The sky is the limit for Lelian Chew’s weddings – and so is the budget
Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 16:30 pm
The day we get married is meant to be one of the happiest of our lives. So how much is too much to spend on a wedding? £10,000? £100,000? How about up to a million pounds?
In the UK, the average nuptials – which nowadays might include Kim Kardashian-inspired floral displays or doughnut walls – set the bride and groom back an estimated £30,355, according to bridebook.co.uk. The entire British wedding industry is said to be worth £10 billion.
But in some Asian countries, the wedding industry is even bigger, as members of a new wealthy elite increasingly favour staggering displays of extravagance for their big days. In China alone, despite the marriage rate falling, the world of weddings is rising, and said to be worth £208 billion.
This world of super-size weddings is examined in a new BBC documentary, Million Dollar Wedding Planner, and features Lelian Chew, who has made a career out of throwing the most opulent and talked-about weddings in Asia.
Singapore-based Chew, 37, began her career in finance, working on the trading floor for Goldman Sachs, which she says gives her a good grounding in for working with exacting clients.
“Being a wedding planner is definitely a stressful job,” she says. “But I’m used to making split-second decisions whether to buy or sell on millions of dollars of stock, so I’m used to high pressure. It’s a different type of pressure, because there’s emotions involved.
“You cannot be telling a bride on the eve of her wedding that the colour of the rose that she’s chosen months ago is no longer available. As a planner, we understand how emotional all these choices and decisions are.”
The emotions – and stakes – run high in the organisation of matrimonies for some of the richest people on the planet. But until just a few years ago, wedding planners didn’t really exist in Asia. Wedding planning was mainly left to the banqueting or hospitality teams of the wedding venues.
Chew started her company, The Wedding Atelier, six years ago after an old banking client asked her to help out with their son’s wedding. It had a guest list of 3,000 people. Three thousand people? “It’s actually not that uncommon in some parts of Asia,” she explains. “It was a multi-day event, there was a big budget… That was my first opportunity to witness what people like this really want at their weddings.”
What the super-wealthy client wants, the client gets. In the documentary, the film follows three couples who are each throwing their own lavish wedding with the help of Chew – and with their own ideas on how they want to spend their special day. “My clients like to set trends, not follow them,” she says.
Febyan, 26, from Jakarta, liked a vintage of wine so much, he bought the Italian vineyard and wants to transform it into a wedding venue for his fiancée, Angie. He can’t decide whether to go for a diamond or gold Cartier wedding ring for himself, so just gets both.
Elsewhere, one couple have £300,000 worth of flowers (“enough to buy a small house,’’ admits Chew) for their reception room. Another couple rent out an entire five-star resort in Bali, so the bride can walk over water in a floating bridge built by Chew’s production team.
‘We have no budget. It’s like, whatever’
How much does this all set them back? Most of the couples get bashful when asked this question. The only person who answers is Febyan, who reveals: “We have no budget. It’s like, whatever.”
Chew also won’t be drawn on the most expensive wedding she’s produced – or what Western singers, chefs and performers she’s previously flown in, thanks to “the many NDAs” she’s signed. But she does say that it’s common for her clients to spend about a million dollars on multi-day celebrations, or overseas weddings, which is what pulls the cost up considerably.
Chew says her clients are “demanding and exacting” by virtue of the world they live in. ““These people have had the good fortune to obtain anything they want, so it’s very difficult to tell them no.”
What about ridiculous requests? What if a client were to ask for a unicorn to walk down the aisle, for example? Chew laughs: “Is it a real unicorn, a live unicorn, is it a horse with a horn, or do you want an electronic unicorn that moves? Instead of saying, ‘What are you talking about? That doesn’t exist!’ It’s finding out exactly what they mean. We’re trained for that.”
Chew has found her profitable niche in a vastly expanding market, but insists that it’s more than just a job. “I’m such a big romantic,” she says.“I still cry at every wedding we do. When you see two people in love, everything coming together at the wedding and them reciting their vows, it’s such a magical role for me.”
And as she waves them off, there’s just one thing all the money in the world can’t guarantee them: happily ever after.
Million Dollar Wedding Planner is on BBC Two on Thursday 10 October at 9pm