There’s a lot of things that will be changing around here in 2021!
I thought I’d let you in on some of the new ideas we have up our sleeve, and share with you my background and how we got to where we are now.
So, rewind to 2012…
I actually graduated from university with a degree in French & Media Studies. French - because I loved learning languages, living abroad and it’s (in my opinion) the greatest thing you can study. Media - because I needed a second option, I enjoyed learning about cultures and social trends and I also saw a chance to study foreign films and literature. But what I was going to do next was anyone’s guess.
As I was scrolling through Post-Graduate job ads I saw an advert for the London 2012 Olympic Games, and desperately wanted to get involved. I was able to work on the Olympic Park in a PAID job for the whole summer. Granted, I had to sleep in a tent for weeks on end, trek for 2 hours in and out of work every day and I spent most of the summer flogging jacket potatoes, but it was the most amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And I guess that was my first taste of hospitality. Talk about throwing yourself in at the deep end!
When I came home, I did a few more shifts with the same agency while I worked out what to do next. Having just lived in the city for 4 years, spent time abroad, interrailed for a summer and been at the Olympics, I’d had a real taste of adventure and I knew I wanted more before I settled down. I also had an invitation to a wedding in New Zealand which had never felt very realistic but suddenly seemed like a real opportunity…
I found a job close to home in a hotel, so I could work for 6 months to afford my plane ticket to NZ and think about doing some travelling. I started from scratch. Most of the other people doing the same job as me were studying at college - my degree was totally meaningless. I was stacking plates and polishing cutlery and I wasn’t really sure this had been such a great idea. Most of my mates came out of uni and got Grad jobs with big salaries and promotions on the horizon and I was doing cheesy Christmas parties and offering lunches that consisted of cardboard sandwiches and soggy chips.
But it was a great team of people and, although we didn’t have a lot to work with, we were pulling off some pretty great events. The job was flexible enough that I went away for 6 weeks to do my travelling and it was still there for me when I came back. I spent around 18 months in total learning the absolute basics, getting my hands dirty, and actually having a laugh while I was doing it.
After a little more travelling and another short stint in a different hotel which still gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about that place… I took a job as a Supervisor in a Conference space in Birmingham city centre. Hello commute!
Nothing too glamorous about this one, but like a well-oiled machine we would host around 20 meetings and events every day and we got to know our regulars really well. It was more formal, more structured and it was more like a 9-5, which in my eyes was win!
After around a year I was promoted to Manager and was growing in confidence. But the place I was in started feeling so small…
So, I went to the absolute extreme - I moved on to a venue where we hosted dinners for up to 800 guests, we hosted conferences for some of the biggest names in their industries, and we hosted events like Sports Personality of the Year. There was a certain amount of glitz and glamour involved here; we often had celebrities hosting the show, the technical aspects were pretty exciting, and we were pulling off the kind of events you’d only ever dream about working on. Gorgeous plates of food, freshly made on site, lined up in their hundreds. Professional planning meetings and proper client relationships. Signing contracts that ended with more 000s than I’d ever seen before! I was basically a professional foodie, which is my absolute idea of heaven - I love designing menus, hosting tastings, watching chefs work their magic. I would always be the one running the pass and managing the food service (sometimes this felt more like babysitting 70 teenagers as they waited on their tables, but I was in my element - headset on, clipboard in hand, food everywhere I turned!). But this was where I learnt the meaning of the word ‘graft’.
On an average “office day” (planning meetings, invoicing, stocktaking and cleaning) I’d be up at the crack of dawn and it’d take me 2 hours to get to work - drive to the station, a 30 minute train, walk across Brum, take a second train, and a 15 minute walk to the venue itself. I’d do my 8 hours, probably a few more on top, then trek 2 hours home again.
On event days I’d set my alarm anywhere between 3 and 5am, I’d be too early for the train and so I’d drive the 15 miles into work up the M42. I’d often be first on site, we’d set up, we’d get going and we wouldn’t stop until maybe 18 hours later. My record was 21 hours on site - I didn’t take my break and I didn’t sit down until I was back in my car ready to drive home again, exhausted. If you ever need to know anything about Hopwood Park services - I’m your gal. I’d get home after midnight and be ready to be up at 4 to do it all over again.
It was madness. But I enjoyed it enough to make it worthwhile. I felt lucky to be doing what I was doing and wanted to find a way to make sure I could do it forever. But the time comes when you realise you’re burning out, and you’re working half your hours for free (overtime in hospitality is a rare thing indeed). For that and a few other reasons, I decided to move on.
I went back to hotels, because I had missed working on weddings so much. It was a sacrifice, I won’t lie. Leaving behind the beautiful, brand new venue I adored and going back to working in a small (badly run) hotel, was hard. The food was shocking, Head Chef was an arse (but that sort of comes with the territory) and some of the in-house events looked like the budget had been about fifty quid. But I was running weddings again!
Each day I would come in and get talking to florists, stylists, photographers… all sorts of exciting people. Their work would be beautiful and their passion was contagious. I wanted to tell the whole world about these amazing people - if I didn’t know much about them and I’m meant to be a professional in this field, then how would anyone else know that they exist?!
And so, Chouette Events was born.
I’d talk to the people who came in to my work, find out about their business, and collect their little business cards. I started researching on Facebook, asking my friends and finding out what else was out there. I’d visit their studios, their homes, meet them for coffee and write a little piece for my website.
I say “website”. At this point it was a pathetic Tumblr blog page with a slightly more professional URL. I was still working so much, including all my evenings and weekends, that all I could manage was a few paragraphs here and there and it wasn’t really growing very quickly. (I am eternally grateful to anyone who saw that sad little website and decided to go with me - I can only hope you saw an idea you liked, and that gives me confidence that what I’m doing is not total shit).
I was plodding along, doing my homework and writing tiny amounts of words for about another 12 months, maybe more.
I moved jobs one final time - I left the hotel... without anything else lined up. I have a mortgage. I live alone. I don’t know what I was thinking.
I went back to the agency I had first worked with, who thankfully welcomed me back with open arms and who were, also thankfully, about to do a big Christmas recruit. I spent a month or two in their office taking on new staff ready for the big festive rush - I spent all day with the phone in one hand, a cup of tea in the other and a spreadsheet in front of me that I took great pride in filling, colour coding and submitting every day.
And then I found a corporate role back in Birmingham that suited me down to the ground. A hospitality role that incorporated so much of what I’d done before - managing meetings, designing menus, coming up with new catering concepts, the occasional external event… and I had my weekends back to myself to do wedding stuff in my own time. I could write, I could go to wedding fayres, I could visit venues and suppliers and it made me happy!
But then 2020 hit. Weddings stopped. I was placed on furlough.
There was not a day that went by where I didn’t realise how lucky I was. I kept some sort of income whilst so many of those around me lost everything almost overnight. The suppliers I’d met over the years were struggling, and there wasn’t much I could do to help.
But I used my time off to work with them. I researched, I contacted people, I wrote around 60 new articles in the space of 6 months (for perspective, I’d managed less than 20 in the previous 3 years…). I told their stories, I shared their work and I made friends with these incredible people. I don’t have much of a following and I can’t promise it will have made a huge difference to their bank accounts, but I wanted to show support and help in the only small ways I felt I could. I should really say thank you to them for keeping me busy and, in turn, giving me so much content to help build up my own website too. It’s going from strength to strength and I’m strangely grateful for 2020 for allowing me to have the time to make that happen.
In December 2020, I received my P45. It’s not the end of the world, but it’s a little scary to be going into the New Year knowing that there is currently no more money coming my way, ever again. But I am seeing this as an opportunity to do something I really want to do. I wouldn't feel able to do it had I not just spent the last 12 months unknowingly laying the groundwork for this new venture, if I hadn’t got such a great relationship with some of the suppliers I work with, and if I hadn’t had even just a handful of people tell me they believe in the idea. So we are going for it!
In 2021, Chouette Events is finally going to become my full time focus.
I will continue to research new suppliers (I already have a long list of ones I’d like to work with and I know there are hundreds more!) and I’ll be supporting them in any way I can. A feature on the website, some extra little nuggets here and there for you too, and whatever else I can do to help them keep going.
I’ll also be launching my full Wedding & Event planning services!
I’ll be using my knowledge of these amazing suppliers to help match you with the right people for your day, depending on your location, your budget, your style and your preferences and showing you what’s available for your special day.
I’ll be doing it in a way that’s more flexible and more affordable than most options that are out there. And, most importantly, I'll be here to to listen to you. I’ll be honest, I’ll give you my best advice, but I will be working hard to try to bring your dream event together.
I’ll also be regularly updating my blog, chatting to more couples about their experiences of wedding planning in Couples Corner, and I have a few exciting surprises up my sleeve for the coming months too…
Thanks for joining me on the journey. I’m excited to see where it goes!