About three weeks ago now, my school prom took place. About six months before that, I signed on to organise the entire event… almost entirely on my own. It was a hard task, but one that I was willing to accept. Today, I want to talk through the entire process behind pulling off the biggest event I’ve ever organised. All photography provided by Layne Cooper from Alba Cove Photography.
When we had prom in Year 11, I hated it. It wasn’t because I hated the work that the team behind Year 11 prom did by any means, but I hated what a prom stood to be; it felt like a forced formal event where I had to act more formally with my school peers than I normally would, despite the fact that I see them everyday. This didn’t, however, deter me from wanting to take on the planning process behind our Year 13 prom two years later, but little did I know the kind of task I was about to take on.
While I like doing things on my own and enjoy the lessons I inevitably learn by doing so, I didn’t really anticipate how little interest people would have in planning our final prom. After the Year 11 prom committee met disaster with our original venue going bust a week before our event, people were more than reluctant to put their name down for the next team. As a result, our team became a very small one and because of where our different interests were, it meant that a lot of the weight was on my shoulders. It was stressful; self-inflicted stress for sure, but stressful nonetheless.
Our first task was to find ourselves a venue. Luckily, one of the girls who said they’d help out, Megan, was more than interested in finding a venue, too. My problem when it came to venue hunting though is that I had a venue in mind and it was not a real place. I was interested in using a modern, converted barn for our prom (think about a very rural, Pinterest-y wedding) and unfortunately, none of those options near to us would accommodate a load of tipsy 18 year olds (and perhaps rightly so).
It took a heck of a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to find something that we were happy with, but eventually we settled on our venue; a place that was so under my nose – only five minutes from my house – that I hadn’t even considered it before. By the time we’d firmed the venue and agreed on a price that suited us, it was incredibly late in the game. So the money collection process had to start thick and fast…
Trying to do these things as professionally as possible is a lot more difficult than I ever anticipated and you quickly realise how other people think it’s much easier than it actually is, too. When it comes to organising an event like that, every single thing has to have been considered and timed in advance to make sure it goes smoothly: I had to stay behind after school many nights to count money; Megan came with me to set up a business bank account so the money was being used correctly; letters had to be written and proof-read; food had to be decided and almost 200 people worth of dietary requirements had to be filed and passed on; team member Victoria did the fantastic job of turning all of the data people gave in on their reply slips into an Excel spreadsheet and that took time, too! It’s the kind of task list that does not end until about a week after the event does.
After securing our venue – which included food and music, thank God – it then came to securing other bits I wanted. I knew that I wanted a photobooth and a photographer, so tried as hard as I could to find two that worked well for me. My photobooth was coming to us months after being used at the BAFTA Awards afterparty and our photographer, a friend of a friend, was the kind of photographer that was so good, she was beyond my wildest dreams. Both of these companies provided me with exactly the services that I was looking for, so I was glad I spent the time to search for them.
The next stage was decorations, something that is so much more of an arseache than you’d think, but my friend Savannah was hot on that, too. Between us, we managed to design two rooms, a corridor, a staircase, an entrance hall and a conservatory in a colour palette that worked perfectly. It’s another part of the process that people don’t realise how hard it is: having Amazon orders sent to my Grandmother’s house so someone could sign for them and then transferring all 30 of them to me; traipsing around the town centre to find small nick-nacks I couldn’t find online on the hottest day of the year; doing small graphic designs for information cards and Snapchat filters that need to be printed and cut and ordered; sorting out the nominations list and voting slips for Prom King and Queen. It’s the kind of mammoth task that takes a village, so tackling it all between the two of us was intense. In the end though, the final product and the reception it got was well worth the effort.
Everything was running smoothly for me until the week of the prom when my photobooth company called to say they could no longer provide on Sunday because the booth had been broken at a wedding. I was so destroyed, I can’t tell you how hard I bawled my eyes out with stress and heartache. I’d spent months trying to find a very high-quality, GIF photobooth – exactly what I was looking for and had told everyone about to get them excited – and it wasn’t going to happen. How on Earth was I going to find another company in time?
Luckly, I did and while I was skeptical at first, they turned out to be even better than I could’ve hoped for and no one seemed to mind at all. The lesson I learned there: if you have a task at hand, there’s no point in stressing about it. Take five minutes to grieve the problem, then work hard on finding a solution. I made so many phone calls and wrote so many emails that day that I still wanted to cry by the end of it, but my friend Rukaya and Ellie can vouch for my extreme reaction of joy when I got the email to confirm I was getting what I wanted: the prom was saved!
The night itself ran perfectly and I could not have been more happy with it. We managed to set everything up (myself and Savannah, along with our friends Amy and Abbie) in exactly the right amount of time we gave ourselves and I could not have been more glad to see how impressed people were. I make a lot of things, but they’re always projects that are personal to me and if people don’t like them, they have the option to switch off. With prom, I wasn’t organising a party for myself. Instead, I was organising an event where I was only 0.5% of the interest group. There were almost 200 other people that had to like what I was doing because they’d paid for it as much as I had and the pressure was on like it had never been before.
Looking back on those chaotic final months that I had at school, always overshadowed by the prom that was looming over my head like a dark cloud, I’m so glad I took on the task. It gave me the chance to prove myself in so many different ways and to learn a lot along the way, too. And not prove myself to other people because to most, it didn’t matter who organised it for them, but to me: I managed to prove to myself that there is no task too big for me to try and take on… so far, anyway.