Now this month’s That Bride is a special Sassy Mama very close to home – we’ve all been tearing up and squealing over her gorgeous wedding photos in the office. Maura Thompson, the co-founder of Sassy Media Group and one of the loveliest (and sassiest) ladies on the planet, tells us all about her American wedding on 3 May, 2008 to banker Paul Thompson and how they leapt headlong into a life in Hong Kong just two days afterwards. From being featured on Say Yes to the Dress to a Kentucky Derby themed wedding, it’s no surprise at all that her wedding is 100% Sassy approved!
All love stories have to begin somewhere. How did you two meet?
Paul and I met in college back in 1999 (which seems SO long ago now). I used to see him around campus and always thought he seemed like a funny guy. So much so that I started to nickname him ‘Funny Guy’, which soon became a bit of an obsession with my friends and me as we would always see him around campus. I can’t say I had a crush on ‘Funny Guy’ in a romantic way, but there was just something about him that got my attention. I then discovered we shared a very good mutual friend, so one day our friend invited me to Funny Guy’s apartment for a party and we became friends.
Fast forward two years later and we became more than friends at an alumni happy hour event. I was never the girl to make the first move, but I will always remember telling a girlfriend that night that I was going to be assertive with Paul and make a move. He didn’t even give me a chance to though because as soon as I came back to our group of friends, he asked me if I wanted to dance. When I said yes, he quickly grabbed my hand and led me to the dance floor. We had our first kiss on that dance floor and have been together ever since.
Where was your first date?
Paul asked our good friend what my favourite restaurant spot was, so we ended up going to a Mexican restaurant that had fabulous margaritas. Afterwards we went to the movies to see Zoolander, which by the way we both didn’t like the first time around. It must have been that we were full of first date jitters because I totally think it’s the funniest movie ever now!
I remember that classic first date move of him slowly moving his arm closer to mine until we eventually were holding hands. I was never one to show my emotions too much over a boy and I will always remember my roommate telling me ‘you look so happy’ when I came home from that date. I know it seems so cheesy, but even after that first date I somehow knew that things were going to work out.
Can you tell us about the first time he said he loved you?
We said ‘I love you’ pretty early on. It was late at night and Paul told me, ‘I love you’. I was so stupid and answered back super fast, ‘I think I love you too’. I thought I was telling him I loved him back in kind of lame and non-committal way (seriously, I had to use the word ‘I think’?!) but all Paul heard was ‘I think about you a lot too’. So, the poor guy went to bed that night thinking he had put himself out there with an I love you and all I could give him in return was that I thought about him a lot. Thankfully, he had the nerve to bring it up the next morning and I could officially be super clear that I did in fact love him.
Every bride has a proposal story. What’s yours?
I came home one Wednesday night after Pilates class to a note on our front door that said ‘knock before coming in’. We were pretty serious at the time and had been talking about rings off and on for a bit, so the thought that this was the moment crossed my mind. Then again, I also thought that maybe he had bought me a kitten (hello, crazy cat lady here!) and wanted to surprise me with it. To be honest, I would have been happy with either that night but looking back, the engagement definitely trumps a cute kitten.
When I entered the door, Paul was standing at the end of a candlelit hallway with giant poster board cards which were inspired by the scene in my favourite movie Love Actually, where Andrew Lincoln surprises Keira Knightly at her front door. I stood there all sweaty in my workout outfit bawling my eyes out while he went through each of the cards in silence, leading me to the part when he asked the big question. I always thought I would be perfectly dressed and have an immaculate mani when I got engaged, but there was something so perfect and lovely and ‘us’ about the way it happened. When that scene comes on in Love Actually now, I melt. The line, ‘To me, you are perfect’ will get me every time.
Tell us about the ring.
When it came time to talk about rings, I was seriously all over the place. One moment I wanted an ascher cut, then an emerald, then a round. So, basically Paul gave up on asking me and sorted it out himself. For some, this route may lead to disappointment but he did an absolutely amazing job on his own. He researched all things diamonds and knew exactly what he was looking for in cut, colour, clarity and he ended up ordering the diamond on Blue Nile. He then got the ring set at Michael C Fina, which is a jewellery store in New York City.
The diamond is a round count and the setting is a very delicate thin band with pave diamonds all around.
What did you do for your hen party? We want the dirty details.
My hen party was pretty low key. I had my bridal shower during the day and then at night my friends and I headed into the city for dinner, drinks and a night out on the town. Nothing crazy to report at all, but then again I’m not sure I would be telling Sassy readers if it did!
How did you go about planning your wedding? Did you go the DIY route or did you hire a wedding planner to help you out?
We got married on the day of The Kentucky Derby, which is a huge horse race in the US. Paul was always into horse racing (he once owned a share in a race horse with a group of friends!) so when we heard that 3 May 2008 was an available day to have the wedding, we decided to incorporate the Derby into our wedding day.
The race kicked off right in the middle of our cocktail hour at our reception and we installed TVs in the outdoor courtyard so that everyone could enjoy the race and cheer on their favourite horse. We named each dinner table after a horse in the race and each guest at a particular table was given a betting ticket to cheer their horse on to victory. It was a touch that everyone seemed to enjoy as Derby Day is always fun and full of excitement, so it was neat to celebrate the race rather than get mad if guests were sneaking off to the bar to catch the race!
Now every year when the Derby comes around, we receive messages from friends and family as their mind always turns to us and our big day. I kind of love that they have an association to remember our anniversary each year!
Everything’s getting super tech-y now and there’s an app for literally everything. Do you have the skinny on any awesome wedding ones?
I got married before apps were popular – I am officially an old married lady!
Tell us about the dress.
I had a pretty good idea of the type of gown I wanted. I didn’t want something too poofy and princessy. I wanted something structured, classic and timeless that made me feel like a more beautiful version of myself. The designer of my dress is Lazaro, who just so happened to be at the salon the day that I bought my dress. The dress was fresh off the runway as it was the start of a new season and I happened to be the first non-model he ever saw wearing the dress (although I did immediately regret the greasy pizza I ate before my appointment!).
I bought my dress at Kleinfelds in New York City and it was right when they were filming the show ‘Say Yes To The Dress’. The camera crew followed me around during my dress search that day and I ended up being on the show as filler between stories and commercial breaks (my little celebrity moment!).
I ended up selling my wedding dress after my big day. For me, the dress was not an emotional attachment so I didn’t have any trouble parting with it. My mom said that when I was searching for a wedding dress, I had ‘champagne taste on a beer girl’s budget’ so I told myself that if I wanted a nice dress I would sell it after the wedding. I ended up selling it on preownedweddingdresses.com for 50% of the cost and it went to the loveliest girl who fell in love with the dress, but wasn’t able to afford it at full price due to the crumbling economy (this was back during the financial crisis of 2008). I was so happy that my dress was going to be a part of another special day and I even have pictures of the dress going down the aisle a second time when she wore it. They are tucked in the back of my wedding album now to remind me of how the dress made another girl’s day a happy one.
What was the wedding like?
We got married in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which is where I am from. Our big day was literally two days before I moved to Hong Kong, so it was also a giant goodbye party for us as well. We got married in the oldest Catholic Church in Philadelphia and I loved that the church was just large enough to fit all of our 150 guests.
Our reception was in a restaurant in the city. I decided very early on that I didn’t want a traditional ballroom style wedding, so we hunted down some alternatives that still felt traditional in some ways (I really wanted a dance floor). We ended up renting out an entire restaurant and it couldn’t have been more perfect. It allowed us to do all the traditional wedding things such as speeches and dancing but it also brought a feeling of being in an intimate restaurant with lots of close friends and I loved that.
Philadelphia is known for their cheesesteaks so at the end of the wedding, the restaurant put out mini cheesesteaks for everyone to nibble on as we walked over to the after party. My dad thought this little extra was completely unnecessary when we were planning the wedding, but he was first in line AND the first to say the next day how they had been the best call. They hit the spot after all the dancing and drinking everyone was doing.
Everyone remembers their first dance. What song did you choose?
‘I’m Putting All My Eggs In One Basket’ by Fred Astaire. It’s a song he sang with Ginger Rogers in their movie ‘Follow The Fleet’. It is a cute little song with lines like ‘I’m putting all my eggs in one basket, I’m betting everything I got on you’ and ‘I’m giving all my love to one baby, heaven help me if my baby don’t come through’. It just seemed so fitting for the vows we just made and it solidified for us that we were in this together for the long haul. We were all in and going big on this whole marriage thing.
What’s the most valuable thing you learned while wedding planning?
Organisation is key. If you don’t have a wedding planner, which I didn’t, having a partner in crime that can help you along the way is so important. My mom was absolutely amazing; she helped me check things off my to-do list and kept me on track.
I also learned that while the small details are pretty amazing, what people really remember the next day after they wake up is how much they enjoyed themselves. They’ll remember the lovely speeches if the maid of honour and/or best men hit it out of the park (which ours did), the great time dancing (our dance floor was jammed packed) and probably how much their head hurts from enjoying one too many cocktails the night before. Yes, the small details are incredible, but I would almost argue that they mean nothing without those little moments that bring everyone together to feel a tad bit sentimental and happy throughout the day.
Have any tips and tricks for brides-to-be?
One idea that we stole from a friends wedding was that we’d have the bride and groom introduce the wedding party at the reception, rather than the other way round. For each person in our wedding party, we said a little something special about our relationship with them. It ended up being so nice as it gave the rest of the guests a chance to learn why we chose these people to stand next to us at our wedding. It totally kicked off the reception with this really personal and close-knit vibe.
What do you remember most about the entire experience?
The thing I remember the most about our big day was how it was the start of something wonderful. It was the beginning of our married life and the start of our Hong Kong journey, as I moved to the 852 two days after the wedding. Everything on that day seemed so full of promise and there was loads of positive energy and excitement for what was ahead of us.
I will always remember that day as the start of our new chapter. Our lives have been filled with so many wonderful memories because one little word: yes. Yes to marrying each other and yes to starting our married adventure together in a new city, where we knew no one but each other. Such a simple word can bring so many amazing things, don’t you think?
Anything you would have done differently?
I totally regret not getting a videographer. I had the notion that they were all cheesy and that they would be an intrusion on many of the intimate moments that occurred throughout the day – I wanted no part of that. I was so wrong as there are so many amazing videographers around who have a knack of capturing all the special moments, without really being a part of them. I would kill to see how Paul looked at me when I came down the aisle or how my Dad teared up when he was giving me away again. It’s the little things like that which makes me sad I didn’t capture anything on film.
We moved to Hong Kong two days after our wedding, so we dropped our bags off in our serviced apartment and then spent a week in Bali. We stayed at the Four Seasons and split our time between the Jimbaran Bay location and their Ubud location. It was amazing and they both had fabulous things about them, but there was something so very special about the Ubud hotel. The energy there is just incredible.
Before we decided to move to Hong Kong, we were originally going to honeymoon in South Africa. There will be a honeymoon point two in the works at some point.
If Maura’s beautiful story has you wedding wistful, why not read our other real life That Bride interviews on our site? Alternately if you’re planning your own wedding, check out our guides to planning a wedding in Hong Kong!