"Have a reliable best man and chief bridesmaid. If your closest friends are not reliable and/or competent, give them something else to do."
In every industry there is always a handful of people who are at the top of their game – the crème de la crème of their profession.
In the wedding industry, amongst others, Sarah Haywood is Britain’s top-selling bridal author and the most sought-after wedding planner in the world. Over the years, Sarah has earned a reputation for excellence and she is continually in high demand.
OXweddings’ Samantha Stonehouse managed to nestle her way into Sarah‘s busy schedule for a quick chat about what she loves most about our historical and gorgeous city of Oxford and what top tips she can give on wedding planning.
Sarah doesn’t just plan weddings; they are jaw dropping, magical experiences that can have from 80 to 500+ staff members working at them. Since Sarah planned her first party, 19 years ago, she has earned herself a global name for planning weddings and events for international clientele that have serious budgets. Their spend may be high, but each and every client seeks that universal ideal – a unique and meaningful celebration. Sarah’s client list may read like a who’s-who but what instantly attracts you to her, is just how down to earth, warm and funny she is.
“I originally started running the business in Oxfordshire, as this is where I live, and I still have my home just outside Abingdon. I really look forward to coming back to the countryside when I am not working abroad. Since May, I’ve had just three days off, so I really treasure my time at home. During the week, my husband and I tend to live in London; I moved the office to Notting Hill as a lot of my clients are based in London. It was so much easier to be based there, it cut travelling time immediately. There are seven of us in the team and my PA, Tanya has been with me for the last nine years.
“Oxford has some beautiful wedding venues but I would probably say that the Oxford Colleges are my favourite venues, as they are so unique and incredibly special. We do quite a few varsity weddings as some of our clients have an association with the city and have often studied here. The colleges make an incredible setting for a wedding and they are steeped in history and character.
“I got married in Sutton Courtney, Oxfordshire and if I was to do it all over again, I would do it in exactly the same way. We got married in our village church with 200 guests in our back garden – in a marquee and we all had sausage and mash. I really love ‘at home weddings’ and ours was incredibly memorable and very special.
“Lots of people ask me: What has been your biggest highlight – the moment when you sat back and thought, ‘Wow! I created that!’? I can honestly say there hasn’t been one. More than 60% of our weddings are abroad and are set in idyllic destinations such as Italy and the South of France, so we are often blessed with beautiful settings, but each and every one of our weddings is special because it’s the people themselves and their choices that create that uniqueness and magic. I do see lots of extravagance though – it comes with the job. One extravagant showstopper that comes to mind was a recent client’s couture gown. It was by the designer Elie Saab and was encrusted with so many jewels that it had to be lifted by two people, it was so heavy. It was truly stunning – a real statement of a dress. There are so many elements to planning a wedding, I don’t really have a favourite. I do love seeing a wedding venue well designed and finished: dressed stylishly with flowers and lit properly. I also love working on the entertainment and production; we have enjoyed working with great headline acts such as J.Lo, Sean Paul and Andrea Bocelli and those events are certainly memorable.
“Quite often, I find that people have unrealistic expectations when it comes to planning a wedding. Without doubt, there is a lot of choice out there and it is very easy to get swallowed up by it all. My job is to marry up a couple’s expectations with what will work for them and to offer them some choice. If I am presenting photographers for example, I will put forward the ones that I think are best for the couple and the short list may be just three. Throughout the planning stage, my relationship is quite business-like with my clients and I never cross the line before the event. Afterwards, we sometimes meet up for lunch, but before the wedding I am staff – I work for my clients.
“My golden tip that I give to every bride is to create your own Hollywood moment, not someone else’s. There is no point designing and planning a wedding like a premier league footballer (unless you are a premier league football player), plan something that is appropriate and special to you. Remember that people want to feel comfortable at a wedding.
“Over the last couple of years, I have been busy developing EPIC (the Event Planners International Collaborative). I co-founded EPIC with a New York party planner, Marcy Blum with the aim of offering an intensive and advanced wedding planning education programme. Our wedding and party planning courses are the only hands-on education programme run by successful, experienced luxury wedding and event professionals entrenched in the international events industry. Offering practical training, expert advice and valuable insights to excel in an events environment, the curriculum is composed of all aspects of planning weddings and parties. We examine pricing structures, business growth strategies, media and marketing – including social media, how to attract better clients, time management strategies and much, much more. Next year, we’re launching an exciting wedding magazine called ‘Sarah Haywood Destinations’. We’re looking to develop the UK as more of a destination; London and the UK have some of the most incredible venues and locations and we want to showcase this to the world. It will be an annual publication and we will publish more details on our website in due course."
Sarah Haywood’s 10 Top Wedding Planning Tips
Plan only for the type of wedding you can afford. Accept what you’ve got to spend and always shop with this in mind. Create your perfect wedding, not an international footballer’s dream day.
It’s the key to successful and stress free wedding planning.
Don’t waste time getting carried away with the detail of your day until you have put in place the key elements: where and when you’ll be married, who you will invite and how much you can spend.
Present a united front
Create your day together and present a united front to your families. Leave some room for family input – especially if they are contributing financially.
Respect & compromise
Be sensitive to the desires and expectations of each other and your families. Respect the point of view of others who are invested in the day (financially or otherwise) and listen, even if you eventually reject their ideas. Be prepared to negotiate and compromise.
Behind every blooming bride and gorgeous groom is a fabulous and efficient team, so delegate what you can to friends and family who have skills in areas you need help with.
Bridesmaids & best man
Have a reliable best man and chief bridesmaid. If your closest friends are not reliable and/or competent, give them something else to do.
Hiring & firing
Do not hire anyone or anything until you have seen or sampled their service or products. Get every detail in writing and ensure taxes and service are included. Before signing a contract ask: “Is this your best price?”
Keep cool, calm & collected
Especially with your nearest and dearest. Don’t alienate anyone you’ll need later on. (I’m thinking mother-in-law here!)
Wedding free zones
Have wedding free zones in your home(s) and wedding free evenings once a week when you and your intended go out together and do not discuss the wedding. Then you’ll remember why you are doing this!
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