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How to throw a great party

Top tips on how to throw a Gadsby-esque party this summer from event planner Vanessa Harness

At my ripe old age I’d have hoped that I’d have nailed party hosting by now.  I’m not the kind of person who can throw together a Gatsby-esque party just like that without a few meltdowns, tears and total relief when the whole thing is over.  With two kids (just about to be hanging round my ankles for 8 weeks), a business, a dog and a mid-year sense of exhaustions (oh, just me?) it’s not like I have loads of time on my hands to plan stuff.

So ever the short-term fixer I asked Vanessa from Cambridgeshire based Rocks and Frocks to share with me her tips on throwing a fabulous party. Want to know her secrets?  Here you go then.

Ready to party

Rocks and Frocks; Party Secrets

  1.  Plan your budget well in advance and be realistic


A party can be planned on pretty much any budget but be honest with yourself and the rest will follow.  It’ll be hard to plan a party for 150 when your budget says hotdogs for 25 but once you’ve worked out the numbers you can move on to the fun parts.  Anything is possible with imagination and prioritisation.  If the budget is tight, work out what’s important  – is that the venue, food, or having certain people coming?  Guests will always remember if they were bored, hungry or thirsty but hey, you can never have enough of a good thing!

Party Outdoors


  1. Get the invitations out early

Not only be an early bird, but make sure they look amazing.  This is the first time that your guests will have any idea about your party and you need to wow them from the off and get them excited.  If it looks good – they’ll be there with roller skates on and they’ll cancel any other dates booked in the diary if someone has got in first.

LED Stilt Walkers

LED stilt walkers – Glam Slam Entertainments

  3.  The Devil is in the detail

Planning is crucial, both for your sanity and for the success of the party. Time spent working out quantities of food, drink, cutlery, crockery, the list goes on will ensure you’re not making a mad dash to Sainsbury’s half way through the night.

Some of the best parties are themed, so have a think about what you enjoy, whether it’s a certain type of music, a favourite film or a place that inspires you. It can be as subtle as a favourite colour or as crazy as a graffiti party – the theme can then be weaved through all elements of the event, starting with the invites and continuing through to the décor and food. If the budget allows you can hire props, lighting and entertainers to enhance the theme.  Needing to be more careful? Think creatively, beg borrow or steal (maybe not the last one) and if you plan ahead then you’ll have enough time to make things yourself.

      4.   Lights, Camera, Action

Club Tropicana lights

A party should be a journey – a series of reveals that start from the day that the guests receive their invitations, what greets them when they arrive, the drink, the food but it doesn’t stop then. The action continues with perhaps a cake, speeches, a game, a band, scantily dressed vodka girls on stilts (not sure I remember much about that night), a photo booth or fireworks.

If you’re hiring a DJ, don’t make the mistake of presuming he knows your taste or will happily play whatever you request. Provide a sample playlist so that you’re not surprised by your DJs penchant for hard techno!

Lighting plays a huge part in creating the right atmosphere and ambience for an event.  Outdoor lighting opens up many possibilities so try something different – hang crystal chandeliers from the trees to make a dramatic entrance. Inside use light props to add glamour or fun to your party – it doesn’t always have to be serious.


       5, Set up and clear down

If you’ve got lots of holiday banked at work, great – you’ll need it. Take a few days off either side of the party, as there will be heaps to do. If you’re arranging it all yourself don’t underestimate how much time will be needed meeting marquee people, waiting for deliveries and dressing the venue. The clear up is never much fun as you’ll be most likely nursing a sore head and you’ve go to clear rubbish, wash and return glasses and clear up the carnage of a great night. Make sure you enlist some good friends that can come and help manage the mess with you – pop a few more corks and it becomes an extension of the party.


Cambridge tipi

I’ve organised so many big parties with my job that I no longer worry about whether the parties I’m planning are a success, mainly because I see first hand that a relaxed, happy host pushes that vibe onto his or her guests. Either hire a party planner (like me!), or once you’ve done the hard work, let any feelings of angst go. The party’s started; make sure you’re at it!

Vanessa works with clients who need help with any event – large or small. She can certainly plan the event from start to finish but if you’re planning a party and have simply run out of time, she’ll come in and pick up from where you left off – if it’s a simple issue of finding someone to organise the parking she’ll help with that also.

For a free consultation or for some expert advice, get in touch.

Vanessa Harness at Rocks and Frocks

07595 986476

Vanessa Harness, Frocks and Rocks



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