Suffolk: Celebrity florist Simon Lycett talks about his trip to Milden
“We don’t often do ordinary,” laughs Simon Lycett, who spent all of yesterday suspending three-metre decorations from the ceiling of a church in Barnes for a flower festival, each one taking six men to lift. The buzz the 45-year-old gets from the challenge of transforming venues hasn’t wilted over the years. If anything, it continues to blossom.
“That’s always the fun: the fact that every day we can make something totally different. I always like the challenge of interpreting things. We had a client recently who wanted us to interpret the 50 years of her husband’s life for his 50th birthday. That required a bit of ingenuity and a bit of a brainstorm within the work room.”
Simon comes to Milden next month, where he’ll show off his skills and share tales of his extraordinary career. Tickets are already selling like hot cakes.
His work is much in demand for TV, commercials, radio, films and premieres. A regular on ITV’s The Alan Titchmarsh Show, he also works for Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and the Royal Horticultural Society and the BBC at the Chelsea Flower Show.
It all started with a trip to a flower show in his home town of Warwick when he was seven.
“I was captivated by it all: went home and duly replicated all sorts of bits out of the garden. It’s something I’ve always loved doing; I haven’t had any formal training, so it is sort of slightly instinctive.”
Simon obviously had a flair for it, being asked to provide the flower arrangements for the daughter of his parents’ friends when he was 14.
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“They had seen the sort of flowers I used to do and asked me if I would do them. It didn’t seem stressful; I think ignorance was bliss, really. I was sort of na�ve enough just to float through it all. It was something that has always driven me, and the weddings we work on these days are a little bit more stressful sometimes.”
Stressful doesn’t seem to cover it.
He’s created a fairytale setting in Ireland for David and Victoria Beckham’s wedding, actresses Thandie Newton and Victoria Smurfitt commissioned him for their nuptials, as did King Constantine of Greece and top-flight footballers Thierry Henry, Ashley Cole and Gary Neville.
Simon also provided flowers for the historic wedding of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall at Windsor Castle.
Most recently, he and his team did the same for the party the Queen gave at the Mandarin Oriental the evening before the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, attended by more than 50 crowned heads of state.
“The hassles and aggros you have [with high-profile weddings] like the press intrusion, paparazzi, that sort of thing; the endless confidentiality agreements and forms and papers you all have to sign to do these things . . . all of that makes a hard job harder sometimes.
“On the whole it’s no different to working with anyone else when they ask us to do their wedding flowers. We’re used to doing quite large-scale, lavish work. The logistics we have to go through... for example, the weekend of the Jubilee we had three weddings on, but most of the bridges were closed throughout London, so it meant we had to start work at four in the morning, loading six Luton vans and sending them out to various different locations.”
Simon considers himself incredibly lucky to have a client list that also includes former US President George Bush, Queen Sonja of Norway, celebrated designer Nicky Haslam, ex-Beatle Ringo Starr and the International Rome Film Festival – providing a punks and patriots-themed red carpet backdrop – to name a few.
“We’re very lucky; we do get to work all over the world and in all sorts of extraordinary places and, yes, sometimes I have to pinch myself. I work with a very creative team, most of whom have been with me for 10 years, so between us we can normally manage to come up with something. It’s all down to team work; it’s not physically possible for me to create all this on my own.”
He was privileged to decorate the royal box at the Royal Opera House for a gala performance celebrating the Queen’s 80th birthday and, later in the year, to create magnificent, vast, flower arrangements to adorn the tables at the final private dinner held at the Ritz.
“It’s quite funny, slightly surreal [getting that call] and you wonder sometimes if it’s a mate of yours ringing up and pretending. To meet the Queen was extraordinary because in walks this lady who you know but you don’t know, and that is obviously very special regardless of what one’s opinions are of the monarchy. To meet iconic figures is strange and interesting; they’re all just like the rest of us, to be honest.”
He must have some stories?
“As a rule we don’t discuss anything. One of the funny stories I can tell you is that many years ago I was working for Queen Sonja of Norway. We work fairly regularly for her whenever she comes over to the UK and she adores her flowers; she’s passionate about them.
“We were trying to work out the dimensions of a length of fabric to clothe a table once. We were talking and I said ‘oh, I’m really sorry ma’am, I’m hopeless at maths; that’s why I’m a florist’. She said ‘oh I’m hopeless at maths; that’s why I’m a queen’,” he laughs. “It was a lovely self-deprecating comment.”
Simon completed one year of a humanities degree in his teens because it was great fun, but knew he didn’t need to do any more of it than that because he knew he still wanted to be a florist. He came to London when he was 20, ending up working for top florists of the day, like the late Robert Day in Pimlico Road and Pulbrook and Gould. Six years later he set up his own company.
His career got a massive kick-start in 1993 when he was asked to arrange the flowers for the smash-hit film Four Weddings And A Funeral.
“I used to do a lot of flowers for films, bits and pieces and things on set; for the Wings of A Dove and those lovely sort of films made in the ’80s; all those EM Forster novels and Merchant Ivory productions.
“Also, lots of television commercials were quite flowery, gentle and beautiful and they used to have phenomenal budgets. So there was the time and money for someone to spend doing purely the flowers down a dining table for a dinner party if it was being filmed or whatever. I specialised in that for a couple of years and then was asked to do the flowers for the memorial service for Jim Henson, the guy who created the Muppets, who died very suddenly, through people I had known in the film industry.
“As a result of doing that, one of the people who worked for him was a man called Duncan Kenworthy, who then became a producer on Four Weddings And A Funeral. He was the one who said ‘If you need flowers, you should talk to Simon’. It sort of snowballed from there, really, thankfully.”
Simon will be at The Old Rectory, Milden, Suffolk, from 2.15pm-5pm on Monday, July 9.
He was asked to give the flower-arranging demonstration and talk by his friend Nick Bullen, director of programmes for Spun Gold TV, which produces The Alan Titchmarsh Show, on which Simon’s the resident florist.
“We’re going to come up and I think it’s going to be a lovely afternoon for everybody. I hope it’s going to be sunny by then; I think we’re due a bit of summer by then, don’t you,” he laughs.
Reluctant to dash his hopes, I warn him summer has yet to arrive in Suffolk.
“Oh it’s been ridiculous. We’re going to build an ark, I think. It’s so ridiculous. I’m still wearing my winter clothes in the flower market because it’s so blooming cold.
“We’re planning on doing a fantastic demonstration which will last about an hour-and-a-half to two hours and I will create six fabulous, huge, vast, over the top arrangements. There will be lots of chat and stories, so if anybody’s interested in flowers and flower-arranging it will be a great fun afternoon for them.”
Tickets are �15 and can be bought from Jo Cole via firstname.lastname@example.org or 01449 761 792. Admission to the event is by ticket only and numbers are strictly limited.
The event is in aid of Milden church and the Countryside Alliance.