Love, laughter, and good times is how I think about our wedding day – we felt lucky and special on the day to be working with such a great team to make everything work as well as it did.”

After catering their own 30th and 40th birthdays, Fiona and Dan decided that they wanted this event (even under the guise of another birthday) to be low maintenance. So, they contacted the team at The Wilderness Chef to help out. “We had a yard full of foodies and a few chefs thrown in, so we knew we had to have the best in the biz, and Cooper and his team were it – everyone is still raving about their food. We did a canapé service, and every dish was divine; they even hunted Dan and me down with each different canapé to make sure we got something every time. They were five stars all the way, and I know a few of our guests went inside to speak with them and tell them how amazing everything was!”

Their rings were also custom designed, with the help of Metal Urges in Tasmania.” Mine has a beautiful pearl-shaped green parti-sapphire from Tasmania in the middle, and both use mokume gane as a feature, so the rings are a pair – this made them very special to us!”

Dearne from Little Black Bow Photography captured the surprise wedding – and was the first vendor they booked after getting engaged. “What can I say about Dea other than she is phenomenal? I love candid photography; she always captures the most amazing emotions in her photos – her style was perfect for us. She made us laugh, and she captured so much more than what we saw and were aware of on the day – her series of photos of our guests, as they found out it was a surprise wedding, is the absolute best – honestly, I look at the photos we have, and I can see love, joy and laughter in every one of them – she is truly amazingly talented.”

Unfortunately, not everyone could attend the surprise wedding, including Fiona’s maternal aunt and uncle. “They are in their 90s, and my uncle is also my godfather, and I absolutely adore them. So they were originally coming and knew it was a wedding, but a few weeks prior, my uncle had a heart attack, and whilst he was home and doing ok, he just couldn’t get there on the day. But all 3 of their kids (my older cousins) were there, and my oldest cousin was live streaming the wedding for them – so they could watch us from the comfort of their home – that was so special.”

The wedding cake was made by none other than Fiona herself and was displayed on a sentimental piece of furniture. “I made our wedding cake, but given I’m a wedding cake designer, it’s probably not so much DIY,” she explained. “I also wanted to include items on me or on the day that was special, especially from those people who I loved but have passed on – so our signing table/cake table was one my paternal grandfather had made.”

Under the stars, the string lights and in front of their The Hornes sign, Fiona and Dan had their first dance. “We danced to Kermit the Frog singing Rainbow Connection – this is the song I’ve always dreamed about dancing to at my wedding.” Followed by a second slow song (” Your Song” by Elton John) for their parents and siblings to join in. “Daniel and I dancing together was lovely – the fairy lights twinkled over head, and I could hear people talking in the background but the song was mostly what I heard, and it ended up being exactly what we wanted.”

When asked what her top five moments of the surprise wedding were, Fiona had this to say:

“1.  truly organising it together, aside from my dress/hair/makeup there wasn’t a decision that we didn’t make together,

2. pulling off a surprise wedding for around 60 of our 70 guests – trust me, the temptation to tell my best friends was terrible,

3. having our 5 nieces and nephews at the wedding – they were the only kids invited, and it was so lovely to see their faces whilst their aunt and uncle got married (most of them just assumed we were already married, so that was even funnier),

4. having my dad walk me down the aisle and seeing both sets of our parents there and in good health – trust me, the older you get the more important that becomes – our parents are all in their mid/late 70s, so having them all there was a blessing,

5. watching Daniel’s face when I stood in front of him – he was so happy, and I could see how much he loved me in his eyes.”

A huge congratulations to Fiona and Dan for pulling off your incredibly surprise wedding – you did an amazing job! And thanks to Little Black Bow Photography for capturing these candid, tender moments from the night.