When it comes to describing the beautiful relationship between Zac Franich and new wife Erin Simpson in his wedding speech, father of the groom Wayne refers to the “spark and fire” that was obvious from the moment the pair got together in early 2018.
Anyone who has witnessed the chemistry between the two lovebirds would agree with his words, but the phrase is a little on the nose considering the disastrous blaze at Auckland’s SkyCity Convention Centre that had threatened to derail their spectacular celebrations.
The inner-city inferno had been raging for three days before it was finally put out on the very day of the ceremony, just a couple of hundred metres from the wedding venue, the historic St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Erin, 37, who was filming her upcoming TV series Adventure All Stars in rural Rotorua in the week of her nuptials, only heard about the catastrophe after climbing a tree to get cellphone reception.
“I tried to stay calm, but I wasn’t relaxed about it,” she tells Woman’s Day. “The fire was still going and all the roads around the church were blocked. I was frantically ringing the priest from up in a branch and it was only the afternoon before the ceremony that we found it was going to be fine.
“It was the same with the caterers because SkyCity was doing our food. They cancelled all their events for two days and they were unsure about our wedding. We’d left $10,000 worth of alcohol with them and they didn’t know whether they’d be able to get it out!”
While he’s usually the calming influence in their relationship, surf lifesaving coach Zac, 30, admits, “I was shitting myself, like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!’ It was pretty challenging, especially with Erin out of range in the bush. Just two days out, it looked like we needed a new venue and new caterers, but thankfully it all came through. It’s pretty funny in hindsight – but only in hindsight!”
Indeed, apart from a delay due to road closures, there’s no sign of crisis as Erin and her 12-strong “bride tribe”, who have spent the morning being pampered at Matakana Estate vineyards, arrive at the iconic cathedral.
“Yes, I know 12 is way too many, but I couldn’t pick just three special friends – these are my people!” Erin later explains of her tight-knit group of mates, who lead the way into the church carrying colourful umbrellas that the bride had painted with words of love at 5am that morning.
Following them, on the arm of her dad Trevor and carrying a bouquet of white orchids, Erin makes her entrance in a stunning Mikado silk gown with a lace-embellished train and cathedral veil, which she fell in love with on a shopping trip to Brides by Donna Rae in Invercargill.
“It’s the kind of thing I dreamt about as a little girl,” gushes the Waikato-born TV presenter and homeware designer. “There are so many boho dresses out there at the moment, but I love the regal, traditional look of this one.”
And it’s clear the groom is blown away, with Zac, wearing Barkers, breaking down in tears at first glimpse of his bride. Later, he recalls, “We hadn’t seen each other in over a week because of Erin’s filming schedule and then suddenly there she was – the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”
After he pushes back the veil and wipes his eyes, Zac and Erin clasp hands, and celebrant Father Peter Tipene welcomes the 200 guests to the Roman Catholic ceremony in both te reo and English.
Of their decision to marry in the church, Erin later explains, “It’s grand, and it’s special to us and our families. And because everyone seems to get married under a tree these days, it actually felt a little different! Zac’s grandma Bev recommended our priest, but because I’m not a Catholic, we had to do a church marriage course.”
Zac adds, “We were a bit apprehensive, but it centred around how we communicate as a couple. It created an environment where we could chat about the future – about things like finances and where our kids will go to school.”
Erin continues, “We discovered we’re already really open with each other. There were 10 other couples on the course and it was run by people from the church who’d done about 70 of these things – and they said that Zac and I had something special. It’s probably because of my funny jokes!”
Laughing, Zac replies, “Yeah, ‘funny’ jokes … But I guess I have to laugh at them now because she’s my wife!”
After the couple state their intentions at the altar, Erin’s sense of humour comes into play when she pulls out a red rose hidden inside maid of honour Aimee Scott’s umbrella and presents it to her groom, once the leading man of the third series of The Bachelor NZ.
“Zac, will you accept this rose?” she grins as guests burst into laughter and her husband-to-be turns bright crimson.
“OK, that was pretty funny,” Zac later admits. “Classic Erin. But I’m hoping that’s the last time that joke comes up. I thought we were past this. At least people can no longer say I’m a bachelor – I’m happy about that.”
“He’s The Husband now!” Erin laughs. “I just had to get that in there to loosen everybody up. I’m sorry, babe!”
Next up is the serious bit – the vows. His eyes welling with tears, Zac, from Auckland’s Hibiscus Coast, hesitates before launching into a rhyming poem he’s written for his bride:
“Erin, sweetheart, words can’t describe what I hold inside. Standing here in front of you, my heart is open wide. Whenever you are near, there’s no shadow nor fear. Your words, your touch, your kind-hearted hush, help me to step up, to dream and to dare …”
Zac later tells us, “Erin wanted me to challenge myself, so I did a poem. I thought about it for a long time and by the time I got around to writing it, the words flowed quite naturally – as did the tears! I cried writing them, so I knew I’d cry reading them.”
Erin is also choking back tears as she haltingly reads out her vows. Her promise starts with a story about her and her childhood bestie Aimee casting a spell to find the perfect man when they were kids.
“We stood around a cauldron – well, a fire in an old oil drum – and threw in posters of New Kids on the Block and old Rainbow’s End tickets,” she tells, going on to describe how their “very strong magic” must have carried all the way to Wales, where Zac’s dad Wayne met his wife Debbie on a bus while on his OE.
“Aimee and I must be very powerful women because, Zac, you are the tall, dark and handsome man this little girl wished for all those years ago… I vow to encourage your kindness and optimism, to nurture your dreams, support your goals and to be worthy of your trust. You captivate me, challenge me and improve me in ways that no-one else can, and every day I fall in love with you again and again.”
Next, the couple exchange bespoke nine-carat yellow-gold signet rings, 3D-printed by Erin’s old mate Dane Rumble’s company Culet and inset with diamonds. She says, “They’re a little bit out of the ordinary. We worked together really closely on them and when we were finished, Dane was like, ‘Are you sure? This is a man’s ring!'”
Zac explains, “Initially we wanted to put our family crest on there, but the Franich family doesn’t have a crest and the Simpson clan has heaps, so we combined the crests from the islands in Croatia where my family comes from and superimposed the Simpson lion on top. I don’t know if it’s legal, but I drew it up late one night!”
After the rings are exchanged, the priest declares, “It’s my pleasure to introduce for the very first time, Mr and Mrs Franich.” At this, the newlyweds share a very long, passionate kiss before walking back up the aisle as husband and wife.
While Zac and Erin zoom off in a purple 1932 Packard Super Eight, guests pile into a bus to be delivered to the reception at the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
A covers band is playing reggae, sparkling wine from the No. 1 Family Estate is served, and guests dig into sausage rolls, party pies, samosas, chicken wings and sliders as the MC, Maori TV presenter Luke Bird, introduces the groomsmen and bride tribe.
Then, following in the footsteps of some brightly feathered Brazilian samba dancers, the newlyweds make their entrance down the museum’s marble staircase, with Erin in a second sequined gown, also from Brides by Donna Rae.
Zac sprays a magnum of bubbly over the whooping crowd, confetti cannons explode and MC Luke breaks into Queen’s Somebody to Love, before the newlyweds cut a three-tier cake inspired by the museum’s architecture and made by Colab Cakery.
In the speeches that follow, Erin’s dad Trevor quips, “I’ve inherited a great son, but another way of looking at it is, I’ve got rid of a daughter.”
After ribbing the bride about dressing up as a gorilla for her jobs on What Now and Sticky TV, the Te Kauwhata-based farmer goes on to reveal he never saw Zac on The Bachelor, adding, “It must’ve been on at the same time as Coronation Street.”
Later, Erin’s younger brother Michael gives an emotional speech about his sister getting caught up in the Christchurch earthquake of 2011. Sobbing as he tells how it took them four hours to get hold of Erin after the quake, he says, “It was the longest four hours of my life.”
Despite Zac’s celebrity status, Michael grins, “He’s a normal Kiwi bloke – even if he has no idea what he’s doing, he still wants to give you a hand and he’ll fall asleep on your couch mid-conversation. And mate, if the hashtags ever stop paying the bills, there’s always plenty of weeds to spray back home on the farm.”
Zac tells guests, “When I was growing up, I held out hope I might find someone who’d choose me back – an angel walking toward me down the aisle. Today I had that moment … Sweetheart, you’re everything I’ve hoped to find. I’ve never been happier and I can’t wait to see what we create side by side.”
Erin tells guests there’s one thing Zac has always wanted – for her to sing in front of an audience. A classically trained singer, Erin had always told him “there would need to be lights, an audience and a band” … And with that, she jumps in front of the band and lets out her inner rock chick, pulling off an impressive version of Lady Gaga’s “Look What I Found”.
Zac is floored by the surprise performance and breaks down in tears.
But soon it’s his turn to impress, spectacularly lifting Erin into the air as they perform their first dance to Six60’s Someone to be Around, choreographed by Zac’s Dancing with the Stars partner Kristie Williams.
Later that night, Erin tells us, “Now we’re wearing our hearts on the outsides of our bodies for all to see. Zac’s goals and dreams have become my goals and dreams.”
Nodding, her husband adds, “Now it’s ‘we’ instead of ‘me’. We were already a team, but this provides the glue.
“I’m looking forward to seeing lots of little Erins and Zacs running around in the future. I want two or three. If we have a boy, he’ll be Van.”
“And if we have a girl, we’ll call her Violet after my grandmother,” smiles Erin. “But we’ll have to wait and see whatever these geriatric ovaries can pump out!”