Johannesburg - A best-selling bridal author, she has appeared on radio and television networks, and has often been quoted in lifestyle magazines and newspapers. For the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, Sarah Haywood became the “go-to” expert for international media.
“We are so excited to welcome Sarah Haywood, not only to The Wedding Expo, but to South Africa as well,” says Amanda Cunningham, managing director of The Wedding Expo.
“I am certain she is going to leave us inspired by her presentation at our workshops.
“These workshops are a must for any bride wanting tips and ideas from one of the world’s great wedding planners as well as some of the leading specialists in South Africa.”
Haywood, alongside local industry experts, will offer insights into the latest international wedding trends, important dos and don’ts and wedding planning advice.
We catch up with Haywood in a Question & Answer.
Q: Is this your first visit to South Africa?
A: I am embarrassed to say as a well-travelled individual this is my first visit to South Africa. It has been on my wish list and a country I have been “saving” for, for a longer trip with my husband (who has visited twice before), until we have time to really see the country. My dream has been to go on safari and I am excited we will be going up to Jamala Madikwe Royal Safari Lodge before The Wedding Expo, and then to Hermanus to the Marine Hotel for a spot of whale-watching before the Cape Town workshop at The Cellars-Hohenort.
Q: What topics will you be discussing at length at the bridal workshops?
A: As well as looking at current international wedding trends, I’ll be offering advice on how to get the most out of the wedding budget and… tips to ensure the journey to the big day is fun and stress-free. I love interacting with brides and grooms-to-be in person.
There is so much information and so-called advice available on the internet, most of it is not offered from people who actually plan weddings, so it can be overwhelming and hard for couples to navigate the process.
I plan weddings and know the advice I offer is based upon experience. I hope I can inject a bit of realism into the process, but in a constructive, fun and informative way. I know our wedding planning services are out of the financial reach of most couples and this may be the only opportunity they have to ask those questions they need answering by a real wedding planner.
Q: Your first career was as a broadcast journalist. Where did your interest in wedding planning and design stem from?
A: I used to plan many of the parties we held at the station where I worked as a TV news presenter. The first big budget party I planned was the 10th anniversary of the programme I was working on. Friends then started asking me to organise their weddings and their parents employed me for big-bash birthday and anniversary parties (I met my husband at one).
Then when I got married I went out to buy the definitive book on wedding planning only to discover it didn’t exist – that’s when I got the idea to write the Wedding Bible. During the three years it took to research, conduct the 50-plus interviews in it and write it, I gained more hands-on experience planning weddings.
After the first celebrity wedding I did we had clients knocking at the door. I decided it was about time I stopped kidding myself that I was really a journalist. But extraordinarily that was when the broadcasters started asking me to commentate regularly on and about weddings. So now I have my dream job, organising weddings and writing and broadcasting about them – the recent British royal wedding being the highlight when I appeared as CNN’s bridal expert.
But fundamentally, organising a wedding requires similar skills to those you need to be a good TV producer. You must have creativity, an eye for detail, the ability to work to deadlines and to a budget. You need to know what your back-up plan is in the event of something not happening according to schedule. And you must like people, parties and possess the ability to communicate honestly but tactfully.
Q: What sort of challenges do you face when it comes to designing and co-ordinating a wedding?
A: Managing the expectations of all the people involved in the wedding is generally the biggest challenge. At the outset we ask everyone involved for their vision for the day… Part of our task is then to get everyone on the same page and progress together.
I always tell a couple to try to take on board other people’s ideas – even if they ultimately reject them, as generally people just want to be heard. I advise them not to alienate anyone you may need later on (like the mother-in-law)… If there are family tensions it can be stressful as we cannot fix those, but we can attempt to find out what the real issues are so we can get everyone on the same page.
Brides are constantly being told it is their day and they must have what they want. I do not necessarily subscribe to that. I believe weddings are family occasions at which we affirm the very concept of family. Inclusivity is key… We start with a clean sheet of paper and plan the wedding around our clients, rather than shoe-horning them into an existing service. So we need to get to know them, understand who they are and what kind of celebration will truly reflect them.
Q: Of all the weddings you’ve co-ordinated, whose was the most memorable for you and why?
A: All weddings are special and for each their own reason. Every single one we have arranged is precious to me and I remember them all. For me it is really about the journey we travel together and arriving at a day that is beyond everyone’s wildest dreams. Every wedding at the time I truly believe is the most magical we have arranged and I worry we will never achieve such heights again. The day I do not feel this is the day I need to hang up my wedding planning hat! I say too that the day someone does not tell me at a celebration that it is the best wedding they have ever been to, I will have lost my mojo.
Q : Are you able to name some of your most well-known clients?
A: We never “kiss and tell” – we respect our clients’ privacy. It is not for me to talk about and put my own spin on a couple’s day. We do not tweet from weddings or post images of the reveal and I think that is why high-profile and high net worth individuals hire us. We understand the relationship is built around trust and mutual respect.
Q: Were the British royal couple’s nuptials the fairy-tale wedding you imagined they would be?
A: It was everything and more than I hoped it would be and has affirmed that tradition and luxury are back in vogue. But William and Kate pushed the boundaries: trees in Westminster Abbey for example, the matron-of-honour chic and dressed all in white, the sports car departure with the ‘L’ plates and a chocolate biscuit cake showed that you can still add a touch of fun without detracting from the glamour. William and Kate understood that theirs was in part a public occasion.
But the other side of the success of the day related to how… theirs was a very modern romance that people were interested in. They let us catch a glimpse of that and allowed a little of who they are to shine through without detracting from the formality and dignity of the occasion. They waited until they were behind closed doors to let their hair down and party. It worked well. But they did have a wedding that in every way reflected who they are – and that is hugely important, whether you are a prince or a pauper.
Q: What is the one piece of advice you can offer to brides and groom on their big day?
A: My wedding planning golden rule is simple: plan only for the type of wedding you can afford. Weddings are about people, not about how much you spend on them. And how much money you spend celebrating your commitment to one another is not a measure of its strength. All you are doing when planning a wedding – big or limited budget – is creating a backdrop. When the day comes it will be people who bring the event to life and define its success…
A wedding should say something about who you are as a couple and individuals, your shared values and your sense of style… Prioritise what is important and spend less on what is not. Seek the expertise of those you have hired to get the very best you can from what you have to work with. Remember that happy guests make happy weddings.
Q: Your book the Wedding Bible is a best seller, you’ve been regularly quoted in magazines and newspapers, and you’re considered one of the world’s top wedding planners. What’s next for you?
A: We recently released a new multiplatform smartphone wedding planning app, the Ultimate Wedding App. I am very excited to be the first wedding planner globally to be offering my services digitally!
I am working on the second editions of our books – Wedding Bible and Wedding Bible Planner – for launch on Valentine’s Day. Next year we are also taking our luxury bridal business workshops outside the UK, which are aimed at companies and individuals looking to take their businesses to the next level… To survive, a business needs to be competent, engaging. Supporting like-minded professionals in the trade is a hugely important aspect of remaining at the top of your game.
Q: How do you spend your spare time or quiet moments when you’re not running your business or involved in “brideland”?
A: Watching movies in our home cinema with my husband (and with the cat on my lap). We spend as much time as we can at our second home in Portugal – it looks out over the Atlantic Ocean and I spend a lot of time thinking and reading when I am there, which I love.
Q: What international wedding trends can we look forward to?
A: Right on trend internationally are pared down celebrations that are all about the small details and the guest experience, so understated glamour (and that means what is glamorous to you and reflects you and your values and lifestyle), seasonal flowers and fabulous locally sourced and produced food. Big cakes are definitely right on trend.