Last weekend was a very special weekend, I’d say the most special of the year so far. It had taken months of preparation, and quite literally blood, sweat and tears to put together, but it was so worth it in the end. I threw my lovely Mum and Dad a surprise 25th or silver wedding anniversary party.
When I was little, I always said: “When you have your silver wedding anniversary Mum, I’ll organise it all.” At the time I thought 23 was all big and grown up, I thought I’d probably be moved out, be well put together and able to organise just about anything. How quickly the time crept up on me. About three months ago, I realised that the 25th wedding anniversary year was actually this year and I really had to keep my promise.
I started by thinking about what my Mum and Dad would like, and I knew immediately it would be family time. They don’t like too much fuss and wouldn’t like a huge party. I also thought an afternoon do would be more their thing, so all the kids could join in. Neither are big drinkers so I settled on an afternoon tea theme, perfect for July in the garden I thought. Then, I thought again and remembered I live in the UK and the weather can just about never be relied upon, so I made my first purchase of a marquee. I secretly crept out with a tape measure one morning and found one that perfectly fit our lawn. Just to make it clear, our garden is quite small (for some reason it looks a lot bigger in the photos), the marquee was 6m by 3m so just enough for everyone to squeeze under if the inevitable downpour were to happen.
I approached planning this party with military precision, I made a spreadsheet of tasks to be actioned and very early on got my brothers on board. I began by sending out emails to all my family with the date – decide on a date before you do this, I learnt this the hard way with everyone weighing in on which date they felt would be best. To suit the afternoon tea theme, I settled on the Sunday before my Mum and Dad’s actual anniversary. Once I’d sorted the invites and the marquee, I then wrote a menu and list of food for the day. We decided just to go for finger food in order to alleviate the need for knives and forks. This saved so much hassle and also meant the food stayed quite simple, I think it was the best decision I made.
Next up I bought all the decorations, this was my favourite part. I had a Pinterest board with all my ideas on (check it out here: https://uk.pinterest.com/100waystohappy/surprise-garden-party-ideas/) and knew I wanted to have lots of arty DIY bits. My little sister is a Pinterest fiend so I knew she’d help me. We decided on a few key things; lots of bunting, flowers in milk bottles and the pièce de résistance my washing line numbers. We thought these would all fit with the afternoon tea theme and also would work well both in the house and in the marquee.
The washing line numbers became our absolute favourite thing we did for the party, but they were a nightmare. I’d seen on Pinterest the idea of highlight cards and also seen glittery silver pegs so we combined the both. I bought a load of cheap wooden pegs and some silver glitter and we glammed the pegs up for the silver wedding anniversary party. Then we came up with a fact relating to my parents for each number 1-25. There were things like; ‘5 Prime Ministers there have been since their wedding day’ and more personal ones such as ’17 the number of people that sit round the Christmas table’. We printed these out, backed them on black card and pegged them up to a string which draped the whole back wall of the marquee. It was a huge talking point for the whole party, and my Mum told me it was her absolute favourite part.
We also did a shopping spree for all the bits you forget you need; paper plates, heart shaped balloons (maybe not as necessary but every party needs balloons!), plastic pint glasses, serving trays, table cloths and paper bowls for pick n’ mix. I also thought about entertaining the children and so borrowed from my aunt some giant garden games – hoopla, giant dominoes, pick up sticks and giant jenga. These went down brilliantly on the day.
The weekend before is when it all started to get a bit panicky, before then I’d felt in control and on top of things. We had organised for Mum and Dad to spend the night in a very fancy London hotel and to see a West End show when they were there. They thought this was their only surprise and were over the moon. They rarely do things just the two of them and don’t often get to London so they were very happy about this. Once we finally got rid of them on Saturday morning, we got to work.
First and foremost, a giant shop in Lidl and Sainsburys. We were making all sorts, from four different fillings of sandwiches to crudités, smoked salmon and cream cheese, sausage rolls, mini cheese and onion rolls, of course scones (both the cheese and strawberry and cream variety). The list goes on. I was also making giant bourbons and custard creams and a cake so we had to get lots of ingredients. Helpfully I’d asked everyone who was coming to bring a cake or pudding as well and this made a real difference. Definitely reach out to people if you’re planning a surprise party, it’s so easy for them to bring just one thing and added all together will make a real difference to you. When we got home, my brother and boyfriend made the dream team putting up the marquee, and I got to work in the kitchen baking my biscuits and preparing the sandwiches. Then there was the giant tidy up and soon it was late evening. I couldn’t believe where the time had gone. I’d text my cousin earlier in the day about coming over to bake the cake (I was using her larger oven) and had suggested I would come at 4pm, I ended up arriving at 9pm and not leaving until 11.30pm – still without a decorated cake.
The next morning is a bit of a blur in my head, decorations were being put up quickly, food being prepared and things laid out ready. Some of my favourite things were the flowers in the milk bottles which looked super cute all over the house; I paid around £10 for 12 mini milk bottles online and £5 for a large bunch of mixed flowers in Lidl so it was a really cheap way of making something look really special. I also loved the Pick n’ Mix table I had and I know that went down so well with the children; I just bought 8 packets of sweets and put them in paper bowls and then decorated another paper bowl with a ‘Pick n’ Mix – Help Yourself’ sign. Also my cake was a highlight, I used 2 and 5 moulds and made one half Victoria sponge and one chocolate cake, then covered them with butter icing and milk and white chocolate buttons. I loved my drinks table, lovingly designed by my little sister, with Pimms, beer and soft drinks and the paper cups laid out like a heart, the finishing touch was scattering little 25 silver sequins everywhere.
My worst fear was confirmed that afternoon, with half an hour to go the heavens opened. But luckily my marquee stood the test and as people arrived, the skies started to clear. i nearly got very upset about the rain but soon realised it made no difference at all. There is no feeling quite like it all coming together and realising that weeks of organisation have finally pulled off. Everyone was so impressed with the effort I went to and I can honestly say the little details were what made all the difference. No one cares if it’s raining and the food isn’t the best in the world, they care about the little things that show you’ve put your heart and soul into it.
And my Mum and Dad? Let’s just say there were a few tears, lots of smiles and a million and one treasured memories.