Weddings

How TJ Perenara and Greer Samuel pulled off a surprise romantic backyard wedding

TJ and Greer had planned to get married later in the year, before realising they simply didn't want to hold out that long – after nine years, they were done waiting!

By Kelly Bertrand
As far as surprises go, it's a doozy. In every direction, 100 mouths are agape with shock. For a split second, a stunned silence hangs over the crowd, before a wild cheer erupts – and six very surprised blokes sprint quickly up the stairs of Porirua's gorgeous Gear Homestead in a mad dash.
Their rush is understandable. After all, they've just been told they're about to be groomsmen in a wedding that's happening in less than an hour.
It's a glorious Saturday in Porirua, a perfect day for an engagement party – or so the gathered friends and family of All Black great TJ Perenara and his gorgeous fiancée Greer Samuel have been led to believe.
For the switched-on guest, there are a few giveaways that all might not be what it seems – a stunning two-tiered cake sits waiting for its moment in a corner, a huge marquee has been erected in the homestead's grounds and, perhaps most obviously, a sign proclaiming "TJ & Greer's I Do BBQ" welcomes whanau as they walk in.
"No-one knows yet!" an excited TJ, 27, whispers to Woman's Day as we arrive. Dressed casually in a white short-sleeved shirt and shorts while he bounces from group to group to say hi, the Hurricanes halfback is positively fizzing as he finds his soon-to-be wife, who herself is buzzing with nervous energy.
"Oh, my God. OK. Let's tell them," she says, shepherding everyone to the lawn.
"Thanks for coming," she begins, before running through housekeeping matters.
Just as the crowd think she is done, Greer, a professional singer, throws out her hands and bellows, "Oh, just one more thing. We're getting married today!"
TJ and Greer's wedding has been a long time coming, despite it's unexpected circumstances – in fact, today's celebration was destined from the beginning.
"We met about nine years ago at a friend's Halloween party – and I was dressed as a bride," laughs Greer.
"He was driving around with his mates and he spotted one of our mutual friends standing outside of the house we were at. She goes, 'Come inside!' and he did."
The bride costume must have worked – after leaving the party later that night, TJ was pretty sure he'd found the girl he'd eventually wed.
"I turned to my mate and said, 'I'm going to marry that girl one day,'" he recalls, grinning.
"Well, that's what he tells me," scoffs Greer, rolling her eyes.
Greer's bouquet was made by Wellington florists Table Flower.
Despite TJ's initial conviction, it took eight years of dating for the couple to finally get engaged – and it came out of the blue for Greer.
"For a long time, TJ had said that he didn't think that marriage was for him, whereas I've always been a bit more traditional," Greer tells.
"Yeah, I mean, it's just a piece of paper," he nods. "We love each other – that's all that matters. I didn't see it as a massive thing, but I knew how important it was for Greer. And the more I thought about it, that we could express our love in front of our friends and family, it became really important to me too."
But what Greer didn't know was that TJ was planning a spectacular proposal and her entire family was in on it. However, when it came to the day he was due to pop the question, Wellington's famed weather kicked in and his ideal spot, a lookout in Island Bay, was rendered useless.
But the more he thought about it, the more TJ realised he actually wanted to propose in the place closest to their hearts – home.
A beer and a cheeky grin, and TJ's match ready!
"We were getting ready to go out for dinner," Greer tells. "I turned around and he was on one knee and he asked me if I wanted to marry him."
After eight years, Greer knew her answer, but she still wasn't convinced the sportsman was serious.
"She just kept saying, 'You're joking,'" TJ laughs, shaking his head.
"Well, I thought he was pranking me at first!" says Greer. "The ring was made by The Village Goldsmith, who make all of the Hurricanes' rings, like the ones they get for 50 games and 100 games. I thought he was using his Hurricanes ring for a laugh."
Eventually, TJ managed to convince his love that he was serious – and a still-shocked Greer finally accepted. But his surprises didn't end there.
Though she thought she was leaving home for a romantic celebratory dinner with her new fiancé, Greer walked through the doors of their favourite Wellington restaurant to be greeted by her entire immediate family.
"I still can't believe none of them spilled the beans," she nods. "I have four sisters and they're usually rubbish at keeping secrets."
TJ and Greer initially planned to get married in November this year, before realising they simply didn't want to hold out that long – after nine years, they were done waiting!
"We both have massive families and the coordination was getting pretty tough," admits TJ. "And we didn't want to delay. We both looked at each other and said, 'Why don't we just have a party and then just get married?'"
Laughing, Greer adds, "It kept snowballing and now that day is finally here."
Their planned vision – a jazzed-up backyard barbecue – is perfect, with a group of lads playing cricket with much whooping and cheering, while others have plopped down on beanbags to soak up the scorching summer sun.
Ten minutes after TJ and Greer's bombshell, there's still a shocked face or two amongst the crowd, though the vibe has morphed from stunned to excited.
And after a quick outfit change – TJ donning a slick Working Style suit, while Greer slips into a stunning white Maggie Sottero gown from Astra Bridal with lace motifs, Swarovski crystals and a gorgeous train – it's go time.
TJ and Greer's beloved labrador Roni is led to the flower-adorned altar, while guests settle themselves on the homestead's lawn.
This I Promise You by 'N Sync begins to play – a 14-year-old Greer promised herself she'd one day walk down the aisle to it, so she figured she'd better stick to her word – and the bridal party follows arm in arm.
In a touching gesture, all are holding a framed photo of a relative who has passed away, leading to tears from their respective families.
"We knew it would be emotional," nods TJ. "But it was really important for us to honour them."
Then a radiant Greer emerges, on the arm of her dad Richard, and TJ's already fragile composure crumples.
"I couldn't even look at her," he says just moments after the ceremony.
"It was a whole bunch of emotions – how beautiful she was and then, woah, I get to marry this woman. Wow! It was pretty cool. I get to marry the woman who will hopefully have our children."
"I was just happy," adds Greer. "So happy." As the bride reaches her groom, TJ manages to compose himself long enough to whisper sweet nothings in his soon-to-be-wife's ear. Well, that's what it looked like.
"Nah, he was telling me I had something in my teeth!" Greer laughs.
Celebrant Miranda Zander officially welcomes TJ and Greer's guests, then reads the Apache Wedding Blessing, before Greer begins her vows, which she's written herself.
"My darling, my rock, my best friend," she declares. "I love you for so many reasons, but the thing I love the most is that you have one of the most generous hearts I've ever come across. You never hesitate to help, nothing's an issue, your selflessness amazes me every day, and I'm so grateful to you and the values we share.
"You're my biggest fan, whether I'm performing in front of hundreds or a handful of people in a bar where you've convinced the band to let me get up
and sing.
You support me, you respect me and it's been one of the most rewarding things to grow up alongside you. With my whole heart, I give myself to you in love and marriage."
Then it's TJ's turn.
The besotted groom serenades his beautiful bride to James Arthur's "Say You Won't Let Go".
"Greer, I love you, my darling. I love the way you love me and I love the way you love my family as if they were your own. I think they love you more than me sometimes.
I take you to be my wife with my whole heart. I give myself to you in love and marriage. I promise to encourage you, laugh with you and be your biggest fan.
I promise to love you through good times and bad, and I promise to be the best husband I can be. You're my rock and my love."
Their family and friends make it the perfect day for TJ and Greer.
And with the exchanging of rings, Thomas Te Kanapu Rawakata Perenara and Greer Louise Samuels are finally husband and wife, with Miranda pronouncing them Mr and Mrs Perenara.
Then the newlyweds walk back up the aisle to Stevie Wonder's Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours.
"We're husband and wife – it's such a cool thing," declares TJ. "I mean, it doesn't feel any different and I don't know if we will. It's more about showing our love in front of our friends and family.
"Today has been amazing – it was just us. It's been the perfect day. We just couldn't be any happier."
It's time to let TJ know who's boss.
TJ and fellow All Black Ardie Savea share a hongi.
The Youth Unit at Hawke's Bay Regional Prison gifted this patu to their mentor.
You've got to know how to pukana in this whanau! With their flower girls Makere Perenara and Georgia Paul.
A special tribute from the guests.
The chocolate mud cake with peanut butter buttercream.
TJ's ring is made from part of his beloved late grandfather's wedding band.

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