Make your day a Milestone and not a Millstone!
M Magazine (Daily Mirror), 18th August 2001
Did you spend your childhood wrapped in a lacy tablecloth practising your vows? Are you more organised than a drill sergeant? Then we have the dream job for you...
Sorting out a firework display on the Thames, a cake in the shape of a ship or finger food for 300 is par for the course for wedding organiser 39-year-old Helen Hitchcock. Work in the travel industry and charity fundraising gave Helen experience in planning big events and the confidence to set up her own business, Milestone Weddings, in 1998. "I spent a year finding the best florists, caterers and photographers in the country," says Helen. "Having good people means this job can be easy. I tell couples anything is possible."
10am Itís another wedding Saturday and Helen’s prayers for sun have been answered. Winchester House in London’s Putney, the setting for the reception, is a hive of choreographed activity. The small army of kitchen staff, the manager, her two assistants and the florist have been working since 9am. "This is the best part of the job," says Helen. "Seeing all the elements come together. I don’t get stressed because I’ve done the groundwork. If something goes wrong, I’ve learnt not to panic but to look for solutions."
10.30am The florist is having trouble fixing a corsage to the bride’s mother’s handbag. Helen produces pins from her emergency kit. "This comes everywhere with me," she explains. "It contains tights, nail file, scissors, pins, cufflinks, nail varnish, sellotape and other essentials."
11.45am Helen calls the bride’s parents to ensure the photographer has arrived. "Some people want me to find everything, from the venue to the confetti, other people have fixed ideas for me to work with. The most unusual wedding I’ve arranged was a fancy dress - we had Zorro drinking champagne with Darth Vader. It was great fun. Each wedding is different, but the planning is the same. I have five meetings per couple and a zillion e-mails and calls!"
12.15am Helen delivers the groom and best man’s buttonholes to their hotel, and the expertly adorned handbag to the bride’s mother. "We’re the aspirin that takes away wedding headaches," she laughs. "People want to do nice things like choosing the dress and food - not getting 100 place names on tables or transporting the cake without mishap. Thatís where we come in." For a flat fee of £850 Helen will be at your beck and call in the run-up to your big day. Literally. "Iíve had calls at 3am from brides who decide they want an ice cream cake or a pink marquee," Helen says. "I respect the fact that at that moment, it’s the most important thing in the world to them."
12.45am The numbers for the sit-down meal have changed at the last minute from 110 to 115, so Helen gets creative with the seating. The average cost of the weddings she arranges is £10,000. "The most expensive one cost about £30,000," she recalls, "but they had a casino, a table magician, an eight piece band and a cake in the shape of the Parthenon! The groom had proposed to the bride there and my fab cake-maker recreated it for them. I’m as happy to plan a wedding on a budget though, that’s a challenge."
2pm The newly-weds arrive, are congratulated and shepherded into place by Helen for photographs. She will remain at the reception until the end, but stays in the background - a comforting presence in case of hiccups. "As well as seeing the day through to its finish, we tie up loose ends. We make sure their suitcases are at the hotel and take presents away for safe keeping."
3pm Dinner is served. Helen supervises the slick operation. "This wedding was planned a good year in advance," she says. "One couple phoned me up on a Monday at 9am and got married on the Thursday! In that time I managed to arrange a lunch for 30. It wasn’t easy, but I have a database of venues, florists, caterers and musicians which I worked through to find people who were free that day. But then, some people come to me 18 months before the big day."
6.30pm After the food and speeches, tables are cleared away for dancing as the evening guests arrive. The music starts and Helen begins to relax. "Iíve been to about 150 weddings and I always enjoy them - even the speeches. I don’t drink at the wedding (and we ask for sandwiches rather than eating the wedding food) but depending on the kind of relationship I’ve built up with the couple, it can be very enjoyable. I might even have a dance later!"
12am After sorting out taxis and the wedding presents, Helen leaves with the warm glow of a job well done. "I get up in the morning feeling Iím doing what I was put on this earth to do."
© MGN Ltd 2001
Text by Jane Brum, Photographs by David White
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