Lights, Camera, Action
At Chris Yandell and Kate Gallagher’s wedding, guests got the red carpet treatment—literally.
On Christmas Eve in 2009, Kate Gallagher sat down before a TV to watch the video her boyfriend, Chris Yandell, had selected. Nothing new there. The couple, who met at a coed volleyball game, are diehard movie fans. “We like going to movies and watching movies,” Chris says. “It’s our time together.”
In this movie, however, Chris was the star, the filmmaker and the screenwriter. The tongue-in-cheek flick illustrated the couple’s differences. “He likes the Cowboys and I’m an Eagles fan,” Kate says. “He showed himself with a big plate of meat, and I’m a vegetarian. Then it got mushy with the reasons why he loved me. In the video, he said he had something to ask me.” At that point, the real-life Chris pulled out a ring and popped the question.
This wasn’t the first time Chris used technology to express his feelings. On the anniversary of their first date, he showed her a slide show of their moments together timed to a playlist. (To up the “awww factor,” he also lined the stairs with candles, scattered rose petals on the bedroom floor and had a picnic feast waiting.)
“It was so corny-romantic,” Kate says of her anniversary surprise. “We started hugging and then slow-dancing to our song, ‘When You Love Someone,’ by Bryan Adams. It was like a movie.”
So it’s hardly surprising that the couple chose a movie premiere theme for their wedding reception, complete with paparazzi, flavored popcorn and movie ticket giveaways.
But like any Hollywood romance, this hero and heroine had to experience some twists and turns before they stepped on the red carpet.
At the time of the couple’s engagement, Kate’s father had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and some of her parents’ savings were going toward medical care. Consequently, they had limited resources to contribute to the wedding.
Chris, who works for a valve-and-fitting company, was undaunted. “I was prepared to work more to spend whatever she wanted to spend.”
Kate, then a field superintendent for a construction flag company, decided to mix luck with determination. While perusing possible reception sites on the Web, she noticed the Free Wedding Giveaway contest sponsored by the Christiana Hilton. “She said, ‘Do you think I should enter?’” recalls Chris, who was watching TV while she surfed. “I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’”
For the required essay on her most romantic moment, Kate wrote about their anniversary night. The contest stipulated that entrants must be present at the February Christiana Hilton event to win, but Kate missed that part. She didn’t plan on attending the bridal fair.
Then she heard on the radio that brides who booked a reception at the Christiana Hilton would receive a discount. Having already decided the Hilton was on her short list, she went to the fair with her mother, sister Jamie, the matron-of-honor, and another bridesmaid. She didn’t tell them she’d entered the contest because “who actually wins something like this?” she says.
The hotel that year received more than 300 entries, says general manager Brad Wenger. The announcer named the top 10 finalists and read the top three essays.
When the appreciative oohs and ahs had died down, the announcer put the three names in a purse for a random drawing. Kate won. “Her face was great,” Wenger says of Kate’s shocked expression.
Before the contest, the couple had established a $20,000 wedding budget. With the services and products they received, they boosted thebudget to $50,000 without spending another dime. Vendors covered everything from a wedding dress to DJ talent to limousines. And, of course, the Christiana Hilton provided the reception. In a few instances, the couple paid for outside vendors because they had relationships with them.
Kate and Chris opted for a classic ceremony at St. Margaret of Scotland Church in Newark. Kate selected a Maggie Sottero gown dress with a scoop neckline, a corset closure and embellished lace sprinkled over the tulle skirt. She carried roses, white mini-calla lilies and stephanotis with pearls.
The matron-of-honor and the junior bridesmaid both wore deep blue gowns while the rest of the bridesmaids were outfitted in cornflower blue. The flower girls, all cousins, wore matching blue sashes on their white dresses.
“Blue is our favorite color, and it looked good on everyone, whether they had a tan or not,” Kate says. It helps that it’s also the color of Chris’ favorite team, the Cowboys.
Once the guests reached the Christiana Hilton, the glitz and glamour began. A paparazzo greeted guests on the red carpet where they posed before backdrops with all the contest vendors’ logos.
The bridal party lightened the mood by sporting props when they were announced into the banquet room.
Guest tables were given movie titles inspired by the guests assigned to them. The head table was “My Best Friend’s Wedding,” and the second head table was dubbed “The Wedding Crashers.” A group of Kate’s friends gathered at “The Hangover” table.
Either a white chocolate movie ticket or a chocolate movie clacker garnished each place setting. Taped to one seat at each table were movie tickets. “We felt since we’d won the contest, we wanted our guests to feel lucky and win something,” Kate says.
The “For Better or Worse Buffet” featured specialty popcorn with flavors like Oreo cookie, hot wing, cheesecake, blueberry, butter and loaded baked potato. The wedding party received mini-digital video camcorders.
DJ Dana McDonald happily obliged Kate’s request for the last song of the night, which started with “That’s What Friends Are For.” The music then scratched to a halt before McDonald launched Kate’s personal anthem, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” “I’ve never seen a dance floor so full,” Kate recalls.
After a honeymoon on Amelia Island, Fla.—part of their contest winnings—the couple returned to their Elkton, Md., home, where they often flip through their wedding album. “It was a perfect day,” Chris says. Kate agrees: “Winning the contest allowed us to make the day we’d been dreaming about come to life.”
Cue the happily-ever-after ending.