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Calling in the Pros


Over 50 professional wedding planners descended on Lord’s for their annual helping of trend reports, tips and business advice, courtesy of a panel of industry experts ranging from Michelin-starred chefs to fashion designers

Lords wedding - 1103_Lords_2011_Wedding_Planner_Conference_SAT40762.jpgCricket whites and maiden overs made way for bridal whites and maids of honour at Lord’s on 15 March, when our third annual Wedding Planner Conference took place at the famous cricket ground. Square Meal Venues & Events, in association with Triggerfish PR and our venue host, had once again lined up a day full of inspiring seminars and workshops for the professional planners.
This year, the timing couldn’t have been better as Lord’s (already an established reception venue) was granted a licence to host civil marriages and partnership ceremonies just three days before the event. Delegates looking for the latest news and trends in wedding planning had found their first story right at the welcome reception.

mark - 1103_Lords_2011_Wedding_Planner_Conference_SAT40600.jpgFirst to take the stage was the man many delegates considered to be the headline act. Mark Niemierko may only have left his previous career in film and TV seven years ago, but he’s already the UK’s leading wedding planner, able to limit himself to five weddings a year, with minimum budgets of £100,000 apiece.
He had some forthright views and advice for the audience: ‘The key is being a confident person. Your clients have hired you because they don’t know what they’re doing – so if they’re a nightmare, tell them to stop it.’
Niemierko also stressed the importance of building relationships with suppliers and understanding each other’s role. He recommended using Twitter to communicate with the industry and Facebook to keep in touch, non-intrusively, with brides and bridesmaids.
Questions from the floor came thick and fast after Niemierko’s talk. One delegate asked what single element made a wedding special. ‘Service,’ was the immediate reply. ‘Guests create the atmosphere, so there’s no point having amazing flowers if there’s a 20-minute wait for a glass of champagne.’
Next up, V&E editor Annica Wainwright took to the floor to fill the audience in on the latest UK venues with wedding licences (see Wedding News, p. 128), before introducing Sandra Hill, former creative design director at Paul Smith and current advisor to the British Fashion Council, to talk dress trends for the season ahead.
The biggest influence on the wedding industry this year, she said, would of course be the events of 29th April – copies of Kate’s (presumably British-designed) dress would be available within hours. Influence would also come from films – Black Swan, with its feathers and tutus, and The King’s Speech for vintage 20s and 30s looks. She also highlighted more general trends – androgyny, the use of lace and blush colours – and urged planners to remember the key accessory for any British wedding: the umbrella.

lords 5 - 1103_Lords_2011_Wedding_Planner_Conference_IMG9547.jpg Delegates took advantage of the mid-morning coffee break to network over flapjacks, fruit and yoghurt while having a good look around the 350-seater Thomas Lord Suite – the first of several beautifully dressed spaces on show throughout the day.
Next behind the podium was Tamryn Kirby, a well-known wedding planner and wedding book author, who spoke enthusiastically about the respect, innovation and understanding that goes into making a ‘good’ wedding planner. ‘This is quite a young industry in the UK, so we have to be standard-bearers,’ she said.
As wedding ambassador for Oxfam, Kirby also suggested ways for planners to help clients make their weddings ethically good, whether that means putting charitable donations on their wedding lists or picking up ‘beautiful dresses for £150’ in an Oxfam bridal shop. ‘If every bride did just one thing, we’d make a massive difference,’ she concluded.
With lunch came the opportunity to see more of Lord’s event spaces. Accompanied by perfectly-timed sunshine, the group headed across to the historic Pavilion, where delegates were greeted with Champagne and canapés on the Roof Terrace, ahead of a guided tour of the building, taking in the stunning Writing Room and Long Room – set up for a ceremony and wedding breakfast, respectively – and the (usually off-limits) home Dressing Room.

lords 1 - 1103_Lords_2011_Wedding_Planner_Conference_SAT40747.jpgFOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
More than just a pretty face, Lord’s showed it has plenty of substance, with in-house event and catering teams that clearly understand the importance of attention to detail. Every last space – even where delegates were just passing through – had been immaculately dressed, while the service and food were flawless throughout.
A satisfied silence descended as guests tucked into a generous buffet lunch made up of salmon and mackerel terrine, an accomplished beef Wellington, dauphinoise potatoes and green beans. It was served in the historic Long Room, against a grand backdrop of ornate mouldings, wall-to-wall cricket portraits and tall windows overlooking the ground. Outside, slideshows of happy couples filled the pitch-side screens, giving delegates a further taste of the extras on offer at Lord’s.
After some sweetly indulgent puds – trifles and wickedly chocolatey brownies – the first afternoon session focused on multicultural weddings. The panel – Vivek Singh of The Cinnamon Club, Michelle Mehmi of Viyah Events, Andrew Witzenfeld from 248 Kosher and Adam Phillips of Uptown Events – discussed the different religious considerations that affect these types of events, whether it’s with regards to timings or the selection of venues and menus.
Muslims, we were told, would always avoid booking weddings during Ramadan, while Sikhs must be married before midday. Hindu ceremonies require a firepit and kosher caterers must be under the supervision of a Beth Din, or rabbinical court.
Before taking questions from the fascinated audience, our experts also suggested ways of bringing a cultural aspect to non-religious weddings – sitar or tabla music for Asian couples, or a cycle of food, drink, conversation and dancing for a Jewish celebration.

lords mix - 1103_Lords_2011_Wedding_Planner_Conference_SAT40862.jpg The food and drink focus continued as Nicky Evans of Square Meal’s Restaurants & Bars team took to the floor with a summary of restaurant trends likely to be adopted by event caterers. She highlighted the emphasis on everything British, the power of provenance, the popularity of steaks and Nordic cuisine, and the move towards grazing and small-plate dining. The latter, she said, is ‘like a cooler version of a buffet – and nothing says “wedding” like a buffet!’
Thierry Besselievre, Lord’s pastry chef, revealed that despite recent trends for cupcakes et al, couples are now going full circle back to the classic three-tiered fruit cake. Then it was through to the bar for a masterclass from JJ Goodman of The London Cocktail Club, who delegates recognised as part of the winning chef/mixologist team in Raymond Blanc’s popular TV series The Restaurant.
Declaring the current ‘punch phenomenon’ an easy way to serve cocktails to a crowd without blowing the budget, he set about pouring liquids into a gorgeous silver bowl. ‘Florals and bitters are big this year,’ he explained, adding a touch of Angostura, alongside hibiscus and violet syrups, big glugs of grapefruit juice and water ‘to add length’, with alcoholic support from rosé wine and gin – ‘another massive flavour for 2011’.
Samples of the punch, which Goodman suggested serving in teacups, as a bellini topped with sparkling wine, or in a soda siphon, got creative juices flowing for the next session, in which delegates were challenged to design an informal Kate’n’Wills wedding. Britishness prevailed among suggestions for a tartan hot-air balloon, fish and chips, and maypole dancing.

Cricket teas are legendary and Lord’s met high expectations with its array of crustless sarnies, huge scones and dainty cakes as delegates returned to the Thomas Lord Suite for advice on how to get published. Annica Wainwright stressed the importance of good pictures, while Craig Morris, editor of men’s wedding-planning online mag Staggered, urged planners to target the right type of publication, and consider what it is that makes their your stories interesting to readers.
Andrew White of Triggerfish PR explained that it can be better to cultivate good relationships with a few journalists rather than having a 500-strong database of people you don’t know. From a planner’s point of view, Mark Nimierko suggested a tried-and-tested a way of winning over journalists: ‘They’re always desperate for last-minute information, so if you can do the work for them and help them out, they’ll remember you.’
The panel admitted that while publications will cover stories from non-advertisers, they tend to have stronger relationships with companies who do advertise. All also agreed on the power of Twitter for getting stories noticed.
After a final creative session (see box), it was time to wrap up and reflect on the day’s events. Delegates were unanimous in describing the conference as a good networking opportunity, while those who had attended previous events said they appreciated this year’s new, more relaxed format with Q&A sections and hands-on workshops. All in all, an inspirational and enjoyable day.

For more information about holding weddings or other events at Lords, visit squaremeal.co.uk/lords

Annica - 1103_Lords_2011_Wedding_Planner_Conference_SAT40916.jpgCHALLENGE ANNICA
The V&E editor donned her Anneka Rice-inspired jumpsuit for the final event of the day: a Generation Game-style competition to produce the best-dressed table. Darren Jackson of Well Dressed Tables told teams they had the pick of various types of crockery, cutlery, glassware and napery, to create a setting suitable for a mocked-up menu. Cue the first quandaries for Team Annica. Do you need a fish knife for scallops? Should the cheese knife go at the top with the spoon, or inside the main course knife? There was much experimentation with napkin origami before Darren began the countdown and a simple set-up was agreed, with silver-rimmed plates, glasses for water, Sancerre, claret, Port and Sauternes, and a smart gauze bow decorating the chair.
As Darren drew back a curtain on his rather more polished version, there was a chorus of ‘oohs’, ‘aahs’ and ‘dohs’ as delegates realised what they’d missed. The chair’s metal legs had been artfully hidden with fabric. Only glasses for water, white and red were laid out, and no plates – they would of course come from the kitchen or buffet. And that cheese knife? Laid horizontally with the spoon.
Team Annica conceded victory to a team who’d decorated their side plate with flowers.

DRAKE ALGAR (FLOWERS): 020 7722 4491
LORDS'S (VENUE & CATERING): 0844 824 6561
TRIGGERFISH (PR & CO-HOSTING): 020 7233 9700

This article first appeared in Square Meal Venues & Events magazine, spring 2011

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