Worried what to wear to that wedding you’ve been invited to this summer? Spare a thought for Joy Hersey-Todd. She’s been to 30 in the past four years - and there’s sure to be scores more this year.
It’s all in the line of work, though - mum of two Joy from Beauchief is a self-employed wedding planner - and officially the best in Britain, having won the accolade at the 2014 Wedding Industry Awards in London last month.
Joy launched her business, Unique Wedding Planning, four years ago after picking herself up from the shock of redundancy. Friends asked her to organise their nuptials, she realised she was good at it and has never looked back. She has since organised over 60 weddings and set up her own wedding planning college, where she trains new talent.
Q. How did you feel when you got made redundant from your job as a Freemans call centre manager?
A. I was devastated. It felt like everything that I’d worked for had come to a crashing end. I had trained and worked in retail management for over 25 years.
Q. Why do people need a wedding planner? Is it because they have more money than imagination and good taste?
A. Couples employing a wedding planner either want a full planning service, or they are organising their own wedding and want someone to manage the day for them. It’s never about having too much money. Even at the top end, people want value. Usually they have busy lives, they don’t live near their chosen venue or they just get blinded by the amount of choice there is.
Q. That first wedding friends asked you to organise must have been a massive learning curve. Did it all go to plan?
A. It did, but it was very stressful and I learnt so much from it. One of the key things was that it’s virtually impossible to be a guest and manage the wedding! Sometimes when I’ve worked with a couple for a long time, I get invited to stay in the evening, which is a great compliment. But guests don’t realise I’m off-duty and I get asked for things all night. I only have a couple of drinks so I can still tend to their needs.
Q. You now have 60 weddings under your corset in just four years. Tell us about the most unusual...
A. I’ve helped a couple plan their wedding in only 12 weeks. Even though the venue had been booked for over a year, they’d never got round to booking any suppliers!
Then I worked for a couple whose dogs were so important to them, they took on key roles as bridesmaids. they were dalmatians and looked very striking in big yellow bow-ties.
Last year I worked for Gary Cahill, the Chelsea and England football star, who married his Dronfield childhood sweetheart Gemma, back home in Derbyshire. They opted for an intimate day with their family and close friends.
Q. You must be under a huge amount of stress. The pressure is on to make everything perfect. And you are a mum of two. How do you cope?
A. The stress is immense but I think I must thrive on it. I’m always planning lots of social things, I guess it’s just my nature.
My life is a balancing act - I adopted two girls when they were very young.
One of the hardest challenges is that my oldest daughter, who is 16, is autistic. She’s one of the main reasons I chose this career; I wanted to be at home more. I have a cut-off time from the PC at 5pm but always have my Blackberry close by, as couples often need me when they leave work. I must add I have a very supportive husband!
Q. Who are the hardest to please - the brides, or their mothers?
A. I’ve never had any ‘bridezilla’ types, although it is fair to say that the wedding morning can bring out the challenging characteristic in most people. It’s generally the mums (and dads) who tend to get the most stressed. Experience enables me to be a calming influence. Often they just need reassurance that the day is going to go to plan.
Q. You say the average cost your couples have spent on their wedding is £25,000 - that sounds like an obscene amount of money to spend on the one day...
A. The average cost of a wedding in the UK is £25,000, which is weighted slightly by the South. I would say the average in the North is about £20,000, which is still a huge amount of money. It used to be the bride’s parents that footed the bill, but now budgets tend to be shared by the couple, both sets of parents and sometimes grandparents too. While this is a great example of a family pooling together, it also puts pressure on the couple as everyone then feels entitled to have a say in how that money should be spent.
Q. Doesn’t your service end up costing couples even more money?
A. No, not always. I charge the couple a planning fee, which we agree at the time of booking. But I don’t take commission from the suppliers I work with. I think it’s really unethical to do that. I would much rather get the couple the best deal I can by negotiating discounts for them. I could have made an extra £1,500 from one marquee company at a wedding this year, but I passed the saving to the couple instead.
Q. You’re now arranging Downton Abbey-style weddings for Brit-smitten American brides. Tell me about the ones you have on your books so far - and what your dream one would be...
A. I have a wonderful couple coming from Texas this year to get married at Chatsworth House. The bride is completely in love with the whole Pride & Prejudice idea. They came to England for the first time in November, when they came to Sheffield to do their residency paperwork and register their intent to marry.
Their day will be truly amazing filled with quintessentially English elements, including a horse and carriage ride. I’m also organising activities for the entire week their guests are here - from afternoon tea through to the rehearsal dinner.
I’d love to be involved with more couples from overseas and in the next few months I’m going to start by targeting the U.S. My god-mother lives in Los Angeles; it seems like a good place to start
Q. Who organised your wedding day?
A. I’ve been married twice. The first time was in 1987, when everyone went to church and then to a hotel for a meal. Simple. The second time was in 2005. We ran off to Gretna Green without telling anyone.
Q. Anything about it you would change?
A. No. It was right at the time and was such a romantic thing to do. That said, it’s our 10-year anniversary next year and we are planning to renew our vows so we can say share the day with our nearest and dearest and celebrate the fact that we’re still together and still happy. I’m looking forward to planning it.