I love a good award ceremony. The glamour, the excitement in the air, the love in the room… And hopefully no mistakes when it comes to announcing the winners! A couple of weeks ago I was in a taxi heading across London to the Romantic Novelists’ Association 2017 award ceremony in the beautiful location of the Gladstone Library in Whitehall Place. When I arrived and threw open the doors to make my entrance… The room was empty because it was three o’clock in the afternoon and the awards didn’t start until six and between now and then an awful lot of things had to happen. In fact it was a transformation worth of Cinderella!
Of course, all the planning starts a long time in advance. The room was booked last year, the refreshments ordered, the seating plan organised, the trophies engraved and the photographer engaged. So really it was a question of bringing it all together: Decorating the room, greeting the guests and ironing out any little issues along the way. And there, of course, is the fly in the ointment, because something unexpected is always going to happen whenever you organise a big event.
I was pre-warned because a few years ago we organised a small-ish wedding anniversary party in a local stately home, Lodge Park, in the picture. It was an absolutely wonderful venue but not unreasonably the age of the place brought its own issues. No high heels on the 17th century wood floor. Ditto red wine in case we spilled it on the fixtures and furnishings. Not more than 10 people on the balcony at any one time. No drinks on the roof… (I’m not sure what sort of a party they thought it was but perhaps previous experience with the British aristocracy had made them wary.) it all went beautifully on the day and everyone loved the venue and the event but it had been so stressful organising it that it came close to being a divorce rather than an anniversary party.
Meanwhile, back at the Gladstone Library, the number of guests was much larger but at least there was a team of us to deal with the problems. First we discovered that the stage was a bit on the small side. We worked out that with the celebrity guest presenter – Prue Leith, author and TV personality – plus Jane Wenham Jones, our wonderful compere, plus the winners, there would be a danger of someone falling off the side, especially in those glamorous high heels! A bigger stage was definitely needed. That was sorted.
We’d had a big response and were at our limit of guests, which was great. There was also a lot of press interest, which was equally
fantastic but meant that the table plans needed to be a bit flexible. If someone turned up at the last minute we slotted them in as best we could. I gave up my seat – and then realised I hadn’t anywhere else to go. No canapés for me! Aargh. HOw would I survive the long evening without food? And whilst on the subject of canapés, some people will scoop up the whole plate full before other people have had their chance even to have one!
Some of the VIP guests went AWOL and I had to round them up like a sheepdog. Some random strangers wandered into the guest reception and eagerly helped themselves to champagne. The direction signs were exactly the wrong size to fit on the doors and kept falling off. Some of the winners’ envelopes were stuck down so firmly that I thought we were going to need a letter opener to break into them. No one wants to have to wait while the poor celebrity presenter struggles with a stubborn envelope! And by the end my lovely shoes, which had felt so comfortable a few hours before, were so painful I never wanted to see them again.
BUT everyone was having a good time. It wasn’t so much about the eating and drinking, but seeing old friends and making new ones, chatting to other people in the industry and of course, celebrating with the finalists and winners. (There are more details of the RNA awards and bigger photos here!) So in the end I’m sure all the stress and hard work is worthwhile. I’ve booked next year’s event already… But before we start organising, the whole team deserves a bit of a rest!
Have you ever been involved in organising a really big event? What was it like? Any tips or experiences to share? And if you’ve been to an award ceremony or party, what were the things you enjoyed the most or least about it?