This month we learn what is like to be a celebrant. Mark, the owner of Mark Your Occasion www.markyouroccasion.com shares his success story with us:
Tell us a bit more about yourself and your business.
My name is Mark, and I’ve just turned 30. It seems like a scary time to be 30 with everything going on in the world at the moment, but I’m trying to embrace it and capitalise on it. I have a wife, who is Ukrainian, and a son, who is 4, and we live in a small village in West Yorkshire – for now. We’ve endured a lot in the six years we’ve been together, but our experiences have definitely made us stronger.
My business is called Mark Your Occasion, and I am a celebrant, entertainer and master of ceremonies for predominantly family-based events such as funerals, weddings, naming ceremonies, and vow renewals. I decided to become a celebrant when my mum passed away in September 2019 and I was heavily involved in planning her funeral, including writing and delivering the eulogy. After the service, several people came up to me and were impressed by what I had said and the way I had said it, but the key moment was really when the Funeral Director echoed those sentiments and suggested I do it for a living. I had no idea what a celebrant even was back then, and now, a year later, following some training and self-education, I’d consider myself not far from being an expert on the subject.
My previous job experience stands me in good stead for the role as a celebrant – I’m a prolific writer, having written online on various topics including music and sport, as well as doing my fair share of Wikipedia editing since the early 2010s, I have a background as an entertainer having worked on cruise ships for a year and then in Cyprus for two years as a live singer in bars, hotels etc., and more recently, through my volunteer work on a peer support helpline, I’ve developed excellent active listening skills, which you need for when you’re interviewing family members or couples.
What’s a typical day of a celebrant like?
A celebrant spends a great deal of time in front of a computer. Around half of any day will be spent either working on social media, responding to email enquiries, and – most importantly – writing ceremonies. The other half is usually spent doing family visits, whether it’s interviewing the next of kin of someone recently deceased, or getting to know a happy couple who wants me to be a part of their ceremony. As an extrovert who does enjoy my own space on occasion, it works well for my personality – I have the contact with others that I really enjoy, but I also have time ‘for myself’ where I can really knuckle down and zone in on the task in front of me. There’s also a small amount of admin to be done, as with any job, but this is fairly limited (thank goodness!)
Would you have any funny stories you can share with our readers?
I’m not sure if it’s funny or sad because it was quite a large blunder on my part! My very first funeral, I had arranged with the son of the deceased to have a face-to-face meeting at the deceased’s home. Upon arrival, having filled out all the necessary paperwork to get me prepared for the interview, I arrived at the house and was greeted by the deceased’s son. Getting completely confused, I managed to call him by his father’s name – i.e. the man who had just passed away – rather than by his own name. I blame the fact that both names were next to each other on my notes! Since then, I’ve been very careful to check the name of the family members I’m about to speak to before going to meet them! Oops!
Tell us more about your skills of bringing wedding parties to life.
It’s actually easier than you might expect to bring a wedding party to life, because people are there to have a good time, so it doesn’t always take much – and an open bar helps to grease the wheels as well. I usually run my predicted playlist past my couples beforehand so they know what to expect, and they also have the option to request songs prior to the day, so the setlist is really tailored towards what they want. However, I do tend to have a similar final party setlist each time – I’ll open with Mambo Number Five, sing a few classic singalong numbers (you’re talking stuff like Hi Ho Silver Lining, Daydream Believer, Sweet Caroline etc.) before ending with Greased Lightning, which is such a crowd pleaser, and then finishing with Gangnam Style. That’s not a misprint. I have a LOT of fun with that one, as you can imagine!
In terms of emceeing, it’s not just about what you say down the microphone. Obviously you have to think on your feet a lot, but the master of ceremonies is also the one running everything behind the scenes, ensuring the bride and groom are in the right place at the right time, they know exactly what is happening when, and how they can prepare – for example, before the often lengthy process that is taking all the family photos, most brides forget that they ought to spend ten minutes answering the call of nature – those things are more complicated with a wedding dress on! All those small things help the day to run smoothly for the couple and their closest family, which is just as important as what is visible to the rest of the guests.
Do you have any goals for next year?
Continuing to grow the business is my number one priority. I currently work part-time because the business isn’t big enough yet, but my aim for the early part of next year is to drop that part-time business entirely and support my family fully with my celebrant work. Beyond that, I’d like to move into public speaking, perhaps acting as the master of ceremonies at charity events, hosting debates and even giving Ted talks in the future – although I have to figure out what exactly I’d talk about in one of those!
Any tips for start-up businesses?
Pick something you love. Seriously. It took a while (and still is taking a while!) to build up my business, and I wouldn’t have been able to stick at it with little to no success if it wasn’t for the fact that I really enjoy what I do. Work is around half of your waking life once you hit working age, and spending that time doing something that doesn’t bring you joy or satisfaction really isn’t worth it. So follow your heart!