Plan the perfect wedding. A featured interview with Sarah Haywood

Wedding planner Sarah Haywood is author of the UK’s top-selling bridal book the Wedding Bible, and the recently published (Feb 2007) Wedding Bible Planner. She has recently been named one of the ten most influential people in the UK wedding industry and is founder and managing director of the inspirational Wedding Bible Company, one of the fastest growing wedding brands in the UK.

Let’s see what she told us:

I think all the following are the essential qualities required to be a successful wedding planner: organizational skills, the ability to manage and work to a budget, creativity and an eye for detail, managerial and ‘people’ skills and finally the ability to think on your feet and be flexible.

I also think you need to be a good listener as you are essentially a ‘wedding buddy’ and ‘wedding PA’ as well as event coordinator, manager and stylist. So you need to ensure that the day to you help create is one that is appropriate to your clients and says something about who they are as individuals and as a couple, their sense of style (and you might have to work with them to find out what that is) and their values. You have to create their perfect day not Posh Spice’s!

How do you manage trust from your clients? After all it is the most important day of their life.

I think that is something quite difficult to define. It comes from a shared sense of personal and professional respect. You must like one another and that first consultation (which I think should be a free consultation following a phone call where you both ascertain that the service you are offering is along the lines they are looking for and at a price that is acceptable them) is as much about getting sense of whether you can work together as it is about what you are offering. I do think it imperative that at the outset a client or clients are clear about the service you offer, how you work and how you charge so they can decide if you are right for them. It might just be that one planner is better suited because of something outside their area of expertise – it could be something you have in common with them and therefore they like you a bit more!

What is the most special location that hosted one of your weddings?

I have no one special location. Every wedding is special be it beach, boutique hotel, loch-side inn, grand stately home or castle or a marquee in the garden. I believe weddings are about people – it’s they that make the celebration special not the location or how much money was spent on them. All a wedding planner is doing is creating as perfect a backdrop as they can. It is the things that are not planned for that often are the special and heartwarming features of a wedding day and that are remembered for years to come. Of course fabulous flowers, great food and drink and a big band are memorable, but it’s the atmosphere that really makes it along wit the spontaneous gestures – and that is as much about the people as it is a grand location. I always try to plan and encourage inclusive celebrations where the focus is on an event that builds momentum and is meaningful to everyone present as well as fun. I remind brides and grooms on the morning of the wedding that the planning is done, everything is in place and now it is up to them to make sure from the very outset they do their bit to ensure a happy day.

There are a couple of really simple things to do at the start of the proceedings that will hit just the right note and ensure an inclusive, meaningful celebration The groom greeting each guest and saying a few words of appreciation for them coming is a great start! I tell the bride and her father (or whoever is giving her away) to pause when they enter before the assembled guests and take a few seconds to just drink it in (that way the bride will be calmer as she can see this is not a room full of strangers, but a room full of people who know her, who have got her and her fiancé to this point in their lives and are here to support them) and for them to smile and make eye contact with as many people as they can as they process up the aisle. If the bride then squeezes her father’s arm before releasing it and meets her groom with a huge smile she will have won everyone over at the very start!

Tell us a difficult situation you have faced and how you got out of it.

I was faced with a tricky situation of not being able to get guests either to church or then on to a reception because a transport company ignored my instructions. I booked 6 minibuses and five times in writing told the company that they were the largest vehicles allowed through Holyrood Park in Edinburgh that was bride’s prescribed route to the church for her guests. Furthermore they are the largest vehicles allowed down the Royal Mile in the city to the reception venue we had booked. The Best Man called me on the day to advise 4 huge luxury coaches had turned up instead! After loosing my temper in a quite spectacular manner with the poor girl on Saturday duty at the transport company, I knew I somehow had to fix it with the vehicles we’d got and quickly (as the service was due to start in less than half an hour). I used every ounce of charm to first plead with the Park Rangers to allow the coaches through the Park. Luckily, because I had established a relationship with them beforehand in that I thought it courtesy to advise them of the planned 6 minibuses, they kindly made an exception and let us through. I am sure if I have never contacted them about the minibuses they would have taken a tougher line. Then, when the service was safely underway I got on the phone to the police and blagged my way through to the city’s Duty Inspector and talked to him as though he should know who I am and should assist me (remember I was desperate – letting a bride down on her wedding day is not an option)! Somehow I convinced him that this was a very special event with 200 VIPS and that their being dropped off close by and not outside the reception venues was not an option open to me. He very kindly had bollards removed and allowed the said luxury coaches to the door of the venue. I am sure if I called the Police today they’d tell me it was impossible – I must have just sounded convincing (or desperate!). I remember the bride’s brother looking on in disbelief and then saying “My God – this is why you need a wedding planner!”

But this kind of story really makes me mad: what about couples who have not got someone like me on the day to bat for them? Who would have sorted it out and how stressful would it have been? They would have had guests unable to get to church and then on to the reception. The transport company in question – who are a large national organization – could not care less (although I am about to expose them on a consumer TV show – they might care then). It is outrageous and my understanding is that this kind of occurrence is not unusual. I am often called to account by the media for the large cost of weddings. The question they should really be asking is: “Why, when couples are increasingly spending such large amounts of money on their weddings are they all too often being given poor service?” The problem lies in the fact that when the wedding is over a couple do not want to focus on the element of the day that did not go well or according to plan. They do not want the memory to be about that. But if it is a wedding I have organized I pursue it. I believe I am good at what I do and have spent many, many years grafting hard to be in the position where brides buy my books and very kindly the media want to talk to me. So if despite my reputation within the industry, my meticulous organization of every event I do, I am let down – then anyone can be and it is simply not acceptable. And it is always companies and individuals on the fringes of the industry who think it’s easy money and want a slice of it. It is a £4.5 billion industry, but I know no bridal millionaires (apart from the odd venue owner). Everyone I know and respect – be they cake makers, dress designers or retailers, florists or caterers – work long and unsociable hours and they do it because they love it and rewards are huge in terms of job satisfaction. I think we need to stick together to ensure standards are met and maintained and speak out or do something about it when they are not. Two out of three couples will not be marrying again!
The wedding day survival kit should include…

Soda Water (to remove spills)
Spare shoes (I broke my heel once and so always carry a spare pair now)
Masking tape
Mini- stationery kit (including scissors and sticky stuff)
E-cloth and glass cleaner
Sprit level (for the cake table)
Basic cosmetics for bride and perfume
Labels (the brown kind with string fixings to attach to the bags that bridesmaids and the like inevitably want you to take care of somewhere or have sent to their hotel rooms)
And I have six other things in my kit that I never tell about as I do not want my competitors to include them in theirs!.

Do you adopt any practice to make your weddings environmentally friendly?

I organize weddings all over Europe and I always try and source locally and encourage brides let me do that. You do not need a London florist in Edinburgh for example, neither do you need a cake from Paris in London! I always encourage fresh locally produced produce. However, I do not put an emphasis on ‘green weddings’ per se. I think it is a bit of myth that they are the new big thing. They are not in my experience because people are travelling from all over the country (and often the world) so that already has an impact on the celebration’s carbon footprint! But if it was suitable to a client and truly were a reflection of the lifestyle they already lead then it would be important to put emphasis on it… so we are back to creating a celebration that is suitable to and reflects the values of the couple…