A FORMER policewoman who has nicknamed herself the funky celebrant has been crowned the best in England.

Michelle Taylor, who is also a Manningtree town councillor, has been a celebrant for eight years, after spending 32 years as a police officer.

She has conducted wedding ceremonies in back gardens, fields, woodlands and even lakes, fostering a Fifties-style dress for the special occasions.

In November Michelle was announced as the winner of the regional finals in the East of England for the second time.

Now she has been selected as the country’s best celebrant at a national awards event in London.

A delighted Michelle said: “I really wanted to win but there were eight other people.

“I was up against really tough competition.”

Michelle got through to the regional competition on votes from her clients, but was then chosen as the overall winner by a judging panel who assessed the feedback she had received, her photos and her answers to a set of questions.

Michelle added: “I think I have the right mix of fun and also gravitas as well.

“I’m getting more ceremonies further and further afield now and this year I have my first international ceremony in Lake Como in Italy.

“I’m getting a lot more outdoor ceremonies, they have really taken off.

“And the vodka, bread and salt has been popular in the past year.

“That is a Polish derived ceremony. You have a piece of bread each so you won’t know hunger, salt on the tongue so you won’t know bitterness, a coin each so you won’t know poverty and then there are two glasses, one with water in and one with vodka and the couple doesn’t know who has what one - whoever chooses the vodka rules the roost.

“I have had variations of that with gin and tequila and one with monster munch instead of bread.”

As celebrant weddings are free from rules, they can be themed or include unique and unusual elements.

Michelle has conducted a Mr and Mrs quiz at one ceremony, which was being held before the legal service, for the guests to decide if they should be allowed to officially tie the knot.

She said: “My sister is making me some wizard robes at the moment for some Harry Potter themed ceremonies I have coming up.

“And in one ceremony the couple promised if they turned into zombies they would bite the other so they could be zombies together.”

Couples who use a celebrant still need to visit the register office to legally marry in England and Wales.

But after reciting two contractual sentences and signing the register in front of two witnesses, the celebrant wedding takes over.

Michelle is now part of a working party with plans to lobby the Government to make celebrant weddings legal.