As anyone who has ever got married will tell you, the planning involved is forensic in detail. So, can you imagine what goes into organising a royal wedding, one watched by millions around the globe? Johnny Roxburgh, party planner extraordinaire and the so-called ‘Party Architect’ can, as he’s spent the last three decades working for royalty, sorting everything from 21st birthdays to wedding receptions. Here we ask him about what it’s like working for the royals and what Princess Eugenie will be doing in the lead-up to her nuptials on 12 October…
What’s the most memorable event that you’ve ever planned for the royal family?
I have organised many royal events at Buckingham Palace, Holyrood, Highgrove and Windsor – for several years I provided the catering and decoration of the wonderful parties that The Queen hosted every Christmas for her staff – huge dinners for between 800 and 1,200, where I opened the Aladdin’s Cave of Christmas decorations in my warehouses and created magic in the palaces.
I also held the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales – of which I was extremely proud. Over the years he and Michael Fawcett gave me the opportunity to be endlessly creative.
It was, however, the fancy-dress 21st birthday party of Prince William that I loved most. The Prince was charming beyond belief – handsome, fun and wonderful to work with. We created an African jungle at Windsor Castle with full-size elephants made from palm husk, table centres that would shame a Lion King headdress, a giant ice vodka luge in the shape of an elephant’s head (which The Queen loved). I realised then that our future king is a very cool young man.
What is it like to plan a royal wedding?
The major UK royal weddings are always arranged by the Royal Household, so don’t have external planners as such, however I have helped organise many non UK royal weddings. These include the (then) Crown Prince of Jordan, the son of His Highness Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, His Highness the Prince de Croy, among many others. They all had the common thread of every Royal wedding; a nervous groom, a beautiful bride and a nondisclosure agreement.
When it comes to the planning, there are of course added complications that are not experienced at every wedding such as who will carry out the marriage. When dynastic families marry they may have their own priests, they may well be of different religions and – depending on who considers themselves more important – there will be a certain amount of jockeying to work out who will arrange the ceremony. One client was concerned that the church – in which her daughter was getting married to a prince – might not be grand enough for her own cardinal to perform the marriage. I reassured her that the cathedral was almost the same size as St Peter’s in Rome. That seemed to do the trick.
How much does protocol come into it?
There is also the endless issue of protocol – who arrives when. It is clear in the UK that the arrival of our Royal Family is managed in meticulous order. During a state visit dinner we organised for the Emir of Kuwait, I was struck not only at the miraculous planning for the Royal Family’s arrival but also how the depth of curtsey made by the women before the Emir, graduated according to the royal arrival time.
What are the biggest challenges?
The challenges of security are also a key consideration. Sniffer dogs, endless checking of names and in this age of camera phones there is often the need for a telephone concierge. Ahead of the day, guests are sent a telephone number they can give to babysitters, family etc to call in an emergency – this is manned by our team of staff and in return they relinquish their phones and thus the families protect the images that are put online to safeguard their privacy. Not every bride wants her photos to be all over the net and sometimes they will have done a deal with a magazine which means the pictures need to be protected.
It’s nearly one month to go until Princess Eugenie’s big day, what stage will they be at with the planning?
The main details of the wedding will I am sure have been agreed. However, plans always change. There will no doubt be the problem all families have; do we know who is coming? There are the keen guests who say yes straight away, but many guests often take longer to reply which delays planning and finalising the tricky job of seating everyone in St George’s chapel.
There is also the timing of walking up the aisle. No bride wants to be left standing at the altar waiting for the orchestra to finish. I have walked down dozens of cathedral aisles with the music on my phone counting out the minutes and then working it backwards for the bridal procession to start.
In what ways will royal protocol dictate the running of the day?
Royal protocol will absolutely determine the running of the day. The timing will be flawless and the wedding will be the same as every other Church of England wedding in terms of the vows. The setting will of course be grander than most and the Sovereign will be present. I often wonder how it feels when HM The Queen is your Grandmother? We will never know but judging by the smiling faces at previous weddings I suspect it’s rather marvellous. She is such an inspiration and it’s her presence that defines all the protocol. Despite the need for protocol, the modern royal wedding is essentially a family event with the added gloss of a huge choir, an orchestra and The National Anthem.