With only an hour to go before the biggest moment of his life, All Black Owen Franks is relaxed.
Perhaps a bit too relaxed. Completely laid-back, in fact.
Sitting on the couch in his Christchurch home, he and his best man and brother Ben, and groomsmen Scott Hansen and Sam Glasson, are immersed in an English rugby match.
It takes a frantic prompt from the photographer to get the four men dressed in their bespoke Working Style suits, with Owen admitting they may have lost track of time.
“Well, I wanted to be relaxed before the ceremony, but we probably left things a bit too late,” he says with a guilty grin.
But as soon as the tough guy prop is dressed, his attention turns to the wonderful woman who is waiting to marry him and all thoughts of rugby disappear.
“She’s amazing,” says Owen (26) of his beautiful bride and girlfriend of four years Emma Vieceli (22). “When you know you’ve found the one, you know. I’ve wanted to marry her for a long time.”
Standing in front of 110 family and friends on a typically changeable Christchurch day, the usually stoic Owen starts to show a few nerves.
It’s 2.35pm, five minutes after Emma was due to walk down the petal-strewn aisle with her father, Louis.
Every 30 seconds, Owen glances at the doors she’ll emerge from, offering tight smiles to the guests as he adjusts his collar.
“Everyone’s eyes are on you, looking to see if you’re crying,” he says with a laugh.
“That’s a different, weird kind of pressure.”
Meanwhile, just behind the French doors, Emma is doing her best to stop the cascades of tears streaming down her cheeks as she poses for photographs with her father and mum Lynda.
“Think of something funny!” offers Louis, trying to make Emma laugh, as Lynda fusses over her daughter’s stunning white lace and chiffon gown, made by local designer Louise Anderson.
Emma is ready with something old and blue – the blue garter her grandmother made for her own wedding; something new – her dress; and something borrowed – the teardrop diamond necklace lent by Lynda, who was given it after winning Miss New Zealand 1986.
As the last tears are wiped away, the bubbly blonde beauty, who can’t quite believe the day is at last here, is ready.
“I’m about to marry Owen. I can’t believe it’s real.”
From the minute Owen first saw Emma in a Christchurch pub four years ago, he knew he had found someone very special.
It was a case of opposites attract – Owen, the Canterbury hard man of exceptionally few words, and Emma, the vibrant, beautiful and extroverted travel agent – but despite their differences, or indeed because of them, they fell in love.
There was nowhere else the bride and groom would rather tie the knot than Emma’s family home in Clearwater, Christchurch.
With the ceremony taking place in neighbours Ken and Joy Smith’s gorgeous garden, post-wedding drinks just down the road at her grandparents’ house, and the reception in an enormous marquee set up over her parents’ driveway, the happy day was indeed a family affair.
“Emma’s family and friends have been amazing,” says Owen. “We couldn’t have done any of this without their help and support.”
The day started early for both Owen and Emma who, in a nod to tradition, spent the night apart – Owen at the couple’s home and Emma at her parents.
While Owen and his groomsmen managed to fit in a gym session before retiring to the sofa to watch the rugby, Emma and her maid of honour, Kate Kilpatrick, and her sisters and bridesmaids, Sophie and Libby Vieceli, sip on Mumm champagne as they get ready.
After gifting each of her three bridesmaids, who are dressed in pale pink Victor chiffon dresses, a silver Karen Walker pendant, Emma finally stepped into her wedding gown.
Almost ready to go, the beautiful bride’s make-up is nearly ruined when she burst into tears at the sight of her proud dad.
“Oh God, if I’m like this now, what’s going to happen when I walk down the aisle?” she says, carefully dabbing her eyes and ordering Louis out of the room.
Finally, after a last-minute tequila shot with her dad to calm the nerves – “It didn’t work!” she laughs – Emma is helped into the white Audi that will take her 300m down the road to the garden where everyone is waiting.
Finally, at 2.45pm, MarleySola Wilcox-Nanai and Rameka Uitime-Paraki of The X-Factor NZ finalists Moorhouse sing a soulful rendition of Ed Sheeran’s Kiss Me. Although he’s played in front of tens of thousands of screaming rugby fans, Owen’s nerves are beginning to grow.
“It’s a different kind of nervous,” he says.
“With rugby, you practise different situations and learn how to handle them. It’s not like I can practise getting married. But as soon as I saw Emma, everything went away.”
Emma, clutching her father’s hand, follows flower girl Missy Hansen and her bridesmaids down the aisle towards Owen, who is beaming.
Pastor Hamish Galloway, who was Emma’s school chaplain at St Andrew’s College and also married her parents, welcomes the guests including All Black teammates Kieran Read, Luke Romano, Sam Whitelock and Wyatt Crockett to the traditional Presbyterian service.
“Owen and Emma, we are happy to be here to celebrate something that already exists – the living love of two people who have found joy and meaning together,” he says.
“In a mysterious and yet very happy way, you bring together two pasts, which are different in memories, traditions, and hopes.”
Then, Owen and Emma recite the traditional vows that millions of couples the world over have made before, promising to love, comfort, honour and keep each other in sickness and in health, and to be faithful as long as they both shall live.
“I love you Emma,” says Owen. “Today I take you to be my wife. Whatever life may bring, I will love you and care for you always.”
“I love you Owen, as you take me to be your wife,” Emma replies. “I joyfully take you to be my husband. Whatever life may bring, I will love you and care for you always.”
And with that, Hamish pronounces Owen and Emma as opposites, equals and soulmates, husband and wife.
“Congratulations Mr andMrs Franks!” he exclaims, and the pair kiss to rapturous applause, then walk down the aisle to Marley and Rameka’s version of Christina Perri’s A Thousand Years.
“It was the most perfect ceremony,” says Emma, as she gazes down at her platinum and diamond wedding ring.
“We wanted the wedding to be simple, traditional and elegant,” she explains.
“Owen is a man of few words, and I didn’t want anything frou-frou!”
After family photos, the pair make their way to Emma’s parents’ house for the reception and stop to enjoy champagne and single malt whiskey along with their bridesmaids and groomsmen– although Owen and his brother Ben eschewed the alcohol in favour of a chocolate-flavoured protein shake.
“That was really out of habit,” laughs Owen, as Emma rolls her eyes. “It probably wasn’t a necessity, but at least I was prepared for the night!”
Walking into the marquee, which was styled by Astrid Braid from PS I Love You Events, the couple, who chose to follow tradition, are announced as Mr and Mrs Franks.
“It looked so incredibly beautiful in there, you wouldn’t have known it was a driveway!” Emma says. “It was absolutely amazing to see it like this.”
Cutting their four-tier lemon and chocolate cake, made by Sugar Baby Cakery, Owen, Emma and their guests enjoy a three-course meal of smoked salmon, beef fillet and vacherin with cream, fresh summer berries and compote.
Afterwards, the besotted newlyweds share their first dance to Lonestar’s Amazed.
Again, in keeping with tradition, the couple depart for their week-long Rarotongan honeymoon the next day, before Owen begins his season with the Canterbury Crusaders.
“We’re married!” Emma says, shaking her head. “I can’t believe I’m Mrs Franks. I guess I’ll get used to it!”
“It’s awesome to finally be married,” adds Owen. “We’ve felt married for so long, but it was important for us to make it official. It doesn’t feel different, but we don’t want it to.
“It’s been a day of celebrating what we have and what we have is pretty special.”