"The Seven Year Hitch"
The Elliotts renew their vows at a gala wedding.
By Monica Corcoran, photographed by Alan Silfen
Click on the thumbnail to see the large version of each picture below.
The first wedding of JAG’s David James Elliott and Nanci Chambers was a no-frills affair. When they finally celebrated, it was worth the wait.
Some couples secretly slip away and elope. Others opt for an epic ceremony and celebration. David James Elliott, 38, and Nanci Chambers, 35, did both. Seven years ago, the star of TV’s JAG proposed to the actress he loved (they're both natives of Canada), and they agreed to a quiet court-house wedding in L.A. There was no band, no bouquet, no cake. “I wore an olive-green Hugo Boss suit. It was my best suit. I only had two,” recalls Elliott, who at the time was struggling to find regular acting work. After the civil ceremony, the newlyweds celebrated, finding an aisle (of sorts) to walk down in the process. “We went to see The Last of the Mohicans,” says Elliott, laughing. “Not exactly a dream honeymoon, huh?” But the couple vowed to one day get married in high style. Months passed. Years passed. “Even our friends stopped asking us when we were going to do it,” says Chambers. “No one thought it would ever happen.”
Then last summer, collective doubt among the couple’s friends gave way to delight as Chambers and Elliott, perched atop a grassy cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Santa Barbara’s exclusive Hope Ranch, retied the knot before 200 guests (and a few soaring gulls). Invitations had requested that attendees – who included Priscilla Presley, Faith Ford and JAG co-star Patrick Labyorteaux – wear formal white. Why white? “Because I wanted to do something different,” says Chambers, “something that would stand out.” In contrast, the bridesmaids wore sky-blue silk dresses designed by maid of honor Erin Flanagan. But the real standout, of course, was Chambers herself, who cut quite a figure in a custom-made, platinum-colored duchess silk gown by Pamela Dennis that featured a fitted bodice, an eight-foot train, and thousands of hand-applied antique beads and Swarovski crystals.
No one would have guessed that Chambers, who had been planning the wedding for six months, had approached New York designer Dennis a scant two weeks before the big event. (“I looked everywhere, but I just couldn't find what I envisioned.”) Or that she first tried on the lavish dress the day before the nuptials (it had been shipped to India so the intricate leaf pattern could be embroidered by hand, and wasn't sent back until just before the wedding). “I was so nervous,” says Chambers. “But as soon as I put it on I knew that it was perfect. I felt like a princess.” Elliott had no such dilemma, having chosen to dress in a kilt of his family’s tartan. “I always wanted to wear it to my wedding,” says Elliott with a proud nod to his Scottish roots. “Through all the planning, that was the one and only thing I wouldn't budge on.”
It took some coaxing, however to get the couple’s respective fathers and the groomsmen to agree to sport the plaid skirt. “My dad grumbled at first,” says Elliott. Adds Chambers: “My father was afraid to show off his skinny legs.” As for the groomsmen, each was rewarded for his sartorial bravery with a stainless-steel Raymond Weil watch. The bridesmaids, who didn't have to undergo any such trauma, received Tiffany & Co. diamond pendant necklaces as thank-you gifts.
At around 5:30, in the late-afternoon light, Elliott took his place at the rose-petal strewn altar, beneath a canopy threaded with white peonies, pink roses and hydrangeas. A faint clip-clop sound announced the arrival of the bridal party in a rose-bedecked, horse-drawn carriage. Soon the flower girl, the couple’s swearword daughter, Stephanie (also sporting a dress designed Pamela Dennis), scattered pink rose petals along the length of the aisle.
But it was Chambers’s appearance that drew gasps from the crowd. She approached the site of the ceremony astride a white horse led by her father. Then, after whispering, “Are you ready?” she held out her hand for a naval attendant – a real officer and a gentleman – to take. Surrounded by a sea of platinum fabric, she dismounted (in three-inch heels) and, carrying an understated bouquet of white peonies and stephanotis, walked down the aisle as band-leader Jimmy LaFave sang the ballad “Only One Angel.”
The ceremony quickly became emotional. “We need a Kleenex for the bride,” announced the Reverend Michael Beckwith, of L.A.’s Agape church, just moments after beginning. A tissue found, the service proceeded with nary a misstep. After Chambers and Elliott sealed it with a raucously applauded kiss, daughter Stephanie stepped forward for the final ritual: The reverend blessed her with a sprinkling of water from the Nile River, a traditionally sacred source of water. “You were so great,” mother told daughter immediately afterward. “Thanks,” said Stephanie, picking at her dainty wreath of ivy and white tea roses. “Can I take this off now?”
After the ceremony came cocktail hour, and some guests drove golf balls into the crashing surf. A lone bagpiper than appeared, heralding the start of dinner. Everyone began moving into a nearby tent, its interior looking exactly as Chambers and Deirdre Sullivan, of L.A.’s Deirdre Sullivan Event Planning, had imagined it. With crystal chandeliers throwing glints of light onto overhanging evergreens, and each table featuring votive candles and an arrangement of peonies, garden roses and Sterling Silver roses, the effect says Chambers, was like a “romantic fairy tale, as if [the tent] was a magical English garden.” Guests dined on a buffet of cedar-roasted salmon fillet, breast of chicken with black grape-cassis sauce, vegetable crostada and asparagus.
But the pièce de resistance was the 14-person head table, designed by Matthias Seelis of Paradise Ranch in Shadow Hills. “We wanted to create a Renaissance feel,” says Seelis of the hand-carved antique Italian baroque chairs for the bride and groom, brought in from a movie prop house. In addition, five different overflowing flower arrangements of hydrangeas, peonies and roses topped the rectangular table, and a line of rose petals stretched from one end of it to the other.
After dinner, Elliott, surrounded by splendor, stood and toasted friends and family. “Um, Nanci and I have actually been married,” he said with a wink. “It has taken more than seven years for this to happen – and it’s certainly happening in a big way.” Indeed, each Fantasy Frostings wedding cake (five separate cakes were made instead of the traditional multitiered confection) was perched on a tree branch festooned with hanging crystals. The newlyweds cut into one of the cakes and fed each other.
Outside the tent, guests began to mingle under a full moon. At the lip of the cliff, three bonfires blazed and s’mores were served. The bride and groom had originally planned to dash off at 11:30 for their Hawaiian honeymoon. But they were having so much fun, says Chambers, that they left hours later. Returning after a week, the pair soon learned that the long overdue wedding had been a huge hit. “Everyone who thought we would never have one wants to know when we'll do it again,” says Elliott. “Maybe in another 10 years.” But having fulfilled their vow of getting married in style, Elliott and Chambers no longer have a real reason to take another walk down the aisle. Except, that is, for the fun of it.
The bride, surrounded by naval
officers who served as ushers,
breaks with tradition and tosses her
bouquet of peonies and stephanotis
into the air, daring them to catch it.
Alan Silfen was the wedding photographer and made these pictures available to both In Style Magazine and Entertainment Tonight. If you haven't had enough of DJE and Nanci's fabulous day you may want to check out the transcript and screen captures from Celebrity Weddings Instyle.