“Wow!…what an amazing job!…How on earth did you get into that?” is a regular response when I reply to the standard ice-breaker “What do you do?” The gasps and wide eyes reflect the glamour and magic rightly associated with summer Italian weddings.
Admittedly, being a wedding planner in Italy is amazing in many respects; it being the most testing, varied, emotional, exciting, physically demanding, creative and rewarding job I have ever done.
I never set out to be a character from the film Father of the Bride, choreographing swans through fountains, neither did I dream of being “J-Lo” from “The Wedding Planner”, urgently whispering into a headset “FoB gone awol, report to BM asap!” but more than once, couples have actually delighted at having “their own personal Franck!”
Having always worked in events and harbouring a passion for Italy, organising weddings and parties for English speaking clients in some of the most beautiful corners of this peninsular combines the perfect balance of work and play. I remember one grey morning sitting at my desk in Piccadilly, answering a call from a London wedding agency who were looking for an Italian-speaking planner to join their team.
I polished my shoes and dived straight in!
My first piece of advice to anyone considering this whirlwind industry is, no matter how many times you watch Bride Wars, or how good you are at organising the family barbeque, nothing will teach you how to manage “the best day of someone’s life” like throwing yourself into the heart of the action and running onto centre stage…with a calm head and sensible shoes!!
Why a planner?
Getting married is, for most people, new territory and no longer involves a quick chat with a vicar and booking a function room and disco. Today people want the memories of a lifetime…the ‘big movie’, and Italy is the perfect stage setting. With numerous paperwork procedures however, strict time frames and public admin offices that seem to open for 30 minutes every other day, but not on Thursdays, or the third Wednesday of the month…it can be a minefield. Many couples don’t have the spare time or speak the lingo but they have the budget to throw an incredible party and celebrate in style, in the sun. I have the patience of a saint, a clipboard, and I know a man who can!
As glamorous as it may seem, behind the scenes surprise becomes your closest ally and a wedding planner needs to be prepared for…anything; from asking football stars their underwear size, to chasing wayward priests on vespas through vineyards, comforting emotional mother in laws, proof-reading speeches, refereeing rugby matches, re-routing helicopters and trying to convince barons that 120 drunk Brits dancing to a live salsa band will not be a problem, but that they may wish to consider a covering to protect their 12th century floor and moving the original Botticelli to a different room.
The spectacular venues I work with, and have come to love, vary from luxury 5 star hotels on cliff-tops to rustic castles surrounded by olive groves and family villa estates with their own vineyards and village church!
Many are private properties that may not have hosted weddings before so I am constantly building new relationships and meeting incredible people with a staggering wealth of family history and inspiring vision. The warmth and generosity of some property owners is unparalleled and the secrets they share with guests are real treasures.
“Is it possible to…?”
People always ask what the strangest requests are from couples. I couldn’t possibly share them all but I will never forget one bride standing in the gardens of a Roman villa, discussing the ceremony and asking “Can I be taken down the aisle by a donkey?” I was also once asked to arrange a wedding with the groom as a total surprise for the bride!
Other requests very often focus on the catering. Food in Italy is fantastic – we all know it – relax! However I can’t use this to reply to an email with 10 lines describing what some guests can’t eat. Imagine the Italian chef’s facial expressions and shades of colour, presented with the familiar scenario: The couple have requested “typical Tuscan food” but:
10 can’t eat cheese, pasta or tomatoes
5 vegetarians (2 of whom eat chicken, but only if cut into small pieces)
2 vegetarians who eat some fish
3 meat-eaters who don’t eat vegetables
1 aunty who only eats celery, isn’t fond of fennel, can’t sit next to a vegan or opposite anyone who looks like they’re eating beetroot
1 nut allergy but will eat vegetarians!
Suddenly I am a challenger on the crystal maze. Obviously everyone is always catered for…incredibly well, but it’s a delicate game of mediation as the chef kindly tells me to “va…” and the client calls me again to confirm I have understood the garlic is to be merely wafted over the sauce, not actually added to the dish.
Do I get cynical about weddings? Not a chance…I’m a hopeless romantic and always get a tingle at those Hollywood moments. As a soprano decorates the warm air with O Mio Babbino Caro above blue crystal waters, I notice a hand is squeezed and a magical glance is exchanged…often through a tear that just can’t be controlled!
I arrive on-site on the wedding day like a gladiator entering the arena…armed and ready!
07:31 “Joëlle, the vintage Bentley’s engine has blown on its way here.” I smile, “ok…” and look around. To my left is mother of the bride with a huge mosquito bite demanding to be driven to the chemist in the local town 20 minutes away…to my right is a hung over bridesmaid who last saw her boyfriend climbing an olive tree 5 hours ago…my phone rings “There’s a baggage handler’s strike at the airport!”
Another day in the office…coffee anyone?
Tips for brides
Hire a wedding planner! Try not to worry about everyone else on your wedding day (that’s my job!) and enjoy the attention of your fiancé. Take it slowly and just breathe through rising emotions. A little glass of prosecco before walking down the aisle can work wonders! Give little tasks to guests and friends so they can help on the day and make sure your groom has a good team of ushers to look after everyone! Keep the bridesmaids away from the Italian waiters, and lastly, let yourself be charmed by Italy and your man…’
Tip for groom
Say yes…to everything…all day!
Wedding planner survival kit
Flat shoes, tissues, safety pins, batteries, fans, lighters, scissors, black book of contacts, fully charged mobile phone(s) and a homing device for the best man! A sense of humour is essential, as is a large glass of Chianti at the end of the night, when the sun starts to rise again!
(Article published for The Florentine by Joëlle Edwards, Florence, London)
Joëlle Edwards is an English event and wedding planner, working in exclusive venues across Italy. She recently moved to Florence from London after having lived and worked in Switzerland, Palermo and Barcelona. She’d like to sing like Fiorella Mannoia, write like Andrea Camilleri, dance like Ginger Rogers and cook like zia Anna Maria! You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More info in her website: http://www.joellemarie.co.uk/