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Ben Smith's wedding day joy

After a 13-year romance, the rugby star marries his childhood sweetheart and soulmate.

By Kelly Bertrand
Ben and Katie Smith wedding

All Black star Ben Smith is blinking furiously in an attempt to hold back tears as he watches his stunning bride Katie Menzies make her way down the olive tree-lined aisle towards him, her beautiful baby bump prominent and proud in a lace and silk gown.

It's a rare show of emotion from the normally composed Highlander, but today is a special day – he's not only marrying the love of his life, but also his best friend and the soon-to-be mother of his child.

"She's never looked more beautiful than she does right now," Ben (28) says, a grin on his face as he glances at a euphoric Katie, who is glowing.

 "She's never looked more beautiful than she does right now," Ben says.
"She's never looked more beautiful than she does right now," Ben says.

Being seven months pregnant wasn't how she pictured herself on her wedding day, Katie (27) admits with a laugh. But as the sun streams onto the shores of Lake Wanaka and she slowly walks towards Ben, she realises it is perfect because everyone they love – including their unborn baby – is with them.

"It was really nice to not be on my own walking down the aisle," she says. "I could feel bubs kicking away, trying to be a part of the action already."

Ben adds, "When I saw her, I thought, 'How cool is life? It's my wife and child together on our wedding day.' It doesn't get much better than that."

It's a gorgeous summer's day in Wanaka – almost 28 degrees. But while the stifling heat is not ideal if you're in a wool-blend suit or in your last trimester of pregnancy, there are no complaints from Ben and Katie, who met 13 years ago at Dunedin's saltwater pools.

 The couple married on a perfect Wanaka day with all their loved ones in attendance – including their   unborn baby and dog Charlie.
The couple married on a perfect Wanaka day with all their loved ones in attendance – including their unborn baby and dog Charlie.

Their simple and deeply personal special day starts in a typically relaxed way for the low-key couple. Ben and his groomsmen, former Highlander Buxton Popoali'i, his brother Steve Smith and best man Tom Bezett have gone to do "man stuff" – a spot of fishing and hunting – before returning for a swim and a beer.

Meanwhile, Katie and her bridesmaids, Erin Jones, Ella Ritchie, Holly Leonard and Sarah Taylor, and maid of honour, Steph Denton, are getting ready in the master suite, sipping Cloudy Bay bubbles while Katie indulges in a non-alcoholic cocktail.

"No cheeky vino to calm the nerves for me!" she says, half cheerfully, half wistfully.

"At least I didn't have to worry about losing any weight for the wedding!" she adds with a laugh as Steph and her mum Maria help her into her stunning empire-waisted dress that shows off her baby bump perfectly. "It's a bit tricky wiggling into this when you're up the duff!" she says.

"You look absolutely gorgeous," Maria says, with tears in her eyes.

 Ben and Katie wed outdoors in beautiful Wanaka.
Ben and Katie wed outdoors in beautiful Wanaka.

In keeping with tradition, the couple spent the night before the wedding apart and are getting ready in separate wings of the house – but Katie can't help waving to Ben through the window when she spots him.

"I'm just really excited," she says. "I want it to hurry up!"

She is, however, able to steal a quiet moment to read the card Ben has sent – which also contains a good luck message from their dog Charlie – before making sure she has her "something old, new, borrowed and blue". The old and blue are her garter, which is made from her mum and grandmother's wedding dresses, and she's borrowed a silver clutch from her mum. "And the something new is the baby!" she laughs.

 Ben and Katie with their wedding party.
Ben and Katie with their wedding party.

Then, after Katie and her bridesmaids practise the dance they're planning for the reception, and Ben's mum Karen has got the boys out of the pool, into their grey Barkers suits and convinced them to have a shave, it's time.

A helicopter arrives for Ben and his groomsmen, while Katie, her dad Chris and her bridesmaids pile into two luxury Mercedes-Benz cars for the 10-minute trip to Barn Pinch Farm.

"I wasn't nervous the whole morning, but as we choppered in, they [the nerves] kicked in a bit," Ben admits.

The boys and Charlie – complete with a bow-tie on his collar – stand in front of the 150 guests, including All Black teammates Colin Slade and Ryan Crotty, and wait.

 Ben's All Black teammates Ryan Crotty, with girlfriend Megan Curry, and   Colin Slade and his wife Emma shared the couple's big day.
Ben's All Black teammates Ryan Crotty, with girlfriend Megan Curry, and Colin Slade and his wife Emma shared the couple's big day.

Finally, at 3.18pm, Dunedin singers Libby and Beth Hamilton begin singing Ellie Goulding's How Long Will I Love You and the five bridesmaids – along with the flower girls, Katie's niece, Madison Menzies, and Holly's daughter, Ruby Leonard – begin the walk through the olive grove towards the chiffon-draped arch.

While Madison, who carries a sign that reads "Uncle Benny, here comes your girl!", has no problems – accepting a lollipop at the end of the aisle – Ruby decides she doesn't want a kiss from the groom, scrunching up her nose and running away as everyone roars with laughter.

Then, finally, as guitar chords morph into a rendition of Can't Help Falling in Love, Katie, on the arm of her dad, appears.

It takes Ben a few very deep breaths and a lot of blinking to contain himself as his beautiful bride reaches him.

After a quick pat on the head for Charlie, Katie takes her place in front of Ben and, hand in hand, they share a knowing smile.

 Ben and Katie's flowergirls.
Ben and Katie's flowergirls.

Celebrant Tricia Warwick-Naziris, who is also the couple's neighbour, then welcomes family and friends to witness Ben and Katie declare their unconditional and unwavering love. It is a solemn and joyous occasion for the pair who've always affectionately called each other "mate".

There are readings and prayers from brothers, nanas and friends – including advice for a long marriage from Katie's grandparents, who have been married for 60 years but couldn't attend due to illness – read by Katie's brother Matthew.

Then Benjamin Robert Smith and Katie Elizabeth Menzies exchange vows, promising to live a life of "love, tenderness and laughter".

 Katie's baby bump made the day all the more special. "I could feel bubs kicking away," she says.
Katie's baby bump made the day all the more special. "I could feel bubs kicking away," she says.

Ben pledges to help Katie love life, to always hold her with tenderness, to help her to be her best self and to live within the warmth of her heart.

Katie vows to always make Ben a priority in her life, to be his biggest fan, to never take his love for granted – when life seems easy and when it seems hard – and to love him unconditionally when their love is simple and when it is an effort.

"These things I give you today, and all the days of our lives," they both declare. "I will love and respect you, always."

After the exchange of rings, Tricia pronounces them husband and wife, and for the first time, introduces Mr and Mrs Smith – soulmates, partners and best friends – to the cheering crowd.

 Ben and Katie arrive at the wedding reception.
Ben and Katie arrive at the wedding reception.

After a kiss and a fist pump, the new husband and wife sign their marriage certificate as an acoustic version of Sam Smith's Latch and John Legend's All of Me are sung by the couple's friend Siale Tunoka. They make their way back up the aisle to Zac Brown Band's Chicken Fried – Ben's choice of tune, Katie explains, with a laugh and a playful roll of her eyes.

"It was an absolutely amazing ceremony," says Ben. "We couldn't have asked for more. Everyone we love was in one place, at the same time, to help us celebrate."

"It was perfect," Katie adds. "There are no other words, really. There's nowhere else I'd rather be. I married the man I love, we're in the most beautiful spot on earth and everyone is here. "It's the best day of our lives."

 Inside the wedding reception marquee.
Inside the wedding reception marquee.

And after the guests are guided into a neighbouring marquee for the reception, the newlyweds reveal they have even more cause for celebration – announcing to their family and friends that they are expecting a little girl.

"So much joy packed into one day!" Katie grins. "It was great to be able to tell everyone. We tried to keep it a secret, but we were rubbish at that, so we decided we may as well tell!"

 Ben and Katie's wedding cake.
Ben and Katie's wedding cake.

As their guests enjoy cocktails and canapés, the pair take a little time out to be together, saying they can't believe, after 13 years together, and three years after Ben popped the question, they're finally married.

"It's incredible!" Katie beams. "I thought I would be so nervous, but I just wasn't. It was too fun!"

"It is a bit weird. I'm a husband, she's a wife," adds Ben, squeezing Katie's hand and offering a wide smile.

"We're looking forward to married life, and we've got some pretty exciting stuff coming up, obviously!"

A picture of the couple's baby's ultrasound scan adorned the tables.
A picture of the couple's baby's ultrasound scan adorned the tables.

As well as welcoming their little girl, 2015 also brings the Rugby World Cup and a potentially lengthy separation for the Smiths, with the month- and-a-half-long tournament taking place in the UK.

"But things like weddings and babies gives you perspective on life," Ben says, placing a hand tenderly on Katie's bump. "Sport isn't everything. It's a lot of things to us, but this right here is the most important thing."

"Everything is perfect," adds a beaming Katie. "We're mates for life now!"

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