Party planning with Bonnie May

The go-to celebrity events guru on how to entertain on a budget

“Managing people’s expectations – that’s the crucial part.” Events queen Bonnie May, of Bonnie May Events, is ruminating on the challenges of party planning. “I make a point of having the budget conversation early on, as things can add up quickly. A £10,000 party could easily end up costing £110,000. It helps if the client is open with me from the outset about what they want and how much they have to spend.”

Not that limited funds have ever put May off – her team recently organised a wedding reception for 100 people on a budget of just £2,000. “It was a fabulous day. The couple borrowed a tent, which we filled with long trestle tables and mismatched chairs. The food was bangers and mash, and we used paper tablecloths, bamboo plates and wooden cutlery. They had a caricaturist friend, who sketched place settings for each guest. It was brilliant.”

DIY-style weddings seem like a departure from May’s usual gigs. After all, she’s hosted lavish bashes for the glitterati, including Jonathan Ross and Paloma Faith; oversaw the celebrations for the Notting Hill world premiere and the National Television Awards; and even put together a function for 10 Downing Street. But May refuses to be pigeonholed. She’s equally at home stuffing jam jars with wildflowers as she is sampling the finest champagnes for a glitzy film premiere.

“It’s about really getting to know the client because we’re an extension of their hospitality. It’s important that the style of the event and what we’re serving, particularly when you’re in someone’s house, reflects who they are and what they do. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a real disconnect between the host and their guests.”

Luncheon Bonnie May

ELVIS Bonnie May

Wise words, but then, May is no novice. She’s been in the entertainment industry for almost 30 years since joining the award-winning Global Infusion Group (GIG), which provides backstage catering and logistics services to the music, entertainment, film and TV industries, and corporate functions. Founded by her partner, Tony Laurenson, GIG has toured with bands and artists, such as Coldplay and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, all over the world. In 2015, Laurenson and May launched a new arm to the business – Bonnie May Events.

“A few years ago, we realised we were doing all these big events, but nothing on a private or more personal scale. We’re based in Buckinghamshire and it seemed daft that we had these skills and services and equipment, and we weren’t creating anything the locals could touch.”

May’s approach is “as much or as little you’d like”. The team can facilitate the catering or plan the entire party, from invitation design to styling and entertainment. One of her favourite events to organise? was an Alice and Wonderland themed wedding.

“We hired a beautiful marquee and divided it into two. Close family gathered in one part during the day. There was a big, oval table that accommodated 48 people and we dressed it with silver teapots filled with flowers, teacups and Eat Me, Drink Me menus. Later in the afternoon, guests moved into the main part of the tent, where we’d laid out long runs of tables with Alice in Wonderland books and paraphernalia. It’s important when doing themes that they don’t look like children’s parties, but this was perfect.” 

Alice In Wonderland

So just how do you go about achieving the perfect party? For May, there’s a simple rule to follow: “There are the have to haves, the nice to haves and the cherry on the top pieces. If you’ve chosen to throw a party in your garden then, given the British weather, a tent or covering of some sort is an essential.”

Seating is also important, but don’t feel you’re restricted to expensively dressed chairs, says May. If you’re going for an informal vibe, stools and high tables look great, and are a less costly option. Also give consideration to the drinks menu. May suggests wine and beer for a gathering at home. Champagne on arrival and a cocktail or gin bar certainly adds the wow factor, but you can expect the cost to double or even triple. 

Making savings in certain areas allows you to splash out on the things that matter to you, says May, “We did a party earlier this year for someone who was really into music. They had a ‘rock-oke” – a four-piece band that accompanied anyone who wanted to sing. The client was happy to compromise and have simpler elements elsewhere so they could have amazing music.”

Bonnie May Bunting

Bonnie May Food Station

Canepes Bonnie May

May also advises letting guests know what to expect in advance. Make it clear on the invitation what kind of party you’re hosting – is it casual drinks and canapes in the garden? A sit-down meal in a marquee? Do they need to RSVP or just turn up? Setting the scene will manage those all-important expectations. But ultimately, the secret to any successful party is the guest list.

“The only thing I can’t organise is the atmosphere and that’s the guests who are coming. If you’ve a great bunch of people coming, chances are everyone will have a great evening.”

Bonnie May Food

Bonnie May Canepes

For more information on Bonnie May Events or to enquire about booking Bonnie and her team for your next occasion, take a look at her website www.bonniemayevents.com or our recomended listing on our Little Black Book.


Posted in Spotlight

by Alix O'Neill
on on 17 October 2016


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