Wedding planner Julie Dawson shares her best advice with The Wedding Girl…

I love sitting down with the country’s top wedding planners to pick their brains and ask them to spill the beans on all their tips and secrets. Today I interviewed the lovely Julie Dawson of

What are the first things a bride should think about when starting to plan her wedding?
•    Set your priorities. Successful weddings are ones that truly reflect a couples style and personality. Decide what is really important on your wedding day, what you both absolutely want and won’t compromise on. Make a list of 3 -5 main areas and carry it wherever you go. It may be the venue, the photographer, the dress. Whatever they are, they are laying the foundation of your wedding plans.
•    Choose the Style of Wedding and Set the Date. Decide on a church or civil service, modern or traditional style for example.
•    Set A Budget!! Most important. If not you will run up your own national debt. You can apportion your priorities to it so that out of the money you have you should definitely spend on the areas that are most important to you. Everything can be moved around. Remember it’s your money and you can spend it how you like.
•    Make a guest list – Your guests make your wedding special so think about who you really want to be there. The numbers will also impact on your budget.
•    Choose a venue – do this early many popular venues can be booked up a year or so in advance.
•    Choose a photographer – this is really important, your photographs are what’s left of your day when everything is over. Good photographers get booked early too.
If you put these big rocks in place you will be well on the way to a great plan. Remember, planning is easier if you cut it up into bite sized chunks. Making too many lists is overwhelming and confusing. Most of all have the wedding you want and not the one everyone else wants you to have.

What is the most common thing that brides forget to consider when planning their wedding?
•   I think that this must be the time it takes to plan the wedding.  Lots of brides leave things to the last minute and then wonder why they are so stressed out on their wedding day. If you can, allow plenty of time for the planning. For instance your wedding dress needs to be ordered at least four or five months if possible before the wedding. Some bridesmaid’s dresses need at least 12 or 14 weeks to be ordered.
•    Another thing is don’t underestimate how much help you may need on the day and in the run up to the wedding. Make sure you choose your wedding party carefully. Surround yourself with people who are calm, organised and helpful.

What should a bride take in to consideration when choosing a venue?
•    The size to accommodate your guest list, the location if you are having a church ceremony. More than half an hour and you may need to arrange transport for your guests. The cost, and the style. Does it compare with your wedding day vision?
•    If you want a civil ceremony ensure the venue you have fallen in love with has a civil licence. Don’t confirm the booking date with the venue or pay a deposit until you have secured the availability of the local registrar.
•    If you want to put your own personal stamp on your wedding day, which I hope you do, check what the venue will allow in terms of décor, and other things such as fireworks, confetti, the use of candles and entertainment.
•    Check that you can choose your own suppliers for catering, flowers and photographer etc if this is something you want to do. Some venues will only allow their own preferred suppliers. If so make sure you are happy with them.
•    Check exactly what the venue is offering in terms of your package. There are often lots of “extra’s that appear on your bill. Ask lots of questions as you need to be clear. If you are booking your venue a year in advance check what the rates are likely to be in that year.  Ask if the rate can be fixed at the time of booking.
•    Read the contract thoroughly before you sign anything. If you are using a wedding planner ask them to check this with you.
•    Most of all feel comfortable with the surroundings and the staff. Remember you will be spending the whole day there and you want to enjoy every single moment.

How far in advance should a bride send out her invitations?
•    I would advise at least six to eight weeks before the wedding day. This will allow your guests time to respond and make sure their diary is free. If your wedding is in the height of summer it’s a good idea to send out save the date cards six months before the wedding to be sure the people you really want to attend are free.
•    If it’s a destination wedding, send out save the dates as early as possible so your guests can book holiday and have enough time to save for the trip.

What is the best way to start your day when you wake up on the morning of the wedding?
•    Smile it’s your big day!
•    Have breakfast even if it’s only something light. Try not to miss eating, even if you are nervous, you will feel even more jittery if you are starving.  If you really can’t face anything have one of those power bars handy for a quick snack later.
•    Don’t panic about the weather, you can’t do anything about it. The English weather is so changeable what may be dull in the morning may be beautiful later.
•    Give yourself plenty of time for pampering. It’s your job to look and feel gorgeous on your big day.  Getting hair and makeup done takes longer than you think so leave plenty of time.
•    Don’t panic, whatever is not done now probably wont matter and no one will notice.
•    If you have hired a wedding coordinator roll over in bed, smile and begin the pampering.

What are your best tips to ensure the big day runs smoothly?
•    Plan and prepare!!! If you have planned well beforehand this should help ensure your days goes smoothly. Make sure a few days before the wedding you have a pow pow with your wedding team and check everyone knows what is happening and if they are allocated a task they know what it is and when to do it.  Delegate to people you trust.
•    Check in the two weeks before the wedding that all the suppliers have everything they need and the times for arrival and set up are verified.  You do not want your DJ for instance arriving after your evening guests.
•    Ensure your DJ has your dance list and double check he has a copy of your first dance.
•    Try and make sure your photographs do not run on too much. Your food needs to be served on time so ask your ushers or one of your wedding party to keep an eye on the time.
•    Make sure you have everything packed that you need, especially if you are staying at your venue the night before the wedding.
•    An order of service is a good idea. This lets guest know what and when things are happening. They will know what time the food is being served so can make provisions to eat. Keeping guests waiting long periods of time, especially when its hot is not a good idea. Alcohol tends to be the main nutritional supplement and you don’t want your guests too tiddly before the wedding breakfast.
•    Think about hiring the services of a Wedding Coordinator for the day and the month before the wedding. That way you wont have to worry about a thing.

What is the most common thing to go wrong on a wedding day?
•    Spots, those that appear overnight. No worries ice the area for a few minutes to reduce the redness. Use something like tea tree oil to dry the little devil out. Leave to dry and apply your makeup. Do not pinch them!
•    Wedding dress mishaps.  Make sure you have stain remover wipes, such as Shout or I have found baby wipes will remove many stains.
•    There are many things that can go wrong, but if you plan beforehand most things can be fixed. If things do go wrong I can guarantee that if you don’t tell your guests they won’t notice. If you have a wedding coordinator on the day they will fix most things before anyone gets to notice them anyway, even you wont know they happened.

When things get stressful what is your best advice to stay calm?
•    When you start to feel the stress mounting up, take a deep breath and try and go and sit somewhere quietly for a moment away from all the preparations. You can try Bach’s rescue remedy, its herbal and effective.
•    Try and steer clear of coffee and alcohol, it is tempting but they are stimulants and may make you feel worse.
•    Surround yourself with people who can support you. Choose your best man and chief bridesmaid carefully. They should be a great help in this type of situation. Having calm and supportive people around you is very reassuring.
•    Things may go wrong but remember, you can’t control everything. Trust the people you have chosen to be in your wedding team, you picked them, remember…. its because they are good support and can do the job in hand.

Is it important to have a theme or colour scheme for your wedding?
•    In my opinion it’s not important to have a theme on your wedding day.  If you have put yourself into your planning I can guarantee your personality will shine through in your preparation. It is important to create the wedding day you want and not what is trendy or what you think you should have.  Stick to what is ‘you’ and what you feel comfortable with.
•    It is good to have a colour scheme because this will bring together all the elements of the wedding day. You don’t have to have a complicated scheme. Choose your favourite colour, it may be dictated by the season you are getting married in, perhaps the venue décor may dictate it. You can be safe and choose greens, whites and creams. These colours always look elegant and sophisticated. If you want to introduce a colour make sure it’s contrasting and does not clash. If you stick to one colour vary the shades to give depth and texture.

Couple can sometimes feel like their wedding day goes by in a blur. What advice can you give a couple to avoid this and for them to have wonderful memories they can look back on?
•    Get help!!!  I cannot stress that enough. Surround yourself with people who are calm and can support you.  Make sure the wedding party you choose is reliable and will do the tasks you set them. Don’t leave anything to chance and the more preparation and planning you do in the weeks before the wedding will pay dividends on the day.
•    Your photographs will reflect your happy day, if you involve your guests in your wedding day they will feel special and you will see that on the smiles on their faces when you look back at your pictures.
•    Most of all enjoy every minute; don’t spend time worrying, it’s really not worth it. All eyes will be on you so have the best day of your life.
•    The best thing you can do is to employ a Wedding Coordinator who specialises in On The Day Coordination. The Wedding Genie takes over a month before.  You are left to enjoy the run up to the wedding and enjoy every blissful minute on the day.

Any tips for a bride to look gorgeous on her big day?
•    In the run up to the wedding book yourself in for a facial. Your skin will have chance to settle down if you do it a month or so before the big day. You will look radiant anyway but why not give your skin a helping hand.
•    Make sure you eat well in the month or so before the wedding. Drink plenty of water to keep you hydrated.  Avoid things that make you feel bloated like bread for instance.
•    Treat yourself to new makeup and have a makeup lesson. If you can book a makeup artist they really are worth their weight in gold.  Stick to a look and style you feel comfortable with, not what you think is trendy.
•    Let yourself be pampered everyone is there for you so enjoy the fact that this is your day.

How is best to go about informing guests that children/partners are not able to attend the wedding?
You do have to be tactful and try hard not to upset anyone when stating whom you are actually inviting.  Its best to: –
•    Be clear when you give out the invites.  Address them to the individuals you are inviting. You can also put a note at the bottom explaining that this is an “Adult Reception”. Lots of weddings are child-free these days. Many of your friends may treat the day as a break and be glad to leave the children with a family member so that they can enjoy themselves.
•    If you are enclosing an RSVP card you can discreetly say that “one” seat or “two seats’ have been reserved and then the names.

How can a couple ensure they stick to their budget?
•    By making a list of what your priorities are right at the beginning of your wedding planning. Write them down and keep them with you. When you want to go and buy something that will blow your budget check the list of priorities. It will keep you focused and remind you what your wedding day vision is.
•    Remember it is your budget and you can spend it how you like. There is nothing to stop you spending more in one area as long as you cut down on another.
•    Keep a running total on a spreadsheet or in a notebook so that the figures don’t run away with you.  Make notes when suppliers need to be paid and note the deposits. It’s really easy to think you have not spent much until you see it in black and white.

What are your top tips for saving money when planning a wedding?
•    Trim down your guest list. Reducing your numbers will reduce all costs, not only the food and drink but also the décor, invites, place cards etc.  At this time of financial hardship when money is tight many weddings are becoming smaller and more intimate.
•    Be creative and DIY – Do as much as you can yourself. If you have creative friends and family they will be delighted to help you. Most people are thrilled to be part of your big day.  It maybe that your bridesmaid is very arty, she may want to help with your invites and stationery. A family friend may be the best cake maker you know. Once you ask around you will be surprised by how many people want to help.
•    Clever shopping – Wedding dresses are a big expense, look in wedding magazines and on the Internet for designer sales, you can pick up a real bargain. The high street shops such as Debenhams, Monsoon etc have great wedding ranges that are much cheaper and still look fantastic. Ebay is the most fabulous place for wedding details. This type of shopping does take some time but if you are prepared to do your research it will pay off in the end. Shop around for the best deals.
•    Venue choice and mid week weddings – Getting married mid week or on a Friday is much cheaper than a weekend wedding. Check out the offers that many venues are running at the moment. If you want a winter wedding there are often great packages available.  Booking hotels that specialise in weddings usually means they offer packages that cover food, wine and discounted rooms. If you want exclusive use of a venue this is a much more expensive option. Using venues such as village halls is very cost effective and then of course you can dress them generally how you like. You can really put your own stamp on a venue like this if you are willing to put in some work.

What makes a truly memorable wedding?
•    You do!!  You and your guests. Remember to invite the people you want to share the day with most. A memorable wedding is one that your guests walk around saying, “the wedding was so them”. Put your own stamp on the day and you wont go wrong. Involve your guests as much as you can. Its not the expensive food or wine that people remember its seeing you and your new husband declaring your love for each other and showing people why you are meant to be together. Its them feeling like they shared in this special day with you.

What is your favourite thing about weddings?
•    I love the uniqueness of them. Every couple is different therefore every wedding should be different too. My favourite thing is to help inspire a couple to put their own stamp on their wedding day no matter what the budget. You really don’t have to have pots of money to create a fabulous day and have the services of a wedding planner to work with you.

To find out more about Julie Dawson’s wedding planning services visit her website or contact her directly on 07590 850257 or