As soon as you start reading this interview with certified wedding and funeral celebrant Gill Manly, you will want to know even more about her. Her life and previous experiences from classically trained acting to singing for the Dalai Lama, twice(!), you can see why she's been approached to write an autobiography.
We are so thrilled that Gill decided to train with us to become a celebrant and has brought her amazing skills and experiences into a fantastic new career.
What did you do before becoming a celebrant or in addition to being a celebrant now?
This question actually raised a bit of a smile when I read it because it's a case of what didn't I do before becoming a celebrant? I trained as a classical actor in the early 80’s and went on to work in the West End in musicals. I realised that my love of singing was much stronger at that point than my love for acting, although really the two go hand in hand. I decided to embark on a career in jazz, and following meeting many young jazz musicians and more established ones, I became a jazz singer working in all the big venues and clubs in London. over the last 35 years I have also worked as a personal assistant to a leading conservation architect, barrister and other unmentionables. I worked as a volunteer in a Buddhist centre setting up a project that led me to singing for the Dalai Lama twice, and then running a vegetarian catering unit for refugees. I realised pretty quickly that what I really wanted was my own cafe. What then ensued was quite life changing. I continued my career alongside all of this as a singer recording several CD's to critical acclaim, became the ‘Queen of Ronnie Scott’s jazz club” and running my own club night at the famous gay venue The Royal Vauxhall Tavern. In more recent years I have been commissioned by a magazine to run my own column, a weekly radio show for a community radio station, 3 plays for a festival of new theatre, and have been approached by an author to co- write my autobiography. The advent of Covid and the ensuing pandemic and locked down meant I had to review my working life. All public performing spaces had closed with no hope of any of them re-opening well into 2021. I had to take a close look at what my skills were and are and had considered becoming a celebrant over the years. And thus began my new adventure.
What experiences or past skills do you think helped you with being a celebrant?
My skills as a performer, public speaker, singer, writer, and creator of festivals and events seemed to be perfect to pivot into my career as a celebrant. All of these qualities, combined with what I feel is a very compassionate and understanding nature and the love of social interaction I believe befits the role.
What made you want to train to become a celebrant?
Over the years I have attended funerals and weddings that were led by celebrants and I very much appreciated the quality of the celebrants. I had also conducted a handfasting ceremony for two friends which was hugely satisfying and successful. It brought out an element of my creativity that had not been tested before. So whilst pondering my future during the first lockdown, I remembered that I had wanted to look into training as a celebrant. And whilst I had a few reservations as to whether I would be any good, I did my research and decided to give it a go. After all I had nothing to lose and all to gain.
What did your friends and family think of your decision to become a celebrant?
I posted on Facebook once I had made my decision and signed up to train, and to my huge surprise got 100% positive feedback and encouragement from all that know me. In fact many suggested I should have done it sooner as it seemed to be the perfect job. Who knew?
Why did you choose to train with the Celebrants Collective?
During my research online, it became clear to me that most training courses for celebrants appeared very stuffy and reserved. A few of them had not yet begun to organise an online course which at the time was clearly the only way forward. I came across the Celebrants Collective and was immediately drawn to the progressive and modern presentation on the website, which was very refreshing. I kept going back to check and compare their offering with others and realised pretty quickly that they were the right ones for me. Call it intuition. I have not regretted my decision for one moment since.
Did you have any worries about being a celebrant which the course has helped you resolve?
In general I had no worries about the role of becoming a celebrant initially, however, I developed impostor syndrome! It's easily done. When you try something new, question marks begin to surface in the mind. Am I good enough? Can I do this? Will I be accepted? Am I too weird and eccentric? All of these combined with the general anxiety that ran alongside lockdown was quickly resolved by talking and participating with the trainers and the trainees. The bi-weekly online tutorials have been a blessing and have kept me going when I was faltering. Experiences shared is as valuable as the course materials. Sharing anxieties with other trainees made me realise it's not just me that had these concerns.
What was your most favorite part of the course and why?
This is an interesting question, and strangely my answer would be doing the final tasks and submitting them. Writing a ceremony and then filming a portion of them really focused my mind and brought me closer to the realisation that I was on the right path. And once I had passed and gained my accreditation it all felt very real. The tutorials have without doubt being superb, and in my darkest moments have supported me and kept me going. The biggest benefit has also been the community spirit and unending support of other trainees. Their generosity of heart and time was unexpected, but very welcome. And I really feel part of a lifetime tribe. I want to show my gratitude right now for all of this.
How has your training with the Celebrants Collective helped you to become a confident celebrant?
Initially on completing both the wedding and funeral courses I was all geared up and ready for action. I had confidence that my training was second to none and that Natasha and Claire who excel in this work, had provided me with all the tools to start my new career. However, it has been a lot harder to get work because of Covid restrictions. And as time went on my confidence began to lessen. Would I ever get any work? The good news is that when finally I got my first booking for a funeral, everything I had learned fell into place instantly combined with my natural skills. I conducted my first funeral which was fairly epic so many reasons, but the great news was I was with one of the best funeral directors in London. Poetic Endings are modern and progressive and embraced my style and quirkiness in a very positive way. The family I worked with chose me from their website, and working with them was a dream. The funeral went so well, that the testimonial from the family was magnificent. This absolutely improved my confidence and I really look forward to working more and more.
What’s been your biggest takeaway so far about training to be a celebrant?
Trust your instincts would be first on the list. Be brave and value your work so that others place the same value on you. Embrace your individuality and uniqueness. In other words “do you”.
What kind of celebrant do you think you’re shaping up to be?
I truly hope I am proving to be a celebrant that goes above and beyond expectations. I believe in my own professionalism, and do whatever I can to honour families. Though I may not appear to be more traditional in appearance or style, I will be right for the right family. On that basis I truly believe I am and will be a successful and much appreciated celebrant.
How have you been making a name for yourself since you became certified or in the process of getting certified?
I have been a little bit slow in my marketing and promotion. However, I have great plans to start blogging and vlogging, and have set up a podcast called “From the Cradle to the Grave”. More about that soon. My website is looking good, but needs more content and I shall be blogging very soon. Watch this space!
What would be your advice to someone looking to train to be a wedding or funeral celebrant?
My advice would be, have a think about what kind of celebrant you want to be. By that I mean someone more traditional and straight forward, or perhaps more colourful with a curiosity to explore ideas and less traditional methods. Once you have an initial understanding, which I know can change over time as you train, your instincts will kick in and you will be drawn to the right training and accreditation. If, like me, you want something that's fresh, lively, engaging, open and community orientated, then choose Celebrant's Collective. I promise you will not regret it. Once the training course is completed there is so much more that follows. Continued professional development, online support, and community support. Best decision I made in 2020!!!
We are beyond thrilled that Gill is a part of our celebrant community. She is an amazing ambassador for the Collective and for celebrants in general.