Where are you based? I live in the Chilterns and work throughout the UK and abroad
Favourite Bijou Venue: They are each special and so it’s hard to choose a favourite. My favourite job is always the one that I’m working at.
How many weddings do you do a year? On average, I work three or more times a week, and a lot of what I do is at weddings.
Tell us a little about yourself
With a background as a chorister and in amateur dramatics, I trained with four of the best Toastmasters in the industry and I am a popular Toastmaster with enough experience to know how to handle every eventuality at a wedding and often newlyweds don’t even know that a major problem has been averted.
What is your style and what makes you unique?
People like me because I focus on looking after them. There is an art to making a day special and tailored to a couple’s needs. For instance, I will take the trouble to learn about the traditions of mixed-faith celebrations or will make announcements in languages which to date include French, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian, Gujarati, Punjabi and even a spattering of Mandarin. At a wedding I am part of a team ensuring that everyone can give their best.
However, not all of my work is at weddings. Other work includes charity dinners with their Royal Highnesses the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Michael of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester and also the millennium night celebrations in Monaco in the presence of HSH Prince Albert of Monaco. I have worked with other members of the Royal Family in castles and palaces. I look after every wedding in the same calm and efficient way as if the participants are royalty. Nervous couples appreciate my reassuring, friendly and professional style and, if it’s appropriate, I like to use humour in my presentation.
With British and international clients from Florida and Los Angeles to Hong Kong and Singapore, no other Toastmaster has travelled so far to look after such a wide range of over 1,000 events for so many dignitaries and celebrities - or visited as many prestigious venues and used as many languages.
What are your primary duties?
Although the announcements I make are broadly similar my duties vary a lot from event to event; at times the priority is ensuring that the flowers, cake and chefs are ready, and at other times it is introducing speakers - and every now and then I might have to do a bit of crisis management. The premiership footballer wanted me to treat the guests one way, the naval officer another and neither of them would have warmed to my laid-back presentation at a local wedding reception in tepees in a field.
I follow the instructions of the Bride and Bridegroom and coordinate the day with the Banqueting Manager, camera teams, entertainers and other suppliers. I offer advice when needed and make sure that every celebration goes the way that the hosts want, with the right people in the right place at the right time. I get a real buzz out of making a wedding day special.
Every wedding is different and over 25 years working as a Toastmaster, I’ve learnt several things:
1. The Bride and Bridegroom generally know what they want and it’s up to me to find out what that is and deliver it in an appropriate way
2. Although I wear a formal uniform not everyone wants formality – maintaining traditions is often more important
3. I am not the star of the show but I am instrumental in making a wedding memorable
4. Some weddings need very little management, and others require a lot!
What do you need to know from couples before the day?
At a planning discussion, which could be in person, online or by phone, I ask the couple, and perhaps their parents, to tell me what is important to them, what they want to happen and what is not necessary. We talk through the day as if it is happening during the meeting, and many people say that after months of planning they suddenly can picture how their day will work. It’s also a check that proposed timings are realistic and achievable.
I work as a surrogate host, compere and organiser and can sometimes stand in the shoes of the family. I need to understand all the relationships involved, like the sometimes complex subject of separated parents and new partners and their interaction. Often, I ask for a description of the day in just three words – and it is surprising how no two sets of words are the same. How would a Bijou bride describe the day she wants in three words?
Do you have a uniform? How do you dress?
The traditional Toastmaster uniform since the turn of the last century is a red tail-coat, stiff white shirt, bow tie and waistcoat with black trousers and patent leather shoes. I also proudly wear a National Association of Toastmasters Past President’s medal. That uniform is probably appropriate to bring a touch of class to Bijou venues. I have also been asked to wear black tails, a dinner jacket, or a suit.
What time do you usually arrive on the day?
At least an hour before guests are due so that I can do basic checks on microphones, toilets, fire exits, and see that everything has been prepared for the arrival of the guests. I synchronise the day with a Banqueting Manager and I check on suppliers. I only once had to chase up a DJ – he had broken his leg on a beach in Brighton – and was in hospital, sedated, but I managed to find a replacement in good time.
I talk to couples to be sure I know exactly what they want before I quote. My fee depends on when and where I am needed and for how long, and if couples want extra help – for instance with speeches – and one, or more, planning meetings. For a traditional Christian wedding reception lasting about six hours, plus one local planning meeting, the cost is about £450. Weddings involving a ceremony or morning meal, or which need me after 10 pm, usually cost more.
People keep telling me I should put my prices up, and so perhaps the value should be considered, rather than the cost! After all, how much is a bride happy to pay so that she can write something like this after their wedding?
“Thank you very much for making the day run so smoothly for us. We are well aware of all the running around you did in the background for us and are proud to say that thanks to you nothing went wrong on the day. Keep up the great work! And thank you for the little surprises throughout the day, and for being instrumental in getting our guests to say a few words on the video, which, by the way, you look and sound great on. And we are very impressed at how you manage to remember everyone's names. I hope we get the opportunity to use your services again in future, although not at a wedding of course!”