Although I was born in London, my family is of Pakistani heritage, moving to England in 1964. I heard many stories from my older siblings about the challenges of growing up as a first generation immigrant in a western city. I've always tried to follow the advice of my parents who taught me that integrating with people was important, regardless of their social, racial or religious background and although we've all had first hand experience of the negatives, I've always thought that the positives far outweigh them.
A typical week whilst growing up in south-east London would involve attending my Church of England school, saying the Lord's prayer and singing hymns before the weekend when I would learn the traditional values of my culture and the foundations of Islam with the Imam who visited our home to teach us the Quran. It was all very normal and I've learned in my adult years how lucky I am to be the child of a father who had the vision to find a better life for his family and a mother who saw the value of being a fully paid up member of society. I had a fantastic childhood.
Post secondary education, I studied Business and Finance before securing my first job within the Civil Service, working my way up through the organisation in various roles all the way up to Private Office, working very closely with Junior Ministers, Ministers and the Secretary of State. Over the years, I've worked in several Government Departments, gaining particular experience in event management including seminars, training, conferences and exhibitions.
I was quite satisfied with my career path albeit as a singleton! From time to time, I would think how nice it would be to be married and I had an outline plan of my perfect day. I was just lacking the right husband!
Completely out of the blue, I was reunited with an old flame through Facebook after seventeen years. It started off when we met up for dinner in Canary Wharf with a mutual friend. We liked each other when we were younger and throughout the evening we realised that there was still a spark between us.
Our first gooseberry-free date was at the O2 in London and we went out for a bite to eat and watched a movie. We had to be a bit stealth-like, as any indication of a man on the scene and Mum would be booking the Imam! David kindly offered to drop me home, around the corner of course, and whilst reminiscing on years gone by it was clear there was much more than a spark and we had bundles in common.
We started introducing each other to our families. This was a bigger deal than it is for most. Modern couples will meet each other's family and even co-habit together without a commitment to marriage, but we had to have the conversation that the moment he walks through my door and meets my family, we're all in. Although there was an element of pressure at the time, it did establish an early trust that we were committed to each other.
At the time, David's parents lived in France, but were visiting the UK to celebrate his brother's 40th birthday in Cornwall. We are all from a similar background so we clicked quite quickly and enjoyed a relaxing weekend together, talking about engagement parties and wedding bells.
In late May, I was instructed to be on Westminster Bridge by 4.30pm. It was a beautiful bright sunny day I had no idea that David booked a private Cupid Capsule on the London Eye and whilst rotating in the sky, he formally proposed with people in the other pods watching and applauding. Because the decision was already made, I wasn't expecting the big proposal. It was a special day.
It was all decided. We had the religious ceremony, known as the Nikah, traditionally at home and a very intimate affair with immediate family. This was followed by a small reception the next day with the family and close friends at a restaurant, culminating with some partying into the early hours. It was a nice blend of traditional ceremony and modern engagement.
Over the following years, we contemplated the different ways to be married, ranging from the big getaway in Australia to the family occasion closer to home. Family is important to us and it didn't feel right to the do the secretive thing. A family occasion it would be and I was lucky enough to plan my big day.
I have to confess that organising our special day was not without its challenges. I wanted to reflect the combination of two familiar cultures and have a wedding that best suited our family, faith and diversity whilst simultaneously combining and intertwining everything in a subtle and understated way. I planned our wedding from start to finish, held in a beautiful castle in Kent which we had exclusive use of throughout the day and with an overnight stay for our guests. The planning took many hours over a six month period. It was an amazing time and worth every minute of the hard work I invested in it. I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.