Heidi Zherelyev and her husband, Val, renewed their wedding vows last month along the scenic White Mountains of Arizona, and while the ceremony itself was rather picturesque, the occasion has since gone viral for a reason beyond aesthetic.
The bride, seeing that her husband of five years was a bundle of nerves during their special weekend, asked her brother Eric to instead walk out in a wedding dress during the first look session to make Val laugh. “He was apprehensive at first, naturally,” Heidi tells The Knot of Eric in an exclusive interview. “I explained to him how Val was so stressed and nervous for the day… There was also a little sister guilt that I pulled… the usual buttering up.”
Eric, however, ended up enjoying the role knowing that it was for his sister. “Since my father passed away five years ago, my two brothers really stepped up as the main men in my life,” Heidi recalls. “We all have such a close friendship, and since my other brother, Carson, was officiating the wedding, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to have Eric play a special role as well.”
Two hours before the first look was scheduled to take place, the bride dialed Eric to ask for his support. Fresh from work, Eric walked into the bridal suite, swapped into a gown, and even threw on his sister’s deodorant and spritzed her perfume to throw off any misleading scents. “I wasn’t nervous at all when I approached Val,” Eric tells The Knot. “But I was nervous for him. I could tell he was a complete wreck. So I was more than happy to help loosen him up.”
Photos captured by Nichole Cline of KevinChole Photography show Val looking completely surprised and dropping over in laughter. Eventually, the two embrace. “His reaction was priceless, he was in total shock,” Eric recalls. “Then we both started cracking up and the mood got lighter. He’s my brother.”
Val chimes in: “I’ve known Eric for almost 10 years—we’ve all grown up together.” Seeing his brother-in-law dressed up was a complete shock for the groom. “I told him, ‘You look so pretty,’ and that’s when Eric put his hands to his chest and did a pose,” Val continues. “It was hilarious. I couldn’t stop smiling and laughing. The whole scene completely made me forget all of the worries and stress I had.”
Heidi says she did not expect for the idea—initially conceived months ago by one of her bridesmaids—to take off. Interestingly enough, the entire bridal party, including the bride, her brother, and the bridesmaids, were outfitted in David’s Bridal gowns. “We never actually thought we would go through with it,” the bride says. “But once we saw Val interacting with people the day before the ceremony, we decided we definitely needed to follow through with the prank.”
The tradeoff was more than worthwhile. “Going viral seems surreal,” Eric muses. “I never thought pictures of me in a wedding dress would attract so much attention. It’s exciting and strange.”
Overall, the siblings want the story and their photos to spread joy to others. “Hopefully this story inspires others to always be there for family—whatever the situation,” Eric adds. “I was so happy to see my baby sister get the perfect pictures she always wanted for her wedding day. Seeing her happy made wearing the dress worth it.”
Heidi concludes, “The first look was truly the best thing we did in the ceremony… Take the time to laugh with one another and really soak in what a special time it is.”
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