Downton Abbey and Bohemian Rhapsody actor Allen Leech and US actress Jessica Blair Herman have shared their wedding day, exclusively with HELLO! magazine. The ceremony on 5 January, at Alisal Ranch and Resort in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, was attended by Downton Abbey stars Michelle Dockery and Dan Stevens as well as Golden Globe winner, Bohemian Rhapsody's Rami Malek. Telling how they had imagined blue skies and balmy temperatures for their wedding at which the bride’s mother officiated, Irish actor Allen told HELLO!, "It ended up being something quite different. When you get married in California you expect sunshine, but a little bit of Ireland blew over on the day and we had some heavy rain." Yet it was the unpredictable weather that only added to the magic of the day as they reveal how wedding guests and former Glee stars Darren Criss and Lea Michele stepped up to sing at the alfresco ceremony when the string quartet they had booked could not perform due to the rain.
Allen Leech and Jessica Blair Herman on their special day Credit: Corbin Gurkin
"Everyone rallied round. The weather only made the day more epic,"] said 37-year-old Allen of the ceremony on 5 January. Darren and Lea are such great people and great friends and they said: 'Absolutely no problem,'] when we told them the situation. We grabbed a guitar and they ended up singing the music for our ceremony. So when Jessica walked up the aisle with the bridesmaids, it was to Falling Slowly, a song we both love."They had the falling rain to thank for yet more unexpected moments. "There were puddles on the grass so Allen’s groomsmen carried me to the aisle," said Jessica. "And everyone had had a sing-song to All You Need Is Love with Darren and Lea, so they had all totally bonded before the ceremony started." Said Allen: "Everyone said they’d never been to a wedding where everyone was singing before the bride had even arrived. And when I appeared they started cheering – it felt a bit like going to a gig. And when Jessica arrived the energy was so high."
"It was the couple’s wish that their guests should bond over the wedding weekend, but they couldn’t have predicted just how much. "It was one of the reasons we chose the location," said Allen of the 10,000-acre Alisal Ranch and Resort in California’s Santa Ynez Valley. "We wanted to have a place where everyone could stay and have almost that feel of a summer camp in winter." Guests enjoyed hot toddies before arriving for the ceremony on "cool, renovated, American-style school buses", said Allen: "There was a certain level of joviality when they arrived." Also, among the guests were his Downton Abbey co-stars Michelle Dockery, who played Lady Mary Crawley, and Dan Stevens, who played Matthew Crawley. "The people I worked with on that show are like family, and the messages and congratulations were so heartfelt and numerous," said the actor, who played chauffeur-turned-estate manager Tom Branson in the hit ITV period drama.
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He will reprise the role in this year’s big-screen version. "At the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding Michelle gave a surprise speech, which was a message from Hugh Bonneville [Allen’s on-screen father-in-law], who unfortunately couldn’t make it over for the wedding. It was so heartfelt and beautiful, giving advice for having me as a son-inlaw, which had everyone laughing." Of Beauty and the Beast star Dan, who now lives in LA and attended with his wife Susie, Allen said: "The first time I saw Dan was after I walked up the aisle and turned around. I saw his face and a beaming smile." Other well-known names witnessing the couple’s big day were Allen’s co-stars in Bohemian Rhapsody, among them Rami Malek, who won a Golden Globe the day after the wedding for his portrayal of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, and Rami’s partner Lucy Boynton, who stars as his long-term love in the film, in which Allen plays Freddie’s manager Paul Prenter. Also present were the bride’s close friends, including Once Upon a Time star Jennifer Morrison, former NSync singer Lance Bass and former Sopranos actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler.
The wedding ceremony combined Jessica's Jewish and Allen's Catholic heritage
But for all the famous faces there was no doubt who the leading lady was as Jessica, whose acting credits include TV shows The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story, Modern Family and New Girl, made her entrance. In a show-stopping Monique Lhuillier gown and Yves Saint Laurent heels, she took the arm of her father David as she was joined by her maid of honour, her sister Stephanie Levinson, and bridesmaids Emma Barrie, a childhood friend, and cousins Megan and Katie Grossbard. "I always knew marriage was important to me, and when I met Allen I knew it was right. There was a sense of ease and comfort, and I knew marriage would be uncomplicated and beautiful with him. "I don’t think I stopped crying walking up the aisle, and I remember pointing at Allen and thinking: 'I get you for the rest of my life.'" Her new husband wore a deep navy Armani suit with a fine check and a burgundy bow tie. "I wore it to the premiere of Bohemian Rhapsody," said Allen. “And Jess said: 'You should wear that for the wedding.' So I said: 'Okay, I will. And I bought it from Armani."
The wedding ceremony combined elements of Jessica’s Jewish and Allen’s Catholic heritage. The groom stood under a chuppah – a canopy used in Jewish weddings – with his parents Dave and Kay and his best man, younger brother Greg. "It is tradition to face the congregation,"said Allen. "So I got to witness Jess walk up the aisle from the very start and I saw my groomsmen [his friends Luke Milton, John Cunningham and Tom Aspell] carry her to the aisle, which was pretty special. That moment of seeing her, oh my God, it was magical. It will stay with me for the rest of my life."It wasn’t the first time he’d seen Jessica in her bridal gown as the couple had snatched some time together before the 4pm ceremony. "We enjoyed a moment together an hour or so before the wedding," said Allen.
The pair had had photos taken with two horses from the ranch, where they had been riding the day before. "I grew up surrounded by horses. My family is involved in horse racing and my mother is one of the heads of RDA [Riding for the Disabled Association] in Ireland." Jessica’s mother, Daryn Herman, officiated the ceremony, with a rabbi conducting certain aspects, including the Jewish tradition of Seven Blessings, where family and friends share advice, a poem or a good luck message. Jessica explained: "Allen and I are from different backgrounds, culturally and religiously, so we thought it would be really nice to have someone personal to us and who will be forever in our lives." The couple wrote their own vows, and exchanged white gold bands to loud cheers. "And I got to smash the glass and everyone shouted: 'Mazel tov!'" added Allen of the tradition of breaking glass after the ceremony. "It was quite nerve-racking as I had to make sure I smashed it properly. I think I almost put my foot through the floor I was so determined to do it."
The couple are planning a honeymoon in Hawaii
>The service was followed by a cocktail hour before dinner, which was created with a nod to Killiney-born Allen’s background as guests were offered, among other delights, Guinness-braised short rib. The celebrations, masterminded by LA-based Duet Weddings, continued into the evening, when Allen and Jessica took to the floor for their first dance as husband and wife, to Tom Odell’s Grow Old With Me. They met at a party three years ago at legendary Hollywood hotel the Chateau Marmont, which prompted the pay-off to Allen’s speech: "We first met dancing, may I now have this dance with you?" "Some friends said: 'We can’t believe how you choreographed that dance.'" And we said: 'We absolutely did not,'" smiles Jessica. "We kept saying to one another: 'We need to practise our first dance!' But we never did, we were winging it. But it was gorgeous."
Later, the groom gave a totally unrehearsed performance of a song called Cats and the Bop, written by his cousin Oisin, who played harmonica. They were joined by the groomsmen on tambourine and backing vocals. As much as the wedding was cause for celebration, the entire weekend was something of a triumph as some of the guests headed to the Golden Globes ceremony in Beverly Hills the following day. In addition to Rami’s win, Bohemian Rhapsody won Best Film, and Darren won a Best Actor gong for his portrayal of killer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story. “Darren said: 'What was in the water at your wedding? Because everyone who went to the wedding won,’” laughs Allen. “I got a text from the guys who were at the Globes and Rami said: ‘You have got to come in!’ So Jess and I quickly got dressed and we went to the main awards party then on to the party at the Chateau Marmont. “We stood in exactly the same place as when we first met three years ago and we danced. It wasn’t even a dancefloor any more as they’d changed the set-up, so everyone else was sat on the sofa.” Jessica, who also celebrated her 32nd birthday last week, adds: “It was surreal to be back in the same spot we met when we had just got married the day before.
Their wedding has kick-started an extraordinary year for the pair. Jessica, who both acts and produces, is working with Jennifer Morrison and Jamie-Lynn Sigler on developing a new Thirtysomething style TV show, and later in 2019 comes the release of the big-screen version of Downton Abbey. “It was wonderful to see everyone again when we did the first readthrough, to see Maggie [Smith], and Elizabeth McGovern and Jim Carter,” said Allen. “It was like a family reunion, and I wish it could have gone on longer.
On reprising his role, Allen said: “When you think you have said goodbye to a character, to be able to go back is a gift. “I felt, and I think a lot of the fans felt, that Tom never got the ending he deserved. I am happy to say I think he does in this. Julian Fellowes [creator and writer] has given Tom such a lovely storyline that it does feel that, if this is finally when we say goodbye, this is the way to say it.” Allen and Jessica are also planning a honeymoon in Hawaii, and there will be more wedding celebrations in Dublin in March. “For those who couldn’t make it to California,” says Allen, who left Ireland when he was 24 to move to London, but now considers LA his home. “I love it here, it is my life, and now we could not be happier.”
Photographer credits: Corbin Gurkin
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