Life Of A Wedding Planner In Peak Season – Part 2
By Sara Jane, Weddings by Sara Jane
10th – 12th July
Wedding number 1 – Grand Estate Wedding – Inverness
As guests began to arrive in Inverness from all over the world for our first wedding in July; simultaneously, the build had already begun on my second wedding of the month, which was an extravagant Sperry Tent celebration on a stunning family estate near Stratford-upon-Avon. While my fellow planner, Lauren, who was working to support me over the summer, headed to Inverness to welcome the guests, I was preparing for my own departure to wedding number 2.
As it turned out, wedding number 1 was a great example of how unexpected dramas can crop up when you least expect it. While everything for this wedding was planned perfectly and double checked long before the wedding date, we had a big hiccup with the guest accommodation bookings. The family had inadvertently booked accommodation for forty extra guests and forgotten to cancel by the deadline date and consequently the bride and groom had been billed thousands extra for empty bedrooms.
While this wasn’t something I was directly involved in, it was up to me to fix it and de-stress the bride and groom. As the venue had failed to communicate properly with the clients (or me), I was able to resolve it and have the charges cancelled, but it was a long and laborious task of endless back and forth that ultimately left me packing for my trip long after midnight with just a couple of hours sleep. Not the leisurely start I’d planned for.
13th July – 15th July
Wedding number 2 – Sperry Tent Wedding on Family Estate – Stratford-Upon-Avon
With the billing crisis averted, Lauren coordinated a flawless wedding in Inverness and I was woken just after 1.00am with a lovely text from the Groom telling me he’d had the best day of his life and thanking me for everything I had done for them in making it all so perfect. I smiled as I fell asleep and less than five hours later I was en-route to a sweltering Stratford-Upon-Avon for wedding number 2.
I had the lovely Julie, a fellow UKAWP member shadowing me for marquee wedding experience at this particular event, so we met up and travelled to the site together. Once there, we worked all day in a very, very hot Sperry Tent to make sure everything was perfectly setup in preparation for the big day. With the plastic sides fixed down on the tent until the last minute, it was turned into a greenhouse on one of the hottest weekends in British history and the working environment was so hot it was bordering on hazardous. We worked through the intense heat to finalise the last elements of the setup; monitoring all deliveries, checking every place setting, dealing with an ant infestation, having briefing meetings with the caterers and audio-visual staff and ensuring everything was in place from the décor to the cake and flowers before heading to the church for the evening rehearsal.
On arrival at the church, exhausted, hot and a little dizzy from dehydration, we were confronted with our first and only major wedding disaster of the season. The florist had just left the church after setting up for the wedding, and the flowers were absolutely nothing like the ones the bride had been expecting. As soon as she saw them she started to cry. Not a tiny tear in the corner of her eye, but big, flooding sobs of disappointment.
The florist had been recommended to the bride personally, so she wasn’t someone I had worked with previously and despite having a meeting with the bride just a few weeks before the wedding to confirm everything, the flowers were a far cry from what the bride had been expecting. After attempts to get the florist to return that evening to fix the flowers fell flat, I ended up circling around Tesco, Marks and Spencer’s and anywhere else in Stratford-upon-Avon where you could possibly buy flowers after 9.00pm to rectify it myself. Armed with bunches of blooms, foraged ivy and two very creative and helpful parents of the bride, we re-did the floral arrangements in the church until late that evening.
After collapsing into bed after a gruelling eighteen-hours working in the sweltering heat, I woke up at 6.00am to coordinate with the florist and make sure that the bouquets she would be delivering that morning were changed so the same mistake didn’t recur. By 9.00am, we had managed to meet up and put together bouquets the bride was really happy with, and the floral crisis was resolved. Sighs of relief all around and no more tears.
After a rocky start, the rest of the wedding was beautiful and ran like clockwork. As always, though, marquee weddings with multiple sites are particularly intense to manage. That day, I was on my feet for a whopping 19 hours and clocked up 19,000 steps on my pedometer (over 16km!) with a constant flow of tasks to take care of and after getting back to my hotel just after 2.00am that night I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
16th July – 19th July
Like every wedding planner, I always aim to have done as much as I possibly can as far in advance as possible, but with the best will in the world, there will always be unexpected things that crop up and realistically you’re not in control of everything. You might want to get the seating plan to the caterer three weeks in advance, but sometimes the couple don’t give you their seating plan until 24 hours before the wedding.
In the days before a run of multiple weddings, the amount of last-minute administration that pops up is hard to describe unless you’ve had first-hand experience. Almost every ten minutes someone is emailing or calling you asking you to do something, and it’s always urgent. A bridesmaid forgot her dress in a hotel room, can you find it and get it delivered to the venue please? A supplier that you’ve been asking for 8 weeks for a final bill springs it on you after your clients are already on a flight. Some guests have dropped out and you need to re-jig the table plan that’s already gone to print. The catering order has arrived but a high chairs is missing.
Even if you’ve done everything right, these things pop up in the days before any wedding. Time in the office is essential to ensure that any last minute tasks are dealt with and that every cog in the machine is kept updated. So my few days in the office were extremely hectic, with no time for a rest. I was busy answering emails, printing off files and itineraries to reflect changes, preparing wedding kits, dealing with last minute requests, reconfirming every detail for the final time with suppliers and tracking deliveries. Thankfully, we’d prepared for this meticulously and despite being busy, I was also relaxed, confident and excited about the week to come.
20th July – 21st July
Wedding number 3 – Barn Wedding – Aberdeen
Susan and Lauren arrived at wedding number 3 the day before to supervise setup and make sure everything had been delivered correctly. As this wedding was at a dry-hire venue, much like a marquee there is always extra attention needed to check everything is in place before the big day. After sorting out a mini-drama with the linen and sourcing replacements, they were able to leave that evening with everything ready to go for the morning. Wedding number 3 went off exactly as planned, and as we said goodnight on another beautiful and flawless wedding, I packed up ready to depart for Scotland for the next phase.
22nd July – 24th July
Wedding number 4 – Castle Wedding – Edinburgh
I set off at 4.00am from London and arrived in Edinburgh at 10.30am for an extravagant destination wedding, set over two days with a lovely American family. After lots of hugs and a good catch-up with my clients, I went straight to work. I wouldn’t want to sell the glamour too much here, but this mainly involved lugging boxes of hundreds of candles and orders of service up five flights of winding and uneven stairs to a castle turret in sweltering heat.
As I was setting up for the next day, the guests were busy enjoying themselves with the itinerary we’d put together for them. An afternoon tea, a mini highland games, a ceilidh dancing lesson, a whisky tasting, a barbecue on the lawns. After a ceremony rehearsal in the chapel and supervising the guest entertainment for the evening, I fell into bed just after midnight.
The next morning, I was up at 6.00am and at work by 7.00am finalising the wedding day setup and accepting deliveries from flowers to cakes and making sure everything was perfect. As I was busy working, guests were enjoying a brunch, followed by an archery lesson on the lawns while the ladies were in hair and makeup. Everything on the wedding day ran perfectly to plan, but of course, even flawless weddings are hard work. You don’t get a moment’s pause, and when I got to bed just after 1.30am I was again asleep in moments.
25th July – 27th July
Wedding number 5 – Castle Wedding – Musselburgh
The next morning, I headed directly to wedding number 5, and the lovely venue coordinators showed me to my bedroom and then treated me to a coffee and scone while we ran over every detail of the wedding plans one final time.
When my lovely couple arrived, fresh off the plane from NYC, we had a big hug and then spent a busy afternoon together showing them around the venue for the first time in the flesh (cue lots of smiles and ‘wows’), as well as various meetings with the venue staff and Minister as well as a formal ceremony rehearsal. Afterwards, I made sure everything was set up and ready to go for the morning (yes, mainly lugging boxes in the heat again but at least this time there was a lift), while the couple enjoyed a barbecue with their guests. After getting back to my room just after 10.00pm, I was able to spend some time answering urgent emails and messages before nodding off.
At 7.00am I was up and ready to go again. As always on a wedding day, sixteen hours passed in a flurry of endless activity. Greeting suppliers, setting up each area, taking care of the bride and groom, ensuring everything ran on time and doing anything and everything possible to make sure everything ran as planned. After more hugs and thank yous from a very happy couple, I headed to bed; extremely tired, but very happy.
Stranded in Scotland
The next morning, I was in a taxi by 6.00am on my way back to London. Although I departed early in order to get back for some office time and rest before the next wedding, my plans were foiled by a lightning strike on the rail tracks which left me stranded in York. With no trains going down south that day, I had to return to Newcastle and get a taxi 60 miles to Carlisle so I could take the west coast rail service instead. My journey took fourteen hours instead of the five it normally took and I ended up getting home just after 8.00pm, leaving me just a couple of hours to unpack and spend some time with my son before bed. Thankfully, I’d finished everything for this wedding weeks in advance and had my kit and files all pre-packed, printed and ready to go.
Wedding number 5 – Art Gallery Wedding with a Funfair – London
This was another 8.00am to 1.00am work day and, by now, my feet were swollen and sore. They hurt, even when I wasn’t standing up. There are only so many days for which you can stand up for 18+ hours and not get sore and good, comfortable footwear is essential. Thankfully, despite the complexity of this wedding (we put in a full-blown fairground in the meadow behind the venue), it all went beautifully and exactly as planned and a very tired wedding planner fell into bed just after 2.00am having said goodbye to a very happy couple.
I’d love to say that after that whirlwind few weeks I managed to get a week off to recuperate, but that’s not how it works in peak season. I got one day off, mostly spent on household chores and parenting, and was back to work full-time to confront a huge backlog of emails that I’d received while I was away. I also had another small wedding 10 days later. When I’m busy, my Mother often sends me text messages asking, “did you finish your work?”. I’ve tried to explain to her that this is a nonsense question. It’s never finished. You’ve finished one set of weddings, yes, but you’ve always got clients who are getting married next week/month/year and you need to be consistently engaged with them and their needs, as well as handling the post-wedding admin for each event. You can carve out periods of rest, yes, but in peak season – it’s generally all go.
So, this is a glimpse into what it’s really like being a wedding planner in the height of peak season. Hard, all consuming, exhausting and also absolutely insanely fun. I didn’t see my family or friends for weeks, but I got to travel to some of the most amazing places and spend time with wonderful people being a part of an experience every one of them will remember forever. I got to see all the things I’d painstakingly designed on paper late at night come to life. I got to work with an extended network of incredibly devoted wedding suppliers and other planners within a community that makes the job feel so fulfilling.
Tired beyond belief, I came home to some lovely emails from my clients, thank-you notes in the post and even gifts thanking me for everything I did for them. And I was hugged more times than I can count over the past few weeks, in many cases by people who made me feel like I was part of the family. I’ll never forget any of those wonderful people, which makes every minute of it totally worth it. I can’t remember where I heard this quote, but it’s stuck with me: “You don’t have a career, you have a life”. I think that’s true. Planning weddings isn’t my career so much as an intricately woven part of my life and identity. I get to wake up every day (sometimes sore and sometimes tired), but always excited to get started on the next one…
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Wedding Planner: Weddings by Sara Jane