An interview with Dr Lottie Holmes
Today I’m interviewing a fellow naming celebrant about her work and how she got started. (The interview has been lightly edited to make it more clear and concise).
Dr Lottie Holmes is based in South West London, where she lives with her husband and two tortoises named Eddie and Patsy (after the stars of Absolutely Fabulous because they walk like little drunk people). She’s a private tutor as well as being a leader with the Girl Guides. She can often be seen cycling around London although, she was quick to tell me, not in Lycra.
Lottie and I had a lovely chat. She’s a thoughtful and enthusiastic person who really goes out of her way to make each ceremony special.
Me: So, what made you decide to become a celebrant?
Lottie: I was doing my PhD in space science, as you do. I loved research, so after my first degree I just sort of carried on, but then I started getting really depressed. It’s a recognised issue that people doing PhDs often develop mental health issues. It shouldn’t happen, and it shouldn’t be accepted, but it does, and it is. So, this was made worse because when I was writing I was at home by myself, and when I was in the lab… I was by myself. It was too much time alone.
One day I saw an article in the British Humanists Association (now Humanists UK) magazine about celebrants, and I needed a distraction for ten minutes from being by myself in an underground lab. I read the article and it really resonated with me. Being a celebrant sounded amazing and really fit my skills. I spoke to my husband and he agreed with me, but said I should finish my PhD first, so I did!
Now I look back and I think about that time and about being so low, and how I am now doing this role, which brings so much joy. All humanist ceremonies can bring joy, even the funerals, because when they’re done right people learn about the person who died and really, properly remember them and that’s joyful.
Me: How would you describe your approach to ceremonies? What can people expect from you?
Lottie: Oo, difficult question! (Pause for thought.) Lighthearted. Definitely light-hearted but with space for the feels in there as well. It’s about having a joyous occasion that’s also fun and emotional. I love when people have quirky ideas or want to do something different. I’m always up for the challenge of doing something new. For example, I did a ceremony with lots of bits of Spanish in it when I’d never spoken Spanish, so that was fun. I had all the words written out phonetically through the script, so I could get them all right. You could see everyone expecting me to mess up and they gave me a round of applause when I didn’t.
I like to get everyone involved too. Audience participation is good, especially when there are lots of kids present, it’s good to get them involved.
Me: What’s the most challenging thing about being a celebrant?
Lottie: Parents who seem indifferent or who don’t know what they want. Because the ceremony is about the family, if they don’t give you much information or tell you what they are looking for it’s really hard. You don’t want to make their choices for them so if they aren’t answering your questions or they don’t want to make suggestions of their own that’s challenging.
Me: Right, like, I think this is a metaphor for humanism itself. The upside is freedom, you get to choose - it’s not all decided for you. The downside is you have to choose - you’re responsible.
Lottie: Yeah, sometimes it can be too much choice, I think, for some people. I had one ceremony where the family didn’t seem to want to make any choices for themselves and they didn’t want anyone else doing any readings. So it was just going to be me all the way through saying words I’d written. I ended up persuading them to agree to my reading a poem, and I put in lots of quotes, to create variety, so it wasn’t just me reading my words.
Me: And what about the best things? What do you really enjoy or find the most rewarding?
Lottie: I think it’s on the day, when you see people enjoying themselves, enjoying the ceremony. Enabling that is really rewarding. It’s the little bits you put in. You know, when people have had a baby and it’s all been chaos, when are they going to get a chance to thank their best friend who came round with food every day? A ceremony can do that. I love seeing people get emotional. You know you’ve hit the spot when there’s crying… or belly laughs.
I like the fact that with namings people are quite flexible and open too. There’s an acceptance that, with kids involved, there might have to be changes. The changes are what make it unique, they’re what you look back on.
I did a ceremony which was planned to be held in the family’s garden, it was quite a small ceremony, about 20 people. Then on the day there was a thunder storm and we had to all cram inside and do it in the house. It was great, it turned into a singalong with the uncle playing guitar.
Me: Any other cool ceremony stories?
Lottie: I did one ceremony where the mum was planning it all and the dad got in touch with me on the side without telling her. We put in this whole secret section where he just talked about how brilliant he thought she was. So she signed off the script without knowing until the day of the ceremony that there was going to be this bit where her partner would stand up and thank her for being so great and for organising everything. It was clear she was someone who just does things for everyone else all the time, so it was lovely to see him stand up and show how he appreciated her. I thought, that’s a good relationship.
Me: Ah... I’m getting emotional myself now! What a great story! Thank you, Lottie, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
Lottie: Thank you!