On August 1, 2009, local reporters elbowed each other to get inside the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Wilmington. Outside, tractor-trailers from We TV’s “My Fair Wedding,” carrying cameramen, equipment, set-up teams and decorators, lined King Street for blocks. Inside, Hollywood party-planning royalty David Tutera—who’s done events for everyone from Jennifer Lopez to Elton John—traded last-minute pep talks with the bride and groom while a boom mic captured it all.
“I had no idea what we would see in the reveal,” says Varneka Baynard. The only thing she was sure of was the man she’d marry. Everything else, from her gown to the decor, would be a total surprise.
Yet Varneka scored the wedding of a lifetime. How’d she get so lucky?
Lucky might not be the word she would choose. A month before her wedding, planning was not going well. “Basically, nothing was working,” she says with a laugh. Stressed and near panic, she, on a lark, filled out an online application for “My Fair Wedding.” One click of the mouse later, the whole course of her wedding changed. But she didn’t know that.
So let’s go back to the beginning, when, thanks to an “embarrassing” mix-up, Tony Baynard says, he and Varneka almost didn’t meet.
One day at church, he noticed a friend walking with Varneka. “I’d never seen her before,” he says—“Although I’ve been at that church for years,” Varneka points out. Tony’s friend sat with him during the service, as did Varneka, but Tony didn’t get a chance to speak with her. He later asked the friend to introduce them, and the friend did—but to the wrong girl. “I thought, ‘Oh man, this is so embarrassing,’” Tony says.
“I had to go over to this nice woman and say, ‘I’m so sorry, but I was talking about someone else.’” But once Tony and Varneka finally met, there was no confusion—they hit it off perfectly.
Varneka, a teacher at Bayard Elementary School, said yes on Mother’s Day 2008 (the couple have a daughter, 2-year-old Ava) over Dom Perignon at Harry’s Savoy.
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“I was just completely surprised,” she says. “I had no idea.” But she had a perfect idea of what she wanted for the wedding—gold, gold and more gold. “I just love the color.” Native to New York, she also craved a swanky, hip, Manhattan lounge vibe during her reception.
Varneka went on a gold-buying frenzy. “It was gold overload,” Tony says—vases, candelabras, candles, centerpiece odds and ends. Varneka even bought a few white ottomans to realize her nightclub vision. But there was a problem. “I’d show my friends, and they’d look at me like, ‘Are you serious?’ and shake their heads like, ‘No, Varneka, no.’” Varneka didn’t get it. For such a stylish, chic woman, pulling a wedding together should have been a no-brainer. “But nothing was working,” she says.
The venue was booked, the flowers ordered, her Priscilla of Boston gown purchased, but Varneka needed serious help with the event’s decor. Out of the blue, “My Fair Wedding” rang. “They sent me a questionnaire to get more specific details,” Varneka says.
The show’s MO is to create a masterpiece out of disaster—or, in Varneka’s case, utter disharmony. After Varneka completed the questionnaire, the show said thanks but no thanks. “They wouldn’t come to Delaware,” Varneka says. But days later, the casting director called, asking them to send a casting video—asap.
“I told her I had no idea how we could do that so quickly,” Varneka says. The director’s response? She’d be there the next morning at 9 to film it herself.
She arrived on a Wednesday, then decided that Varneka and Tony would be perfect for the show’s season finale. The next morning, camera crews flooded the couple’s home in Bear.
“It was so crazy,” Tony says. Rapping his knuckles on their dining room table, he says, “This became their buffet headquarters. They blocked off the street, rearranged our living room, our backyard.”
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Tutera’s entourage was intense. “He had his own makeup crew, cameramen—everything,” Varneka says. The first thing Tutera said when she showed him her treasure trove of gold? “None of it matches.”
The crew filmed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. the first day. The next week, Varneka was whisked to Manhattan for a series of surprises. Her bridesmaids’ dresses were replaced with couture, she enjoyed a decadent day at Essex Spa, she scored a Korbel champagne sponsorship for the wedding (Korbel created custom drinks), and she noshed on a dessert worth $25,000 at Serendipity 3.
But the best was a gift from Tutera. “I’m the first bride to ever wear a wedding gown from his line on the show,” Varneka says. The gown was one of three she wore on the big day: her original gown during the ceremony, the Tutera during dinner, then a party dress for dancing.
The crew returned three weeks before the wedding. “They were like family at that point,” Varneka says.
The day of the wedding was organized chaos. “Behind the scenes it was so hectic,” Varneka says. “You can see in our photos that behind every corner there’s a camera. When we were exchanging vows, they were shooting us through holes in the curtains.”
But the bride wasn’t nervous. She trusted that Tutera understood her vision perfectly. Plus, she was so used to being on camera that it was second nature.
The two were fitted with small microphones the whole time, but their guests, who had no idea about the show (the Baynards chose only to tell very immediate family), were stupefied. After Tutera allowed Varneka and Tony to open their eyes, they were, too.
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“I just couldn’t believe it,” Varneka says. “Even just the linens were so out of our financial reach.”
After changing into the Tutera gown, complete with gorgeous jewelry from Kenneth Jay Lane on loan, Varneka saw decadence that would make even Hollywood blush—heaps of white roses tucked into gold vases on every surface, an eight-tier bronze cake from Desserts by Dana, luxurious floor-length curtains, warm amber lighting, tapered candles, a gorgeous medley of gold centerpieces, harpists, a piano player—the works. “It was more than I could ever imagine,” Varneka says.
The next room was Varneka’s lounge. Hip orb lights dotted the floor and hung from the ceiling, overstuffed white couches with gold pillows set a sophisticated, trendy vibe, and a band rocked out the stage.
Bronze-painted performers, resplendent in genuine gold leaf, moved mechanically throughout the night from atop gold columns. Gold confetti shot from the ceiling. To complete the vibe, Varneka donned a shimmering gold party dress and more jewels, this time a dramatic, brilliant necklace that weaved a river of diamonds down her neck. “They kept surprising me all night,” Varneka says.
“The producers told us we had the best reveal ever,” Tony says. “When she saw that hotel room transformed into a club, she just went crazy.” Even the flowers were shimmering—the roses had glittering rhinestones inside.
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It was a long night for the Baynards and their guests. “The wedding went until about 2 a.m. because they have to film everything, every reveal, and then our comments about each thing,” Varneka says. “We weren’t really able to spend a lot of time talking to guests.”
They also didn’t get to share any quiet moments together. “Never once did I think, ‘OK, Tony, enough is enough. I’m tired. I want these cameras out of my face.’ We were just having too much fun,” she says. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Would I trade it for that us time? We had that on our honeymoon.”
Reality TV gets a bad rap, but the Baynards’ experience was positive. “I felt like David really enjoyed being with us. I still have his information, and we e-mail,” she says. “Even up until the final interview, I felt respected every second.”
Tutera is known for telling it like it is. “I’m afraid of what he’ll say about me when the show airs,” Varneka says with a laugh. Whatever the party-planning king does let slip, the Baynards are sure to have enough people around to hear it. “Everyone wants to come watch it with us,” Varneka says.
A house full of people watching their every move? “We think they can handle it,” she says.