This love story is sponsored by: PARADISECOAST.COM/WEDDINGS
A intimate destination wedding in Santorini
If there’s anyone who is actively demonstrating how royal bloodlines are unnecessary for creating a dynasty, it’s Andrea and Mark Graham. The couple exudes their own unique brand of glitz and glamour, recently experiencing an incredible journey to the altar together with an intimate destination wedding in Santorini. Their love story, however, begins with much humbler origins that are refreshingly relatable.
Andrea and Mark first laid eyes on each other during university, when Andrea was a freshman. She would often go to Wendy’s and caught Mark’s attention; but rather than approaching her, he opted to send one of his friends over instead.
"When it's meant to be, it's meant to be. We are truly soulmates and I wouldn't have married anyone else."
“I basically told his friend if he’s interested, he needs to come over himself,” Andrea quips.
Another failed attempt took place when she was waiting at the bus stop and Mark tried to offer a ride home. Since they had no mutual friends and were relative strangers, Andrea adamantly turned him down. Nothing else transpired until four years later, after they had graduated, when Andrea was going into the bank and spotted Mark coming out.
“I recognized him right away, and he walked past me and turned around to stare at me – and he had the nerve to ask what I was staring at,” she laughs.
After chatting briefly and offering to take her out on a date that night, Mark gave Andrea his number. As Andrea got back to her car and looked at the phone number, she noticed it was a 1-800 number, which she thought “sounded very sketchy.” She immediately wrote Mark off as a player and decided not to go on the movie date they had planned.
It turns out Mark was working in the music industry at the time and often flew overseas for concerts; so, given the lack of smart phone apps and options at the time, a toll-free number made the most sense. Unfortunately, he didn’t explain that beforehand and found himself at the movie theater that night, stood up.
Another four years passed before the two saw each other again at a Jamaican restaurant. This time, Mark made sure to get all of Andrea’s contact details and – finally – a real relationship started blossoming from that chance encounter.
“Although we have no mutual friends, I still wondered about him,” says Andrea. “He was one of those guys who was just in the back of your head. I knew there was some type of connection – I just didn’t know what it was and I didn’t take the time to explore it until then.”
Throughout their entire relationship, milestones seemed to occur every four years. After four years of dating, Mark and Andrea decided to move in together and start a family.
“For me, it was really important to be a mom,” Andrea adds. “I was really eager to have children. We had the kids, bought the house, and got all our real estate investments. We did things very unorthodox; it might not be the traditional way, but it’s our way.”
By the 12-year mark in their relationship, the couple was more than ready to take the next step. The engagement took place in 2019 with the help of their friends, Jarar Kazmi and Zehra Khan of L’Atelier Lumiere International Photographie and Fine Cakes by Zehra.
“This was the first time that Andrea had ever been surprised, because she’s always trying to figure out what I’m doing,” explains Mark. “I got a few suggestions from Jarar and Zehra, and we came up with this plan that Zehra was going to do a promotion for a TV station for her cakes, and they were going to incorporate her into the program.”
It ended up being an elaborate scheme that involved wardrobe changes and a helicopter company. The supposed television special was being filmed at a golf club, and the couple was having some footage filmed along the lake. Suddenly, Mark pointed upwards and Andrea saw a helicopter fly by with a banner that read, “Will You Marry Me Andrea Russell.”
Mark had already booked the venue for their engagement party, which only left them a month to plan an elaborate celebration. Knowing they would be having a destination wedding, they wanted to make this engagement party feel like a wedding in and of itself for those who wouldn’t be able to travel overseas. It was also the perfect opportunity for Andrea and Mark to make their debut as “The Graham Dynasty.”
“I needed this to be a message,” explains Andrea. “I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. I was born in Toronto and grew up in Jamaica with just my mom. I grew up in a difficult time when going to school was a privilege, and I was on my own at age 16. I needed to show my children and godchildren that it’s okay to dream and you can be different and it’s okay. You can be from the Caribbean and have this elaborate celebration. You see that with celebrities, but you don’t see that from the girl next door. Having my daughter who looks up to me and tell me that I’m her best friend and her favorite means a lot, because I didn’t have that type of affinity towards my parents. It’s monumental.”
When deciding upon a wedding destination, the couple agreed that they wanted it to be a romantic island with a sense of fantasy and enchantment. They also wanted to choose a location they would both be experiencing together for the first time. It came down to a choice between Portugal or Greece but, ultimately, Santorini is the place that won them over.
“We visited in October together and fell in love with it,” says Andrea. “Nowhere in the world is as romantic as Santorini. It was calm, peaceful, and really identified with us. We thought our kids would appreciate it, and it’s now a part of our family history.”
Jarar and Simmi, the couple’s wedding planner, made the initial trip to Santorini to scout the area for wedding venues. Andrea knew she didn’t want anything remotely predictable, or what guests would expect, such as a basilica, hotel, or church. During the trip, Jarar met a local baker and started chatting about how he was looking for an incredible wedding location that was out of the ordinary. As it turns out, that baker owned a windmill overlooking an active volcano. The windmill also had a reception area, which he was planning on opening to wedding bookings. With a 500-year-old building perched on a cliff 150-feet above sea level, it couldn’t have been more perfect for Mark and Andrea’s big day.
One of the most important features the windmill offered was a runway for the bride to walk down, as she would be wearing a 20-yard veil inspired by Princess Diana and designed by none other than Ines Di Santo. Andrea came across the world-renowned designer’s Toronto boutique on a whim, after an unsuccessful wedding dress shopping trip to New York City. She had been carrying around a sketch of her dream wedding dress and showed it to an associate, who then called Ines directly and said, “I think she’s your bride.” Shortly after, Ines walked into the shop and gave Andrea a hug.
“I felt so much at home with that hug,” Andrea recalls. “It was literally like my fairy godmother giving me a hug, and she told me right away that she loved me.”
Three hours of chatting later, Ines came up with a fashion sketch that far exceeded Andrea’s initial vision – complete with a veil and crown. In total, Andrea wore three Ines Di Santo gowns throughout the wedding day, plus a couture bodysuit and a cape she spotted on the designer’s Instagram, as featured on the cover of Grace Ormonde Wedding Style, for a creative shoot along the beach.
The couple’s destination wedding in Santorini was an intimate affair with 40 guests in attendance. Due to the pandemic, the wedding date had been delayed by a year; but it was well worth the wait. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house, and everyone had a bird’s eye view of the bride making her way up the runway, as guests stood along the second level of the cliffside. The couple’s youngest two children were the flower girl and ring bearer, and their oldest son gave Andrea away – an especially sentimental moment for the bride, who had always wanted a closely knit family.
“I think the most amazing part for me was when she came into the room and was walking towards me,” Mark reflects. “It was the first time I saw her with her veil on, and it was really emotional because to see her dream come true, to see everything that she planned come to fruition, it was really special. It was like we finally did it. Everything was so surreal; the whole event was absolutely surreal. I enjoyed the whole thing in its entirety.”
When night fell, the couple’s wedding location transformed into a completely different atmosphere. Following the most breathtaking sunset with a view of the volcano, the world became pitch black, except for the venue which was lit up with everything from spotlights on the dance floor, to LED butterflies, to fireworks shooting out of the volcano at the end of the night. A local fisherman even spotted the fireworks from his boat, and rowed ashore to the windmill to see what was happening. Of course, the newlyweds welcomed him and shared the love over some drinks.
“Destiny is definitely something we believe in,” says Andrea. “When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. We are truly soulmates and I wouldn’t have married anyone else.”
Mark and Andrea followed up their wedding with an equally luxurious honeymoon in the Maldives, staying at the Four Seasons, and stopping in Dubai for some shopping on the way back home to continue life as The Graham Dynasty.
As Mark states, “It’s a dream come true with the only woman I’d ever wanted to be with.”
>Written By: Lauren Malamala
Ceremony & Reception Location & Caterer: El Viento Santorini, Greece; Planner & Event Design, Invitations: Biji Events; Floral Design: Red Box Days; Rentals: Weddings and Whimsy; Linen: Coco by covers couture; Cake: Fine Cakes by Zehra; Lighting: Perfect Event Support; Entertainment: Defingou Events; DJ/MC: Dj Rory Grant; Ceremony Musician: Sunset Piano Notes; Reception Singer: Mary Jole; Travel: Memory Travel;Stay: Celestia Grand; Horse: Santorini Horse Riding; Ceremony Dress Designer: Ines Di Santo; Hair: Tresses X Sandrine; Makeup: Afia Beauty; Photography & Cinematography: L’Atelier Lumière International Photographie Ontario, Canada