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» Rebecca Gibney's Wedding
by Patrice Fidgeon

November 19, 2001

The couple married in a tropical retreat overlooking the Daintree rainforest, in a very private ceremony, strictly for family and their attendants.

Actress Rebecca Gibney describes her romantic sunset wedding to production designer Richard Bell as: "The most exquisite night of my entire life. "The newly weds exchanged vows surrounded by the beauty of the Daintree Rainforest in far North Queensland, and in front of the shimmering blue water of rainforest hideaway Bali Hai's spectacular horizon pool, dotted with lillies and floating candles. The Halifax FP star and her man were married in an emotional, intimate ceremony conducted by Rebecca's elder brother Patrick, and lovingly watched by the couple's families and their attendants.

Tuberoses, Rebecca's favourite flower, tropical orchids, roses and lilies spilt over the stunning urns at the doorway to this privately owned piece of paradise. Still more urns of tuberoses, sweetly scented frangipani and torch gingers lined the pool and deck area that overlooks this exotic and totally unspoilt place.

With a World Heritage listing confirming it as one of the oldest jungles on earth, Rebecca and Richard knew, the moment they stumbled across this remarkable setting, that they'd found the perfect wedding venue. "We had thought about marrying in Thailand," Rebecca explains. "that was where Richard proposed. Then we were considering going back to New Zealand, since so many members of our family are there."

"But once we saw this, how could you look anywhere else?" Richard adds. "There's a reason so many film crews want to use the area as a location. In its simplicity, it's perfect."

He and Rebecca planned their special night to be shrouded in secrecy and it remained a mystery, even for the 20 invited family members and friends, right until the last moment. Rebecca had teased her sisters that they should bring seasick pills along with their swimming togs. A few thought they had figured out the secret destination, they just weren't sure if the wedding was to be on an island or on the beach.

While the Gibney and Bell clans flew in the week before, none of them had any idea where the wedding was going to be, even after an organised minibus picked up each guest and transported them out past Mossman Gorge and down a narrow track until the driver pulled up ouside the thatch-roofed, Balinese style cottages of Bali Hai.

Flares on bamboo poles lit up the back terrace around the pool, and fairy lights dotted the rainforest wall. Red, green and yellow floodlights illuminated trees, huge tropical heliconias and the silver stream that runs through the base of the property which is fed by a waterfall cascading down through the rainforest.

As guests stood around the terrace, sipping soursop and lime daiquiris, the softly swelling sounds of a symphony rose up and the heavy, oak panelled doors were opened as Rebecca, in a creamy Collette Dinnigan sheath, handsewn with tiny pink beads, set off with beaded sandals by Gina, made her first nervous steps across the patio towards the pool.

Waiting with his brother David, who acted as best man, Richard, looking handsome in a black Hugo Boss suit, glanced up to the stunning vision of Rebecca, carrying a big bouquet of cream roses, walking towards him. "It was the most unforgettable moment for me, a combination of every emotion imaginable," he says. "I had butterflies, my heart was thumping and it was a mixture of excitement, nervousness and tears already in my eyes."

Rebecca had no idea she was going to be so nervous. "My heart was thumping so loudly when I walked through the door, I thought everybody else must have been able to hear it. Then I looked up and saw Richard, and fell in love all over again. I was shaking so much when we said our vows I thought he was going to miss getting the ring on my finger and it was going to fall down the cracks in the patio deck." But the platinum band encrusted with myriad diamonds from Tiffanys made it safely onto the third finger of Rebecca's left hand. "We wanted a very simple ceremony, one that was special for us. We wrote the vows. And my brother Patrick had been talking about our relationship at Christmas and what he had to say about us was so right, I thought it would be wonderful if he could marry us. The place we'd chosen is such a spritual place and I knew it would mean a lot if he could be the one who performed the ceremony."

" He went through a very difficult time with a brain tumour. We nearly lost him twice. To have him marrying us meant so much. I don't have a father" Rebecca explained "so my brother gave me away, Patrick married us and, since it was the first time all my family had been together for so many years, I was pretty sure it was going to be a very emotional time. I figured we'd be mopping the deck, which would be awash with tears."

"Because we'd written our own vows, I was sure I wouldn't have been able to say anything personal if we had a huge crowd. Then, once we decided to be married at Bali Hai, we had to restrict it to family. Hand and Wendy, who own this place, don't allow wedding or parties there. We had to beg and promise this would be a very small, intimate gathering before they generously agreed. I'm so glad they did. It couldn't have been more perfect."

Rebecca's close friend Donna, married to one of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs, Paul Dainty, was an attendant, along with Jane Hall, host of the Nine Network's Weddings series. They both wore pink.

There were also a few uninvited but welcome guests, some briefly glimpsed, others barely heard above the excitement, such as the primitive muskrat kangaroos scampering among the king tree ferns in the rainforest. Then there were the electric blue Ulysses butterflies darting and weaving through the lush foliage, and the red-eyed emerald green tree frogs that sit on the rocks around the pool. There were also plenty of possums, sugar gliders and tree-climbing kangaroos.

A couple of days before their wedding, Richard and Rebecca discovered a new arrival, a brilliant blue and yellow sunbird who'd flown about collecting thatch from the roof to build its nest a few steps away from where they were married. "We figured that had to be a sign," Rebecca smiles.

If there were a few nervous moments leading up to their vows, when the moment came to say, "I do," Richard was so enthusiastic, he almost shouted, to the delight of their guests. Then Rebecca also announced her intentions with great gusto.

" I never felt so good in my whole life," Rebecca says happily. "Both of us were very emotional when Patrick was conducting the ceremony. My bottom lip was trembling and I think I had a few tears. I looked up at Richard and he did, too. But, when it came to saying our vows, we were both so happy. This was what we'd been waiting for."

Rebecca's sister Stella was capturing as many moments as she could on video. "And I'm so glad she did," Richard says. "We're going to have a look back on it in a couple of days and I'll actually be able to see what happened. It was a big rush of emotion to deal with at the time, and everything was pretty overwhelming. We were both so emotional and intent on each other. I couldn't tell you what happened beyond us. I thought, at one point, I'd like to slow down the clocks and freeze them so I could enjoy what was happening forever."

While family and a few close friends toasted the couple with Moet and Chandon, they feasted on grilled prawns, smoked salmon, oysters kilpatrick, baby octopus, tuna sashimi and grilled scallops.

The tables were piled high with coral trout and Atlantic salmon rolled with spring onion and wasabi in seaweed and crisp fried in tempura batter, fresh shucked oysters, parmesan crumbed fish pieces with a dill sauce, grilled chicken satays and coconut crumbed prawns with a ginger dipping sauce.

For their wedding cake Rebecca and Richard had a multi-tiered croquembouche filled with passionfruit cream, drizzled with chocolate, surround by 25 lemon tarts and decorated with strawberries. And Richard says, while they had left nothing to chance on their wedding day and planned it to perfection he and Rebecca made a pact. "If it all became too much hard work, we were simply going to let go of all this and order a pizza."

But it was perfect. Rebecca kicked off her $900 shoes and along with the rest of the Gibney girls, Diana, Theresa and Stella, danced her heart out to the strains of Sisters are doing it for themselves. Then she disappeared for a few moment and returned wearing a bikini and sarong, so she and Richard could kick back and enjoy the party.

"I knew from the moment I met Rebecca she was the one I wanted to be with. It's amazing to feel something like that, with such certainty. The moment we shook hands it was love at first touch."

Rebecca says "We're a bit too gooey for some people, but I don't care. We're so happy Richards's the most supportive, wonderful human being and it's such a blessing to have met him."

For her, the most difficult part of the wedding plans was keeping them quiet. "Once we decided on the venue, we knew this had to be strictly a family affair. We have close friends we hated not being able to tell, but we wanted this to be a surprise for everyone in our family and, fortunately, we have great friends who understand. We'll have to cath up with them in the next few weeks and have a few individual celebrations. But this was just for us and our families.

"The events that have occurred in the world the past couple of months made us realise how important it is to look at what really counts. It makes you aware just how important your family and the people really close to you are. You just want to cherish every second."

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