The first wedding legendary events planner Bruce Russell organised was his own.
He and his husband married nine years ago, having met "the old fashioned way," Bruce jokes, on match.com. The marriage took place shortly before he set up his own wedding planning business. "But I didn't become a wedding planner because I planned my own wedding and it was wonderful," he laughs now. He looked after the ideas, did the research, he recalls now, but both of them were very involved. "I would present him with three options and he could pick the one."
Next Saturday (February 22), Bruce is in Ireland, where he and fellow wedding planner, Tara Fay, his co-host from the RTE show My Big Day: Home or Away, will host The Ultimate Wedding Retreat at Adare Manor.
The couple had almost 100 guests on their big day, which they held at a typical English manor country house they hired for 24 hours. "For us the important part was that we wanted almost to feel like they were coming to our home; it was very much that kind of day. So one fast rule we had was the only guests we invited were people that both of us knew. If somebody wanted to bring a plus one, it had to be somebody we knew. If we hadn't met them, then no. We didn't want anybody at our wedding that we didn't know."
It was his first wedding to plan, but Bruce explains that he had always been the go-to friend or family member to help when any kind of event organisation was required. "It was always kind of part of my DNA." In high school he was on the student council, always involved in organising concerts and variety shows.
French Canadian, he is originally from the east coast of Canada, born in Nova Scotia. Before moving to London 15 years ago, he moved all over Canada for his career.
Before setting up his business Bruce, who is 47, had been working in the hospitality industry for about 15 years in luxury hotels in Canada, the US and London. One day, a client he had worked with on an event said to him "I wish I'd known you years ago, you would have been brilliant to plan my wedding." It got him thinking, he recalls. "It just kind of put that in my ear, and I thought 'oh, you can actually make money from that'. So I started researching, and a few years later, I started my own business, and I've never looked back."
Bruce has now organised weddings and events all around the world. "Logistically one of the most challenging was having a bride who was based in Boston, and a groom who was based in Pakistan," he reveals. "We had to plan four days of weddings in London, for 300 people, with 90 days to do it. It was literally hundreds, and I'm not exaggerating, of emails and WhatsApp messages daily. For three months. But we pulled it off."
No one gets through a wedding without a certain amount of stress. As the planner, part of Bruce's role is to take on that stress for his clients. "Part of the role is to make the planning, and the decision-making side of things manageable for them. They're paying you to not only plan a wedding, but also to manage things, and really be in charge and save them stress."
A day's work can involve anything from sourcing 500 butterflies, in just the right shade, to release during a ceremony, to tracking down a suitable palace as a venue, but you don't get the sense that he finds his work massively stressful.
"It's a way of thinking," Bruce explains. "I think logically. I think that way even in my day-to-day life. Everything to me is planning; planning for lunch, planning for dinner, planning our home, planning our holiday. There's always a structural nature to that, so for me, it's almost second nature. Where I would say the stress is from is the people management side of things." Yes, the people. Other people are the biggest cause of stress for people organising a wedding, Bruce reflects. As anyone who has planned a wedding will know, it's not just about what you want. It's about what your own mother, the mother-in-law, the difficult aunt or demanding cousin needs. Hell is other people interfering with your wedding planning. "It's always the bride being bombarded by friends or family; 'what are you doing? My friend did this. This is better'. Usually the stress is brought on by those closest to you."
Bruce is the calm in this storm.
"Whether you're dealing with the bride, the bride groom, or I guess tensions maybe with family members or in-laws, I always say I'm the neutral part in all of that, either Switzerland or the therapist in some cases. I'm the glue. And sometimes I think you need to just step back from that and take time for yourself. Recharge."
The best-case scenario is one where a client develops full trust in Bruce. Stress can arise when they have a hard time letting go, he says, adding delicately "that just makes my job more difficult. You need approval for every single thing if somebody is so involved they just can't let go. That makes things stressful."
Bruce doesn't necessarily work on big weddings; in the past he has planned a day where just two people are involved. "As long as there's a budget for me to be creative with, I don't have a set idea of how many people need to be involved."
As well as working together, Bruce and Tara, who is one of Ireland's original wedding planners, often turn to each other for advice on separate projects. "With Irish weddings the really important thing that comes up all the time is the party; they want a party," he smiles. "The flowers can be beautiful, the entertainer and the music can be chosen, but they just want to have a party. If it's one of those venues that closes at midnight, forget it. This is going to go on. It's not about the craziness, it's about the family celebration, and about having a wonderful time. That's what I love about Irish weddings, they're so personal; it's not just a show, it's really a fun time."
Tara first began wedding planning in Ireland in the late 1990s. She is married for twenty years, and has three children. She was already working in events and wedding planning when she planned her own wedding. "It slotted into a weekend that was free, essentially," she says.
During the Celtic Tiger, she says, "there was more is more," when it came to creating a wedding. "Everything that you could think of was to be thrown at a wedding," she smiles. Like Bruce, Tara identifies a break down or failure to communicate as a major cause of stress. "Not having a clear plan in place from the very beginning."
She's wary about being too prescriptive over wedding trends, but says that they do tend to follow lifestyle trends. Which means currently it's all about being authentic, being sustainable, creating an experiential event. Sounds like a huge improvement on our Celtic Tiger days.
Bruce Russell and Tara Fay lead a host of world renowned designers at The Ultimate Wedding retreat at Adare Manor, on February 22. Bruce and Tara, along with leading experts, will host demonstrations and give advice on planning your big day. The retreat will include hair and make-up demonstrations, a floral showcase, a fashion show, a styling session, photography tips, afternoon tea and a luxury goody bag. Guests staying on for the dinner and overnighting will also enjoy a cocktail reception before their meal. For more information see adaremanor.com
* Set yourself a budget.
* Each make a list of what is most important for the wedding day independently, and then compare the lists. This can avoid rows at a later stage due to misunderstanding or miscommunication.
* Look around, shop around. Give yourself options. The more people you involve the more opinions you have, so if you are going to go down that route (for wedding dress shopping, tastings, etc) just make sure you can deal with it.
* Try to make decisions that are not based on emotion. When you're planning a wedding, you're making very big business decisions with your emotions, which can create very expensive mistakes. So try to look at it from a business point of view sometimes before you sign a contract.
* Taking a break is very important. Take a weekend, don't talk about it, think about it, look at a photo. Step back. It will help you think about what you're doing and the decisions you're making.
It was last summer, apparently, that Peter Phillips and his wife, Autumn, told his grandmother Queen Elizabeth that they planned to separate. The monarch, it has been reported, counselled them not to rush into anything. Slow down, take your time, give it some consideration.