Beyond the Planning: An Interview with a Holkham Wedding Expert

Posted: December 21st 2018

Former Historic Royal Palaces wedding planner brings a slice of royalty to Holkham’s weddings

From Kensington Palace to Holkham, wedding planner Belle Hutton has over 12 years’ experience planning weddings, here she tells us what life was like in the royal walls, what her dream wedding would involve and what every bride needs to know.

You started out working as a wedding planner working for Historic Royal Palaces at Kensington Palace. Can you tell us what that was like?

My wedding planning days go right back to before my time at Kensington Palace. I ran my first wedding when I was 17 when I worked for The National Trust at Stowe. Then I went to university, on graduating I went to work for Kensington Palace, that was in November 2011.

At Kensington Palace, we did some really high-end, luxury, exclusive weddings. We ran between 10 and 12 a year each with most budgets over £100,000. The weddings could be anything from a lovely ceremony in The Orangery, to a big marquee for 250 people with a fireworks display. We had couples arriving by horse and carriage, afternoon teas and formal dinners in the state rooms. The special thing about Kensington Palace is that there is no other current royal residence that you can hire for weddings. And the thing about these historic palaces is that they were designed for entertaining, so it’s really fun to continue history in such a way.

And now you’ve brought your expertise to Holkham. Can you briefly talk me through the spaces available at Holkham?

We have six main venues here at Holkham. There’s the State Rooms inside the Hall, (which is still a family home), they would have been used for entertaining in the past. Within those rooms you have the Marble Hall, which is an incredibly grand room and the image that tends to stay with couples when they first see Holkham.

Then there’s The Saloon with sweeping views of the estate’s park and stunning fountain in front of the hall. It has a lovely roaring fire so perfect for autumn/winter weddings. There’s something pretty special about having a Van Dyke [painting] at one end and a Reubens at the other!

Next is the Statue Gallery; surrounded by some of the best sculptures at Holkham; the first Earl brought them over from his Grand Tour in Italy.

For more intimate ceremonies there’s the North State Dining Room, which seats about 30 people and looks out over the north of the park. This view is sometimes overlooked because of the magnificence to the south. However, the north is often where the deer gather, as well as having a view of the monument and lake.

The Lady Elizabeth Wing is one of the most versatile spaces I’ve ever seen in 12 years of working in weddings, couples can totally personalise the space. You could have a wedding with anything from 40-50 people banquet style, through to really big sumptuous dinners for 250 guests. We are starting to see couples be a lot more creative with this space, in terms of flower and AV design. There’s so much you can do, from hanging flower wreaths to lighting the room with vibrant colours.

We have three marquee spaces. The Temple, which is very ethereal and romantic. Inside you can have a really intimate ceremony for 20 people, it was originally a shooting lodge and is still being used so it is very rustic. Bride and grooms could have an outdoor ceremony for larger parties, which is really popular – weather permitting. The Temple marquee has views down to the lake and the sea beyond and has a lovely woodland feel.

Wedding marquees can also be by Holkham’s lake with the hall as a backdrop, which can be lit up at night. You see the sunset over the lake and could have fireworks there in the evening.

Lastly, there’s The Walled Garden, which is a ¼ of mile from the hall, it is currently being restored, but one of the areas is called the ‘event room’, it’s very enclosed and protected with beautiful borders and lots of roses, it’s very private.

What would your dream wedding at Holkham involve?

Like every couple, I would definitely be looking to expand the celebrations; creating a dream wedding weekend that everybody talks about. We’re not just talking the wedding day – but everything from the rehearsal/night before supper for the bridal party, pre-wedding bridesmaid pamper parties, post wedding day brunches and walks on the beach!

On my imaginary wedding at Holkham I would wake up at The Victoria Inn and have an early morning walk on the beach with my bridesmaids followed by a really nice breakfast in The Orangery at The Victoria. I’d get ready in the Ancient House, which we’d have booked out for the wedding party. The groomsmen might be clay pigeon shooting or going for a bike ride, or row on the lake.

Then our guests would arrive down Holkham’s 2km drive, in through the South Gate, which gives that stunning first view of the Hall. The wedding ceremony would be in the Marble Hall, decorated with lots and lots of candles all the way up the stairs and two big blossom trees at the bottom.

After the wedding ceremony, my new husband and I would have a couple of minutes in The Saloon on our own to take it all in and to admire the view, then our guests would join us in The Statue Gallery for drinks and canapes, with a jazz trio in the corner - The Statue Gallery gets the afternoon sun.

Following this, my new husband and I would take a retro Land Rover Defender and go for photos in the park, with champagne! We’d take pictures in the sweeping landscape of the South Park that leads down to the Hall. I also love the shots we see of couples going down the drive. While our photos are being done, the groomsmen would move the guests into to the Lady Elizabeth Wing, so that when we arrive back all our guests are already there to greet us as the new Mr and Mrs!

I would have another short drinks reception in the Lady Elizabeth Wing’s private courtyard with a light summery drink like grapefruit gin and tonic, plus lawn games, a magician and jazz band again. After that everyone would move through to the main room, which would be set up with long tables with flower frames over the top of the tables. They would be filled with all sorts of lovely scented foliage draping over the edge. Along the tables I’d have peonies in pink, whites and apricots.

The room would be lit with lots of candlelight and a beautiful table setting. One of our suppliers, CMA Hire, has just got some very cool concrete-effect plates. I’d have them with gold cutlery and sage linen to tie it all in. We’d have a traditional three-course meal, while an acoustic band plays old-fashioned twenties-style music.

During dessert, my husband and I might slip off for sunset pictures by the lake.

I’d drape a canopy of fairy lights over the black and white tiled dance floor and use hot pink lighting to create a clubby feel for the dancing. I’d put pods of low seating with sumptuous rugs and colourful cushions around the wedding venue. I’d serve Espresso Martinis, there would be a band playing, lots of dancing and then evening snacks; bacon butties or a doughnut wall, for example.

Then we’d leave on the back of a motorbike, with my personalised Mrs Hutton leather jacket, to smoke bombs and zoom off to the Triumphal Arch when we’d spend the night before joining the weddings guests back at Victoria Inn for breakfast the next day, before heading for a walk on the beach.

What’s the most original thing you’ve seen in all your time working in weddings?

From personalised 30-metre-long aisle runners with the couples’ unique monogram made and shipped from New York, to sequined table cloths that are gold when you brush them one way, and silver when you brush them the other, the weird and wonderful elements of weddings are one of the best things about the job! Topping them all however, was a fabulous bride who worked in publishing. Using a colour palette of ivory, parchment white, soft ambers, rose golds, creamy peaches, smooth apricots and velvety champagne tones, she created three-intricate blossom trees. Standing at 2.5m tall – each of the leaves were crafted from the pages of all her favourite novels. A wedding surrounded by the greatest love stories of all time!

You got married recently, what advice would you offer to brides since your own wedding day?

The biggest thing I’d say is don’t underestimate how quickly the day goes. Don’t get married too early so you can make the most of the time you have with your bridesmaids in the morning. Try to get as many things sorted in the week before your wedding so you can enjoy the lead up to it. I’d also say end your wedding day on a high, for example don’t drag out the dancing for 6-7 hours, you want your guests to groan when the music turns off!

Do you have any expert tips for a cost effective wedding?

Two things I would say. One, don’t stretch yourself so much on one area of your wedding that you then can’t afford to say dress your venue or have the caterer that you want. As a rule of thumb, the food and drink and wedding venue should make up about 50% of your budget.

Find a wedding package that suits your budget and makes it go further.

I would also say don’t spend money unnecessarily, for example something like wedding favours are a bit out of fashion at the moment. Instead give your guests an extra drink at the bar, which will probably be more appreciated.

What do you think is the most important thing to keep in mind when planning a wedding?

Planning a wedding is undoubtedly overwhelming. With the last-minute arrangements, family opinions, mountains of emotions and a thousand decisions – it is fun, exciting and stressful. It is easy to get caught up in the flurry of the final few weeks and especially on the day itself. But whatever your wedding planning process looks like – always try to keep in mind why you are doing it. You are marrying the person you love. You are lucky enough to have found each other and now you are committing to your life together in front of all the people that mean the most to you. When all is said and done, you are left with just one thing – your marriage. Don’t lose sight of that.

What stands out about stately home wedding venues?

What’s so special about a stately home goes back to what I said at the start of the interview about how these historic buildings are designed for entertaining, to show off and be used for fabulous parties (or weddings) and they will continue to do so for years to come.

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