Michelle Taylor is an award-winning independent Celebrant, as well as Mayor of Manningtree in Essex. Here, she explains how she loves celebrating love – and how reading the Proclamation on Sunday was the biggest speech of her life
I decided at the age of nine I was going to join the police, and I did: two years as a cadet in West Midlands, followed by 30 years of total service in three forces (West Midlands, Derbyshire and Suffolk). I enjoyed my years of service to my communities and have had a range of experiences within the job which have stood me in good stead. In my personal life things evolved, and I am certainly not where I thought I’d be when I looked into the future at 18. I have achieved so many things that weren’t on my radar and failed at others BUT, I am at peace with the person I am, the things I have done, the positive relationships that endure, and the values I hold.
In 2011 with a few years left before retirement I started to look at what I could do next (I was retiring from the police after 30 years’ service, at the age of 48) I was too young to not do anything but did not want to be an employee again. I looked into training as a celebrant and stumbled across the organisation I subsequently trained with, and now train for The Fellowship of Professional Celebrants (FPC). I haven’t looked back since. It is true, this IS a vocation. With my experience in dealing with people as a police officer, writing reports and crowd control, I certainly have all the right attributes! I LOVE celebrating love in all of its multi-faceted and multi-coloured glory. It has been my mantra from the offset. Every adult should be allowed to live and love in a way that reflects them and I celebrate this.
I had at least one wedding every month booked in for 2020 with, as you can imagine, a lot booked for the summer period. I managed to conduct three in person ceremonies and one over Zoom. No surplus income meant things were tight, but with two police pensions between myself and my husband, we survived relatively intact. My relationship with social media has changed during and post pandemic. I have had to take regular breaks because it felt that everyone was/is just so angry and that THEIR opinion was the only one that counted and that the rest of us were (insert whatever word you like here) for listening to/abiding by the rules. It feels that there is a lot of hate and vitriol out there still and I have a love /hate relationship with social media as a result. If I didn’t need it for work, I would remove myself totally, so the compromise of the regular breaks is welcome. On the upside I discovered some amazing local dog walks with my friend. We put the world to rights as we spent more time in the fresh air. I also found time for simple pleasures, including perfecting my quiche recipe and building way more Harry Potter Lego than I have room to display! I have finally caught up on my postponed ceremonies and look forward to moving into 2023 with a completely fresh order book an no mention of the dreaded C word.
A celebrant needs the ability to write and tell a story, be it at a wedding, naming, or funeral. They also need good timing, be it comedic or just being able to gauge the mood in the room and allow the perfect pause for everyone to gather thoughts or reflect on what has been said/done within a ceremony. A good celebrant needs to be a communicator, on so many levels, have a modicum of patience, and be able to command attention in the room. Not every celebrant will have a big personality and loud voice, some can hold space with their quiet and reassuring personas, but they all need confidence and a presence
I am a diversity champion, concentrating on the wedding industry. Language and imagery within the industry are still not where it needs to be, albeit there have been some major breakthroughs. Black and brown people do now see some representation, but in some places are not being recognised as industry experts and are asked to ‘bid’ against each other to be seen as the go to person/business. It is frustrating that everything still seems geared towards brides, when not every couple marrying will have a bride! Language really needs an overhaul, and it takes people working from the inside out to make these changes.
Sunday is still sinking in. I can’t believe the Queen is gone although we knew that one day it would come. I MIGHT write and talk for a living, but this was the biggest speech of my life. I had to prep and print the words in a way that made them easier to read, with appropriate pauses for breath (they didn’t seem to use many commas in the 1600’s!) and I practiced…A LOT! To play a small part in this constitutional and historical Proclamation was the biggest honour as my time as Mayor. Up to this point every person who I had seen read the Proclamation on the TV had been older, male, and white! As Manningtree’s first black Mayor, I knew my few minutes in front of the Town War Memorial would be historical in their own right, if only to me and my family.
It has been a fantastic 15 months in post so far. Last year was a lot quieter because of Covid, but in 2022 as we have been able to get out and about a lot more it has been great to meet so many people in our community and to have had an impact on them, especially young girls who can see that this is a role any girl can aspire to. The Town Council are a great mix of age, experience and support and we are all passionate about our small community.
We are fortunate enough to live in Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there is so much to explore. Manningtree is steeped in history, some not so positive with the Witch Finder general, but it is fascinating to the modern sensibility and as a woman, in the position I find myself in now, to know and try to understand what was going in at that period.
I look forward to sharing the love, delivering fun and eclectic ceremonies with more people who are in love. I want to continue to make a difference in the wedding industry and drive more people towards inclusive businesses. And lastly, I intend to leave a positive footprint as Mayor, inspiring little girls to be anyone they wish to be.