Peter Kelly, whom some may know from his role on the RTÉ television series ‘Say Yes to the Dress Ireland’, is more commonly known as ‘Franc’ within the Irish wedding world, after the wedding planner in the film The Father of the Bride.
As ‘Franc’, he has become synonymous with Irish weddings, yet he maintains that there is no such thing as a ‘Franc wedding’.
“One of the greatest compliments I receive is when people say that my weddings are reflective of the couple because I’m there to help them find their stamp. I tell couples to write down what they want as their ideal wedding at the beginning of planning and to go back to it to ensure that they haven’t had their arms twisted by other people, including me,” he said.
Despite his success in the industry, working in weddings was more a happy accident than an intentional career move. His grandfather, who hosted what was apparently the longest running radio show in the UK on gardening, introduced him to garden and vegetable shows around Europe, which ignited his passion in gardening and raw materials. After training as a chef, which is how he met his wife, Éadaoin Morrish, he travelled and worked for high-end hotels but ultimately became disillusioned with his career.
“I stopped being a chef in my late twenties because I grew frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t control the external factors of the dining experience, such as lighting, scent, furnishing, and I joined my wife’s business called Visual Image Display”, he said.
Their work on the food village in Millstreet for Eurovision in 1993 was covered by Time magazine and they gained a reputation for their unique service in corporate events. At the time of the millennium, CEOs began to approach Franc to organise their children’s weddings and it rapidly became apparent that he had the knowledge and contacts to cover every facet of wedding planning.
He commented: “I began to do weddings and realised that my background was very well-suited to the area. As well as food and drink, I knew a lot about flowers and growers and lighting. My wife arranged a lot of window displays and we had to travel to fashion shows to research what colours were in season for the window sets, which meant that we knew a significant amount about fashion, too.”
Describing wedding dress shopping as “finding your personality in fabric”, Franc’s wedding fashion advice is simple, try on silhouettes to find what shapes you like and then do the initial shop with one person whose opinion you can really trust. “You can always go back to the shop with more people, pretend you’ve just found the dress and have your champagne-popping moment then, if that’s what you’d like. Sometimes, you’re better off not confusing things with too many opinions.
“My advice to grooms is that you don’t have to wear a tuxedo if you’re going to be uncomfortable all day. It’s your day as well, be honest because it isn’t worth it for the photos if you aren’t enjoying yourself”, he stated.
The key message Franc highlights is that the couple should always be at the centre of the wedding, regardless of what is expected of them: “A wedding should be about the couple and no one else. While I love tradition, I don’t like it when etiquette dictates a wedding. People think that the mother of the bride has to sit with the father of the groom or that they have to serve beef or salmon, which I think is complete rubbish. It’s your wedding, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.
“For my wedding, we didn’t have a top table, we had a round table in the centre because I wanted to see and mix with everyone. I’d cooked hundreds of wedding before having my own and it never made sense to me that people should sit on one side of a table. You would never go out for dinner and request to all sit on one side.
“I’ve worked with vegan couples and told them to make their wedding vegan because it reflects them and it will be a unique experience for their guests. Another couple had met in a chipper, so we arranged for the doors to open off the dance floor at 1 a.m. to reveal a room that had been converted into a chipper. It was great fun and it didn’t cost a lot, it just required a bit of imagination and planning but the outcome was huge.
“My big thing is giving people the confidence to do something different and a tip I’ve always emphasised is not to tell anyone anything in advance because the more you build something up, the more it will have to measure up, whereas if they don’t know what to expect, they can be pleasantly surprised.”
On Ireland’s diversifying weddings, he reflected: “I love doing religious services in a church but I also love doing non-religious services on a cliff and neither one is ever better than the other. It’s really down to the celebrant, who can help to make the day special and personal.
“The lovely thing about humanist ceremonies is that you can design it with the celebrant and I think that should be the same with every type of service, whether religious or non-religious. People are a lot more confident now to voice what they would love to include and to find out what the boundaries might be so that they’re happy with the ceremony and feel it’s right for them.”
Franc disagrees with how social media is increasingly taking priority on the big day, claiming that the photographs are less important than people may lead themselves to believe: “Everyone says that the photographs are the most important thing but I would say that what’s key is making the memories of a fantastic day first and then you have the photographs. You actually have very little time, it goes by so quickly on a wedding day and when you’ve gathered all the people that you love in one room, you don’t want to spend loads of time away from them getting pictures taken.”
Reflecting on the effects of Covid-19, Franc feels that a positive from the restrictions has been that couples are under less pressure to invite people they aren’t necessarily close with. “It’s been very difficult but for some it’s also been quite freeing for others to have the wedding that they want, without having to invite as many people, plus the people who may not have wanted to go don’t feel they have to out of obligation, either. The antigen testing has been a big help to keep things safe and hopefully we’re back on the right track for those who dream of a bigger celebration”, he concluded.