Jo Holley

How long have you been a celebrant for?

My journey began in 2013. Countless times, I found myself as a bridesmaid, an event manager, or the MC, while questions poured in—could I officiate my friends' ceremonies too? With a background in TV presenting and acting, which provided me with invaluable skills in public speaking and stage presence, it seemed like a great fit to support my friends in another way. It was also the perfect way to gracefully exit the "always the bridesmaid" spotlight and get out of event duties.  Or so I thought! That notion was short-lived when I found myself as the bridesmaid, celebrant, and MC all at the same wedding! I love my friends!

Why did you become a celebrant?

My intention was clear: to be there for my whanau and friends and together craft a unique and heartfelt experience. To ensure they had the comfort of a familiar face, someone who knew them well and someone they could lean on to alleviate the wedding day jitters. And as a Māori be there for whanau who wanted to incorporate our culture into the ceremony, and also for other ethnicities to do the same.

I wanted to be there for the adventurous souls, those wanting to do things their way and those seeking unconventional ceremonies - like my friends who I married in a volcanic crater lake! 

I also noticed back then that some ceremonies felt a bit like they were cut-and-paste so I saw it as an opportunity to add value and make a positive change, empowering couples to have the wedding without the constraints of tradition or external pressures. I wanted to help couples get rid of all the ‘noise’, manage expectations and cut through all of this respectfully to do their ceremony their way.

Becoming a celebrant wasn't just an escape from bridesmaid duties; it was a calling to help couples create a wedding experience that resonated deeply with their hearts and aspirations, with the least stress possible. 

And, I was fortunate enough to have Mum pass down tools to help me learn the ropes.

What involvement do you have or had with CANZ at a branch or national level?

I am a member of the association as a celebrant.

What ceremonies do you perform?

Celebrity, Intimate, Adventurous, Spiritual, Religious, Māori, Various cultures, Renewal of Vows, Large, Civil, Marriages.

What do you enjoy about being a celebrant?

Staying for the after party! Celebrant wedding crashing!  

Jokes aside…

I love connecting!  Meeting new people and crafting together.  And, well, love is just awesome, isn't it? Being able to witness that pure, radiant love during a wedding ceremony is truly awe-inspiring whether the couple are laughing hard out, crying, reminiscing, reflecting and connecting on a deep level. It's an honor to stand by the couple's side during such a vulnerable yet celebratory time, and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunity to offer my support. 

I love writing their story, interviewing them, exploring their ideas, crafting their unique ceremony and together bringing it all to fruition. Hearing what the couple have to say, and often witnessing a new reconnection to each other as they go through the process.  

I do enjoy wearing multiple hats, and it’s great that as a celebrant, when you can put into play your life passions and skills to help couples on their journey. I’m sure if you asked any celebrant that would say the same thing - we’re not just a celebrant, we are storytellers, facilitators, problem solvers, vibe shifters and often jump in to perform other roles as they are needed.  

Drawing on my expertise as a multi-modality healing practitioner, I offer therapeutic sessions to help couples navigate the emotional journey of wedding planning, ensuring they have the tools for a positive and enjoyable experience. And, thanks to my background in the events and entertainment industry, I've got a good grip on all the ins and outs—from behind-the-scenes setup to keeping the show running smoothly and of course, on the fly troubleshooting unexpected events. I love keeping their guests entertained and ensuring the couple are the star of the show from start to finish. 

And it doesn't end there. I'm passionate about sharing my knowledge and experience with aspiring celebrants, guiding them on their own journey into this fulfilling profession. 

My favourite moment is when one arrives to walk down the aisle and there is this moment of spaciousness, where collectively everyone takes a breath and allows their emotions to flow. You feel it spiritually, and as the celebrant you just feel so much aroha, appreciation and also gratitude that they trusted you to officiate this day for them. That’s when you ‘flick the switch’ because as the celebrant you’re the glue that keeps it together and also you stand there as strength for the couple to draw off. 

I also love when couples bring in their own culture into the ceremony, their ideas for symbolic ceremonies, their children, when they let loose and dance down the aisle - when they make the ceremony what they want to do. Seeing them enjoy their moment - it is the best!

Officiating weddings isn't just a job for me—it's a deeply fulfilling calling that allows me to make a meaningful difference in the lives of couples as they embark on this transformative journey.

What are some of the hardest parts of being a celebrant?

Answering this question!

What was the most memorable ceremony you have performed?

Gee, that's tough! Every ceremony I have had the honour of being involved in has been epic whether it be a simple get together at sunset on the beach, a themed affair, or an absolute extravaganza.

I’ve performed numerous celebrity weddings and they feature the photos on the cover of magazines. Now, not only was I the celebrant, but the day before the wedding, the bride asked me to do her hair! Now, I'm no professional hairdresser, so you can imagine the nerves kicking in as I created a wedding style hair do out of thin air. Thank goodness for our upbringing with the good old Kiwi ‘no.8 wire’ attitude, I thought, “Geez, I better pull something out of the bag here." The bride was thrilled, and thankfully, her hair didn’t fall out! I made sure I bobby pinned it, till there were no bobby pins left! Then, you wouldn’t believe it, the magazine wanted more photos so a couple days later I had to recreate from photos what we made that day and be the photographer! I look back now and as I retell this story and I’m over here having a good laugh! What a day!

What would be your typical day as celebrant? 

A typical day? Every day brings a different vibe in the world of a wedding celebrant. It's like we're on a whirlwind adventure, with each moment offering a fresh surprise!  That’s how I like it! There’s a lot of factors that are the same, but because you’re working with new couples, in different locations with different ideas it keeps it fresh and thrilling.

I travel a lot for wedding ceremonies so being a celebrant, for me a typical day is never a typical day. It all depends if it is in the lead up to a ceremony, the day before, the day of, or post the ceremony. When you're not out and about, or meeting with couples, or perhaps choreographing their ceremony entrance and exit, you'll likely be busy writing scripts, crafting personalised vows, and handling administrative tasks to ensure that everything runs smoothly behind the scenes. 

For me, my daily life is always varied with the different passions I have. I work across a range of different industries and spend a lot of time doing philanthropic work around the world, focusing on ocean advocacy, environmentalism and helping youth. So I work from wherever I am, meeting couples in person or online and flying back to officiate their wedding if I may be out of the country filming, or at my other home base in Rarotonga. 

One thing that is typical for me is my daily rituals. Each morning, I dive into wellness and holistic practices that nourish my mind, body, and soul - that elevate my full hauora. From meditation, breathwork, ice baths - cold immersions, rongoā rākau and other modalities, these rituals are my non-negotiables, my anchor setting the tone for a vibrant and fulfilling day ahead.

What advice do you have for someone new to the industry?

Reach out to other celebrants. Connect. Ask for help and soak up all the tools. Practice your ceremony before you ‘go live’. Look at indulging in different training, or find a mentor so you have everything you need. I work with a lot of new celebrants who ‘reach out’ for tools and advice, or who are thinking of becoming a celebrant and I think having that support and collaborating is key. Ensure your wardrobe fits the theme. Be clear with what you can offer, who you want to work with and what you cannot offer and always ensure you’re dealing with the couple for what they want, not everyone else.

How do you like to relax?

I live between Rarotonga and NZ so I spend a lot of time in nature, planting, freediving in the ocean with eagle rays, turtles and whales, breathwork, meditations, ice baths and saunas, indulging in sunsets, reading and doing DIY. And, yes - I love a bit of active relaxing as well!