Luxury event planner, Bruce Russell has spent decades masterminding global celebrations and weddings. He has worked with some of the very best hotels and private member’s clubs in the world and was previously the in-house wedding planner at London’s Savoy Hotel. Here he explains what it takes to guarantee a memorable wedding day and reveals the details no couple should ever compromise on.
‘Whenever I say I’m a wedding planner, people say ‘OMG that’s my dream job, it’s the most amazing thing.’ It’s true, we make people’s dreams come true, it’s their most special day, it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s all about design and attention to detail – creating the perfect experience for a couple and their nearest and dearest.
The reality is I am spending sometimes huge amounts of people’s personal money, I’m responsible from anywhere from two vendors to two thousand vendors depending on the scale, the size and the location of what we do. It can be very glamorous sometimes but just like the social media world we live in today, we put out there what’s fantastic, we don’t put out there what almost went wrong.
I am very conscious of managing people’s expectations and communication is probably the biggest tool that I have. Being frank and being honest with people who are paying my salary is very important to me. But if it’s legal and you have the money to pay for it, we’ll make it happen.
I have access to people on a very personal level but it’s important to remember I’m not planning my wedding, this is their day and I have been hired to provide them with a service. I have to make sure I can deliver on that. I’m here to work hard for you, to make your life a little bit easier. That might mean I’m the financial planner, the creative, a therapist or marriage counsellor, then the manager of family politics. I’m a different Bruce when I’m talking to the bridegroom, or when I’m talking about finances, it’s a different Bruce again for venues and vendors. But whether the budget is £10,000 or £3 million, the responsibility is still the same for me. When it comes to budgets, I’m not here to get you a better price but to spend your money more wisely, to make better use of your budget. It all comes back to understanding personalities which is probably the most exhausting part of my job.
I always say if I don’t have a nightmare at least two weeks before a wedding or an event then there’s something wrong, I’m too relaxed. I compartmentalise the role of wedding planner in my head – one half is the creative side, one half is the logistics side, the two question each other all the time which can be exhausting.
The answer to that stress is to surround yourself with a very good team of people you know and trust, people you can brain dump everything onto, confident they will help put all the pieces back together in a way that works. Managing things going wrong is just part of what I do. When you’ve got four weeks to plan three parties for 400 people, you have to expect it and be ready for it.
The worst near miss was almost getting stuck for a wedding I did in California last summer. I was declined entry into the US for various reasons. For 72 hours I felt like I was trying to smuggle myself across the border. It’s the only time I’ve burst into tears and thought I’m not going to be able to deliver this wedding after years of knowing the family. That’s when you really know it’s all about good people and good connections to problem solve you way out of it.
I say to anyone who works with me, there are going to be issues and delays and hiccups, so please don’t come to me with a problem, come to me with solutions or at least options because I can never go to a client with a problem I can’t solve. I need to present them with option A or option B, one might cost £5k, the other £25k and it’s up to them to decide what they would like to do. Or we decide not to do it at all.
One particular client said to me recently, once family begin to arrive for the wedding, we don’t want to hear anything about the planning. It’s your decision. We’re here to enjoy our daughter’s wedding. You have the money. You have the authority. You do what needs to be done. We’ll deal with everything later. I must have the confidence and trust of the couples I work with.
One of the biggest mistakes people make in planning is not allowing enough time or too much time. Don’t give people an opportunity to look for something wrong.
If you’ve got the budget yes, you can go for the wow factor florals. But remember that the impact is gone very quickly. For me, it’s quite often the smaller things that sustain the interest, all the little thoughtful touch points, whether it’s the linen, the crockery, the detail on the cocktail glass, the small stuff really adds up.
Don’t be stingy on food and drink, guests must be well fed. Don’t underestimate the power of good lighting and remember everything can be adjusted and adapted.
I often compare a wedding day to a theatre production, where you divide your day into different acts and you’re designing each act differently because what you’re doing in the afternoon is a very different vibe to what you’re doing at 11pm – so you need to make sure the space, the lighting or the scent evolves.
At the end of the day, no matter how much or how little you have to spend, it’s about the people.
If you’re planning an outdoor wedding, do not take chances with the weather. It goes both ways, we always think about what if it rains, but what if it’s too hot? If your ceremony is 1pm and it’s 40 degrees, people are sitting in full sun and you’ve given them a blacktie dress code, these people, no matter what you feed them are going to be very unhappy.
It’s about giving yourself the space and time to be able to change plans should you need to and make a call on the day. You may have arranged for your florist to set up at 10am but if it’s roasting hot, by 4pm those hydrangeas are going to be dead. Make sure you work with vendors who can guide you through that process. Don’t be stuck to one way of doing things, just because you said that’s how it would happen. Your guests have no clue what your original thinking was.
What I love about Tythe is how everything is geared towards that look and feel. They have done it very well. I always tell my clients, why go to a beautiful English country manor and then stick people in a tent? I would use Tythe to its full capacity, then really look at what they’re doing from a culinary perspective, giving their feasts a very local focus, using very local farmers and producers. If you play to your strengths, then you attract clients who are suited to you. Whatever you want you guests’ experience to be, should be natural to the venue you’re choosing. Don’t try to make it something it’s not, otherwise it’s challenging on the venue and the service staff.’
To watch Bruce Russell’s full interview with @jadebeerbrides click here.