Shelley Marsden gets the low-down on party planner Steve Duggan, who has worked with Simon Cowell, Leona Lewis and a host of other celebs
Throwing a bash for Elton John or a £70k party for a pair of (very lucky) twins is all in a week’s work for party planner Steve Duggan.
The Sligo-born celebrity event organiser has always had a passion for design (his family members all work in the design of interiors and buildings) and, after studying Interior Architecture and Event Management, he worked for large event companies around London, on private parties and lavish weddings.
Steven also cut his teeth on MTV’s My Super Sweet 16 parties, which follow teenagers as they plot, plan and prepare for the sixteenth birthday party to end all parties, complete with tears, tantrums and over-the-top fallouts.
He remembers them for their sheer extravagance: “Each client I worked with there always wanted to push their party to the next level and create something that has never seen before at a party. That was seriously challenging, but fun. And I love a good challenge.”
But ever ambitious, Steven wanted to push the boat out a little further – something he could never get the chance to do working for someone else – and so he decided to start up his own business. Since then, he has become the go-to guy for many of London and the UK’s biggest celeb events, as well as a favourite for private clients.
He and his team, who are available around the clock, work with vast budgets starting at around £3,000 and reaching in excess of £260,000 (his most extravagant budget to date for a private birthday party).
Steven regularly works with celebrities, often requesting unusual and lavish events on a daily basis, but will not admit to any diva behaviour on their behalf or spill the beans on any of the odder requests due to client confidentiality.
What he will say is that the famous clients are often the easiest: “To be honest, their requests are usually simple and direct, because they know exactly what they want and don’t want. But you know, I see it as working with any other person really.”
Well-known personalities Steven has worked with include Simon Cowell, Sir Elton John and David Furnish, Leona Lewis, Katie Piper, Peter Andre and Oliver Proudlock, but he ‘nicest’ has been Adele, who he calls “just a very easy going, genuine person, and always great fun to be around”.
These days, he has the phone numbers of some very important people in his iPhone, but Steven’s business began with a simple business card, a successful event and the power of word of mouth, something he says is crucial to any company.
He says: “Word of mouth is what we pride ourselves on. If you provide a good, genuine service and make sure you give 100% to each of your clients, then they will speak volumes about your work. That’s how it goes.”
As for the most ‘out there’ event he has been involved in, a favourite was a recent first birthday party for twins which he designed for a private client during the summer (“It brought the kid out in me!”). The price tag? A cool £70k.
A colourful and surreal mix of themes between Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, it included a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, storytelling areas, a fully themed barbecue menu and sweet treats, as well as themed actors to entertain the kids, a tiered Alice cake, special lighting, bouncy castles, fairground rides and more.
Steven told the Daily Mail recently that despite the insane budget, there was nothing unusual about the do, and that he does ‘about one a month’.
“[The 70k party] was for a private client”, he said, adding that the money was spent to “make that child feel totally special even though they don’t know what’s happening. The bigger they can have it, the better”.
It may look like the most fun job in the world (as long as you don’t think too hard about the amounts of money well-off people are happily prepared to throw to impress one another) but Steven admits that his perfectionist streak leads to him the point of near exhaustion with each project.
“It can be very tiring”, he admits. “But the most rewarding thing is to see the client’s absolute amazement when they walk into a room to see what I have created for them – that’s what drives me.”
He’s never tempted to hang around at parties and enjoy a glass of champagne, either. It’s strictly professional, with a team on site at every party to make sure all services are managed and maintained throughout the party. He laughs: “I personally am so focused on making sure everything is flawless and runs smoothly that I just don’t have any time to enjoy the parties – I wish I could!”
Steven keeps his own pad in West Hampstead -not far from his offices – a simple and uncluttered affair, perhaps as a form of respite from the constant glitz of the working world he inhabits. It’s the only place he can really switch off from work, he says.
Not that there’s much chance of that happening right now. Apparently, it’s the busiest time of year, with Halloween coming up (“we have some crazy private Halloween parties around London to do”) and Christmas just round the corner.
So what about us mere mortals who can’t spend thousands of pounds to impress their friends on an amazing party?! For Steven, it’s about keeping focused and calling on your creative streak.
“The sky’s the limit. Honestly. A party can be achieved with any budget, no matter how big or small! I’ve created some breathtaking parties on minimal budgets so it is very achievable – you just need to know how to do it and make the most with what you’ve got to work with.”