The Bad Bride Diaries: What’s the Difference Between a Registrar and a Celebrant?

While we’ve had our venue booked for a while, we’ve been struggling to sort out the person to do the actual ceremony bit. We’re getting married in Birmingham, but live within a different council area, and currently both register office’s seem to think we’re the other one’s problem. So that’s going well, and because I’m stubborn, I started researching alternatives, and we’re now considering using a celebrant instead. But what’s the difference?


A registrar can come to any legally registered venue to marry you. Your ceremony is recognised in the eyes of the law and you are legally married. However, for exactly this reason, there are restrictions. A ceremony with a registrar is seen as different from a church wedding, and so can contain no religious content. How this is interpreted seems to vary by area; I know people who could choose anything as long as it wasn’t overtly religious, and I know others who weren’t allowed to use any song that had the word ‘God’ in, whether the context was religious or not. There’s also certain things that must be part of the ceremony, to make it legal.

Pros: It’s legal and there’s no extra faff. All your guests see you legally married.

Cons: It can be restrictive, especially if you’re a multi-faith couple, want to do something like a hand-fasting, or are unlucky enough to live in an area strict on music and reading choices. You won’t usually meet your registrar til the day either, and they usually need to keep to tight time-slots, with multiple ceremonies to do in a day.

Registrar or Celebrant


A celebrant can marry you anywhere, anyway. No licenced venue required. You can have any music, words, vows, or ceremonies you like, from hand-fasting, ring-warming, writing your own vows, crushing a glass instead of signing the register…you name it, you can do it. A ceremony with a celebrant, however, is not recognised by the law, so you will have to do the legal bit separately.

Your ceremony can be as personal as you like. Most celebrants offer a ‘certificate signing’ too, so unless you tell them, your guests probably won’t even notice they’ve missed the legal bit. The celebrant we’ve been speaking to explained it as the difference between the Christening and the registering of a birth. You wouldn’t invite the whole family to watch you sign the bit of paper; the ceremony is the important bit.

Pros: Total flexibility on format, content and venue. You can meet with many celebrants and choose someone you like.

Cons: You won’t be legally married

doing the legal bit

You can either book a simple ceremony at the register office with a few guests, or take the super cheap option of a ‘statutory ceremony’. This is usually about £50, and you and two witnesses go to the register office and do the bare minimum to make your marriage legal. This takes about fifteen minutes, and most couples opt to go in their jeans the day before, or after.


We’re leaning heavily towards using a celebrant. The freedom appeals to my stubborn self, and we can go and sign a bit of paper the day before. Who knew this ceremony bit was so complicated…