Sometimes things in my life just escalate. I’m an ‘all in’ kind of person and don’t tend to do things by half. You know, ‘go big or go home’, fortune favours the brave, YOLO, that’s my attitude. I don’t really know where it comes from, I’ve just always been that way, believing anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
When I initially sat down with Gemma to discuss ideas for her 40th birthday party we decided upon a small gathering at home in the garden. It wasn’t going to be anything too grand, maybe a BBQ with some nibbles, accompanied by plenty of good booze and some background music.
That was the plan anyway – but it didn’t quite pan out that way…
One of Gemma’s many endearing qualities is her selfless attitude and willingness to put others before herself – it’s just one of the reasons I love her so much. Whenever it’s somebody else’s birthday, she always steps up to the plate and gives up her own time to ensure that person’s day is special, often spending hours planning the event and turning up before everybody else to decorate the venue.
So this was Gemma’s turn to be spoiled, and an opportunity to show her how much she means to me.
I started by suggesting we hire a marquee for the back garden. Gemma loved this idea as she knew she could go to town decorating the inside – she has a real eye for these things, and in another life (or this one, who knows!) she could easily have been an in interior designer – Le Bon Lifestyle party planners maybe…?
We found a great little company called Revolution Recreation down the road in Caterham to supply the marquee. They specialise in providing smaller marquees for private parties which was perfect for our needs. Matt and Pamela, who run the company, were great every step of the way, offering great advice from the size of marquee to lighting and decoration ideas.
They also provided a pop-up bar, DJ booth, dance floor, lighting and bar stools – we had all the basic elements of our own club!
One of the major drawbacks of hosting your own party is you often don’t get a chance to enjoy it as much as your guests when you are running around making sure everyone has enough food and drink. So we decided to hire a catering company with waitress service.
My boss, Chris, had used Belgeous Foods, a catering company based in Sevenoaks, for his 40th birthday, and we were really impressed. So I called Richard Fontaine, the owner, and discussed our requirements. Richard was excellent from the off, and Belgeous provide an extensive list of menu choices to cater for all tastes and palates. We opted for canapés including beef wellington, fish and chips and mushroom risotto, all were superb and well received by our guests.
Gemma knew about the marquee and catering, and as far as she was concerned, that was the full extent of the plans. However, I wanted to throw in a few surprises to make the evening truly memorable. You are only 40 once after all!
A cross between a Take That concert and a Calvin Harris set seemed appropriate, so I set about acquiring the services of a fire-breather, mind reading magician, ice sculpting company, mixologist, saxophone player and a top-class DJ – as I said, I don’t do things by half. I also ordered enough fireworks to make New Year’s Eve in Sydney look like amateur hour – I sent the arsenal to my in-laws so Gemma would not find out.
As the big night drew closer, I started to worry about all the things that could go wrong. Would the magician be any good? Would the fire-breather seem over the top? Had we ordered enough food and drink? In the end, I resolved to forget worrying, what will be will be.
The day before the party Matt and Pam arrived from Revolution Recreation to erect the marquee. They worked incredibly hard as a team, and our excitement grew as we could see the venue taking shape. While they were busy with the marquee, Gemma and I started to decorate the garden with fairy lights.
Matt and Pamela were finished by about 3 o’clock, which meant we could set about decorating the interior with Gemma’s props. We beavered away in the marquee and garden until eleven thirty in the evening, when we decided to call it a night and finish up in the morning.
There was still plenty to do on the day of the party, so after a hot breakfast and coffee, we set about our respective tasks with gusto.
The Table Football machine, supplied by Leisure King, arrived at ten and we set this up under our pagoda, which we had covered in canvas in case of rain and decorated with fairy lights and photos of Gemma.
I picked up the birthday cake, created by Susan Pridie of All Shapes & Slices. It was a brilliant piece of work featuring a Gucci Handbag with a bottle of Grey Goose Vodka protruding from inside and surrounded by cans of soda and slices of lime.
Gemma went out to get her hair done at two o’clock, and this gave me the chance to bury the fireworks at the back of the garden.
The Ice Sculptor turned up at five with the Vodka Luge in the shape of the number 40 and we set this up on a table at the entrance to the garden so it would be one of the first things guests would see on arrival. We strategically placed bottles of Grey Goose, Tequila and Jagermeister beside the luge – this was going to be a messy night!
Richard from Belgeous Foods arrived with his team at 1800 to set up. Miraculously the weather had changed from an apocalyptic rainstorm thirty minutes earlier to clear blue skies with no further rain forecast – the weather gods had shone down on us thankfully.
This was it; we were ready to go. The venue looked amazing, and now I just had to hope the performers did their bit and we could set about greeting our guests and enjoying the party ourselves.
Colin and Gemma turned up first to give moral support and were quickly followed by Andy and Vicky (who’s wedding we went to in Croatia).
My first surprise, Maxwell, the fire breather / bubbleologist (yes there is such a thing!) arrived in time to greet our guests with a magical mix of bubbles and flame. I used a company called JoJoFun Entertainment and thought they provided real value for money and Maxwell certainly added a wow factor to the proceedings.
Next up, Graham the Mixologist from Purple Fizz turned up. He proved to be the star of the show, mixing up some of the best cocktails we have ever had.
Purple Fizz were great, sending me a menu for cocktail ideas, but you can also go off-piste and request your own personal favourites. Once you have decided what you want, they send you a list of the ingredients you need, including how much of each depending on how many cocktails per guest (they can provide ingredients themselves, but it’s cheaper to buy yourself – and they are happy to help advise).
I opted for Espresso Martini, Raspberry Mule, Mojito and Strawberry Daiquiri. Purple Fizz also provided the appropriate glasses – they really were a pleasure to work with. Thankfully I purchased more than enough ingredients as the cocktails went down a storm with all our friends, so much so that hardly any of the wine I purchased ended up being drank!
By seven thirty most of the guests had arrived and the party was in full swing. Edward Crawford, the mind reader / magician I had booked, arrived and set about working his way around the guests. He started by surprising Gemma, who loves magic and especially mind reading magic.
I have to admit, I am a bit of a sceptic when it comes to magic and mind reading, but Edward was superb. Some of the things he did still blow my mind to this day and our guests were talking about his performance many days after the event.
All the while, Richards team were doing a sterling job of keeping guests glasses topped up and serving up tasty dishes to soak up the free-flowing booze.
Maxwell was setting light to guests hands and shooting flames 20 feet into the air, and Edward was wowing groups with his trickery.
At nine o’clock I gathered everybody beside the Vodka Luge to present Gemma with her birthday cake and after a hearty rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ with the help of my brother-in-law, John, I set off the fireworks.
Once the fireworks had been set off, I could really relax and let my hair down.
One of our friends Danny had kindly agreed to DJ for us and did not disappoint – he absolutely blew the house down!
For the first hour of his set, he was accompanied by Tim, the saxophonist I had hired, playing old school house tunes that took us back to our younger days.
Tim added something special, he really is a great sax player and was able to harmonise without even knowing the tunes beforehand.
We partied long into the night, finally calling closing time at around 4 am. As the last people staggered away into their carriages, we sat and reflected on what we had achieved.
It was an evening we will never forget and gave us memories for a lifetime. It would not have been possible without the help of some amazing companies, some great performers, our superstar DJ Dan, and last but not least our wonderful fiends – every one of which brought their ‘A’ game.
Life really does begin at 40 it seems…