“I can really recommend organising a wedding quickly,” says Emily Barclay, the Kiwi-born actor who married her partner of nine years, Australian comedian and actor Tom Ward, on a hot summer's day in New York this July.
Emily, Tom and their two young kids had moved to NYC in January 2023 for work, and realised that in order for Emily to get health insurance they needed to be married. “Basically Tom came into the living room one day and he said ‘oh dear, we need to get married’ and that was that.”
The couple had one week to make it happen. With no time for a formal ceremony (or notice to give family and friends back home), they decided on a city hall wedding followed by a party at their apartment. “We wanted it to be very low key and easy but also fun. My approach was that I just went with my first instinct on everything and tried not to overthink it,” Emily says.
“I’d never wanted to get married, so I think that made it easier - I didn’t have some magical fantasy version in my head. I just tried to plan a fun party with a cute dress. It ended up feeling like a kitsch Valentine’s prom which was a dream for me.”
The bride wore a white Sandy Liang cocktail dress with a giant rosette and her well-worn black velvet YSL Mary Janes, plus a Sandy Liang veil and earrings. “She’d just released her bridal collection and I wanted to wear this big poofy mini dress but they’re made to order. I emailed asking if they could make it in a week and now I know that that is a crazy thing to ask because it turns out it takes 6 months to make a wedding dress.
So I bought a dress off the rack for about $600 (the most expensive single purchase of our wedding). I wouldn't say it was a perfect fit, but good enough. I had to get the sleeves taken up and it wasn’t ready to pick up until about one hour before the wedding.
Tom wore a Bode shirt, and a suit he found at some shop, while Emily brought their 5-year-old a Bode shirt, “because we are insane? We had a fight about the shirt, he didn’t want to wear it, and as soon as we got home changed back into his threadbare counterfeit Disney Frozen dress.”
The couple spent about $1500 (approx $2.4K NZD) all up on clothes and jewellery, including wedding rings. “We bought our rings the day before from a gold shop in Chinatown called New Top Jewellery. Very Uncut Gems.”
Emily’s bridal beauty routine was a mix of high and low on the wedding day. “I got the world’s most expensive blow dry for $85 USD plus a 20 percent tip. $155 New Zealand dollars. That seems like a lot for a blow dry, right? I should have checked the price before they got started.
“That’s five dollars more than our wedding cake cost (which, to be honest, was also too much for a cake that served 12 people). It was so hot the day we got married so I didn’t wear much makeup; some mascara, some tinted moisturiser that I sweated off after five minutes.”
The couple headed down to City Hall in 35 degree heat (“I wear a lovely natural deodorant, so I didn’t smell great.”), joined by their friend Josh and Emily’s aunt and uncle who happened to be in town.
“We were only allowed to bring three people, not including our kids. Our five-year-old also came. He hated it. He was furious the entire time and yelled at us when we kissed. The baby couldn’t come because he was at home sick with a babysitter. On our way to get married she texted us and said he had been crying for 30 minutes non-stop and should she take him to the doctor. So that was relaxing. He was fine when we got home. I guess both my children were upset that I was marrying their father?”
The reality of a City Hall wedding is that you actually get married at the city clerk’s office down the road, explains Emily. “But it’s okay because they have a photo backdrop of the old New York City Hall so you can pretend you were there. You go through the metal detectors and you take a number and wait on some ratty couches alongside all the other people who are getting married for various reasons.
“Then you go up to the little booth and pay $35 and they take you into a back room with a celebrant for a very quick ceremony, which was actually surprisingly sweet! It felt very special – I hadn’t expected that at all. Tom and I hadn’t looked into each other’s eyes and cried since we took MDMA in our first week of dating.
“We gave each other rings and said vows. We didn’t say ‘in sickness and in health.’ I thought we were going to, but maybe they don’t do that anymore? Honestly that was the biggest concern for me about getting married, having to say that, because I can’t tell you how much I hate it when Tom is sick,” says Emily.
“I can’t bear to be around him. I’m working on it with my therapist right now. She thinks it’s something to do with fear of abandonment. You think I’m joking but I’m not. He had Covid recently and he sent ME flowers while he was shut away in the spare room.”
After the ceremony, about 30 guests joined the couple to celebrate at their furnished rental apartment, which they decorated with pink, red and white streamers and heart-shaped balloons, a pink sequin tablecloth gifted from a friend and $50 worth of cute supermarket flowers Emily bought in Williamsburg that morning. She wants everyone to know that when they look at the photos, “I didn’t choose that dining table or the chairs or the sofa, okay?”
Emily also made the party playlist, including romantic tunes by Bikini Kill, Hole, PJ Harvey, The Beths and Nick Cave. “This was a real treat because Tom usually gets to be in charge of the music at parties, he thinks no one likes my songs. As you can tell he’s very mean and controlling,” she jokes. “Josh was adamant that we needed to pick a song and do a ‘first dance’ but I’m so glad we didn’t. I can’t tell you how weird and uncomfortable that would have been for everyone.”
To fuel their guests on the dance-floor there was 12 litres of margaritas made by Josh, plus a case of prosecco as a wedding present from Emily’s aunt and uncle, “Which no one drank because they were so f….d from the margaritas. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough alcohol but we still have nine litres of it in our freezer.”
The couple ordered a classic party spread of too much pizza and (unintentionally-themed) donuts to help soak up the margs. “The donuts were meant to be rainbow sprinkles but since we got married the day after Independence Day, the donuts arrived with red, white and blue sprinkles on them. What the f..k?! I guess everyone at the party thought we were serving them day old donuts? The icing was melting because of the heat so in the end I could re-dip half of the donut in rainbow sprinkles. No one ate them anyway because Teddy took a bite out of every single one when no one was looking.”
While they didn’t embrace many traditions on their wedding day – “apart from I guess upholding the patriarchy?” – they did cut the cake together, after explaining to Tom that this was a thing. “He just went to cut the cake alone and everyone yelled at him,” Emily says, before remembering the “really sweet speech” he made at the wedding party.
Tom’s best friend Josh Thomas captured some of those special moments from the day. “Here’s a tip, don’t get Josh Thomas as your wedding photographer,” says Emily. “Pretty much every single photo of me was just so bad. Tom looked great. It was like in Love Actually where the wedding video is just Keira Knightley. I’m not going to say anymore. People can come to their own conclusions.”
Despite the whirlwind lead-up to an imperfect wedding day without all their friends and family, “I don’t see how it could have been any more fun than it was.
“I know that if we had a year to organise a wedding we would have agonised over every little detail and spent so much money and I feel like that would have detracted from the fun of the day.
“Honestly just having a snapshot of this chaotic, beautiful moment in time where we are living in New York with our little kids and having this crazy adventure – I’m glad that I’ll always remember this time when I think about our wedding.”