The waterfront is her chapel and the sands of Seven Mile Beach her aisle. Joy Basdeo, a wedding officiant in the Cayman Islands, presided over another union Friday, when she brought together Marcel Dillard and Shakeira Ebanks in matrimony at the Kimpton Seafire Resort.
The ceremony took place in front of the ocean shortly before sunset, and for the happy couple, it was their first day together as a family. For Ms. Basdeo, it was a milestone.
The Dillards represent the 2,000th service Ms. Basdeo has performed in her decade as proprietor of Simply Weddings, and she is proudly following in a family tradition. Her parents, Francine and Vernon Jackson, collectively performed about 7,500 weddings over several decades.
“On a Saturday, it’s nothing for me to do five weddings,” Ms. Basdeo said. “Everybody, everywhere I go, I’ve done their wedding. Or they say, ‘Your parents did my wedding.’”
Ms. Basdeo, who previously worked as an English teacher and in government before becoming a wedding officiant, said she never gets nervous before performing a ceremony.
Her mother, 88, is still performing weddings, and her husband – Sam Basdeo – is also involved in the family business. For Ms. Basdeo, the family touch is as important as the vows.
“My mother always told me, ‘Look, people come and they get married and it’s a very important day,’” she said. “Our job is to make them feel like family. We are really in loco parentis. My husband, sometimes he escorts the bride in, sometimes he’s the ring-bearer, sometimes he holds the flowers. That’s what people appreciate. It’s a fantastic business and I consider myself extremely lucky.”
The beachside scene at the Kimpton Seafire wedding of Marcel and Shakeira Dillard. Photo: Maggie Jackson
Many of her ceremonies take place in her George Town office, which is on the waterfront and features a view of incoming cruise ships. Ms. Basdeo said she did just 77 weddings in 2007, the first year of her business, but that number has grown to nearly 300 services annually over the last few years.
The Dillard wedding was special, she said, because both of the bride’s parents are Caymanian and she was performing a service previously written by her father. Mr. Jackson passed away in October, but Ms. Basdeo said reading his words makes her feel much closer to his spirit.
“A good marriage must be created,” said Ms. Basdeo as part of the ceremony. “In the art of marriage, the little things are big things. It is never being too old to hold hands. It’s remembering to say, ‘I love you’ at least once a day. It’s never going to sleep angry. It’s at no time taking the other for granted. The courtship shouldn’t end with the honeymoon; it should continue through all the years.”
Ms. Basdeo, who will celebrate her 45th anniversary this summer, said during the ceremony that marriage is “the most fulfilling relationship one can have,” and she points fondly to her parents, who were married for 65 years before Mr. Jackson passed away. Like her parents, she loves that she has the opportunity to work every day with her husband, and she thinks her couples appreciate it too.
Joy Basdeo, smiling, on the occasion of her 2000th wedding ceremony. Photos: Maggie Jackson
“People feel comfortable talking to us,” she said. “We tell them if we have an argument, ‘Look, we’ve been married 45 years. Sometimes that happens. You’re going to fight. And then you’re going to make up.’ But you know what the most important thing is? Spending time together. Even though we had four kids, the most important thing is spending time together and looking after your marriage.”
In her decade as a wedding officiant, Ms. Basdeo has brought together people from many countries and cultures. She said she has frequently performed secular ceremonies, but also those that fit the Muslim, Shinto, Buddhist and Hindu faiths, among others.
Her most memorable service involved a wedding that almost did not happen. A few years ago, a bride came off the boat without her prospective husband. Hours passed before the groom arrived, and after the ceremony, he explained that he had just learned of his next military deployment.
“He wasn’t expecting it and it threw him for a loop and he questioned whether he should be getting married,” she said. “Because as soon as he got back to the States, he was going to Afghanistan. That’s why he couldn’t get off the boat. But when he got on board, he got a phone and he called his father, and his father talked him through it until he was calm enough to come in and get married.”
The Basdeos have three sons and a daughter and it’s Joy’s hope that some day her children will pick up the family business. At first, she did not know if working with her husband would work out, but over time, she said, it’s been a truly rewarding experience.
“The first two months was hell on earth. I thought I would kill him,” she said of their working relationship. “But you know what? Whatever you’re good at, you do that. I say in the ceremony: Lean on each other’s strengths and forgive each other’s weaknesses. That is a very good lesson for marriage.”