“In an amazing conversation with Michaella, a dynamic and open-minded woman, who started working as a celebrant in Greece several years ago we learned about the relatively recent trend in Greece’s wedding industry that still few are aware of”.
How long have you been in business and how did you get started?
Actually, it all started from social media. I keep track of my friends as we all do and I noticed that a former classmate from Central School of Speech and Drama in London, the amazing and talented Zena Birch had become a Certified Humanist Celebrant. I watched her bloom into an excellent celebrant conducting bespoke ceremonies all over the UK. I was instantly inspired by her work and I knew there was something promising there. I was trying to find a way to offer this kind of service in Greece. What was holding me back was that I was working full time as a stage manager with no spare time and that a ceremony of this type could not be legally certified in Greece. At that time, I found the non-legit factor as an obstacle. I left it behind me for a while and when I quit my job in order to move out from Athens, the dream came back knocking on my door. Seven years ago, I found out that there were already symbolic ceremonies in Greece but lacked a personal touch. There was a much more formal approach resembling Town Hall weddings. It was then that I decided to do my research and get to know a way to write bespoke wedding ceremonies. I came in touch with celebrants abroad and after some video calls and lots of notes and mostly hints and tips, I felt I was confident enough to start celebrating couples. I made a site and the rest is history!
Acceptance, empathy, innovation, tailored service, adaptability to customer’s needs and wishes, advocating diversity, guidance, pushing boundaries.
How big is the market opportunity and what trends are you seeing coming?
The wedding industry in Greece is thriving and getting bigger and better from year to year. Today there are double wedding planning agencies than seven years ago. Greece is becoming a highly successful wedding destination competing with other Mediterranean countries that were traditionally popular for years. Greece’s wedding industry offers high-quality services for significantly lower rates so it’s a win-win for international couples. There are more celebrants now and everyone has their different approach or personality so couples can find the service that suits them best. The rising popularity of Greece has finally coerced the wedding planners to take more risks and there is finally a growing demand for out-of-venues weddings from beach and sailing boats to cliffs, forests, backyards, and overall rural sceneries. I love outstanding wedding spaces and I always encourage my couples to take a step further if they haven’t already decided on where they’re getting married.
Have you ever doubted you have what it takes to make it as a professional and have an impact?
I was confident from day one. Even though writing and conducting bespoke ceremonies is not an easy task for everyone, I knew it was a good fit for me. Public speaking skills are essential and I know that I have been fortunate enough to have a performing arts background which was a reassuring factor. I believe the service one is offering, the love and thoughtfulness they bring into the text, and customer contact is having an impact on the growth of the celebrant service awareness in Greece.
To what extent has the pandemic affected your business and what did you do to overcome the challenges?
The majority of the weddings are commencing during summer. The first summer of the pandemic the restrictions were somehow eased. Still, the wedding industry suffered a significant number of cancelations, especially from the destination weddings side. I was in touch with my couples trying to figure out how it could work out for them. Some weddings never happened and some moved their dates to next summer. I offered a couple of Zoom readings and it actually worked out. It wasn’t the actual wedding and I made a few appropriate adjustments in order to celebrate the date that the wedding was supposed to happen. Last year it was much better, I think most of the couples did have their dream wedding.
Do you think that new trends (i.e Diversity, digital transformation, etc.) enable your services in other ways?
My job is partly popular for respecting and filling the gap between couples’ different backgrounds, ethnicities, and beliefs. None of them feel they should oversee or offend the other’s family or culture, so a bespoke ceremony works as the common ground for all. I also feel blessed to be able to offer a solution for LGBT couples that don’t have the option of celebrating their love and decision to share their lives with their partner. So, I can proudly say that the diversity factor is making my job even more successful and most important, rewarding.
A celebrant needs a vigorous digital presence. Taking into consideration that the couples to be married rarely live where they are getting married or where I live, the most popular means to find out about my services is to Google me. So, I have to constantly have in mind to update my site, blog, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook page and generally keep up with the digital trends.
What elements set your business apart from your competitors?
For sure my experience, my performing background, the fact that I am a writer, and the personal connection I make sure to encourage with every couple. I will be a part of their wedding and share their story with their family and friends so it’s really important that I am not just a familiar face but someone they feel close to. I love crafting ceremonies as much as I love conducting them. The most intriguing part is when I get to know my couples, interview them, walk them through the countless options and make the right suggestions. I love the process of finding the best way to structure the couples’ sometimes unformed ideas and make them cohesive. I’m not a passive text reader. I know most of the ceremony by heart, I am in total sync and aware of the guest’s reactions and it’s not a coincidence I use the term “conducting a ceremony” since I draw a parallel between a celebrant and an orchestra conductor. During the ceremony, my heart is in the content of it all but at the same time, I know I represent the couple and their wishes thus I have an eye for the unforeseen and the flow of the ceremony. This is my happy place and I believe the couples can tell how passionate I am about my job.
What are the most important aspects of maintaining a good relationship with customers?
The trust issue is a key factor for me. Ι make sure I’m always available in order to reassure them everything’s under control and any last-minute alteration in the text or the ceremony flow is not an issue. Preparing a wedding even when you have a wedding planner is sometimes a stressful time for couples. I am not there to become another concern but to ease and remind them of all the positive aspects. I’m not just their Greek Celebrant, they know they can count on me, and there lies another rewarding element of my job. Boundaries are also essential for maintaining a good relationship with customers. The wedding industry community has helped a lot on this one! If I don’t respect what I’m doing, the others won’t too. I always protect my couples and myself by sending a contract that prevents both sides from any potential misunderstandings.
It’s been a few days since I’ve uploaded my new site and I’m actively trying to bring more awareness of the bespoke/symbolic ceremonies in Greece. When I meet people while socializing, they’ll tell me “If only we’d known”. In Greece, there are lots of couples that have had a Town Hall wedding or a legal partnership agreement and missed the opportunity of having a ceremony dedicated to their relationship, love, and journey. I strongly believe there’s a raising dynamic in the Greek market and I really want to bring this option to Greek couples. Another promising field is name-giving ceremonies. Most people are not aware that the church name-giving ceremony is a Christianity belief gesture and has nothing to do with the actual name-giving. The truth is that the name that you declare to the Town Registry is valid and not the church one. The majority of name-giving ceremonies come from Greek parents living abroad or couples coming from different backgrounds -as in weddings- that do not want to offend each other’s beliefs so a ceremony of this kind is a golden means and gives the opportunity to welcome their child in this world, assign guardians, explain the origin and the significance of the name and read wishes. I keep name-giving ceremonies really close to my heart.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
To keep on being myself because at the end of the day it all comes to one thing. Our personality.
You can find Michaella at www.celebrantgreece.com