Kimber Westphall On How to Pull Off a Surprise Wedding

“If you’re reading this then our surprise plan went off without a hitch, and now it’s time to get hitched.”

This is what our impromptu wedding guests read on October 5 as they were puzzling together the context clues of a surprise wedding. It unfolded in front of them hint by hint.

But before our wedding date came and wedding bells rang, we faced one logistical obstacle after another to masterfully craft our surprise wedding plan.

Why We Did It

Writing for D Weddings, I’ve glimpsed into some of the most creative and enchanting weddings and love stories this city has seen. Wanting to pen my own wedding tale, my fiancé, James, and I began brainstorming. We focused on how we wanted our guests to feel in the moment. I sheepishly threw out the idea of a surprise wedding. My fiancé’s ears perked up and his excitement surprised me. We began entertaining this unorthodox plan half-heartedly. And by the end of the chat, the plan was whole-hearted and I was on the phone with potential wedding venues. As we got engaged in June, we hoped to have our surprise wedding in August, to really throw our guests off. October 5 was the closest date we could nab, and we graciously scooped it up.

Laying The Groundwork

We knew the frontend groundwork would be critical in encouraging our guests to attend some sort of gathering that was nuptial-related. So we decided to claim we were eloping in the spring but wanted to have an engagement party in the fall.

Our “Engagement Party”

Invitations were sent and “Bash Before they Dash” was how we branded the engagement party. Our biggest fear, aside from getting our guests there, was that people would come and go, thinking it was a drop-in and say hi engagement party. So our invitations noted that it was a seated dinner, accompanied with cocktails and dancing. Much to our gratitude, the RSVPs came in with yes after yes. Our guests thought of this engagement party as their one chance to celebrate with us before we eloped.

Getting People There

We anticipated one of the biggest obstacles would be getting friends and family from across the map to fly in. But for the most part, no eyebrows were raised and the plane tickets were booked. Some of our friends said they wanted to partake in the elopement too. So we quickly had to pivot and say that it was just going to be James and me participating in that ceremony abroad in Italy (not even our parents). On our registry, we put March 2, 2019, in case we had some suspicious sleuths on our hands. I even had some friends print out documentation needed to get married in Italy. We were trying to cover every single track.

Who Knew It Was A Surprise Wedding

This was key, as one little slip and the whole surprise could be spoiled. We didn’t even want to tell our wedding party until the big reveal. But we also knew that we needed to have an inner circle of trust to execute the plan smoothly. Our parents were in the loop from day one. And slowly we let a couple of our best friends know, as we would need their help in orchestrating everything on the day of. And I had two good friends who used to run an event-planning business. I needed them in my corner and was so grateful they were there to help me each step of the way. One of them had even helped pull off a surprise wedding for a friend in the past.

Other Key Players

And of course we had to let the band know as they were going to be central in the surprise ceremony. The Special Edition Band is a 10-piece band that we’d seen at other events and always thought they would be perfect for a wedding some day. Hiring them was one of the best decisions we made in this clandestine wedding plan. They pulled everything off flawlessly and were genuinely thrilled to be involved, and they majorly over-delivered. I’ve never heard Canon in D sound so majestic and rich. The venue, The Room on Main, had to be in the know since day one and the team members were masterminds at knocking down any little barrier that presented itself. They helped make the whole operation run like a well-oiled machine.

Our photo and video team operated as stealthy ninjas through out the night, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how much they studied my 15-page run of show and adhered to every detail. And last but not least, I wanted to practice my hair and makeup before the big day with Dallas makeup artist, Daniela Bell. She kept my secret under lock and key, and made me feel like a princess during the trial run and day of.

How We Got Everyone There

Another little snag in our grand plan was that October 5 was the start of TX/OU weekend. We knew there would be traffic and extra bodies buzzing around town. So we communicated this again and again. On our website, through a reminder email that week and individually. The cocktail portion started at 6:30 p.m. with a seated dinner at 7 p.m. We hoped that a seated dinner listed on the invitation would encourage prompt arrival. Little did they know, that was actually show time for the surprise. 

How Our Wedding Party Found Out

We knew we’d be foregoing some tradition with our surprise plan. And we felt that we were exchanging those factors for something greater and more exciting. We knew our wedding party would be tethered together in miss-matched outfits, and that was okay. It was actually part of the charm. We made sure to have boutonnieres and bouquets ready for them after they were let in on the secret, so there would be some semblance of unity.

To get everyone gathered in one spot, at one time, we fabricated the idea that our event photographer wanted to get a best friend photo on the roof at sunset. We slipped off just a few minutes before to take a photo on the roof at sunset before the group photo. James wore a suit and tie he already had, and I wore a white cocktail dress. We quickly changed into our formal wedding attire, and hid in the bridal suite. Soon after, our unknowing wedding party was directed through the kitchen and to the roof, with one little stop in the bridal suite. We popped out with gusto and fanfare, hoping to convey it was our wedding day. Our people looked at us in confusion and then James asked, “Will you be our bridesmaids and groomsmen?” Soon tears of joy erased the confusion on their faces and a blissful uproar ensued. The energy was electric and I couldn’t wait until the other 200 guests were let in on the revelation too.

The Big Reveal

The wedding party was assembled, thanks to my mom lining everyone up and implementing a quickie crash course, since we didn’t have a rehearsal. Soon one of our officiants, who also owns Dallas Comedy House, was cued to head on stage and wrangle the crowd for dinner. She offered to lead everyone in a toast and exclaimed, “Cheers to Kimber and James, who finally selecting a wedding date. It’s October 5, 2018.”

I was desperately trying to listen, tucked away in the bridal suite. I could barely make out the words, but then Canon in D started playing on the stand-up bass and violin. For the confused guests who still hadn’t caught on, she shouted, “Welcome to Kimber and James’ wedding!” Wedding programs were passed out and pure pandemonium zoomed through the venue. I heard squeals of jubilation, roaring cheers, and explosive applause, and I felt the biggest sigh of relief. All the planning, sleepless nights, and logistical preparations landed on this moment. And it exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds. People were legitimately astounded.

The Ceremony

It was short and sweet. As our wedding party flooded the room, one by one, they were greeted by cheers and smiles stretched across surprised faces. Especially when James first made his appearance down the dance floor aisle with his parents, and when I entered with my father. Guests flew out of their seats and hooted and hollered. I was submerged with emotion as happy tears crept their way down my cheerful cheeks. The message in the ceremony clung to the idea that hope is paramount, and we wished that this little wedding surprise offered our loved ones a glimmer of hope and genuine surprise. Along with the owner of Dallas Comedy House, two other dear friends tri-officiated the wedding.

The Reception

We wanted elements of surprise to trickle into the night. So we started off with cocktail napkins that simply read, “thanks Bumble. #westphallingforclonts” and then after the ceremony, we had cocktail napkins reading, “Welcome to our Surprise Wedding.” We also had little surprises in the form of late night snacks come out every 15 minutes after the dance floor opened up. And we had the cake arrive after the ceremony, so we could experience the traditional cake cutting and champagne toast (in Bumble flutes as a nod to how we met). We also had a cigar bar and caricature artist arrive to accompany the photo booth. And perhaps the most popular culinary surprise was the old-fashioned ice cream cart from Baldo’s. The line for their handcrafted treats was always long. And for our getaway, we gleefully trailed behind the band’s brass musicians, who played When the Saints Go Marching In.

Would We Do It Again?

In a heartbeat. It was well worth the effort it took to keep it a secret. There are few opportunities to surprise that many people at once. And we are grateful we got to be the ones pulling it off. Plus the wedding planning process was more intimate, as we weren’t spilling every detail to others. This helped the focus truly be on the love between us and the wedding experience we wanted to share with our family and friends.

Credits

  • Bridal Gown Retailer

    Lulu’s Bridal

  • Groom's Attire

    The Black Tux

  • Hair & Makeup

    Daniela Bell

  • Ceremony/Reception Site

    The Room on Main

  • Photographer

    Roderick Pullum

  • Videographer

    One80Three Media

  • Flowers

    Whole Foods

  • Catering

    CN Catering

  • Cake & Desserts

    Baldo's Ice Cream, Chelsea Cake Co.

  • Music

    The Special Edition Band

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