Simon Bunnell made the most important speech of his life on his wedding day after a lifetime of battling a stammer. He and new wife Sarah talk to AASMA DAY about the momentous achievement.
Most grooms-to-be are filled with nerves at the prospect of saying their vows and making a speech in front of a room full of people on their wedding day.
But for Simon Bunnell, 38, his stress before his wedding to Sarah was heightened by the fear of being afflicted by the stammer he has struggled with all his life.
Simon, who lives in Fleetwood, was also haunted by the memories of when he attempted to give a speech at his sister’s wedding and stuttered so badly, people were crying with sympathy.
Simon confesses he was riddled with nerves before his wedding to Sarah at Rossall Chapel in Fleetwood, followed by a reception at Bartle Hall, near Preston.
Simon, who is an offshore worker working on the oil rigs, says: “When the wedding was a long time away, I had no nerves as such.
“It wasn’t until I came back from the rigs that I thought: ‘I’m getting married in a few weeks’ and my heart started racing.
“As the days got closer and closer, I could feel myself getting more and more nervous and found myself not being able to enjoy the build-up to the wedding due to the nerves and just wanting the day to be the most special day Sarah had ever had.”
Simon began stammering from as far back as he started walking, the condition affected every aspect of his life.
One of Simon’s most vivid memories is the stumbling block that afflicted him whenever he got the bus home when he was younger.
Simon couldn’t get out the words “Strawberry Gardens” when he was attempting to tell the bus conductor where he wanted to get off.
So to avoid stammering, he would say the name of a stop three or four stops further on and pay a more expensive bus fare to save himself the embarrassment.
Simon tried to avoid situations where he would need to speak, and the difficult memory of trying to do a speech at his sister’s wedding lingered in his mind.
Simon recalls: “My dad was ill, so my sister asked me if I would step in, walk her down the aisle and give her away.
“She told me I didn’t have to do a speech, but I felt as if I needed to do it.
“I had lots to drink, the groom did his bit, then the best man and then it was my turn.
“I didn’t look up once. I just stared down. It was terrible. I stuttered all the way through and when I did finally look up, people were crying.
“Everyone felt sorry for me. It was really upsetting.”
It was only about the age of 25 that Simon discovered the McGuire Programme, which helped him overcome and control his stammer.
Using a new breathing technique called “Costal Breathing” and a traditional psychological approach called “Non Avoidance”, the McGuire Programme helped Simon understand why he stammered and showed him ways of overcoming it.
Although Simon learnt to deal with his stammer, he knew it was not cured, and although he is fine the majority of the time, when he is tired, nervous or has a drink, the stammer returns.
Simon attends McGuire courses at least twice a year and they help and support him in controlling his stammer.
Simon and Sarah met on a blind date in Fleetwood 12 years ago, and at first, Sarah had no idea Simon suffered from a stammer.
Sarah, 34, who is originally from London, remembers: “A friend of mine married a man from Fleetwood and I came to visit her and went on a blind date with Simon.
“Only three or four weeks later, Simon moved to London to be with me.
“I did not realise Simon had a stammer when we met. He had just completed one of his McGuire courses, so was doing really well.
“It was a couple of months into our relationship that Simon told me.
“He was too frightened to tell me as he thought it might put me off him!
“We have got two children. I already had a son, Josh who was two when I met Simon, and Simon has taken him on as his own.
“Josh is now 14 and we also have Charlie who is nine.”
Sarah, an estate agent, says Simon’s stammer does not matter to her at all.
She explains: “To me, Simon’s stammer does not bother me at all. I love him unconditionally.
“I know how hard he has worked to beat his stammer and the majority of time now, he is fine.
“The McGuire programme has really helped him and Simon will always carry on doing these to keep on top of things.
“When he is tired, nervous or has a drink, the stammer does come back.
“My heart breaks for Simon when he has his stammer.
“It is very difficult to watch someone you love struggle on a daily basis. I know it is a fight Simon has to go through every day.
“Simon will sometimes use alternative words or not continue with what he was going to say.I had not met Simon then, but I have seen a video of him doing the speech at his sister’s wedding and it was very touching.
“However, Simon has come so far since then.
“It is all down to the McGuire Programme and the tremendous support Simon has had from family and friends.”
Simon proposed to Sarah on Fleetwood beach as the sun was beginning to set.
Fleetwood beach is a special place for Sarah and Simon and they spend a lot of time walking their dog Dolly there.
The couple got married on August 26 and the nerves of making a speech took hold of Simon greatly the night before the wedding.
Simon recalls: “The night before the wedding felt very surreal as you think of all the good times, the ups and downs and I still couldn’t believe I was marrying the girl who I love most in this world.”
Sarah says: “Simon was very nervous the night before the wedding and was on the beach at Fleetwood at 5am with our dog because he couldn’t sleep.
“When it got to the wedding and I got to the altar, I could see Simon was very nervous and he was doing his breathing exercises and trying to compose himself.
“I had said to our vicar that if Simon did go to stammer, to let him deal with it and not try to help. Everyone was holding their breath when it came to Simon’s vows, but everything went absolutely fine.”
Simon says: “When Sarah was walking down the aisle with our two boys, I felt an emotion I had never felt before in all my life.
“I felt such happiness and was so proud of my boys and knowing that me and Sarah would be together forever was an amazing feeling.
“For someone who has a stutter, making a speech can be the most daunting feeling ever knowing that everyone is watching you.
“The McGuire course helps you overcome your stammer and teaches you how to approach every kind of speaking situation, which helped me loads in the build-up to the wedding.
“Just before making my speech, I phoned a member of the McGuire programme as a warm-up and told him what I was about to do.
“He told me to go in there and show them what I can do and enjoy it.
“With still being nervous but excited by my speech, I felt I needed to make a lighthearted joke about it as I knew if I got a laugh, my nerves would go.
“Luckily, everyone did laugh and I loved every second of it – something I never thought I’d say.
“Our wedding day was truly amazing and everything I wished for and a whole lot more.
“My stand out moment was when I saw my wife and children walking down the aisle – that’s the memory that will stick with me forever.”
Sarah says: “Our wedding was the best day ever and Simon’s speech and vows were brilliant.
“I am very proud of him as I know how hard he worked.”