If you’re planning a wedding in 2015, then you may already be up to your eyes in lists; cakes, wedding venues, guests… there is a lot to think about. That’s why we chatted to Sheila Mabeth, Wedding Coordinator at Homewood Park, for some insight from on an expert.
Why did you decide to become a wedding co-ordinator and how long have you been in the business?
Having had a long career in the hospitality industry, I began organising weddings in my previous hotel, and then was asked to come to Homewood Park specifically to manage their wedding business as the number of weddings they were taking was falling.
After having a taste of wedding coordinating in my previous role, I was so happy, because not only did I get to do a job I loved again, but I got an added challenge as well.
The decision to become a full time wedding co-ordinator was easy, after having had a taste of what it’s like to provide that spectacular day in someone’s life, to be constantly surprised with every new wedding at what love looks like and what it means to different people and how it manifests – I truly can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a job that constantly offers me challenges, laughter and insight and allows me to feel inspired and excited every single day.
What characteristics make a successful wedding co-ordinator?
A good wedding co-ordinator must be able to engage in conversation very quickly and allow people to feel very safe and comfortable from the start.
Everyone will have at some point been to a wedding or seen pictures after the event and thought of how lovely it looks. No one thinks of the hours spent at work by the bride and groom in order to afford that wedding, or the caring father who has offered hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds, so his daughter has the day she has grown up telling him about. No one thinks of the co-ordinating that goes into the day so that it is seamless and everything that bride and groom wanted; no one thinks about all that has led to that one day to make it everything that it seems in pictures.
As the wedding co-ordinator, you have to see that person from earlier in their lives than when you have met them, you have to see them from that excited ten year old with a tea towel over their head, promenading around the garden with flowers they have picked and you have to understand, be enthused and be excited about making their wishes come true. In turn, they have to believe that you want for them, what they have always wanted for themselves, only then will you be a successful wedding coordinator.
What was the most difficult wedding you have planned and how did you overcome the problems associated with it?
I once coordinated with a particular bridegroom who was extremely particular and thought he would do the job himself, to the point of contacting me most days to up discuss everything. With this particular gentleman, I had to exercise great patience and also understanding.
With my background in hospitality, I have dealt numerous times with difficult individuals and I have over time learnt that it always comes from a good place. If a person is worrying, it is probably because they have been let down at some stage. Or if they're overly meticulous, it’s probably because they have at some point been berated for forgetting or misjudging something.
With this particular gentleman, I continually listened to all he had to say and reassured him that he was right with his thoughts and correct to vocalise such things to me, so we could work towards the perfect day he and his wife so obviously deserved, after all their personal hard work.
As a result, he felt valued and listened to and like no task was too large, nor too small. WE worked together to create the day they had both wished for and afterwards he and his wife thanked me for my calm demeanour and constant willingness to listen and help.
From the initial enquiry to the wedding day itself, talk us through how you nurture the relationship between yourself, the bride and groom.
The process begins with the initial visit and usually at that point I can tell if we are going to have a really strong relationship.
I personally have two grown-up daughters and that has helped tremendously as I have a very well developed insight as to how bridge to be are thinking and it is quite easy for me to start the friendship at that point as this means we always have lots to talk about straight away.
By taking a great deal of time and effort to explain the whole process, both with the bride and groom they have the confidence to contact me whenever they wish to develop the various stages of their wedding.
Although first impressions are extremely important, I always strive to keep up this same level of interest in the person and to always make myself available to them. Each bride and groom thinks they are the only person you are dealing with and the most important, personally to me they are. Every time a different person rings me, my brain switches from whatever I was doing to just them – they are my focus and they are, at that moment, what’s important to me and my priority.
I think this mind-set does come from having two daughters, throughout their formative and adolescent years, it was a juggling act to ensure that they both felt like they were the most important people to me in the world, I would try exceptionally hard to ensure that they had all that they wanted but were realistic about all situations throughout.
Being a mother, particularly of girls, has led me to be a very understanding, nurturing, patient, enthusiastic and considerate wedding coordinator and I repeatedly go above and beyond for my brides, so they feel safe, secure and excited for the wedding day they have wished for.
Talk us through a typical day in the office during the planning process of the wedding.
A typical day always begins with reading through my email and listening to phone messages. This often leads to phoning or emailing back my brides to be and ensuring all their needs are met, and they do tend to change and grow from day to day. I always feel it’s best to do this first thing in the morning so that I can ensure that I have the whole day to iron out any worries that they may have and ensure that by the end of the day, they are happy and calm and trusting of the changes and the situation.
After this I will run through function sheets for upcoming weddings, I find it is essential that these are updated as soon as discussions with bridges are over to ensure everything is perfect for their wedding day.
Once everything is updated, I look to the operation of the day and see where things need to be ordered and/or organised, such as marquees, BBQ’s, menu/wine tastings, room layouts, timings, bedrooms etc. Once I have gone through all of this, I update my brides, the operations team and the general manager.
My whole day is then punctuated with incoming calls and enquiries via email, all of which I aim to answer within two hours of them coming in.
Talk us through your role and tasks on the special day itself.
On the wedding day I make sure the bride is happy in her room as my first priority and see if there is anything she needs – making sure she is confident that her wedding is going to be amazing!
Following this, I check with the food and beverage team that they are up to speed with all the details of the timings and that the room is all set up perfectly.
I then always make sure I am at reception, ready to greet the guests and introduce myself and extend my services to each individual. Although the wedding day is all about the bride and groom, generally each person standing will have paid towards their accommodation, so it is also important that they are treated as any other hotel guest would be, with kindness, politeness and willingness to help them with whatever they might need, at any juncture. I believe this also makes the bride feel more comfortable, if she knows her guests are being well looked after then her hopes for the wedding being carefully crafted and nurtured will be higher.
I then meet with the registrar and ensure they are briefed on the running of the ceremony. This is an extremely important part of my day as the bride has often placed their faith in an individual they haven’t met, or have met briefly to run what is the most crucial moments of many of their lives. The bride therefore puts a lot of faith in me, as the wedding coordinator, to ensure that the registrar is entirely aware of the running of the wedding – this meeting is therefore crucial and must be run in the correct way, with enough time and care taken over it, to ensure that all elements are considered and conveyed.
Finally I then go and see the bride again and compliment her on not only her outfit but also all the choices she has made for her special day, and assure her that everything looks perfect, including her. I then talk to the groom and wish him every luck and happiness and ensure him that his bride is excited to see him in a few moments time.
From here on out, it’s in the hands of our superb operations team.
What level of support can a bride expect from a Homewood Park Wedding Co-ordinator?
I always aim to provide 100% support and always tell the bridge to ask anything at any time, however trivial it may seem to her. Nothing is ever too much trouble for me – I have even been invited to be with the bride as she gets ready, helping them with their dress or just being there to make them feel special. It’s amazing how many brides suddenly feel pangs of insecurity at the minute for whatever reason, sometimes it’s because they didn’t quite lose the weight the wanted to for their wedding day (although I’ve never had a bride who’s looked anything less than a princess), or that the shade of ivory they chose for their shoes, doesn’t exactly match the shade of ivory of their dress…it’s always the little things, in the last five minutes that nearly break them. It’s unbelievable to me how much women take on when they get married – they spend months, even years in some people’s cases, planning this gorgeous, imaginative days, they show themselves to be tenacious, ambitious, beautiful women and then in those last five minutes, you see that persons vunerabilites – at that point it is unbelievably important to be a lot for that woman. You must be their mum, their advisory, their friend, they conscience, everything, and you must do it in an enthusiastic, kind but honest fashion.
Whatever is required of me on the day, is what I will provide. A shoulder to lean on, a 12am finish, a child-minder, a councillor, a hypnotist, a speech therapist, a tea maker, a champagne pourer, a friend, a member of the operations team, or simply a guest.
However, I always recognise that it is the bride and groom who ultimately make a wedding perfect. It is their earnest love for one another, it is the laughter of the children they have invited to come, it is the grandma who has tears in her eyes, it is the best man who gives an unexpectedly funny speech, it is the little brother who tells the bride she is the most beautiful one he has ever seen, it is the love and wishes of happiness that are bestowed as people leave, it’s the guests exchanging funny stories at breakfast the morning afterwards and, ultimately, it is the start of the lives two people are about to share with each other. An entirely new, beautiful chapter of their lives that began here, at Homewood Park.
Conversely, what should a couple not expect from the wedding team on their wedding day?
A couple should not expect poor or slow service, any negativity from any staff or anything they wanted, not being present.
They should not expect to feel alone at any point or like they have not been listened to.
They should never feel that their attendees are not being looked after or considered.
What are the most varied requests you have come across during your experience in the role?
I have been asked to source owls for wedding ring bearers.
I have been asked to calm down anxious fathers, with pre-speech nerves.
I have been asked to look after countless toddlers and young people, numerous numbers of which have been in the full throws of tantrums.
I have been asked to dress brides – and believe it or not, last minute I have been known to be asked questions such as “which earrings do you prefer?”
Equally I also get asked to take photos of the venue, to show the bride so she can make sure it is to her liking and to put a bouquet of flowers in the bridal suite, courtesy of an adorable grandfather or amorous Groom.
People do ask me for a lot and it’s always exciting, I only ever tend to get requests that would make the day even more wonderful – unexpected surprises and kindness. I look forward to them!
Do you have a personal favourite style of wedding to help create?
I always enjoy the most romantic weddings. The ones that have focused on small, whimsical details – for example, I once had a bride who wished to have tree lanterns and little jam pots with tea lights glowing inside them, all the way up the main driveway, creating this beautiful glow up towards our beautiful house.
Little touches like this make wedding days into magical days and magic is what each and every bride I meet lusts after.
What's the biggest myth about the role of a Wedding Co-ordinator?
The biggest myth, owing the Hollywood films and television depictions, is that wedding co-ordinators are capable of creating the day you want, without you having to even be involved.
To my mind, the role of a wedding co-ordinator is to advice, facilitate and enthuse. It is undeniably important that brides play an active role in wedding coordination and ensures that, at every turn, the wedding that is being planned and created is the exact wedding she’s dreamt of.
What takes a wedding from being very good to being exceptional, are the personalities of the bride and groom showing through. If they are a humorous pair of people, I often think it is brilliant when they have photo booths with amusing props, or if they are musical, it’s brilliant when they choose to play a song on the set they have chosen too, or if they are arty, it’s brilliant to see things they have made for the tables or for outside on their special day.
It is the individuals who create a fabulous day, a wedding coordinator is just there to make sure it’s operationally sound and to offer support, kindness and willingness throughout the process.
What are the advantages/benefits of being a Wedding Co-ordinator?
This is a clear and obvious answer – to see a couples dream manifest, and to know that in some way, however small or large, it was because of me.
What are the more challenging elements to your day-to-day role?
My main challenges come from the constant, changeable, different demands of brides. It is undeniably important to constantly reassure and encourage brides and put them at ease and to placate them in such a way that they feel happy and cared for by me, the operations team, the general manager and everyone else here at Homewood Park.
What is your advice to couples with a tight budget?
My advice would start with informing them that everyone has a budget, whether it is self-enforced or circumstantially enforced.
It is easy to imagine that there are a lot of brides splashing lots of cash every weekend, but I assure every new bride I have that a budget it the first thing the majority of brides will inform me of.
From there out, my advice is to work out what is a ‘want’ and what is a ‘need’. Once this list is made, prices can be kept low by eradicating the ‘wants’ where possible, while still ensuring the ‘needs’ are maintained to a higher standard than if they have opted for a few more of the nice but not essential things.
Often it is simpler than first thought to get the ‘wants’ cheaply or often even for free. For example, getting your mum to cut you some of her roses from the garden for simple, but elegant centrepieces for your tables or getting your best friend to make your wedding cupcakes etc. Being British people, we often think we must buy from regulated establishments and to ask for help in monetary terms is unthinkable, but it’s amazing and heart-warming how many people are willing to help others, for free, to ensure that extra part of happiness. A lot of people also like that feeling of inclusion and on the day looking at something and thinking “I did that”, it’s a tip that can’t be given to brides enough.
How would you like to develop the service offered to couples looking at Homewood Park?
I’m always looking to better the service given to brides. I love getting feedback from weddings and seeing loopholes where things could be bettered – it’s true that even a glowing piece of feedback will have an improvement somewhere between the lines.
We are a hotel who pride ourselves on high standards of comfort, professionalism, luxury, kindness, approachability and willingness to help in whatever way we can. This extends throughout all our departments here and a bride would find she got equal amounts of help and enthusiasm from our Spa staff, to our housekeeping staff to our grounds men. This is what makes Homewood Park stand out from others, but this is also what means that Homewood Park is constantly evolving, improving and growing.
Each bride should feel that they have had their fill of what they expected, a taste of something more than they expected and the promise of everything and more than their guests expected. And with each wedding, these standards are only ever lifted.
Any final words of advice?
I would advise brides and grooms to plan early and never ever consider any task too big or small. It’s their special day and it should be all they have hoped for, they should never ever feel that their expectations are too high or their goals are too far away.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”