My Utterly Wow 2015 Season: Part One

If you like real weddings then you’ve come to the right place today. With my Utterly Wow 2015 season done and dusted, I think it’s time for a little jaunt through the generally awesome weddings I’ve planned, designed, styled and coordinated this year. This is an image heavy post, so grab a brew, settle down and enjoy Part 1…

A Laid Back Garden Party

Kicking off the season were Danielle and Lewis who eloped to California last year and wed on a cliff overlooking the Big Sur. Back home, they wanted to do the whole thing again in front of their family and friends, so enlisted me to help them plan a big party in their back garden in Bexley, Kent… handily just a couple of miles down the road from me! They were determined to have a relaxed, happy day without breaking the bank, but with 150 guests some very careful planning, sourcing and budgeting was required.

The chalkboards were all done by my own fair hands, and I’ve got to give a big shout out to Joanne Truby who I’ve wanted to work with for a long time, and who provided the beautiful flowers. This couple and their families were great fun to work with, and by all accounts the party continued long in to the night…

Awesome photography by Chris Deller Photography

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Super Pretty in West Sussex

Next came Sarah and Oli, who introduced me to the fabulous Grittenham Barn in West Sussex. I first met Sarah way back in Autumn 2013 when she was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the prospect of planning a wedding and wanted to chat about how I could potentially assist. In the end this pint-sized beauty was a-ok planning a most splendid day on her own, but she did ask me to coordinate for her, and of course, I was more than happy to oblige.

A gorgeous, relaxed, flexible venue, flowers in tin jars, a stunning bride and a cake table even more heaving than my own, this pretty June wedding was just a delight from start to finish.

Supplier shout-outs to Alexandra’s Kitchen who were great to work with, and Source Images for the beautiful photos.

Photography by Source Images

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A Whimsical and Playful London Wedding

Now I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but I think Natalie and Steve were up there this year. My first London wedding, this gorgeous pair got hitched at the top of the National Theatre, before boarding a boat at Festival Pier for an hour and a half of  drinks and canapés, and finally docking at Westminster Boating Base in Pimlico where they ate and danced the night away. Hired in my favourite capacity of designing, styling and coordinating, Natalie and Steve practically gave me full creative reign and I loved every second.

Working with a colour scheme of mint, peach and gold, I wanted to have fun with this styling, and so made two large paper garland backdrops for both the ceremony and the reception venues, as well as hand-writing the place name cards and vintage mirror table plan. We had a giant ‘bouquet’ of balloons for Natalie and Steve to guide their guests along Southbank to Festival Pier, and at Westminster Boating Base (which is actually a pretty tricky space to style due to the low ceilings and venue limitations) we went all out on the tables, with sparkly, chevron runners from Gilded Linens, mint goblets and mis-matched glass candle sticks from Classic Crockery, and pretty, pretty flowers from Pip Lowe.

Natalie and Steve went with several of my supplier recommendations, with Handmade Food providing the BBQ feast and Kate Ruth Romey creating gorgeous, bespoke stationery and paper goods. The dream team was complete when Flood The Floor (my own wedding band) brought the house down in the evening, and these guys partied hard. A brilliant, brilliant wedding.

Humungous thank yous to Emmie Scott for capturing the day so brilliantly, and to the lovely (and equally pregnant) Bec from Heart Shaped Weddings who assisted me on the day.

Images by Emmie Scott Photography

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Love and Laughter Abound in South London

Ahhhh, Laura and James’ fab wedding had me finally working at Asylum in Peckham- an amazing deconsecrated chapel I’ve wanted to work at for yonks. This fun-loving pair booked me for my hugely popular On The Day Coordination service, and I loved bringing their day to life- despite it being one of the hottest days of the year!

Laura and James kept the decor clean and simple (you really don’t need to do much in that fab venue!), with a fresh colour palette and hugely thoughtful favours from around the world for their lucky guests. In the evening guests hopped on a London bus and headed to The Pepys pub in the city where the partying continued well in to the night.

Marianne Chua was behind the lens, and if you’re after fun, quirky and real reportage photography than she is most definitely your girl!

Images by Marianne Chua Photography

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I’m a lucky wedding planner, right? There are three more weddings to come in Part Two (one of which is going to be on Love My Dress very soon as it features a certain Lovette), and I tells ya, they’re all pretty special.

Sama xx

I Can Help You Find Your Dream Wedding Venue

So, completely brushing over the fact I haven’t blogged in about three hundred years (more on that later*), I just wanted to pop on today to draw your attention to a service I offer through Utterly Wow called The Venue Hunt.

Finding your wedding venue can be an absolute bitch. Fact. One of the first things you need to get booked once the planning begins, it can also be one of the first things to burst the just-engaged-bubble-of-love you’ve been bopping merrily around in for however many weeks. Agreeing on the type of wedding and venue you’d like, reeling at the expense, trying to compromise with parents and outside opinions, having your world crumble around you because you eventually find the ‘perfect venue’ but it’s fully booked until 2019… there are many, many hurdles to leap before you can finally circle the date on your calendar, clink glasses and say, ‘The countdown begins!’.

My perfect wedding venue- The Great Barn, Rolvenden.

My perfect wedding venue- The Great Barn, Rolvenden.

Of course, the key to finding your ideal venue is learning where to compromise. Your wedding venue is never going to be 100% perfect. It will feel perfect by the time your wedding rolls around because by that point you’ve completely forgotten what had made finding the venue so ruddy difficult in the first place and, of course, you’re about to have the Best Day Ever and are more excited than you ever will be in life, ever. I stumbled across The Great Barn fairly early on in my wedding search, but when I rang to enquire they didn’t have any availability on the April date I had in mind. It took a further month of endless internet research, venue visits and a tantrum or two before I realised that moving the date back 6 weeks to a lovely May bank holiday weekend instead really wasn’t the end of the world.

My 'if I won the lottery and could get married in a greenhouse' wedding venue- Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

My ‘if I won the lottery and could get married in a greenhouse’ wedding venue- Petersham Nurseries, Richmond

But back to those three little words that strike fear and loathing in to the majority of people who lead busy lives…. endless internet research. Finding a venue takes time, y’all. There’s a selection process that happens for every potential venue you come across that usually plays out in a series of questions. Is it visually appealing? Does it match my main criteria? How much does it cost? What does that include? Does it tick ALL the boxes? Is it available?  And of course, more often than not the website alone doesn’t have all this information. You have to download a brochure (or have one sent in the post); you have to call and enquire about dates and the finer details; you have to pack for a road trip and visit the bloody thing; you have to run it past whoever’s paying. And repeat ad infinitum…

My 'if I was having a quirky London wedding' wedding venue- Brunswick House

My ‘if I was having a quirky London wedding’ wedding venue- Brunswick House

This is where I come in. Believe it or not, I love internet research and am actually pretty good at it. I dislike how a whole day can go by hunched over the computer, but I enjoy problem solving, and I love uncovering hidden gems. I’ve also been immersed in the world of weddings for a long, long time now so I have great deal more contacts, insider knowledge and venue-finding experience than the average just-engaged person. If you are looking for something special in the south-east of England then, quite frankly, you’d be a fool not to hire me for your venue-finding needs.

So how does The Venue Hunt work?

Well, upon deciding that you could probably do with some outside help and making initial contact, I send you a pretty extensive questionnaire that covers everything I need to know- from budget and numbers, to whether you require wheelchair access and what you are drawn to aesthetically. Once this is filled in and back with me, I get to work doing the necessary research, drawing from the knowledge I already have and even visiting potential venues if time and distance allow.

As I mentioned earlier, there has to be some compromise when deciding on your wedding venue, and I’m able to glean from my questionnaire which criteria are essential and which are, shall I say, subject to negotiation. Once I’ve settled on 3-5 venues that I know tick most of the boxes, fit within your budget, are available on the date(s) you require and I think will excite you, I put together a detailed report listing each of the venues, along with its strengths, weaknesses, real wedding images, logistical concerns (if any) and my potential solutions. It’s then up to you to arrange site visits for those that appeal and make the final decision at your convenience.

And all for a bargainous £150.

But that’s enough from me. Here’s what a recent Venue Hunt client had to say when I sent her report over…

Sama, you’re amazing – thank you so much! We didn’t find any of those places when we were looking and honestly cannot tell you what a weight off our shoulders it is to have four such exciting venues to consider! It must have been very tricky searching for us and we really do appreciate all your hard work on this- I will definitely be recommending you to my friends when they start looking for venues!

And then ten days later…

I just wanted to let you know that we visited Hampton Court House on Saturday and completely fell in love with it – we’ve booked our wedding there for Saturday 5th September next year!

Ohh, it’s enough to warm the cockles of a cold, tired heart 🙂

If you know someone who could do with some help finding their dream venue, then please do send them my way. I shall probably be sitting in a corner patting myself on the back still, but I shall stop immediately to get hunting. I’m considerate like that.

Sama xxx

*So, erm, back to the fact I haven’t blogged in approximately three hundred years. It’s abominable and I don’t even have a half-decent excuse other than I’ve been busy doing Utterly Wow stuff, decorating my house and watching all five seasons of The Walking Dead. Expect a final 2014 post making all sorts of dramatic resolutions and promises that I will struggle to keep next week.

Utterly Wow’s Season of Love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred miiiiin-utes…

Any Rent fans out there? Sweet Lord of all the musicals, I loved that show. In writing the title of this post I just YouTubed Seasons Of Love and about a million gazillion memories from sixth form and University came flooding back. I don’t think there was a single person who came in to contact with me around that point who I didn’t inflict the soundtrack upon. I wanted to play Mimi. No I wanted to play Maureen. No, I wanted to play Mimi…

Anyway I digress. Today is all about Utterly Wow‘s Season of Love. I’ve been banging on about my fantastically busy first season, so today I thought I’d do a quick romp through the seven weddings I had the pleasure of being a part of this summer, sharing some pictures, telling you my highlights and giving supplier shout-outs to some of the fabulous folk I met and worked with along the way.

So diving right in, my season kicked off in style with the supremely elegant and stylish wedding of Sarah and Nic. The wedding was held at Sarah’s b-e-a-utiful family home in the Essex countryside, and Sarah and her extremely welcoming Mum had put so much thought and preparation in to the day, I was quite blown away.

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My role was to coordinate the day  itself, as being a marquee wedding at home there was obviously no venue manager or anyone to take charge.  The marquee looked incredible- Sarah had really thought about every detail, from the ghost chairs and mercury glass vignettes, to the gorgeously branded stationery and over-flowing cheese table. Outside there were lawn games, a baby creche set up in the summerhouse and a fire pit for later in the evening. The weather was pretty wet so sadly the outside accoutrements didn’t get utilised quite as much as they should have been, but it was such a sumptuously inviting setting inside the marquee that I don’t think anyone minded.

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Images by Claudia Rose Carter

The day ran without a hitch, the one memorable blip for me being a very excited lost Boxer dog that found it’s way on to site just before Sarah and her family left for church and had us all (the staff) running circles after it. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, and with no-one appearing to claim him, we tied him up by the catering vans and looked after him all day. (I think one of the catering lads ended up taking him home, for which myself and Lenny the cat will be eternally grateful.)

Supplier shout-outs go to Claudia Rose Carter who was back shooting her first wedding since maternity leave and took such gorgeous, evocative photos, Talbooth Catering who were so slick, professional and a sheer delight to work with (and majorly came to the rescue with dog gate), and The Top Bananas, three musical entertainers on stilts who were fun and cheeky and simply brilliant.

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Of course, Sarah and Nic were the start of what I’d dubbed May Madness; three On-The Day Coordinations back to back that had me head down and nose to the grind for a solid month. Next up were Joe and Louise, who’s wedding I’ve blogged in full already but still remains as one of my favourites from the season.

Festoon lights, food trucks, mis-matched chairs and so many personal touches getting setting up was to the wire, but the venue (Huntsmill Farm in Buckinghamshire) was so beautiful and guests loved every minute. I won’t talk too much about this day as you can read all about it right here, but Joe and Louise were such a generous, cool, sweet couple to work with, it truly was a delightfully creative wedding to coordinate.

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Images by Ed Peers

There were A LOT of suppliers involved in the day but my favourites were, of course, Ed Peers (photographic superstar and totally awesome human being), Alfie the Black Cab Photo Booth, (a photo booth… in a black cab- total novelty and had guests queuing all night), and the venue itself, Huntsmill Farm (gorgeous location, welcoming owners and lots of options and flexibility for a DIY day).

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Before I had time to put my feet up it was on to Wedding #3, and from Buckinghamshire to Surrey I went, to coordinate the nuptials of Suzannah, a food writer for Good Housekeeping, and James, a television producer. (They met whilst both working on The X Factor! Love that story.) These two were SO. MUCH. FUN. and their wedding really reflected that. I had been booked to help set up the day before as well as coordinate the wedding day itself, and spent about four hours on the Friday up a scaffolding tower stringing streamers and pom poms across the ceiling of the pool house where the reception was taking place. Fortunately I had Suzannah and her bridesmaids on hand to help as well, and whilst we were all in pain by the end of the day (you try crouching on your knees/toes at the top of a scaffolding tower for FOUR HOURS), I think you’ll agree the pool house looked AH-MAY-ZING when it was all finished.

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This wedding just oozed fun and personality from start to finish. From the oversized paper flower backdrop Suzannah had made for the ceremony, to the doppelgänger place names, Bugsy Malone sing-a-long during the speeches and confetti canons for the first dance, I could tell that everyone was just having the best time. From a personal point of view, I was super impressed with the venue, Ridge Farm. Of course it helped that the weather was perfect, but it really is a fantastic place to hire for the weekend and throw a wedding/party and the team that worked there were friendly, helpful and flexible.

I’m DESPERATE to share their professional photos with you (shot by the brilliant Craig + Kate Photography), but as Rock My Wedding will be featuring this wedding in full very soon, I’m afraid you just have to make do with a couple of Instagram snaps for now. Sorry 😦

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So in June I mainly slept. Well, that’s not technically true. I worked my day job, did house stuff and made 30th birthday plans whilst, of course, continuing to prep for the rest of my weddings. July saw me hot-footing it up to the Peak District where I was oversee-ing the nuptials of Tess and Phil. Now Tess and I were actually at university together (she was in the year above), and when she got engaged back in 2012 she originally booked me to coordinate her 2013 wedding before an unexpected surprise came along in the form of a baby boy called Hudson. The wedding got put back a year, and my role grew as Tess juggled planning a wedding with becoming a new mum.

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Whilst I had little to do with the design of this g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s day, I’d been involved logistically for well over a year, so it was a joy to see this epic wedding weekend unfold. There was style aplomb thanks to a whole host of talented friends; Kate Halfpenny of Halfpenny London was a bridesmaid and made Tess’ beautiful bespoke dress as well as the bridesmaids’ skirts, whilst Tess’ sister-in law is one half of Florrie & Eve who made the floral necklaces. In the marquee, flowers were suspended from the ceiling, place settings were modern, quirky and perfectly branded, and there was delicious food in abundance.

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Images by Tom Oldham 

This wedding was packed full of talent, but special kudos has to go to Tom Oldham who heroically stepped in last minute to shoot the wedding when the original photographer had to pull out just days before, The Hog & Apple, another catering company who were über professional and generally awesome to work with, and Mowgli the band who were SO FRICKIN’ BRILLIANT I stayed up way past my bedtime to watch, enjoy and even have a little boogie. (A 90’s club classics/old school garage half hour? Yes please!)

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Wedding #5 was that of Katie and Luke, a pair of childhood sweethearts who were getting married close to their home in West Sussex. They’d found a beautiful setting to host their marquee reception; a clearing in the woods of a private estate that overlooked a lake. It really was picture perfect.

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Katie and her Mum had planned the wedding to a tee. So much so, I was handed a folder at our first meeting three weeks before the wedding that practically did my whole job for me! On the day itself I was on weather watch, putting together the finishing touches inside and outside the marquee, greeting suppliers as they arrived, lighting candles and making sure their well-laid plans fell perfectly in to place.

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Images by Allister Freeman Photography

This was a classic, sweet, personal wedding hosted by a gorgeous family. Supplier shout-outs go to the lovely Allister Freeman who photographed the day, and Jay Marsh, a super talented musician who entertained guests upon arrival (and helped me retrieve numerous picnic blankets during a downpour!).

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July went and August came, and my season was to culminate with the two weddings I’d been the most involved with. Lisa and Jon were up first. They were getting married at the Wise Wedding Venue in Kent- a fantastic space in the woods that boasts neon lights, swinging sofas, a treehouse and an enormous marquee ready to host the evening celebrations. It’s a large, blank canvas space, and Lisa and Jon hired me to design and style the day, as well as managing the wedding weekend itself. I’d seen this venue featured on a number of blogs in the past and was understandably way over-excited to get my creative mitts on it.

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Jon wanted paper lanterns and lots of colour, whilst Lisa wanted twinkly lights and rustic romance, so I set out to create a colourful, fun, whimsical day that took a bit of bohemian inspiration from the gorgeous surroundings. There were hand-made wooden signs, a floral archway, streamers hanging from the trees, festoon lights, mis-matched napkins, rustic centrepieces and a hanging installation above the top table…to name but a few.

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Images by Laura McCluskey

Lisa and Jon were dream clients and I loved every second of working on this beautiful woodland wedding. And despite August forgetting it was supposed to be a summer month, the sun shone brightly all afternoon much to everyone’s delight! Lisa and Jon’s family and friends were oh-so welcoming and the day was made even more awesome by the super-skills of Laura McCluskey, the photographer who I’d so been looking forward to working with, and Cappy from White & Winsome who took the brief and delivered the most perfect flowers.

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And last but soooooooo by no means least, were the simply glorious Tiffany and Bright, who booked me a year ahead of their wedding to provide design and styling assistance as well as coordination. Originally wanting a barn wedding, they’d decided to make the most of their budget by hosting the reception in a large, modern village hall set in the very pretty Essex village of Wickham Bishops… and this space needed filling!

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The brief was colourful and fun; they wanted to incorporate a few rustic touches with a nod to Bright’s Ghanian heritage. So we lowered the vast ceiling of the village hall by filling it with paper lanterns and festoons. We used traditional Ghanian kente cloth as table runners and lined the walls with foliage-adorned wooden pallets. And the Bake-Off table was like nothing I’d ever seen before- we had to bring in an emergency trestle table there was so much cake.

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Images by Rebecca Douglas Photography

Tiffany and Bright literally laughed all day, and their family and friends danced their socks off all night. I was gutted to miss the magical, gospel music-filled ceremony as set-up was to the wire, but fortunately they’d hired the brilliant and truly lovely Rebecca Douglas to capture every second. Cappy from White and Winsome was with me again to create floral magic (including Tiffany’s lovely headpiece), and I also have to mention Tiffany’s dress- originally her Mum’s wedding dress and re-worked in to something entirely beautiful and bespoke by Charlotte at Wilden Bride London. You can see this wedding in full on Rock n’ Roll Bride very soon.

What a day, what a season… what a post! You can see more images, more supplier credits and even a client testimonial or two from these awesome weddings over on my website right now.

Bookings are coming in thick and fast for next year, so if you’re a bride or groom-to-be and think you might like some Utterly Wow assistance, be it creative, design, logistical or coordination- then get in touch!

A mega post calls for a ma-hoosive cup of tea, methinks…

Sama xxx

Busy Busy Bee

APRIL HAS STOLEN MY LIFE!

No, seriously. Spring has sprung, the evenings are light and beautiful, the pollen party outside my bedroom window is in full force each morning… and my life seems to have gone in to overdrive. April has been busy, busy, busy, so to reflect the speedy gonzales-ness (totally made up word) of this whirlwind month, I thought I’d do a little round up using my much-favoured literary tool, the bullet point. Let’s go.

  • I had a hair cut. A really bad one. It wasn’t so much that the cut was bad, it was just not what I wanted. I said long Alexa-Chung-style boho bob, she gave me short, neat, graduated bob. (See Exhibit A.)
  • I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that tears were shed in the H&M fitting room to which I fled directly after said hair cut.
  • I’m more embarrassed to admit that to the hairdresser, I simply smiled and said, “That’s great, thanks”. WHY DO I FIND IT SO HARD TO TELL A HAIRDRESSER WHEN I’M NOT HAPPY?
  • I attended a small industry soiree. It was a mere two days after my hair was shorn off but I’d got over it.
  • I was late. I hate being late. But somewhere between reading the invite and seeing/processing the time of 12pm some weeks before and waking up the morning of the do, my brain had deviously changed the time to 1pm.
  • I got ready VERY fast (thank god for the short hair), drove VERY fast (thank god I didn’t get caught), and made it just in time (read: 10 minutes late).
  • I shall tell you a bit more about Kalm Kitchen in due course, but myself, Andri from Always Andri and Vicki from Pocketful of Dreams were treated to a delicious spring luncheon (see Exhibit B) and waxed lyrical about weddings, business and dodgy hair cuts for three hours. The perks of being a wedding planner.
  • I went to the White Gallery. This is an annual trade event for retailers and the wedding industry media set over three days in which designers showcase their new collections and boutiques do their buy for the next season.
  • It’s always an exciting time, and myself and Russell (the owner of Blackburn Bridal) got giddy and bought too much. Again, I shall be sharing a bit more about the new collections in due course, but if you’re getting married in 2015 and you haven’t bought your dress yet, YOU HAVE TO COME TO US.
  • See Exhibit C for a sneak peek of some of the dresses that will be arriving next summer.
  • My husband turned 30!
  • Now he’s not a man for big celebrations so I wasn’t going throw a surprise party or whisk him away to Vegas (all to do with his wants and nothing to do with my finances, obviously…). Our celebrations consisted of a curry with his family the night before for which I made a This Is Your Life/Mr & Mrs style quiz to test who knew Paul best. (Gah! Beaten by his little brother.) Then I took him for a night away in a Kent village called West Malling where we did lots of walking, drinking and mussel-eating. And the festivities concluded with a night out with his besties and their WAGS in which we went for a Chinese and had way too much fun playing with the Lazy Susan.
  • He says it was his best birthday ever. Although I suspect this is more to do with his presents which consisted entirely of cleaning tools for his car. (Men. Are. Weird.)
  • I got promoted! Or more specifically, my amazing manager/friend/life mentor Mandi left the bridal boutique after eight years for pastures new, meaning I am now Acting Manager (oooooh, get me).
  • So far, so good. The wedding planner side of me is relishing being in control and I’m making plans and To Do lists like it’s going out of fashion.
  • Our house sale/purchase is speeding towards it’s conclusion. I write this with every body part crossed as our sellers have encountered a small blip with their purchase (please let it be ok, please let it be ok), but we signed the contracts yesterday and exchange is set for Tuesday. All being well, we should be drinking champagne and doing cartwheels in our new glorious garden (see Exhibit D) in a matter of weeks.
The long boho bob I wanted, and the short, graduated bob I got.

EXHIBIT A: The long boho bob I asked for, and the short, graduated bob I got. 

Delicious deliciousness as prepared by Kalm Kitchen

EXHIBIT B: Delicious deliciousness as prepared by Kalm Kitchen

EXHIBIT C: These two Jesus Piero beauties are coming to BBC very soon...

EXHIBIT C: These two Jesus Piero beauties are coming to BBC very soon…

EXHIBIT D: The garden that is so close to being ours!

EXHIBIT D: The garden that is so close to being ours!

So that’s been my month so far. Its been pretty relentless, I have to say, so I’m looking forward to spending the weekend at home, catching up with emails and Utterly Wow stuff, tidying the house and doing the copious amount of washing that has spilled out of the bedroom and in to the hall. (Why don’t men put their dirty clothes in the laundry basket please? Is it an actual chemical malfunction?)

My Utterly Wow season kicks off in May with three weddings back to back, so my blogging schedule is likely to get even more irregular than it already is, FYI. If you enjoy following my shenanigans then now is the time to add me to your blog reader, or click the little button at the bottom of the side bar which will send you an email update every time I publish something new. The wonders of technology!

Have a lovely long weekend, everybody. Let’s hope the sun stays out for most of it.

Sama xxx

Ps. Thanks to all who have commented on my When I Grow Up I Want To Be… post. I’ve loved, loved, loved reading about your diverse jobs and career paths. Feel free to keep ’em coming!

 

When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

Careers. Shall we discuss?

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For some the end goal has always been in sight. From early aspirations to the necessary education, training, those first steps on to the ladder and the subsequent climb, there are those in the world who have known what they’ve wanted to do from an early age and have gone on to achieve it. Their career path has been an invariably straight and well thought-out line.

For others (dare I say the majority?), the path is considerably more wobbly. This group of people may go to university to study a subject they enjoy but don’t really know what they’re going to do with; they go on to take jobs that they didn’t necessarily expect to, and end up switching careers a number of times before settling on what they finally realise is their vocation.

And then there are those who don’t really have a career as such. I’m not talking about the unemployed or the work-shy, but those for whom ‘career’ is not the be all and end all. They work to live, earning what is necessary in order to do what they really want to be doing, be it raising a family, travelling or learning etc.

Why am I blathering on about this today? Well, in a couple of months I turn 30. THIRTY. That’s fully-fledged adulthood, a milestone birthday and a new phonetic to get my tongue around the next time I’m asked my age. I have to admit I’m one of those weirdos who has looked forward to turning 30 since I was old enough to count. I was a mildly precocious child, and believed that 30 was the Pinnacle of Life™. Now it’s nearly here I’m surprised to find myself pretty horrified at the prospect of leaving my 20s behind. (And at the two grey hairs Paul has recently plucked from my head in the last couple of months.) I’ve achieved much of what I’d hoped to have achieved at this age: I’m married to the love of my life, we own our own home and have a lovely, if perpetually obnoxious cat, I have a wide circle of brilliant, interesting friends and an active social life, I’m the slimmest I’ve been since I was 15 and I’m certainly the tallest I’m ever gonna get (5’4″ and a half, yes!). But there are also goals that haven’t quite been met and aspects of my life that I’ve perhaps spent too much of my twenties fretting and procrastinating about; my career being one of them.

I love meeting new people, but I’ve always dreaded the question ‘so what do you do then?’. If asked now I would start by simply saying, ‘I work in weddings‘. I imagine this would suffice for some people, but for those who are interested I could elaborate further: ‘I have a wedding planning business and I also work as a stylist in a rather nice bridal boutique’, for instance. I find it bemusing that I can look back at that sentence now and not feel remotely embarrassed, but ask me five years ago and the conversation would have been entirely different…

Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: So what do you do then?

Me: Erm… [lowering my voice so that none else can hear me]… I’m an actress.

Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: [Mildly impressed] Oh right, been in anything good?

Me: Oh, bits of telly, nothing big…

Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: [Jokingly] You been in Eastenders?

Me: I have actually-

Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: Have you?!

Me: Just one episode. It was ages ago, it wasn’t a big part…

Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: So what you doing now then?

Me: Er… just auditioning, you know. I’m not working at the minute.

[Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser looks disappointed.]

Me: …Well I am working but just in a call centre. To pay the bills. It’s for Weight Watchers actually, it’s quite interesting…

[Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser looks even more disappointed, verging on disgusted. Conversation ends.]

It’s not something I’ve ever really spoken in depth about before, but eagle-eyed readers may have spotted the ‘actress’ reference here and there. In truth it was my whole life and raison d’être from the age of 16 until about 26. A decade of working towards one career goal… until I started planning my hypothetical wedding, subsequently dipped my toe in to the wedding industry and my enthusiasm for the acting world inevitably began to wane. Of course, the fact that I was beginning to get less work and the elusive ‘big break’ was seemingly out of reach were major catalysts in this career evolution, but the move in to my late 20s certainly made me question where I was going with this acting lark, and whether a new career path could bring more success and better quality of life.

You may be surprised to know that despite the sombre note, my acting career was actually reasonably successful. It’s a tough old business, the acting one. Many fall at the first hurdle (securing a decent agent), and only very few go on to make a real career of it. Following a drama degree and then drama school, I did manage to bag myself a decent agent, and I had a slow but promising start with roles on Eastenders, Doctors, The Impressions Show and Being Human, to name a few. The latter was my closest to a ‘break’- a semi-regular part in the very first series which led to me receiving fan mail (yes really) and being invited to sign autographs alongside Patrick Stewart at the UK’s largest sci-fi convention. (Ok, I wasn’t actually sat alongside Patrick Stewart; I was at one end of the stadium at Milton Keynes while he was at the other, more popular end, but he was there. As were a multitude of daleks and jedi knights.)

Doing my acting thang in Being Human Series 1.

Doing my acting thang and looking an absolute treat in Being Human Series 1.

The highs of being a working actress are brilliant and- particularly in TV- undeniably glamorous (anyone claiming otherwise is a liar), but the lows are stupendously low. Rejection is tough and something you have to become immune to, and the periods of silence and waiting for the phone to ring are long and thoroughly miserable. Looking back over the four years I truly considered myself a ‘working actress’, I probably only physically ‘worked’ approximately 28 days out of 1460. That’s excluding the countless auditions, letter-writing and free bits of theatre I did here and there, but for me it simply wasn’t enough. I was 27 years old, approaching the end of my twenties quicker than I could say ‘Welcome to Weight Watchers, Sama speaking‘, and I wasn’t anywhere near achieving the kind of success I’d aspired to. I loved performing (and always will) but perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn’t the career for me.

My retirement from acting was long and drawn out, and played out through a series of small but defining steps. The first was leaving the call-centre for a job at Blackburn Bridal at the beginning of 2011. The second was undertaking a wedding planning course with the UKAWP at the end of that year. The third was obtaining my first client and the launch of Utterly Wow in 2013. The fourth was reaching my target of summer 2014 bookings. And the last, most momentous and finite step was the email to my agent to call it an end a mere two months ago. My heart was no longer full for acting and I wanted to begin my thirties with one career goal, not two. I cried hot, hard tears for days once my decision had been made, but the subsequent relief and freedom I felt was palpable.

A hug at the end of a brilliant wedding. Image by Assaynation.

A hug at the end of a brilliant wedding. Image by Assaynation.

I’m immeasurably proud of what I achieved as an actress, but funnily enough I’m actually more proud of what I’ve achieved so far with Utterly Wow. I may not be earning the kind of money I hoped to aged 29 and 9 months, but I know that Utterly Wow will get bigger and better, and I have lots of plans up my sleeve within this industry that I hope will see this little business of mine grow and flourish for years to come.

The moral of the story? Well, there isn’t one really, except that a career path doesn’t have to be straight in order to bring success. And that 30 is most definitely not the Pinnacle of Life™ when it comes to a vocation. When I eventually have children I will tell them that whilst going to university is an experience that is brilliant beyond words, the subject they take and the subsequent degree they achieve is not the be all and end all. Oh, and to ignore their school ‘Career Advisor’- they haven’t got a clue. It can take an awfully long time to work out what you want to do with your life, and perhaps there are those of you reading who still don’t really know, but ultimately I believe that if you can find your passion, identify your strengths and work hard to merge the two, your vocation will eventually find you.

So now I’d love to hand over to you. I know we all like our anonymity in this blogosphere of ours but I’m fascinated to know what you lot do, and indeed if you’re doing what you thought you’d be doing 10 years ago? How long did it take you to forge a career, and are any of you about to embark on a new one? What’s the dream??

Go on, it’s good to talk…

Sama xxx

 

Sunday Utterings: Supporting The Competition

I was on the way in to London last week when I read this tweet by a fellow planner:

“Sounds harsh but just cause someone planned their own wedding does not mean that they r now a professional wedding planner. That wd make every 1 1”

Now, aside from being a grammatical victim of Twitter’s 140-character limit (we’ve all been there), this statement bothered me. My first instinct (I’ll admit) was to take offence. Even though the Utterly Wow cogs were already whirring back in 2011 when I trained with the UKAWP, I didn’t officially launch the business until after my own wedding in May this year. Were they directing that tweet at me? Had I done something to offend this particular company?? Once I’d accepted it was more likely to be a swipe at the general competition rather than a personal attack, I was able to consider the sentiment behind the tweet more carefully and the reasons it really troubled me, and it is with the utmost respect to the company/person involved that I feel compelled to formulate some sort of response.

My overwhelming feeling towards this statement is that I just don’t agree with it. Why? Because- newsflash- anyone can become a wedding planner. Whether we like it or not, this is one of the few professions that does not require years of studying or relevant qualifications. Training is good, of course. Experience is even better. But whether the joy of planning your own wedding propelled you towards a change of career or you were creating timelines and negotiating contracts in the womb, anyone with the ambition and the necessary skill set can build a website, gain their first client and call themselves a ‘professional wedding planner’.

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Perhaps if the tweeter had swapped the  word ‘professional’ for ‘experienced’ or ‘accomplished’, it wouldn’t have troubled me so. But I’m not entirely sure what the use of the word ‘professional’ was meant to mean. We’ve already established that you don’t need to have any specific qualifications to enter this industry, so what exactly makes a ‘professional’ wedding planner? Someone that appeals strictly to professionals? Or acts professionally in their conduct? Is getting paid to provide the services of your profession enough to qualify you as a professional? Or does one have to have worked in the industry for years, or gained membership to a mystical club for Planners Who Were Doing This Way Before They Were Engaged in order to be regarded so. Which is what the tweet above implied.

Everyone has to start somewhere, and I for one can’t think of a better basis for launching a career as a wedding planner than the planning of one’s own wedding. I shout about my own wedding in my portfolio because I am jolly proud of it, but more importantly, because I’m open about the fact that my business is relatively new and therefore it’s a valid way to show off my creativity and styling abilities.

Perhaps I’m reading too much in to this. Perhaps this was a perfectly justified tweet aimed at someone in particular who is pretending to have more experience than they actually have or is claiming other people’s weddings for their own. (It happens.) Perhaps the tweeter truly believes and stands by what he or she said, and of course they have every right to feel that way. But to me, this public statement was a little mean-spirited and, dare I say, unnecessary. This is an industry FULL of entrepreneurs and creatives whose own weddings have kickstarted new careers. Stationery designers, florists, photographers, cake makers… it happens across the board. A wedding can be an inspiring and life-changing event for many. We enter a new chapter of our lives once married, and it is only natural for a reevaluation of one’s career and future goals to happen at such a pivotal time. No-one should be begrudged for that, surely?

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In general, the UK wedding industry is a hugely supportive one. Networking events, industry meet-ups, Facebook groups; if you have a new wedding-related business there are a whole host of ways to make friends within the industry and feel supported/valued. I attended the UKAWP Mix & Mingle night a couple of weeks ago which saw 60 wedding planners have a great time together on the Thames, and on Friday I met with a lovely planner who launched at a similar time to me to have lunch and compare notes. It would be very easy to feel threatened in situations like this but what would be the point in that? By supporting the ‘competition’ you have someone to recommend if an enquiry comes in for a date you can’t do, and vice versa.

As Kat from Rock N’ Roll Bride said very recently, A Little Bit of Competition Never Hurt Anybody. Competition shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing; it should be the stimulus to push yourself and your business and to keep the creative juices flowing. We cannot appeal to every bride and groom out there and nor should we try to. Embracing our uniqueness, knowing our target markets, trusting our instincts and abilities, and not comparing ourselves to others are surely better ways to grow our businesses than by poo-poohing others.  Or, instead of all the ramblings above, I could have just directed you to read Kat’s very eloquent post. It would have saved me an entire afternoon.

Thoughts?

Sama xxx

Dress Crushing

And I don’t mean the type of crushing that turned Walter White’s  RV-come-meth-lab in to a piece of flat pack furniture, yo. I’m talking the kind of crushing that gets your heart racing and your pupils dilating. (Although, to be fair, the meth lab probably did that too.) The kind of crushing that I had on Jared Leto when I was 13 and on Leonardo di Caprio when I was… well, now.

My job in the bridal boutique means I turn up to work and am surrounded by gorgeous things. I get new crushes every day; when a bride shows me the most exquisite engagement ring, or when she puts on a dress and it just floors the entire room. Bridal boutique owners and employees are literally falling in love every day at the moment, and you know why? Because the SS14 dresses are arriving, folks. Never has the grumpy man from UPS been so welcome.

Now I may be biased but I’m going to put it out there and say that Blackburn Bridal has The Best Dresses. Bohemian romance, old-school glamour and total originality are what we do, and today I thought I’d share just some of the sumptiousness that is brand new in for the upcoming season.

Brides-to-be, I am so jealous of you right now.

Jenny Packham

I don’t think there’s a person in the entire world who hasn’t heard of Jenny now, thanks to a certain Duchess. Her gowns are glamorous, luxurious and totally timeless. She has created some absolute beauties this year but my favourites have to be Genevieve for it’s simplicity, feminity and intricate, opaque white beading, Tilly for it’s nod to 1970’s bohemia, and Kathleen, because it’s slouchy. And covered in beads. ‘Casual-glamour’ would be an accurate description for this Boudica-esque beauty, I feel.

Genevieve by Jenny Packham

Genevieve by Jenny Packham

Tilly by Jenny Packham

Tilly by Jenny Packham

Kathleen by Jenny Packham

Kathleen by Jenny Packham

Leila Hafzi

Leila Hafzi is a new and very welcome addition to the boutique rails. These dreamy, bohemian, feminine gowns fuse high-end fashion with sustainable, ethically produced garments… so perfect for the stylish, eco-conscious bride! Made from the lightest silk chiffon in either ivory, champagne or the palest of pinks, my favourite is Fariba. Wear her with bare feet and a big old flower crown and you can’t really go wrong.

Fariba by Leila Hafzi

Fariba by Leila Hafzi

Charlotte Casadejus

Oh man, we love this lady. And her collection of original, vintage-inspired gowns were a no-brainer when we spied them at The White Gallery in May. Charlotte LOVES genuine vintage and antique fabrics, so when it comes to lace sleeves and belt buckles, no two dresses are ever the same- which is something I find very exciting! Cecile is the epitome of 1930s glamour, whilst Coco is… well, Coco is just fabulous. Utterly niche and too cool for school, we can’t wait to meet this bride. (Or should I say ‘anti-bride’?)

Coco by Charlotte Casadejus

It’s a shirt dress! Coco by Charlotte Casadejus

Claire Pettibone

Does Claire really need an introduction? I wore one of her gowns myself and she has boho brides travelling to us from all over the world to try on her stunningly romantic designs. Her Découpage collection consists of only six pieces, but the stand-out has to be Wren. A beautiful guipure and chantilly lace top, fluid silk skirt, and a keyhole back to make all other keyhole backs feel totally inadequate; this dress is going down a treat in the boutique right now, and it’s easy to see why.

Well, I feel much better for getting those out of my system. I must confess to having tried all bar two of them on… (well, when you work in a bridal boutique it would be rude not to, right?) and they feel as good as they look. There are a few dresses to come in still, meaning I will have more to share with you in the coming weeks courtesy of Suzanne Neville, Clinton Lotter and Sarah Janks, but for now I want to know… which is your favourite??

I’m going with Genevieve. No, Wren. No, Geneveive… gah!

Sama xxx