It’s the morning of her wedding day and as a flurry of lace and leopard print swirls around her, Cathrine Latu is unusually quiet. Ace of Base’s “The Sign” is blasting from the speakers as her four bridesmaids practise for the reception’s much-hyped lip-sync battle between the girls and the groom’s party. “It’s a serious thing – eternal pride is on the line,” Cat insists as the Silver Fern star shooter tries to ignore the chaos to go over her vows one more time.
It’s 11 years exactly since she met her future husband, rugby player Jim Tuivaiti, 28, at high school and Cat is a bundle of excited nerves to finally tie the knot with her best friend, soulmate and partner in crime.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a competition. “Guys, this is rubbish – you’re actually getting worse,” says an incredulous Cat, 29, as she finally looks up at her two sisters Celia Hau and Amy Latu, and friends Natalie Jones and Jessica Turley, who are trying to nail down the choreography but keep turning in different directions and dissolving into fits of giggles. “Do it again! We have to win! Jim and I are highly competitive,” she adds rather unnecessarily.
It’s an almost cloudless summer’s day in Auckland as Cat gets ready to walk down the aisle at Kumeu Valley Estate to finally become Mrs Tuivaiti. It’s been a long time coming – especially as Jim is living in Italy, where he plays for club side Calvisano, and has only flown back into New Zealand two days earlier. Cat has spent the morning with her bridesmaids in a suite at the SkyCity Grand Hotel, sipping champagne as their make-up is applied. But now it’s time to ditch the animal-print negligee and pull on their frocks – blush-pink ASOS dresses for the bridesmaids and a breathtaking customised chiffon gown from Hera Bridal for the Northern Mystics shooter.
“I love this dress so much. It’s my dream dress. Katie from Hera fit it perfectly to my body.” Her father David, a stoic man of exceptionally few words, walks into the room and offers Cat a reassuring smile as she clips her cathedral-length veil into her hair. “OK, I’m ready,” she says with a deep breath, grabbing on to David’s arm. “Let’s do this!” Piling into two white vintage Rolls-Royce cars with her entourage, Cat and David take the moment to have a little cry. It’s a 30-minute trip to West Auckland, where Jim, his best man Ray Tuivaiti, and groomsmen Fou Tuivaiti, Joseph Iakopo and Carlos Marr wait under a floral-adorned pergola for the beautiful bride.
As John Legend’s “You and I” begins, the bridesmaids make their way down the aisle. The bride arrives on the arm of her father amid gasps from the 100 guests, including Silver Ferns team-mates Maria Tutaia, Kayla Cullen, Grace Rasmussen and Leana de Bruin, as well as former coach Yvonne Willering. “There were no words for when I saw her walking towards me,” says Jim. “It was amazing. It’s the most incredible feeling I’ve felt in a long time. Her dress was absolutely stunning. She’s stunning.” “I was just trying not to cry,” Cat confesses. “What people are starting to find out about me is that I’m actually a huge sook. I cry at everything. I cried when Pinocchio got taken away from Geppetto – don’t get me started on Bambi! I was a mess. But we’d worked too hard on this day for me to ruin it all with ugly crying face.”
Finally reaching the end of the aisle, David places his daughter’s hand in Jim’s as the gathered guests are welcomed by the celebrant, Cat’s longtime friend Sheryl Hyndman, who offers a special reading. “When two people pledge their love and care for each other in marriage, they create a spirit unique unto themselves, which binds them closer together than any spoken or written words,” she says. After another reading by the bride’s sister Kerrianne Latu, it’s time for the vows, which Cat and Jim individually wrote. But as soon as she brings the microphone up to her lips, Cat dissolves in tears. “Hayfever,” she says gruffly, as Jim grabs a tissue and wipes her eyes. “My darling,” she begins, “it’s always been you. Today we stand in front of our family and friends, 11 years after we met. In those 11 years, you’ve endured my netball highs and lows, my swearing, my sarcasm, my unnecessary comments, my badly timed jokes, and my mum and dad’s other children.” After pausing for their guests’ laughter, she adds, “You know me better than anyone else in this world, yet here you stand.”
Jim then surprises his soon-to-be-wife with a poem – an ode he’s called “Love is my Cat”. “I thought I knew what true love really was – I had no idea,” he says. “Love is more than just a word ... Love is understanding, love is never giving up on you, love is fierce, deep within you, longing to get out. Love is never having enough time in the day. Love is knowing that you’ll never be alone again.
"Love is the little things, love is keeping it simple, love is humble. Love is ours, love is my Cat.” “I had no idea you were a poet,” his bride says, grinning. “But you know none of that rhymed, right?” “There’s still hidden talents you don’t know about me,” Jim fires back, laughing. And with the exchanging of their Michael Hill rings, Sheryl declares that the couple are at last husband and wife, and Jim pulls Cat into a lingering and passionate kiss. “We’re married – man, it’s all a bit overwhelming!” declares Jim. “For me, there’s no-one else and whether we got married or not, that was always going to be the same – just with a ring and a different last name for Cat. But to give her the day of her dreams is amazing.” Cat nods her agreement. “Changing my last name is a big deal for me. I do feel like today, a little part of me is gone. It’s a good thing – it’s like a clean slate. Saying goodbye to Latu is hard. It’s been me my whole life. I was a bit nervous beforehand, but as soon as I saw Jim, I was calm, even though that sounds like cliché movie crap. Seeing him in his sweet, sweet suit ...”
“Hugo Boss,” interrupts a grinning Jim, his eyebrows waggling. “He’s been in Italy for all of two minutes and he thinks he’s cool,” Cat says, rolling her eyes. “There’s the lip-sync battle on our hands later – I’m a little nervous for the boys.” “I’m already thinking about how we’ll celebrate after we win,” scoffs Jim. The buffet dinner is finished off with a chocolate cake that still tastes delicious, despite a partial collapse in the summer heat. Then it’s time for the long-awaited showdown, where the girls’ mash-up of “The Sign” and En Vogue’s “Give Him Something He Can Feel” is followed by a racy performance of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King by the boys. The winner? The girls, obviously. “The boys are hugely upset and bitter, but we wanted to put a fun spin on our wedding and make everyone laugh,” Cat says. “The win was spectacular and I’m happy to hold that title for the rest of our lives!”
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