The list reads like a set of impossible challenges: book villas for Mick Jagger, sort out discreet suppers for George Clooney, arrange a massage for Johnny Depp and organise a 40th birthday party where Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Madonna can all shimmy on a white rose-strewn dance floor while Kanye West DJs.
Yet Serena Cook has done them all — and more.
For the past 18 years the British fixer to the stars has been concierge and party planner extraordinaire on the ‘White Isle’ of Ibiza.
It’s a role that has her chartering boats for 150 people at a moment’s notice, booking tables at unbookable restaurants and generally managing the sky-high expectations of those with sky-high net worth.
‘I’m constantly having to up my game,’ says Serena, 46. ‘But throwing a good party is in my genes. My mother and my grandmother were both hostesses with the most, with extremely high standards. They taught me that entertaining is all about thoughtful little details.’
Serena Cook, 46, has thrown parties for some of the world’s most notorious a-list party lovers
And A-list clientele certainly expect lots of those. One bride decided 24 hours before the big day that she wanted live monarch butterflies released at the end of the ceremony — despite the fact you can’t get them in Ibiza. (‘We sourced 80 from Portugal and they were transported 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.’)
There are some limits, though. The most outlandish 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 business Deliciously Sorted in 2002, the key is the ability to tailor everything to a client’s specific desires. She is now sharing the secrets of experience to help us all sprinkle stardust on summer bashes.
While you may not have £1 million to spend on your party – the cost of the most expensive event held by Serena – you can still create a luxury atmosphere using these tips
While rarely an issue for back garden parties, in her job discretion is a high priority.
Three years ago, Serena arranged the celebrity wedding of the year for actors Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender at a members-only boutique farmhouse hotel. The only detail Serena will share is that she employed 18 security guards to keep out the paparazzi.
Serena has jaw-dropping villas, rock-star venues, chefs, drivers, masseurs, beauticians, hosts, butlers, waitresses and DJs at her disposal – as well as a ‘brilliant team’ of 20 experts.
But although her most expensive event cost £1 million, she insists that a good party is more about letting your ‘imagination sparkle’ than spending big bucks. Inventiveness is more important mid-pandemic — when we’re more likely to be hosting al fresco and sticking close to home.
Here, she shares her secrets for bringing A-list glamour to any party . . .
FOOD TO THRILL GUESTS
Serena urges party hosts to stay out of the kitchen during the party by preparing simple food beforehand
Aim to provide simple, elegant food which can be prepared before your guests arrive.
‘They’re here to see you,’ says Serena,
‘so don’t spend the entire time cooped up in the kitchen.’ She adds: ‘Sea bass is a favourite in Ibiza.
If you are cooking yourself, ceviche [raw fish cured in citrus juices] is fantastic as it can be prepared in advance. For a white theme, think cakes with white icing or creamy panna cotta for dessert.’
Mediterranean-style tapas is a good option: prawns with garlic, Spanish meatballs, padrón peppers, tortillas, patatas bravas, olives, almonds and salad. Serena says: ‘This is relatively inexpensive.’
For dessert, she says the Spanish love cheesecake with fruit coulis.
CLEVER DECOR TO MAKE YOUR GET-TOGETHER THE GO-TO EVENT
Clever decoration is the key to giving the impression that you have gone the extra mile.
‘It’s all part of making guests feel special,’ says Serena. ‘You don’t need to break the bank. Even the smallest touches can make a big impact.’
For a chilled vibe, she suggests dotting white candles around the garden in lanterns or tea lights.
Serena suggests candles aplenty to give a luxury feel, with scented candles placed in the cloakroom
‘Good sources are Ikea, Amazon, the local pound shop or the garden centre,’ says Serena. ‘Keep scented candles for a luxury touch in the cloakroom.’
Strings of cheap festoon bulbs also look pretty.
Flowers are a feature of her most high-profile events: ‘If budget allows, go for calla lilies in chic, tall vases for a white theme,’ she says. ‘If not, bunches of white balloons will give the same effect, either at the entrance or at each end of the dining table, in corners, off chairs.’
For a budget injection of colour, Serena suggests decorating your table with bowls of fruit. Lemons in particular are evocative of Ibiza.
Vases of fresh rosemary and thyme also work well, emitting a lovely scent on a summer evening.
‘Coloured candles in varying heights and sizes, or hibiscus flowers in terracotta pots work well for a more vibrant set-up. If on a smaller budget, hang brightly coloured streamers from chairs or trees.’
Think about all the senses when you decorate. Serena suggests an inexpensive wind chime (you can find good ones at the garden centre) with its wonderful dreamy sound for a bohemian feel.
And don’t bother with expensive extra seating or ruining your good chairs.
‘Think cushions and seagrass rugs that you can scatter round your garden, even any vintage furniture you might have inside your home.
‘Use straw and sisal [available cheaply in bulk online] to decorate placements or tie on the back of chairs. If you don’t have a formal table, low coffee tables work with scattered cushions on the grass. Cascading flowers or succulents (these last for ever, so you can keep them after the party) also add a nice touch.’
If your garden is big enough try to create different zones: reception/drinks area, dining table or buffet/snacks area and dancing area.
‘My top tip is position the bar next to the dance floor as people congregate at the bar, which makes the space next to it seem lively and full.’
You may also want a ‘sit soft’ spot for the end of the evening — scatter large cushions on the grass with rugs and cosy blankets.
BIG DREAMS AND GREAT THEMES
Serena claims that having a party theme will make your party 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 to which all elements of the event link — which makes your planning much easier,’ she adds.
‘The first thing I do is write down the theme, and that sparks ideas for food, music, drinks, decoration and entertainment.’
Take the extravagant Cirque Du Freak party she created in 2015: ‘We projected footage from 1920s circuses 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 a vital decorative element.
‘We were very strict about the way they looked: male only, clean-shaven, handsome,’ she says. Serena and her team cast every one, noting shirt sizes, height and weight.
‘A white party is very now in Ibiza,’ says Serena. ‘It works well for a special birthday or the night before a wedding.’
Invitations are important to a theme, she says: ‘Paperless post [paperlesspost.com] is a great tool as you can design the invites for free and send them by email.
‘But if you want to send them through the post, my favourite is Wren Press [wrenpress.co.uk].’
Serena suggests you ask guests to dress the part. ‘Tell them the best dressed will be awarded with champagne,’ she says.
DRINKS 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 good way to kick off your party.
‘I’m not a big bubbles 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 — does get a party started. Of the cavas, I love Freixenet [around £10].’
If you feel prosecco has lost its sparkle, Serena recommends sangria made with cava, or the minty cocktails caipiroskas and caipirinhas: ‘Lots of fresh mint gives a lovely fresh taste.’
Use any rectangular table to create a bar, and stock up on glasses, bottles, corkscrews, shakers and herbs for garnish — then guests can mix their own drinks later on.
As for the coolest spirit of the summer? Undoubtedly mezcal.
Serena says: ‘Mezcal is a purer form of tequila that is smokier in taste. It’s perfect served as a Mezcal Mule, with ginger ale and lime.’
Her favourite is a paloma (tequila, grapefruit juice, soda and lime juice).
For non-drinkers, try elderflower cordial with mint.