Sarah Haywood is one of the most sought-after wedding planners for the richest people in the world.
She has organised weddings for Fortune 500 businessmen, princesses, and popstars, who spend millions of pounds on just one day. One client even spent around £4 million ($US6.1 million) on their very special day.
While confidentiality agreements prevent her from confirming exactly who she has worked for, you only need to take a quick look on the internet to put some of the pictures and descriptions together.
It’s perhaps unsurprising she has become so in demand. She lives and breathes weddings.
She is available to clients 24/7, uses only the most expensive and exclusive couturiers, florists, venues, Michelin star chefs, cake bakers, and award-winning stylists. She can arrange the billionaire bride’s dream wedding in just over two weeks. In fact, she did just that recently for an Asian popstar.
Over the past twelve months Sarah has planned weddings from Azerbaijan to St Tropez and for the world’s wealthiest people, including one for an American billionaire that is getting married on a Scottish Island.
She also wrote one of Britain’s top-selling bridal books in 2006 called “The Wedding Bible” and the second international edition of it was published on Valentine’s Day this year. In 2010, she also released the “Ultimate Wedding App” for BlackBerry, Android and iPhone.
Business Insider got a behind the scenes look at what it’s like planning the world’s most insanely expensive weddings.
BUSINESS INSIDER: What type of clients do you usually cater for?
SARAH HAYWOOD: We focus on high net-worth individuals and a number of families you’ll see in the Fortune 500. Our clients are seriously successful business people. Celebrities don’t have the kind of money for what we do, unless you’re at George Clooney’s level, and we aren’t the people to cater for them as they usually want a lot for nothing.
We’re based in London, which has the highest concentration of high net-worth individuals in the world. Our clients comes from everywhere: from the US, Europe, Middles East, Asia, China especially, and many have a home here.
When it comes to “new money,” those people are nervous about style but that’s where we come in. We understand and create incredible weddings for those who live fabulous lives, without going over the top.
BI: What makes you different to the other wedding planners for rich people out there?
SH: Our service is like no other. It’s completely bespoke and I purposely only take on a maximum of five clients a year.
Myself and a senior producer run all the weddings, meaning we are ALWAYS available for our clients. If they need me somewhere, I can be there immediately.
For the kind of money they’re spending, you have to get everything done immediately. You don’t let these people wait around.
I’m constantly being told to expand the business and bring on more staff, but I want to keep it between myself and another producer, otherwise the service wouldn’t be so specialist and we’d be spread too thin. It only takes one bad event or mistake to come back to you. Everyone knows everyone in these circles.
These people lead fabulous lives day-to-day so you’ve got to deliver on something extraordinary on the day. They have wonderful homes all around the world, dine in the finest restaurants across the globe, and have private jets and travel weekly. You have got to give them something a lot more special than their last Sunday.
BI: So what are the budgets for these high net-worth weddings?
SH:Their budgets range from anything from hundreds of thousands of pounds to millions for their wedding day. It really depends on what they want and what the travel costs are like, which can take a bulk of the budget if they’re needing private jets or just lots of seats on a plane.
No wedding is the same obviously, so it’s really down to what they want, the level of detail, and where it is based.
BI: What do billionaires usually want and how quickly do these weddings take to plan?
SH: Interestingly, lots of people ask me this and expect me to say people are demanding 12 elephants or something but it’s not like that. What these people want is incredible detail on every part of the wedding that takes it to that next level.
For example, you wouldn’t just have a bar. You’d have a bar with the world’s best mixologists, the finest champagne and drinks available on the market. You wouldn’t just have a food station, you’d have a seafood station that has ice sculptures, with huge floral designs in the middle.
In three weeks’ time we will be hosting the wedding for an American billionaire on a Scottish island. This is a great example of the level of bespoke elements expected at a wedding of this level and budget. We found the last lace maker in Scotland to make handkerchiefs for all the women attending the wedding to place on their pillows. We got a bespoke tartan designed and made for the kilts alongside a new family crest to be made.
For the men, we are having bespoke sgian-dubh’s (pronounced “skee-an-do”: a small, single-edged knife that is worn as part of traditional Scottish Highland dress, along with the kilt and tucked into the top of the long socks) made. We have leather-bound journals with the newly made couple’s crest.
It’s rarely outrageous things that people want — they just take everything to the next level. We need 172 hotel rooms just for the staff. We have people working across five days.
BI: The incredible amount of detail must take a long time to plan. What’s the average turnaround time for a billionaire’s wedding?
SH: The usual timescale is around three to five months — these type of people don’t need to wait around a year to plan, that’s what we’re here for. However, there was one international royal wedding we did where we had 19 days from the day we got the phone call to the wedding day itself.
It’s all about having the best and right contacts, being able to know exactly what people need, and who are the best people you need to go to for it. We are a small but specialist team and we need to be able to do this all year round. Billionaire weddings also are not seasonal. We did a wedding for an Asian popstar in January, after being asked to do it in the October beforehand.
BI: Do you find there are regional trends in what billionaire couples want?
SH: There’s no general pattern in terms of what people want because there is such a fusion of cultures now. Plus, a lot are international couples that have a home in London as well as other parts of the world.
However, the way we liaise with people do vary depending on age and cultures. Our Middle Eastern clients usually come from oil and construction money and we’re seeing the younger couples liaising with us more, whereas before it was usually through the women in the family. In China, all those under 30 usually have perfect English and liaise directly with us. Same with the Russians.
No matter where people come from, they want the Hollywood glamour at their wedding. The world is changing and culture, tradition, and Western glamour are now being fused together.
BI: So when do you actually get time off if you’re doing this 24/7 and drop everything for a client? Do you actually get a holiday?
SH: Having time off is very difficult. My husband is actually on holiday at the moment without me. It’s the fifth time in a row! But I have a second home in Portugal, so if I am away, I can easily get to London for a meeting immediately.
But work comes first. If your client says jump, you jump.