The list reads like a series of impossible challenges: book villas for Mick Jagger, arrange discreet dinners for George Clooney, arrange a massage for Johnny Depp, and host a 40th birthday party where Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Madonna can all shimmy on a white with roses studded dance floor while Kanye West DJs.
Still, Serena Cook did them all – and more.
The British fixer to the stars has been a concierge and party planner extraordinaire on the ‘White Island’ of Ibiza for 18 years.
It’s a part where she charters boats for 150 people in an instant, reserves tables at non-bookable restaurants, and generally manages the skyrocketing expectations of people with sky-high net worth.
“I have to constantly improve my game,” says Serena, 46. “But having a good party is in my genes. My mom and grandmother were both hostesses with the highest demands. They taught me that entertaining is about thoughtful little details. ‘
Serena Cook, 46, has given parties for some of the world’s most notorious party lovers on the list
And A-list customers certainly expect a lot from it. A bride decided 24 hours before the big day that she wanted the monarch butterflies to be released at the end of the ceremony – despite the fact that you can’t get them in Ibiza. (“We took 80 from Portugal and they were shipped by DHL – they emerged from their chrysalises upon delivery.”)
Another wanted a birthday cake that was an exact replica of a Hermès Birkin bag. (“It was flown in on a private jet from London.”)
However, there are some limitations. The most bizarre request was for dancing bears and lion cubs for a Cirque Du Freak party (“I said no!”).
According to Serena, who set up her events and expert concierge company Deliciously Sorted in 2002, the key is the ability to tailor everything to a client’s specific needs. She now shares the secrets of experience to help us all sprinkle star dust on summer bashes.
While you may not have £ 1 million to spend on your party – the cost of Serena’s most expensive event – these tips can still help you create a luxurious atmosphere
Although it is rarely a problem for backyard parties, she has high priority in her work discretion.
Three years ago, Serena arranged the celebrity wedding of the year for actors Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender at a boutique hotel open to members only. The only detail Serena will tell is that she employed 18 guards to keep the paparazzi out.
Serena boasts breathtaking villas, rock star locations, chefs, drivers, masseurs, beauticians, hosts, butlers, waitresses and DJs – as well as a ‘brilliant team’ of twenty experts.
But while her most expensive event cost £ 1 million, she emphasizes that a good party is more about sparking your ‘fantasy’ than spending a lot of money. Inventiveness is more important in the midst of the pandemic – when we will host outside more often and stay close to home.
Here she shares her secrets to bringing A-list glamor to any party. . .
FOOD FOR GUESTS
Serena urges party hosts to stay out of the kitchen during the party by preparing simple food in advance
Try to prepare simple, elegant dishes that can be prepared before your guests arrive.
“They’re here to see you,” says Serena,
“so don’t spend all the time in the kitchen.” She adds, ‘Sea bass is a favorite in Ibiza.
If you cook yourself, ceviche [raw fish cured in citrus juices] is fantastic because it can be prepared in advance. For a white theme, think of cakes with white icing or creamy panna cotta for dessert. ‘
Mediterranean-style tapas are a great option: shrimp with garlic, Spanish meatballs, padrón peppers, tortillas, patatas bravas, olives, almonds, and salad. Serena says, “This is relatively inexpensive.”
For dessert, she says that the Spaniards love cheesecake with fruit coulis.
CLEVER DECOR TO MAKE YOUR TO-TOGETHER THE GO-TO EVENT
Smart decoration is the key to giving the impression that you have gone a step further.
“It’s all part of making guests feel special,” says Serena. “You don’t have to break the bank. Even the smallest details can have a big impact. ‘
For a chilled atmosphere, she suggests dipping white candles in the garden in lanterns or tea lights.
Serena suggests candles enough to give a luxurious feel, with scented candles in the wardrobe
“Good sources are Ikea, Amazon, the local pound shop or the garden center,” says Serena. “Keep scented candles for a luxurious touch in the wardrobe.”
Strings cheap sling balls also look nice.
Flowers are a hallmark of her most talked-about events: “If the budget allows, go for calla lilies in chic, tall vases for a white theme,” she says. “If not, bunches of white balloons will have the same effect, either at the entrance or at each end of the dining table, in corners, on chairs.”
For a budget injection of color, Serena suggests decorating your table with fruit bowls. Lemons in particular are reminiscent of Ibiza.
Vases with fresh rosemary and thyme also work well and give off a wonderful fragrance on a summer evening.
Colored candles of varying heights and sizes, or hibiscus flowers in terracotta pots work well for a more lively arrangement. If you’re on a budget, hang brightly colored streamers on chairs or trees. ‘
Think of all the senses when you decorate. Serena suggests a cheap wind chime (you can find good ones in the garden center) with its beautiful dreamy sound for a bohemian feel.
And don’t bother with expensive extra seats or ruin your good seats.
Think of pillows and seagrass rugs that you can sprinkle around your yard, even vintage furniture that you have in your home.
Use straw and sisal [available cheaply in bulk online] to decorate placements or to tie the back of chairs. If you don’t have a formal table, low coffee tables with scattered cushions work on the grass. Cascading flowers or succulents (these last forever so you can keep them after the party) also add a nice touch. ‘
If your garden is big enough, try creating different zones: reception / drinking area, dining table or buffet / snack area and dance area.
“My best tip is to place the bar next to the dance floor as people gather at the bar, making the space next to it look lively and full.”
You may also want a ‘sit-soft’ spot at the end of the evening – sprinkle large pillows on the grass with carpets and cozy blankets.
BIG DREAMS AND AMAZING THEMES
Serena claims that if you have a party theme, your party is easier to plan
You may think having a theme for your party only makes life more difficult, but Serena says the opposite is true.
“A theme becomes a focal point that connects all elements of the event – making your planning that much easier,” she adds.
“The first thing I do is write down the theme, which brings up ideas for food, music, drinks, decoration and entertainment.”
Take the extravagant Cirque Du Freak party she created in 2015: “We projected 1920s circus images around the event and the staff all wore circus uniforms.” For a Spanish theme for fashion designer Riccardo Tisci, even the bar staff, tray holders and busboys were an essential decorative element.
“We were very strict about what they looked like: only for men, clean-shaven, handsome,” she says. Serena and her team cast everyone, noting the shirt sizes, height and weight.
“A white party is very much in Ibiza,” says Serena. “It works well for a special birthday or the night before a wedding.”
Invitations are important for a theme, she says: “Paperless mail [paperlesspost.com] is a great tool because you can design the invitations for free and send them by email.
“But if you want to send them by mail, my favorite is Wren Press [wrenpress.co.uk]. ‘
Serena suggests that you ask guests to dress the part. “Say that the best-dressed with champagne will be rewarded,” she says.
BEVERAGES TO ADD A LITTLE SPARKLE
Serena tells party hosts to set up a bar so that guests can make their own drinks
Cocktails or champagne are a great way to start your party.
“I’m not a big bubble drinker, so I always serve cocktails on arrival,” says Serena. That said, champagne like Pol Roger – or, if you’re on a budget, cava and prosecco – is having a party. I like Freixenet from the cavas [around £10]. ‘
If you think prosecco has lost its sparkle, Serena recommends sangria made with cava, or the minty cocktails caipiroskas and caipirinhas: “Lots of fresh mint gives a wonderfully fresh flavor.”
Use a rectangular table to make a bar and stock up on glasses, bottles, corkscrews, shakers and spices for garnish – then guests can mix their own drinks later.
As for the coolest spirit of the summer? No doubt mezcal.
Serena says, “Mezcal is a purer form of tequila that is smokier in taste. It’s perfect as a Mezcal Mule, with ginger ale and lime. ‘
Her favorite is a paloma (tequila, grapefruit juice, soda and lime juice).
For non-drinkers, try elderflower syrup with mint.