Weddings

Rugby legend Slade McFarland’s wild wedding day

The former Māori All Blacks star reveals how even a tornado couldn't ruin his multicultural ceremony

Kallia Patching had been dating for long enough that she knew how the fairy tale usually goes. She smiles, “You’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince, as I always said.”

In response, her new husband, Māori All Blacks legend Slade McFarland, grins. Turning to the Woman’s Day team, he jokes, “And she found a bulldog instead!”

Slade and Kallia were showered with love and downpours on their big day.

The pair married on a stormy Auckland day two years after setting the date. Theirs has always been a relationship based on honesty, family and vulnerability, and those were just some of the values that shone through at the Awataha Marae on the North Shore, where they tied the knot.

The bride and groom both wanted the day to not only represent their cultural backgrounds – Samoan, Scottish and Māori – but to be a celebration of the family unit they have become over the years.

Introduced by a mutual friend back in 2017, they had both been through the emotional wringer in their love lives and had what Kallia calls a “cards on the table” chat early on in their relationship.

For Kallia, 45, it was after she had come out the other end of a serious health battle that had seen her fitted with an ostomy bag and told she would never have children. Meanwhile, Slade, 50, had been on an emotional journey that had not only seen him change careers, but also change his attitude towards love as well.

The happy couple with Slade’s children Sophie and Bruno, plus French bulldog Venom.

Having played for the Māori All Blacks, the Crusaders, Blues and Chiefs, as well as with Stade Toulouse in France, Slade’s stellar rugby career had taken him to a lot of beautiful places, but it had also led him to realise there was another kind of team member missing from his world.

“There was one time I was sitting on top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, overlooking where Nelson Mandela had been held,” Slade recalls. “I sat there thinking, ‘This is great, but I have no one to share it with.’ That’s when I really wished I could have that someone special in my life.”

He wanted to be a role model for his two children, Sophie, 19, and Bruno, 17, as well. “You have to give love a chance,” Slade says. “I wanted to do it for my kids, to show them that love is possible and that it’s out there for all of us.”

“It felt like all my dreams had come true,” says the besotted groom.

So the aforementioned mutual friend came to the rescue. When Slade first texted Kallia, she was out with her girlfriends and his message was so polite, her mates decided he couldn’t have been real.

“He got quite harassed by the girls that night,” she laughs.

Once they did meet, the pair quickly realised they were a good match. Slade was thrilled to have found someone who loved his kids as much as she loved him. But it was only after taking a job working in mental health in the construction industry – and counselling a colleague through their marriage troubles – that the former sports star realised he needed to take things a step further in his own love life.

“As a couple, we had to become a team and it took me a long time to understand that,” he shares. However, as a family man, he knew it wasn’t just him that Kallia would be committing to – it was to his teenage children as well.

So the couple ran the engagement past the kids first, seeking their blessing. Fortunately, the pair were immediately on board – and quick to secure their places on the bridal party, with Sophie as head bridesmaid and Bruno as best man.

“You’ve got to kiss a few frogs before you find your prince,” says Kallia.

“The wedding was always going to be about celebrating our family unit,” smiles Slade. “Kallia has really taken on the role of stepmother with her whole heart.”

When it came to planning the big day itself, it was down to what Slade calls Kallia’s “godlike levels of organisation” that saw their dream plans turn into a reality – and weaved together all those different cultures to create a wedding that celebrated wha¯nau above all.

As well as being key parts of the wedding party, Sophie and Bruno also gave emotional wedding speeches that touched on both how happy their father was and how lucky they were to have such a strong bond with their new stepmother.

Slade in action against the French Barbarians in 2008.

“It was such an honour to have the kids speak so highly and respectfully of me and the relationship we have,” Kallia says. “After Bruno’s speech, he gave me such an intense hug and he said in my ear, ‘I love you, Mum.’ He’s never called me Mum before, so that was huge.”

Meanwhile, Slade – who wore a kilt to honour his Scottish heritage – says he felt like a “kid in a candy shop” when he first saw Kallia in her wedding gown before their joyful ceremony.

“It felt like all my dreams had come true,” he grins.

The beautiful bride donned a dress designed and made by the “truly wonderful” Jan Gray, who also helped Kallia pick out some personally significant jewellery to match it – a brooch from her great-grandmother, a pearl necklace from her gran and earrings from her mum. Kallia’s wedding band was also her grandmother’s. “They’re all strong, special ladies in my life,” she confides.

While all ceremonies have their bumps along the way – Slade jokes about the grooms-men getting told off for being late – it was Mother Nature herself who was a surprise guest at the party.

Any Kiwi wedding has to work with our changeable weather, but this Auckland ceremony had to contend with rain, thunder and a small tornado that whipped through the outside reception tent just

as the photos ended.

“Tables were getting flipped over and people were getting rained on,” laughs Slade. “I had a Civil Defence moment when I thought the tent was about to be peeled wide open, but it held! And once the weather cleared, we pushed everything back and carried on.”

Venom looked a treat!

There was no dampening the spirit of the day and through the dark clouds came a final piece of magic. Kallia’s beloved mum Maureen, who died last year, had always been a big believer in rainbows as a sign – and there was a big one when the newlyweds took photos with her dad.

And then came the party, where all those different cultures got their time in the spotlight. There was a fire dance and a traditional Samoan sasa performance, plus 16 cakes that Kallia’s sister Alana

created for the event.

But there were also a few unscheduled acts. There were two impromptu haka – one from Slade’s rugby buddies, including former All Black Aaron Mauger, then another by his nieces and nephews. And finally the happy new family unit hit the dance floor to Kiwi reggae band LAB’s hit Yes I Do, with Sophie and Bruno joining in for the newlyweds’ first dance as the tune morphed into Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars.

“That brought us all together to show that unity,” Kallia explains. “It was this full-circle moment that solidified who we are. For me, it was such a highlight and brought the whole day together.”

Both Kallia and Slade say their past journeys have led to them having an increased appreciation for not only the role of family in their lives, but also the importance of celebrating while you can.

“We’re never guaranteed tomorrow – we only have the here and now,” Slade muses. “If we can celebrate the now, then we’re going to be doing OK. And if you lead from the heart and speak from the heart, you just can’t go wrong.”

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