LOVEBIRDS from yesteryear would meet under the famous clock tower in Leeds, now Asian couples are flocking to wed just a few yards away. Anila Baig reports.

Tucked away in the heart of Leeds city centre is a huge hidden gem. The Marriott hotel is the second largest in Leeds but so inconspicuous you could easily walk past it. In fact, I do.

Zoe Hands, who is sales leader and manages a team of event planners, is showing me around and tells me we are just a stone’s throw from an iconic part of Leeds history.

In 1865 jeweller John Dyson bought two premises and installed a large clock on the front of one of the buildings which became an iconic meeting place for courting couples.

“It’s quite sweet that this spot was known as a meeting place for couples and now all these years later next door there are weddings going on,” she tells me.

The building which houses the clock tower is now a separate restaurant but there is machinery inside the hotel, beautifully showcased, which celebrates the engineering involved in the jewellery trade.

It’s all a mix of industrial and modern.

The atmosphere throughout the hotel is light and airy while the exterior looks imposing, grand and quite stately. It’s the best of both worlds with the pomp and ceremony you would want for your big day while inside is all mod cons, clean lines and space.

Wedding belle Zoe has been in the business for 20 years and overseen hundreds of nuptials.

“I think it was the glamour, I just loved everything about hotels. It was either hotels or being an air stewardess.”

Born in Huddersfield, she studied Hospitality at Newcastle University and worked at Hollins Hall hotel in Esholt for a number of years.

“We used to do four weddings a weekend there so I got a lot of experience helping people on their big day.”

She is clearly enthusiastic about her work.

“My job feels like a privilege. I feel so honoured that I get to do what I love every day. I love the ‘sociableness’ of it, the fact that I get to meet so many people from different backgrounds and cultures. I have a lot of job satisfaction.”

The mum-of-four said: “It’s a real passion. That’s what I tell my children too- get a job that you love and you won’t have to work ever again. I’ve passed on my love for hotels and travel to them too.”

Zoe deals with the ‘dry hire’ so couples can choose their own caterers, decorators and entertainment.

“Sometimes I have walked into the hall and my jaw has dropped at how different it looks. I absolutely love the bling, the bigger the better and Asian weddings are renowned for glitz and glamour.

“We have had gold-coloured thrones, ceiling drapes with sparkly lights, a huge loveheart archway four the couple to walk through, I’m always so impressed.

“We can accommodate 300 guests and we have separate function rooms if guests wanted to do segregated weddings. That might seem small compared to a lot of Asian weddings but not everyone has a big family.

“The Marriott is a very grand venue with high ceilings and that history. It’s a classy venue and the location is great being so close to the train station so it’s easy for guests to get to but tucked away from the main road too.”

The courtyard is very romantic and a good spot for lots of pictures.

“We get a lot of Bollywood stars staying here and a lot of sporting celebrities too. I see them and think, do I know them, they look familiar.”

But there’s another advantage to the location.

She said the site of the Marriott means that often guests who come to attend weddings book an extra night.

“Leeds is fantastic for a city break. We are just a few yards from the Trinity shopping centre and all the theatres and bars.

“So people always combine it with having a look around the city. It’s a wedding and a city break in one. There’s always so much to do.”