"I didn't want to get caught up in a million details," she tells PEOPLE
When Ashleigh Banfield was planning her wedding to her boyfriend of three years, Chris Haynor, she had only one requirement.
“I didn’t want to get caught up in a million details,” she tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue, on stands Friday. “I wanted it to be something special and memorable, but the individual details weren’t as important.”
So when the host of HLN’s Crime & Justice tied the knot on Dec. 29, the wedding came as a surprise to most of the 50 guests. “I had the perfect alibi,” Banfield says. “I got married on my 50th birthday, so everyone thought that they were coming for that. I told my family who had to travel, of course, but everyone else thought they were coming for a party.”
As it turns out, they were right: Banfield’s wedding was a party. “It was such a fun night,” she says. “So relaxed. So wonderful.”
The wedding was at the Hermitage Club ski lodge in Wilmington, Vermont. “I grew up skiing,” she says. “So it was just the perfect place for it.”
In the late afternoon, Banfield slipped away to change into her gown. At 5 p.m., the wedding march began to play. Banfield, accompanied by her two sons — Fischer, 12 and Ridley, 10 — walked down the lodge’s grand staircase. Haynor unzipped his ski jacket and was wearing a suit underneath. “When everyone realized what was happening, they started to cheer,” Banfield tells PEOPLE.
“Weddings can be excruciating,” says Banfield. “I basically decided that I don’t have to plan much, but I can plan my dress.”
“There’s this really adorable little wedding boutique right at the exit where I live in Connecticut,” she continues. “It’s called A Little Something White. So one day, we walked in as a family. I’m sure they don’t often have a bride walk in with her two sons and her husband-to-be. I thought it would be funny.”
Banfield tried on her first dress and was sold. “I was like, ‘I love it,'” she says. “So I bought it right then and there.”
As for flowers, she had a similarly easy plan. “Because it was winter at a ski resort, I wanted to carry some cedar as a bouquet,” she says. “I stopped at this little florist in my town. I asked him for advice, and he started gathering stuff together as we were talking. As he was holding it, I was like, ‘that’s exactly it.’ And he wrapped it up then, and it lasted for months!”
“We went upstairs to a mezzanine and had a beautiful glassed-in room with a 20-foot table,” she says. “We all gathered around for a wonderful dinner.”
Again, Banfield didn’t have any preconceived notions of what the food should be. “I asked [the resort] what they do best,” she says. “I left the details to them. And it came out perfectly.”
“Really, the whole point is to make sure that everyone has something good to eat,” she says. “And the resort totally delivered that.”
Banfield chose a three-tiered wedding cake in three different flavors: chocolate, raspberry and Vermont maple. “It was surrounded in cedar, and it was really pretty,” she says.
The layers had their own significance. “One was for my happy 50th birthday. Another was for my sister’s happy 55th birthday,” she says. (They were born on the same day, five years apart.) “And the third layer was for ‘happily ever after.'”
Banfield chose a New England-based band, The Short Bus, for music. “They played until about midnight,” Banfield says. “They were just a fantastic band. I can’t even tell you how great they were.”
- For more on Ashleigh’s wedding, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
With the wedding behind her, Banfield has no regrets at all. “I didn’t plan every detail, but it all turned out perfectly,” she says. “It was exactly what I wanted — and a great way to begin our lives together.