In December, John Carr, a 31-year-old accountant in the U.K. got married to Catrina, his college sweetheart with whom he shared a mutual love for rugby and craft beer. They had dated for about eight years when, on a weekend away at John’s grandfather’s house in the English countryside, he knelt down on one knee in wet mud and proposed. She said yes immediately.
Over the next few months, the wedding preparations went like clockwork — except for one thing. Unfortunately, it was the thing John had been dreading long before his proposal: His wedding vows. Basically, he had no idea what to say. “I was petrified,” he says now. “I remember sitting at my desk for hours into the night, having no clue what I’d write. I don’t really write, or read that much outside of work. But I wanted to make my statements special, not generic things like, ‘I’ll love you until the end of time’ or some bollocks like that. Still, nothing would come out.”
After endless dud drafts and scribbling in his notebooks, John sought help.
He found it in a 19-year-old named Josh.
Josh lives with his mom in Birmingham, England, and studies creative writing at a technical college. Over the phone, he tells me how he was a voracious reader who wanted to be a writer, but he’d fallen back two years at school due to bad grades. He found it difficult to work part-time retail jobs because of his “terrible attention span and lack of ability to fold clothes for 10 hours a day.”
So, last March, with less than $70 in his bank account, he decided to sign up with Fiverr, a website that describes itself as the “world’s largest online marketplace for freelance services, beginning at an affordable cost of $5 per job performed.” While the site is largely populated by web developers and graphic designers, it’s also become a space for those offering more niche services, too.
Josh decided to offer to write high school essays, college application forms and small business presentations for anywhere between $7 to $35. “I set the price low,” he says, “because I had no idea what I was doing, and if I was just able to make $30 more, I could at least say I had a three-figure bank balance.”
The strategy worked. Within weeks, Josh was taking on multiple writing jobs — from last-minute English essays to ghostwriting for various company websites.
Not long afterward, he got a panicked email from John. He’d been referred by one of his friends, who was trying to start a small accountancy firm and who Josh had helped with some of the start-up paperwork. “I’m getting married in a couple of months, and my wife is expecting me to say something memorable about our relationship,” John wrote. “But I don’t know what to write. I thought you might be able to help.”
Josh, who had only had one girlfriend in his life, was initially reluctant to say yes. But after being offered nearly $700 for the speech, he agreed. “I had a couple of phone calls with him,” Josh says. “Basically, I asked him about all the things that he remembered about his relationship and tried to pick out these key details to form a story. That way I didn’t have to plagiarize much from cheesy romantic comedies.”
“He told me about this time they went horseback riding, and how Catrina had never done it before and kept falling off,” Josh continues. “When I asked him why that memory was the first that came to mind, he said it was because he remembered how he had to hold her and ease her into it. I thought that was a sweet moment, so I ended up making it one of the key parts of the speech.”
In the final speech, Josh wrote:
“One of the earliest times I was in awe of you was the day when we went horseback riding. You were so determined to ride Monty that even in spite of all the times you fell off the saddle or found yourself struggling, you got up and tried again and again, until you got it. Each time I held you up — bruises and all! — I remember feeling you getting stronger in my arms. You were more determined than I ever could be. That was true strength — a kind of strength I’ll aspire to every day of my life with you.”
“It came pretty natural to me,” Josh responds when I ask him how he was able to conceptualize a relationship in intimate terms after just a couple of hours of conversation. “Guys think that writing romantic messages is something complicated, or that you need to be a hapless romantic. But you don’t. You just need to dive deeper, which perhaps is difficult when you’re not naturally inclined that way or you think that being emotional isn’t manly.”
It’s a big enough emotional deficiency in most men that Josh has competition on Fiverr. “Guys who come to me almost always come with a blank sheet of paper,” 31-year-old Adam Jump, one of the site’s top-rated wedding speech writers (for both grooms and best men alike), writes over email. “They have no idea what they want to say or how they want to say it. They usually want the speech to be painless and efficient. They invariably want the audience to laugh, but they won’t be confident in setting up a huge woofer of a joke. Instead, they keep it short and sweet.”
Adam doesn’t make his living off writing wedding speeches alone, but he claims he’s received an increasing number of commissions for wedding-speech-related work since he joined Fiverr back in 2015. Recalling one recent client in particular, he says, “The draft I received was horrendous. He had this idea of making the entire speech a story, a journey of how they met until now. It was written in the third person. It sounded awful, so I scrapped it and just kept some of the anecdotes.”
Interestingly, Adam says half of his clients are women, which usually means there’s less work for him. “Women often come with a pretty good draft, and always have meticulous notes on my first draft back to them,” he says. “Guys, on the other hand, are just grateful for a guideline. They don’t know who to thank or who to mention until I do it for them. They don’t know the rules.”
In short, he says: “Most women want a memorable speech; most guys just don’t want to fuck it up.”
“Cat cried when she heard the speech,” John tells me. “The speech was about two pages long and was complete with indicators on where to emphasize words and where to pause. It was very personal to her — and to me too! I didn’t expect to get emotional after reading it, but I did.”
John didn’t give Catrina much detail about his arrangement with Josh — or divulge his age — only telling her that he had help from a ghostwriter. The words Josh provided for him definitely made an impact, though, as Catrina keeps a copy of the speech in a special ornament box, along with other memories of her relationship with John.
As for Josh, he’s stopped writing wedding speeches and essays to focus on his creative writing. Next year, he’s planning to go to the University of East Anglia, one of the U.K.’s best universities, to study English literature. Part of his application involved sending writing samples. He chose two of his short stories, one of which was loosely adapted from John’s wedding speech.
“I helped them start a new chapter in their life,” says Josh, “and in the same way, they helped me start a new chapter in mine.”