When it comes to breaking new ground, the claims of Cheryl Berthelsen and Matt Beach are modest. Berthelsen was the firstborn of three girls. Beach was first in his family to bungee jump. Last week, they were among the first shoppers at the opening of a Pottery Barn outlet.
But soon, the Leesburg couple will rocket to the head of the line. They are flying to a remote island in Fiji to take their wedding vows at midnight on Dec. 31 and declare themselves first on the planet to marry in the new millennium. The high-tech professionals, both 28, bought their trip through an online eBay auction.
"You think about how many people there are in the world and that we're the first couple," said Berthelsen, who works at Concert Management, a global telecommunications company based in Leesburg. "That's overwhelming. That's fantastic, absolutely fantastic."
Fiji is among several South Pacific nations claiming to be the first inhabited place on Earth to welcome the new year. The 180-degree meridian date line passes through Fiji's islands at three points, so Fijians will greet Jan. 1 while it is still morning Dec. 31 in Washington.
Other countries are disputing Fiji's claim to first-in-the world-status, but Beach and Berthelsen aren't worried. That's because they're marrying on Turtle Island, the tropical creation of an American millionaire with its own daylight saving time that puts it two hours ahead of mainland Fiji.
Richard Evanson, who made a fortune in cable television in San Francisco before buying the uninhabited Turtle Island on a whim in 1972 and moving there, turned ahead the clocks on his island in 1979 to accommodate a Columbia Pictures crew filming "The Blue Lagoon" with actress Brooke Shields. The cinematographer was partial to the early dawn light, "so we moved the clocks ahead so it wouldn't seem so early to the crew," Evanson said in a telephone interview from the island.
After the Hollywood types departed, Evanson kept the clocks on what he calls "Turtle Time" because he liked extra daylight.
He built the palm-dotted island into a luxury resort that charges about $1,300 a night. When talk of the millennium started to bubble and the South Pacific nations began debating which would be first to see Jan. 1, 2000, Fiji announced it was embracing daylight saving time and turned its clocks ahead one hour.
In a timepiece tussle, Evanson turned his island's clocks ahead yet another hour. "We've set our clocks ahead for 20 years," he said. "We didn't do it as a gimmick for the millennium."
But the island, which already conducts about one wedding a week, did seem a perfect setting for a millennium wedding, Evanson said.
He offered a New Year's wedding package, including round-trip airfare from Los Angeles and 10 days on the island, at $200,000. He had initial interest from two couples and planned to use the profits to build a medical clinic on Turtle Island for some 3,000 Fijians who live in the "neighborhood"--a smattering of nearby islands.
But as the months passed, interest in the wedding package cooled. The price dropped to $66,000. Still no takers. By late November, Evanson put the deal on eBay, the online auction house.
Meanwhile, Berthelsen and Beach were planning a May wedding at Selma Plantation in Leesburg and hating every moment of it. "It had really turned into a bigger event than we anticipated," Berthelsen said. "Selma Plantation was beautiful, but you had to bring everything in. You had to pick out the caterer, the china pattern, the silverware. I was just feeling overwhelmed with the details and was getting stressed out."
While surfing the Internet for a honeymoon location, Berthelsen found the eBay auction for a millennium wedding at Turtle Island. "I called Matt immediately," she said. "He thought it was a great idea." An adventurous wedding suited them--the couple has lived in London and traveled the world extensively.
They beat 30 other bidders with a winning price of $15,100. That includes airfare, food and lodging at the white sand resort for 10 days and a midnight wedding presided over by Tula Tula Joe, a Methodist minister from a nearby island, as well as all the trappings--a photographer and videographer, flowers and a Fijian choir. CBS plans to broadcast part of the videotaped ceremony.
The Turtle Island wedding will cost Beach and Berthelsen less than getting married in Virginia with 100 guests. And Evanson said the proceeds--$11,541--will go toward the medical clinic.
Because all 15 cottages on the island are booked for New Year's Eve, there was no room for family or friends. That turned out to be fine with Beach and Berthelsen, who will toss a party once they return to the United States.
"It seemed a little crazy at first, but everybody thought it was great," said Beach, a financial analyst for America Online. "We're getting married, and that's the most important thing. But to be the first couple in the year 2000 is neat."
CAPTION: Matthew Beach and Cheryl Berthelsen plan to get married on remote Turtle Island, which begins the new year 17 hours ahead of Washington.
CAPTION: Matthew Beach and Cheryl Berthelsen, shown in their new Leesburg home, are flying to Fiji for what's supposed to be the first wedding of 2000.