Ella and Guy's surprise wedding

All written content by The Small Things Co

On April 5th, 2024, ex-MAFS bride Ella May Ding and her partner Guy Junior Palermo exchanged vows in a unique and unexpected way. To the surprise of guests gathered for Ella’s 30th birthday, the couple revealed they had already said their “I do’s” earlier that day in a private ceremony attended by their closest family members, just forty-two days after Guy proposed. Join us as we take on the journey of the planning and styling of this spectacular event.

Initial meeting

Ella had arranged a styling consultation with Sarah, our head stylist to prepare for her 30th Gatsby-themed party at Sophia in the Prahran Arcade

Guy had popped the big question to Ella the weekend before our consultation. With the engagement being fresh, we were so excited to hear all about it, and the ring ‘WOW’. Ella shared that it was “such a blur as she didn’t think running around the tan would turn into being engaged”. We chatted about how everyone was already asking when her wedding would be and laughed about how she wanted to enjoy being engaged and getting sent delicious cakes and beautiful flowers.  We got so distracted from talking through the 30th styling and suggested how wonderful it would be going to the registry in a mini dress to get married followed by slurping spaghetti at a pasta bar with flash photography, turning away from the traditional and just having a whole lot of fun. Ella loved the idea and said she never pictured a big wedding with all eyes on her, just a big party with friends and family.

A few days later we received an exciting email that read –  ‘Ok … so we may need another meeting, I’ve had some serious thinking time for this surprise wedding idea’ followed by a phone call saying ‘We are doing it, the wedding forms are in’.

Countdown begins, exactly one month to go....


For the ceremony and small celebratory lunch, we wanted to present a space to Ella that was intimate and private and spoke for itself. Recoleta exudes timeless charm with subtle yet distinctive character. With its textured Venetian walls and breathtaking stained-glass windows, we recognised that our styling needed to complement rather than detract from Recoleta’s inherent beauty.

Once Ella had chosen her dress and mentioned the addition of a red lip and red shoes, we instantly knew a simple white rose with a red bow would finish her look as a modern bride.


Ella was such a lovely client, so genuine, excited, and appreciative of all of our creative ideas. For Ella’s 30th party, we had initial plans for poker tables, custom poker chips, 30th drink stirrers, custom napkins, burlesque servers, and more. With the event now being a surprise wedding, we changed up these plans to give an elegant Gatsby feel, allowing the night to progress into a sophisticated wedding celebration.

Only immediate family and 2 close friends who were lined up to do speeches, were in on the surprise. We weaved in one little hint for guests to possibly pick up on the secret. The welcome sign by Petite Lemposa Design read “Talk 30 to me – E Guarda Il Nostro Matrimonio A Sorpresa (and watch our surprise wedding)”. If guests were intrigued by the Italian writing on the welcome sign they could have looked it up and found the true reason for the night as they entered at 6:00pm in plain sight the whole time!

Hey Jack: Videography and String Quartet

Considering the limited timeframe and the transformation of Ella’s 30th birthday into a surprise wedding, securing the right suppliers became paramount. Hey Jack was a big part of the day and integral to making the announcement as special as it was. After many meetings to discuss the plans and the overall look and feel of the day, we were confident in giving them 100% creative control over the surprise video with a same-day turnaround. Capturing the elopement at lunchtime and having a beautifully edited story to show guests that evening. And let me tell you they didn’t disappoint! It was beyond amazing.

We were also thrilled to secure Hey Jack’s amazing string quartet for the ceremony and the beginning of the evening. We knew they would nail the vibe for the day and add a particularly romantic touch, as per Ella & Guy’s wishes.

Jordyn Wills, one of the directors at Hey Jack shared with us their team’s process of how they brought this all together. She said – “Creating a solid and unique storyboard was what was going to make this same-day edit achievable, at the quality we needed it to be. We had all our ideal edits and transitions mapped out, with the Ceremony footage ready to slide in!

Following our initial meeting with Hey Jack they began to storyboard the video and work on the edit, from the music, sound design and clips they wanted to include. Their creative team, led by Rich Wills, worked on the film without the final footage for three weeks, listening to the Great Gatsby Soundtrack to pick the perfect song for the Gatsby-themed 30th-turned-reception, before settling on Lana Del Rey’s – Young & Beautiful. “It just gave us “that” feeling”, they shared. 

Jordyn shared, “We were well prepared and felt like the day went super smoothly (shoutout to the amazing Sarah Giust and The Small Things Co for planning all the details, as always!). The challenge itself was keeping it all a surprise, and editing in hiding! Bernie our senior editor at HJ, was working away at the venue during the day, whilst Rich was out shooting more of Ella and Guy. The biggest accomplishment – keeping the secret from some of Ella’s closest friends as they arrived to get ready with her for the “30th birthday” and casually having big cameras and a videographer around (luckily they had no clue!)”.

Harry The Hirer: Furniture

We love working with the Harry the Hirer team and knew they would be a perfect fit for this project. We wanted to bring in a statement feature of furniture that played on texture and invited guests to relax. The luxurious Camille collection was a perfect touch as it gave a sumptuous nod to 1920s elegance. The uniqueness of creating a custom shape in waves and curves meant we could please this trailing chartreuse yellow velvet couch against the wall with beams. To add to the sophisticated lux feel of the Gatsby-themed night we paired this piece with a masculine style burgundy and black-grained marble coffee table with brass finishes.

Not only was the Harry’s team able to assist with the furniture but they also helped bring the surprise video to life by providing the projectors and AV equipment and ensuring it was ready to go for the great reveal at 8pm. The theme we were going for was a rollback of a tape effect, projected directly onto the walls beside the fireplace with the beautiful cascading floral installation designed by Molly Molly.

Molly Molly Co: Floristry

We enlisted the floral goddess of Molly Molly Co to provide all of the floral designs. Molly found the opportunity “to interpret this theme with a floral twist thrilling, particularly given the era’s signature opulence”. Molly “drew inspiration from a memorable scene in Baz Luhrmann’s movie where Leonardo DiCaprio, portraying Jay Gatsby, awaits Daisy Buchanan’s arrival. This scene featured lavish orchids cascading from the mantle and other luxurious flowers arranged densely in vases around the room. Using the fireplace/mantelpiece at Sophia as a canvas”. Molly recreated this setting with a modern romantic flair, primarily using red roses. This installation served as the central backdrop for the evening, enhanced with pearls to complement Ella’s headpiece.

Molly also considered that the installations would be highly photographed and prominently featured on social media, it was crucial that the “floral arrangements maintained their structure and quality throughout the evening”. While event florals typically need to last just for the duration of the event, the extensive preparation from the moment the flowers were delivered from the wholesaler, through installation, to the breakdown demanded extra attention. The Molly Molly Co team were thorough in their care, conditioning, and quality control of the blooms to ensure they looked impeccable all night.

Wild Romantic: Photography

Photography played a big part in Ella and Guy’s day, it would be a forever memory of how special the day was. Highly recommended by Socials by Ilio, Elle from Wild Romantic captured their authentic essence of love perfectly. Elle was able to naturally document the day and create modern composition in a romantic editorial style, incorporating both flash photography and 35mm film. The differing raw emotions that were felt throughout each part of the day were so beautifully capture by Elle.


Putting this event together was a lot of fun for our team. Ella was so relaxed and excited with every idea and trusted our ability, allowing us to make creative decisions, it truly was a dream project. 

Great Gatsby can be quite common so we wanted not to just bring feathers and sequins in but bring a sense of elegance and wealth. There is a lot of symbolism that comes with the theme so we wanted to style elements that gave purpose and create a story.

We wanted to portray a notion of an opulent 1920s sumptuous party that has been enjoyed but not yet begun. This plays on the champagne tower on arrival with scattered pearls, broken rose petals, and dripping wax. Outside created a scene of cheersing whisky, telling stories whilst laughing with a cigar.


Guests gathered around at the party to watch a 30th video of cute little Ella growing up through the years. Amongst the beautiful footage of mini Ella, flashes of the day were strategically woven in. Ella getting ready with her bridal look flashed between images of her playing in the family backyard. Leaving guests on the edge of their seats in moments of confusion partnered with anticipation. Imagery of Ella and Guys proposal with a transition onto a screen reading “Earlier Today” partnered with audio of their heartfelt vows confirmed guests’ questions. By this stage, there was not a dry eye in the house, as guests’ surprise turned into heartfelt happiness for Ella and Guy. We still feel the chills watching the announcement video now. 

The party soon gathered to celebrate the newlyweds, with heartfelt speeches, cutting of a cake reading “Just Married ” and dancing the night away.

The guests’ reactions to the announcement in the evening had us all in tears! Jordyn From Hey Jack shared: “We realised very quickly after shooting all the guests’ reactions on the night, that the main video was not actually going to be the main video itself and rather, the video paired with the reactions of everyone as they’re watching it!! Our team stayed back that evening, weaving together all the amazing reactions from guests and we split-screen this with the original video. It was planned to always capture the reactions however, the expressions and comments from guests throughout the surprise was priceless and we couldn’t help but edit ANOTHER video highlighting this. This was the one that ended up going viral with over 4 million views on Instagram and 20.6 million views on TikTok”.


Seeing all our plans and designs come to life as a stylist and planner is so rewarding and memorable. You truly take in every moment of the day and no matter how many weddings or celebrations you do, you still get goosebumps from seeing the guests and bride and groom’s reactions.


“Hi Sarah & team! 

I honestly am struggling to put words together on how I can thank you and your team enough for not only creating the MOST incredible day where Guy and I eloped but also the party and how it all unfolded. 

Richie from Hey Jack has been incredible and I can’t wait to work with him again. The whole team you collated for me to work together was just perfect and more. You really brought a fairy tale to life and I can’t thank you enough. 

I’m so upset it’s over, the rush and madness was just so much fun. I can’t wait to work with you guys again, 100% whatever event I need next is with you guys always. 

XOXO Ella Ding”

THANKS to our incredible team of suppliers