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Weddings

Black Fern star Tyla Nathan-Wong’s fairytale wedding

The rugby superstar and her new husband Tupu share their magical big day

By Jo Bailey
Grinning with joy, sevens star Tyla Nathan-Wong declares her fairytale wedding to handsome waka ama champion Tupuria King was everything she dreamed of and more. "When people say getting married is the best day of your life, it's so true," she beams. "I love being married and saying, 'Hey, husband, I'm Mrs King now!'"
The sporty couple's big day went without a hitch, despite most of the planning being done on opposite sides of the Tasman. Tyla, 29, who is of Ngāpuhi, Chinese and Pākehā descent, was based in Australia for much of 2023, where she played her debut season of rugby league for the St George Illawarra Dragons after being temporarily released from her Black Ferns contract.
The Tokyo Olympic Games gold medallist arrived back in Aotearoa in early November after a whirlwind year, which included being part of the Kiwi Ferns rugby league team's historic first win in seven years over their Aussie rivals, the Jillaroos, and jetting to Paris to be awarded the World Sevens Rugby Player of the Year.
She and Tupu loved the opportunity to spend the final weeks of 2023 together before they tied the knot in the first week of January. Their stunning venue was The Red Barn, in a secluded Waikato setting not far from Lake Karapiro, where Tupu, 30, has spent many hours on the water.
Hiding the tears behind his beautiful bride's veil!
In fact, it was on the lake that the wedding day started for Tupu. "The night before the wedding, we stayed at The Rocks, which is only a couple of minutes away from The Red Barn," shares Tupu, who woke at 5.30am to head out to the lake for a paddle with his dad and sister. "This was the last time we saw each other until I walked up the aisle."
Before the ceremony, Tyla also stayed at The Rocks to get ready with her bridal party. With her hair and makeup done, she slipped into her gorgeous wedding dress and shared an emotional moment with her parents.
"We had the first look with my dad, which was amazing, and at the same time, we surprised Mum and told her she would also be walking me up the aisle," she tells. "It was really special."
Parents Russell and Deanne escort their girl up the aisle.
At the end of the league season, Tyla had dashed back to New Zealand for a special dress fitting at celebrity bridal designer Trish Peng's Auckland boutique, accompanied by her mum Deanne, sister Shee, bridesmaid Dani, and sisters-in-law Evie and Hannah, with Tupu's twin sister Riana video calling in.
"I've never been the type of girl who envisioned her wedding and the ideal dress. So I tried on a range of different dresses before an incredible moment when I stepped into Trish's beautiful Avery gown. When I opened the curtain, everyone said, 'Yes, that's the one!'"
Tyla looked incredible in the exquisite strapless duchess satin gown, featuring a ruched neckline, fitted bodice with exposed boning, an opulent full skirt and a long train. Hidden underneath the skirt was Tyla's unique choice of shoes – a pair of white Adidas Superstar sneakers.
Tyla's ready to dance the night away in her sneakers.
"I'm not a heels girl at all, so I thought, 'Why not?' My bridesmaids also wore Adidas sneakers and our feet were appreciative of us wearing flats by the end of the night!"
Although used to intense pressure in the sporting arena, Tyla had to take a few deep breaths to calm her nerves before linking arms with her parents to follow five of the couple's adorable nieces and nephews, her bridesmaids – sister Shee, schoolfriend Dani Harrison and Tupu's twin Riana – plus her "bridesman", brother David, up the aisle.
Waiting for her in a smart white jacket with a black bowtie was Tupu, who has Ngāpuhi and Tainui roots, and teared up as his gorgeous bride started walking towards him.
"Tyla didn't even get to the first entrance before I had tears in my eyes," he laughs. "I thought having a rehearsal beforehand would make it easier, but in the moment, it was amazing. She looked so beautiful."
The happy couple with their bridal party (from left): Best man Jamille Ruka, sisters Rose and Riana King, Connor Whitly-Su'a, maid of honour Shee Nathan-Wong, Marcel Hellesoe, Danielle Harrison and David Nathan-Wong.
As the couple stood in a magical outdoor garden setting next to a rustic wooden archway with their two celebrants, Whare and Tupu's sister Hannah Thomas-King, they shared self-penned vows in front of 113 guests, including many friends from their sporting worlds.
"Tyla said her vows first and she was a such a hard act to follow," tells Tupu. "I got pretty emotional reading mine and had to keep pausing."
His bride was also caught up in the moment. "To see how much it meant to Tupu to read those words to me and the courage it took to express everything he did in front of all our loved ones made me really emotional too."
It's a done deal: "We're actually married!"
After the ceremony, the couple signed the register with their mothers, who played a big part in engineering their relationship after sitting together at a 2019 sporting awards ceremony, where they agreed Tyla and Tupu would be a good match. This led to Tyla following Tupu on Instagram. After two months of online chat, the couple finally met in person.
Following the wedding photos, the newlyweds headed to the reception, where the bridesmaids and groomsmen had a competition to see who could make the best entrance as voted by the guests.
Tyla finally got her watermelon wedding cake!
Tyla smiles, "The bridesmaids won – probably because my brother David and sister Shee swapped clothes. David came in wearing the bridesmaid's dress and he totally owned it!"
After a sumptuous meal, guests enjoyed another special touch – a delicious watermelon cake made by Tupu and his groomsmen. Tyla explains, "I've always wanted a watermelon cake, but being born in July, it was always out of season for my birthday, so we decided to have it for a wedding cake instead."
(From left) Michaela Blyde, Alena Saili, Linda Itunu, Theresa Setefano, Tiana Anderson, Terina Te Tamaki, Kelsey Teneti, Shiray Kaka and Stacey Waaka.
There were many heartfelt moments during the speeches, followed by a haka performed by Tyla's "sevens sisters", plus the couple's MC, Ralph Ruka and his whānau, who also presented them with a specially carved paiaka, a weapon traditionally made from a tree root.
Tyla joined in a haka with her sevens sisters.
The Doucet family from Tahiti, who have treated Tupu like family during the 10 years he's been paddling there, also did a beautiful traditional dance. Then, for the first dance, DJ and longtime family friend Darren Cooper-Matila played Millionaire by Chris Stapleton, which was the soundtrack to Tupu's romantic proposal.
Tyla shares, "After that, I grabbed my dad, Tupu grabbed his mum, other people joined in and the rest of our amazing night kicked off."
Tupu's queen: The next time Tyla takes to the field, she'll have "King" emblazoned on her shirt.
There has been little time for the newlyweds to ease into married life, with Tyla back with the Black Ferns Sevens just three days after the wedding and already eyeing up this year's Olympics in Paris, while Tupu is about to compete in the waka ama national sprint championships and has the August world championships in Hawai'i in his sights.
"Professionally, we both have a really exciting year ahead, so there'll be no honeymoon just yet – or babies!" laughs Tyla, who will take to the field with a new name on her back from now on.
"Hopefully, I get selected for the Perth Sevens later this month and will run out with the name King on my jersey," she smiles. "It'll be exciting to represent our marriage and Tupu's whānau the next time I play for New Zealand. I'm just so happy to be married and can't quite believe it. I keep looking at my ring finger and saying to Tupu, 'We're actually married!'"

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