Breathing life into funerals – and weddings
Conducting weddings and funerals takes a particular type of person. Muddy caught up with Surrey celebrant Soozi Leeves to find out more.
Sometimes you meet people who have incredible stories to tell. And yesterday I caught up with one such lady.
Just over a year ago Soozi Leeves started working as a ceremony celebrant – conducting funerals, weddings and naming ceremonies for clients – and what a year it’s been. She’s been a part of hundreds of family celebrations, met gangsters, celebrities, and many colourful characters.
She’s even been invited to go on a cruise with one client. And that’s what I’d call the Soozi effect. For this lady – and she most certainly is a lady – has that effect on people.
The first thing you’ll notice about Soozi is her classic beauty – glossy long dark hair that she swishes over her shoulder when she’s perhaps just ever so slightly out of her comfort zone, huge dark round eyes and clear bright skin.
And hot on the heels of that comes her warmth, her open-ness and and her genuine charm. She’s a hugger – and within seconds of meeting, she had me in an embrace.
The conversation flowed easily too. And that’s why people love her, and love to be around her. She’s friendly, attentive, sincere, almost motherly – albeit in the most glamorous of motherly ways.
In just over a year Soozi has conducted more than 100 funerals – three of those for the same family (rather neatly it was her 1st funeral, her 21st and then another more recent one). There have also been many weddings and naming ceremonies.
As is often the way, Soozi’s journey to become a celebrant took a few twists and turns and came about almost by accident. She had originally trained as a stylist under Nicky Hambleton-Jones, the celebrity stylist and former presenter of Channel 4 makeover show 10 Years Younger. And, married to a successful businessman Soozi would style the wives of his clients for corporate events. She later also studied interior design.
When the marriage ended, she was looking for a new path and decided to combine both, setting up a wedding style consultancy business called Maid for Brides. It wasn’t long until couples – keen on her relaxed, friendly and upbeat style – were asking if she could conduct their ceremonies. That’s when she trained as a celebrant.
She initially did mostly weddings, finding it difficult to break into funerals – as it were. But after the first one, for Horley based funeral director Ray Bateman, it was like opening a door and the bookings tumbled in. Her most recent funeral service was for the uncle of funeral director – and if that’s not the ultimate complement, I don’t know what is.
As you’d expect, Soozi has met some interesting people along the way, and she’s got a stockpile of hilarious stories to tell, as well as a lot of touching ones too.
She’s popular as a celebrant because she’s not fusty and traditional. She’s not afraid to be funny and irreverent. And also because she spends a lot of time with the family and has the wonderful ability to really convey the essence of the person who’s life they’re there to celebrate. For weddings, she’ll write vows that are very personal to the couple involved.
But there’s no formula to it. Soozi just acts as herself. If she’s feeling emotional during a funeral service – and it’s only happened once or twice – she’ll simply apologise to the congregation, smile, wipe her tear and carry on. If curtains don’t close when they’re meant to, she’ll make a joke. And if the gathering suddenly breaks into song – and this, too, has happened at more than one funeral – she’ll wholeheartedly join in. She’s even been known to lead a funeral congregation in a dance.
While the reasons for being a wedding celebrant are obvious – it’s so lovely to be part of a happy couple’s most special day. But Soozi says that funerals, too, can be a happy time when families come together to celebrate life. Her services are always upbeat and happy. Mostly she loves meeting people and hearing their life stories. “It’s a real honour to be asked to be a part of a family during these events, whether it’s a funeral or a wedding,” she says. “And it helps me, too. Someone else’s death gives your own life perspective, and stops you worrying about all of the little things.”
She has just two rules at her ceremonies. Number 1 – she won’t use the C-word. And while it might sounds strange that anyone would even want such colourful language as part of a service, she has been asked. Her way around it was to ‘bleep’ out the words. Everyone loved it!
And her second rule? No nudity. “So that means I couldn’t do a nudist wedding or funeral,” she laughs “Although to be honest, I probably would – but I’d wear one of those jokey nude body suits.”
So watch this space. Because if you hear about a nudist funeral in the tabloids, don’t be surprised if Soozi Leeves is the one standing at the front protecting her mock modesty with an oversized folder.
Soozi Celebrant is available for weddings, funerals and baby naming ceremonies, as well as vow renewals.