Real Life

Elizabeth Gray’s wedding

Beauty queen and model Elizabeth Gray exchanges vows in a sunlit bush clearing.

She represented New Zealand at the world’s biggest beauty pageant and has modelled for some of the country’s top fashion designers, so Andrew Aitken already knew his bride-to-be was “a fine-looking specimen”. But as Elizabeth Gray walked towards him in a stunning ivory silk and chiffon gown at their outdoor wedding, he was blown away. “I was speechless when I saw her. She exceeded all my expectations.”

The oiss Universe New Zealand 2006 winner, who also competed in the last series of Celebrity Treasure Island, and her partner of two years decided to tie the knot in the middle of a kauri forest in Kaukapakapa, north of Auckland, to reflect their deep love of nature.

Just 60 close friends and family gathered among nikau palms, ponga fronds and mossy logs to witness Liz making her way toward her groom, the long train of her Spanish-designed bridal dress spread over the forest floor.

“It wasn’t so much an aisle as a bushwalk,” she smiles, “and it wasn’t made any easier by the fact that I was getting teary. But the feeling of wanting to cry disappeared the moment I held Andrew’s hands. I was ready to take that step into the future.”

With dappled sunlight shining through the branches overhead and the sound of native bird calls in the air, Liz and Andrew (both 26) grinned and giggled throughout the ceremony, which was presided over by first-time celebrant Kyle Aitken, Andrew’s older brother, who’d got his licence especially for this momentous day. “The best years of both your lives are yet to come,” he assured the couple before they exchanged their emotional self-written vows.

Andrew told his bride, “You have a contagious passion, a genuine nature and a gorgeous smile. I love everything about you. You always inspire me to appreciate life… I will love you forever.”  In turn, Liz replied, “I love your charisma and adventurous spirit, your outward focus and inspiring selfl essness… You make me joyful every day and to be together as your wife is a dream come true. I will love you forever.”

The couple – who originally met at intermediate school and reconnected on the internet more than a decade later – then exchanged rings and shared their fi rst kiss as husband and wife, with a  laughing Liz making sure to wipe the lipstick off Andrew’s face afterwards.

Next the bride and groom’s proud mothers released 20 monarch butterflies into the air and the registry was signed as the brightly winged insects fluttered skyward into the forest canopy. Liz explains, “It was a symbol of us spreading our wings and taking that next step in life.”

“We’re exiting that part of our lives where our parents are caring for us and we’re flying away together,” adds Andrew, who coordinates sponsorship for the Auckland Rugby Union. The butterfl y theme continued at the reception, held at the Bridgewater Country Estate, which featured butterfly decorations on the tables and cake.

Guests – many of whom had flown in from as far away as the UK, US and Canada – dined on smoked salmon, teriyaki chicken, pistachio-encrusted beef and grilled kingfi sh while listening to some heartfelt speeches.

Following the feast, the newlyweds treated their guests to a hilarious first dance, choreographed by former professional ballerina Liz, to the Flight of the Conchords tune It’s Business Time. They then asked family and friends to join them on the dance fl oor for a fun-filled night of outrageous disco moves. Liz describes their day as “the perfect beginning to our adventure together”.

And it’s not just a figurative journey she’s talking about. The next day, the couple took a 49-hour trip to Uganda, East Africa, where, instead of a typical holiday-style honeymoon, they did volunteer work for agricultural charity The Heifer Project.

Liz and Andrew had already spent a year fundraising to buy cows for small villages in the obarara area, to help the community become self-suffi cient. And during their honeymoon, says Liz, they went over to do “whatever they needed us to do. Whether that was digging holes, tending to cattle, building fences or changing nappies at the orphanage.” Andrew adds, “It was a great start to our married life – a chance to re-prioritise our lives with the knowledge that there are people less fortunate than ourselves. “We want to make a difference to global poverty and our honeymoon set us on a path we want to follow in the future.”

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