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Coventry Evening Telegraph, 20th November 2001

Coventry Evening Telegraph, 20th November 2001, Winning smiles for a dream wedding

Winning smiles for a dream wedding

It was a very special day for the couple who won the top prize of a fabulous wedding in an OK! Magazine competition.

Mark Jackson and Sally Smith were chosen as Britain’s perfect couple by the readers of OK! magazine and won an all-expenses paid £20,000 celebrity-style wedding at Coventry’s fairytale Coombe Abbey Hotel, and an exotic honeymoon. And that’s not all... the bride and groom will also become overnight celebrities when their wedding is featured exclusively in the showbiz gossip magazine!

It is not everyday you get invited to a celebrity-style OK! wedding. The names of Mark Jackson and Sally Smith may not be as familiar as Posh and Becks - but in a few weeks photographs of their wedding day too will be splashed across the pages of OK! magazine. Readers were invited to call a special hotline to vote for the UK’s perfect bride and groom and five couples made it to the finals - but Sally and Mark, from Redhill, Surrey received more than half of the 25,000 votes.

After a whirlwind romance the couple tied the knot at the beautifully renovated Coombe Abbey Hotel in Binley on November 15. And the Evening Telegraph was exclusively invited to cover the event along with OK! Wearing my best hat (albeit a woolly one) and with confetti in my pocket, I arrived at the restored former 12th-century Cistercian Abbey for the 2pm ceremony.


Sally and Mark’s wedding took place at the Abbeygate. The couple did not want an extravagant Posh and Becks-style wedding. Sally said "We are both very down-to-earth. We are very ordinary and normal. We didn’t want all the paraphernalia of bridesmaids and sugared almonds. We wanted something traditional, romantic and loving. I’d much rather have something more understated like Pierce Brosnan’s wedding - he and his wife seemed very happy, especially with their new baby!"

Cream floral decorations to match Sally’s dress adorned the atmospheric banquet hall with its stone-flagged floors, tapestries and armoury. Sally, a 36-year-old petite blonde, made a dramatic entrance as she walked into the candle-lit stately baronial hall. She wore a cream high-necked cap over a silk embroidered bodice and full silk skirt. Her hair was curled up into a knot decorated with a tiara, reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn in the classic movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

As her father died 10 years ago, Sally was given away by her mother, Joan. The couple’s 80 guests were asked to listen as their special song was played - Everytime I Close my Eyes by Kenny G. Gazing into Sally’s eyes after they had said their vows, Mark, who wore a morning suit and gold cravat, read out the poem I Will Be Here by Steven Curtis Chapman.


Sally had arranged for a professional saxophonist, Martin Williams, to play another of their favourite Kenny G tunes as a surprise while they signed the register. She also presented a surprise wedding gift of a saxophone and six lessons to play it. The service ended with a singalong to The Carpenters’ Top of The World.

Afterwards Sally said "It’s the best day of my life without a doubt! I didn’t see Mark from 5.30pm the night before until the wedding. In the morning I relaxed. I had a lovely long bath and my sister Angie did my hair. But before you knew it, it was time to get dressed."

Mark added: "It’s a dream day - I am so in love. Sally looked like a princess, I am really over-the-moon."

At 4.45pm guests tucked into a wedding feast of chicken liver and wild mushroom pâté on toasted brioche to start, peppered roast sirloin of beef with Yorkshire pudding for the main course and warm apple strudel for pudding.


The couple spent the night in the Lady Craven Bridal Suite, which overlooks the picturesque garden and 80-acre lake, and set off the following day to the Lake District for a four-day break. In January they will be heading off to the Maldives for two weeks. Mark had already booked the honeymoon for their original January Wedding. But their £20,000 prize will cover their luxury trip.

* Sally and Mark’s glamorous Coventry wedding will appear in the December 1 issue of OK!


Behind the scenes of a Celebrity Style Wedding

Wedding planner Helen Hitchcock had just a month to organise Sally and Mark’s celebrity-style wedding. She hired a florist, photographer and video cameraman to assist her. Helen, of Milestone Weddings, a slightly more mature, buxom version of Jennifer Lopez’s character in The Wedding Planner, said "My job is fun. You get to meet lots of different people. But unlike Jennifer Lopez I don’t tend to run off with the grooms very often! I’ve done a wedding in four days and a Hollywood-themed wedding. Last year we did not meet one bride and groom until the day before their wedding because they were in Australia. We made all the arrangements over the internet. For Sally and Mark’s wedding we were up at 6.30am adding the finishing touches to the table centrepieces and the layout of the room."

At the Coombe Abbey Hotel end, it was Karen Gosling in charge of organising Sally and Mark’s wedding. The senior sales manager said "This our first celebrity-style wedding for OK! Magazine. Most large weddings like this usually take a year to six months to organise - but for Sally and Mark’s we had just a month so we have been very busy making lots of telephone calls!"

GlaxoSmithKline, manufacturers of Aquafresh Multi Action Whitening Toothpaste, sponsored the £20,000 all-expenses paid wedding and honeymoon, and hired the London-based Red Consultancy to organise the competition with OK! Magazine. And PR girl Eileen McGuiness, who comes from Allesley, Coventry did most of the legwork. The 23-year-old former Evening Telegraph work-experience student said Coombe Abbey Hotel was the perfect choice of venue.


Eileen said: "We had a shortlist of five hotels around the country - and everyone agreed that this was not only the most central but also the most fairytale setting. It is so impressive. As soon as we came here we thought it was amazing - in particular the mediaeval setting and the staff dressed up in mediaeval costume. When Sally and Mark came to see it they loved it! They are such a lovely couple – and entered the competition for all the right reasons. They are so into each other."

The historic hotel lies in 500 acres of parkland, including formal gardens and an 80-acre lake, much of which was designed by Capability Brown at the end of the 1700s. When Sally arrived at the hotel the night before her wedding she gushed excitedly: "It is stunning, out of this world… amazing." Her fiancé Mark said "It’s absolutely wonderful - the nicest hotel I have ever stayed in. Very old, mediaeval and spooky. I stayed in the Bookmakers room. It’s very elegant and cosy and the bathroom was hidden behind a bookcase."


Story of Mark and Sally’s whirlwind romance

Beautician Sally got a better deal than she expected when she walked into Mark’s car dealership six months ago. Not only did she buy a new motor, she found her soulmate. In just five weeks the 37 year old Mercedes car salesman had asked her to marry him.

Sally, aged 36, said: "He really did sweep me off my feet. I was a bit shy of getting involved but he was the perfect romantic gentleman. He cooked me an amazing three-course dinner all by himself - cold fish medley for starter, cod fish bake with fresh vegetables for the main course and sorbet for dessert. He had thought of everything. He had bought me a magnificent bouquet of flowers, wine and champagne. Nothing was too much trouble. That’s when I knew he was the one."

For Mark it was love at first sight. "I have always wanted to meet the perfect lady, settle down and have a happy life. Sally is such a lovely beautiful woman. She’s every man’s dream lady. As soon as I set eyes on her I fell in love with her. I was not being a typical salesman when I went over to her and said ‘please don’t take this the wrong way - but you have absolutely lovely blue eyes and look stunning’."

They planned to get married in January 2002. But then Sally’s mum spotted the competition to win a celebrity-style wedding and star in OK! Sally said "We filled out the questionnaire and had our photos taken. We are both quite photogenic and have nice teeth. As the competition was sponsored by a toothpaste, we made sure we showed them off. In August they rang up and said they liked our photos. A couple of weeks later we went to an interview in London and got down to the last 10 - then the last five. Being put to a national televote was nerve wracking."

Winning the competition last month was a dream come true. Sally said: "It was the icing on the cake. I screamed my head off! We are both successful career people but from childhood we both had this dream of getting married, having children and living happily ever after."


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Milestone Weddings
Pogles Lodge, Royal Oak Country Park
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