Is the wedding season in Tuscany!
You’ve seen the happy couples in piazza della Signoria and piazza Duomo, and if you haven’t, you definitely will. Each year for the past 20 years, an average of 1500 couples have said ‘I do’ in the Palazzo Vecchio, and Brits represent the largest percentage of that figure. Last June, 850 British citizens chose Tuscany and Umbria to tie the knot. Because of the flood of couples travelling to Carmignano for their weddings, the mayor recently established an office that manages the legal logistics of foreign weddings. Italy’s also a popular destination for the stars: Rod Stewart, Tom Cruise, Wayne Rooney and Gary Lineker all celebrated their nuptials on the peninsula. This is why we asked our very own Brit wedding planner, Joelle Edwards, to give us a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it takes to plan a matrimonio for foreigners in Tuscany.
‘Wow! What an amazing job! How on earth did you get into that?’ is a regular response when I reply to the standard ice-breaker ‘What do you do?’ The gasps and wide eyes reflect the glamour and magic rightly associated with summer weddings in Italy. Admittedly, being a wedding planner in Italy is amazing in many respects. It is the most testing, varied, emotional, exciting, physically demanding, creative and rewarding job I’ve ever had.
I never set out to be a character from Father of the Bride, choreographing swans through fountains, but more than once, couples have actually delighted at having ‘their own personal Frahnk!’
Having always worked in events and harboured a passion for Italy, organising weddings and parties for English-speaking clients in some of the most beautiful corners of this peninsula combines the perfect balance between work and play. I remember one grey morning sitting at my desk in Piccadilly, answering a call from a London wedding agency looking for an Italian-speaking planner to join their team. I polished my shoes and dived straight in!
Why be a wedding planner? Getting married is new territory for most, and no longer involves a quick chat with a vicar and booking a function room and disco. Today people want the memories of a lifetime-the ‘big movie’-and Italy is the perfect set. However, with numerous paperwork procedures, strict time-frames and public administration offices that seem to open for 30 minutes every other day (but not on Thursdays, or the third Wednesday of the month), it can be a minefield. Many couples don’t have the spare time or lingo to do it themselves, yet they have the budget to throw an incredible party and celebrate in style. I have the patience of a saint, a clipboard, and I know a ‘man who can!’
Then, there are the spectacular venues that I have come to love and the great people I am able to meet. I work in venues that range from luxury five-star hotels atop cliffs to rustic castles surrounded by olive groves and family villa estates with their own vineyards and parish church. Many are private properties that may not have hosted weddings before, so I am constantly building new relationships and meeting incredible people with a staggering wealth of family history and inspiring vision. The warmth and generosity of some property owners is unparalleled, and the secrets they share with guests are real treasures.
On wedding days, I arrive on-site like a gladiator entering the arena: armed and ready, with a calm head and sensible shoes. Consider a typical call at 7:31am: ‘Joëlle, the vintage Bentley’s engine has blown on its way here.’ Ok. I smile and look around. To my left is the mother of the bride with a huge mosquito bite, demanding to be driven to the chemist in the nearest town, 20 minutes away. To my right is a hung-over bridesmaid who last saw her boyfriend climbing an olive tree five hours ago. The phone rings again: ‘There’s a baggage handler’s strike at the airport!’ Just another day in the office. ‘Coffee, anyone?’ I ask with a smile.
As glamorous as it may seem, the ‘behind the scenes surprises’ become your closest ally and a wedding planner needs to be prepared for absolutely anything, from asking football stars their underwear size to chasing wayward priests on Vespas through vineyards, comforting emotional mother in laws, proofreading speeches, refereeing rugby matches, re-routing helicopters and trying to convince a baron that 120 drunk Brits dancing to a live salsa band will not be a problem, but that he may wish to consider covering their 12th-century floor somehow and moving the original Botticelli to another room.
‘Is it possible to…?’ People I know always ask me about the strangest requests I have had from couples. I’ll never forget one bride standing in the gardens of a Roman villa, discussing the ceremony and asking ‘Can I be taken down the aisle on a donkey?’ I was also once asked to arrange a wedding with the groom as a total surprise for the bride!
Other requests often focus on the catering. As we all know, food in Italy is fantastic, so you would think this part would be easy. However, imagine receiving a 10-line email listing all the things that some guests can and can’t eat. Now imagine an Italian chef’s facial expressions (and shades of colour) when I present him or her with this all-too familiar scenario: the couple has requested ‘typical Tuscan food,’ but 10 guests can’t eat cheese, pasta or tomatoes; five guests are vegetarians (two of whom eat chicken, but only if it is cut into small pieces, and another two who eat some fish); three are celiacs; three meat-eaters who don’t eat any vegetables; one aunty who only eats celery, isn’t fond of fennel, can’t sit next to a vegan or opposite anyone who is eating beetroot; and the one person with a nut allergy will eat a vegetarian.
Suddenly I am a challenger in the crystal maze. Obviously, everyone is always catered for incredibly well, but it’s a delicate game of mediation as the chef kindly tells me to vai a you-know-where while the client is calling me again to make sure that I’ve understood that garlic is to be merely wafted over the sauce, not actually added to the dish.
Am I ever cynical about weddings? Not a chance! I’m a hopeless romantic and always get a tingle during these Hollywood moments. As a soprano decorates the warm air with O Mio Babbino Caro above sunlit, crystal blue waters, I notice a hand squeezed and a magical glance exchanged…often through a tear that just cannot be controlled!
Tips for brides
Hire a wedding planner! Try not to worry about everyone else on your wedding day (that’s my job!), and enjoy the attention of your fiancé. Take it slowly and just breathe through rising emotions. A short glass of prosecco before walking down the aisle can work wonders! Give little tasks to guests and friends so they can help on the day, and make sure your groom has a good team of ushers to look after everyone. Keep the bridesmaids away from Italian waiters, and lastly, let yourself be charmed by Italy and your man.
Tip for groom
Say yes…to everything…all day!
The wedding planner’s survival kit
Flat shoes, tissues, safety pins, batteries, fans, lighters, scissors, a black book of contacts, at least one fully charged mobile phone with as many weather forecast applications as possible, and a homing device for the best man. A sense of humour is essential, as is a large glass of Chianti at the end of the night when the sun starts to rise again!