Blooming With Elegance

For over 35 years, Simon Lycett has been renowned for creating floral fabulousness for events across the globe. He and his team design and execute magical and memorable events within unique venues, from royalty to footballing royalty. A familiar face on TV around the world, and an accomplished author of 7 books, in 2022, he was appointed the inaugural ambassador of floristry and floral art by the Royal Horticultural Society

How did it all begin?

Growing up in Warwick, I always knew from the age of seven that I wanted to become a florist. Norma (who taught city and guilds floristry) was a neighbour, and she, together with two spinster near-neighbours, was a significant influence and support. I remember the first thing I wanted to do when my school day finished was to grow seeds and spend time in the greenhouse. My parents let me get on with it, and I’m sure they just thought it was a phase I was going through. My dad was an engineer, and my mum was a homemaker, but neither of them had any huge interest in gardening apart from the basics. My parents chose to send me to a private, all-boys school, and back in the 70’s and 80’s, being a boy interested in flowers made me an easy target. I was bullied by teachers and pupils alike, but I guess it builds a carapace which can help prepare you for life.

My parents wanted to see a return on their investment in my education, so dutifully, I attended Huddersfield polytechnic as it was then and enrolled on a humanities course. It was a brilliant way to leave the family home and interact with people from all walks of life. I managed to stay for a year but knowing I still wanted to work with flowers, I left and took a job as a junior florist in London, thinking it would be for six months.

Your floristry has appeared in many films; do you have any favourites or stand-out moments?

“Four weddings and a funeral” was an incredible experience. Whilst working on it, none of us knew it would become the iconic film it still is. At the time, it was hard work, creating the flowers as a one-man band. I had the support of a couple of prop guys throughout a really intense eight-weeks-reduced-to-six schedule. However, they were the happiest and most amazing six weeks of my life. There was no hierarchy and everyone was together during that bloody hot sunny period. Andie Macdowell was so friendly! I was used to creating flowers for TV commercials and soon realised people are either really lovely or not. I was always somewhat scared of Mike Newell, the director; he was just so “on it”. I look back now on an amazing experience, with plenty of laughing and crying and, overall, a monumental amount of experience gained. If ever you wanted a magical showcase of Britain, then Four Weddings and a funeral is it.

Am I right that I heard you’ve never had any formal training? Influencers within your career?

I’ve received no formal training. From the age of seven to fifteen I had Norma, who taught me the proper old-school “nuts and bolts” approach, almost an apprenticeship, although somehow intrinsically, I just knew how to do it. I remember, whilst in the sixth form, a fellow pupil died, and I was asked to create floral tributes for his funeral. Having struggled to pass my maths o-level at the fourth attempt, the maths teacher who had watched me flounder with columns and figures was amazed to see how accurately and efficiently I could calculate stem lengths.

I prefer my staff to have no formal training in floristry. I am lucky to have a phenomenal team with great synergy, and little communication or direction is needed. They work hard and thrive under pressure.

Do you have a favourite time of the year within your profession?

May, the RHS Chelsea flower show, is the time of the year when British flowers become abundant and beautiful. It’s also when we start becoming busy, and the weather is better.

You have some fantastic celebrity clients. Would you say the requests mainly come from ladies or the gents?

Our core business is weddings and high-end corporate events, and we tend to work alongside many event planners and caterers. We are fortunate to be accredited suppliers to all of London’s unique venues and hotels. It still frustrates me that the corporate world is, on the whole, driven by men, although it’s mainly women that I deal with when arranging corporate events.

Do you like to receive flowers yourself?

I do; people tend to be nervous about giving me flowers, but I love to receive them.

Tell me more about the filming and your experience of the world’s biggest flower market.

Because I seem to have become the “voice” of floristry in the UK due to my experience in front of the camera, I was approached by a production company to co-present the documentary together with Cherry Healy. And despite what you see on camera, she and I never actually filmed together! There was simply no need for cross-over filming. It was a fantastic experience and gave me fascinating access to various unique places. I fondly remember filming in Africa at the Zambezi flower farm, where they grow beautiful fragrant roses which I have used for over 20 years.

How can we raise the profile of British floristry and seasonal flowers?

Social media is a spectacular tool for raising the profile of British floristry. “Seasonal” is very prevalent in the kitchen – we are encouraged to shop and eat seasonally, and it is gradually becoming more so with flowers and plants – however, the jeopardy of British weather can cause issues, as most clients still want perfection and are not happy to have rain or wind-damaged blooms! I adore using locally grown seasonal flowers; however, the UK flower industry simply cannot supply enough of the flowers that my clients and I require. Availability of British blooms can literally change overnight if there is a frost or storm and most clients, especially brides, want a clear idea of the flowers they will be receiving for their event. This requires us to source most flowers from large-scale commercial growers, most of whom are overseas. Whilst sustainability is a beautiful goal and is becoming a powerful movement for good, I feel we must temper our comments and criticisms with the knowledge that many of us are speaking from a privileged position. For small high-street florists, the use of imported flowers and of flower foam enables them to add value relatively quickly, which in turn increases their margins which enables them to survive against the supermarkets.

I’ve filmed a lot in LA, for a competitive florist programme where I am the host and one of three judges and called “full bloom”. One of my fellow judges owns a coffee shop, and we spent a morning there. Endless customers came to pick up a coffee, each carrying a plastic yoga mat, wearing essentially plastic clothing, and yet each demanded a paper straw in their almond milk latte. Almonds require more water to grow in California than almost everything else, yet they were obsessing over the paper straw!
Sometimes we will have a client who is adamant they have sustainable seasonal flowers sourced from the UK. For them, it is a relatively straightforward “win” – a big tick for their green credentials! Yet that sustainability is rarely maintained throughout the event – the menu ingredients and wines will be internationally sourced, and the keynote speaker and an entourage will have flown across the Atlantic. So whilst we try to work as sustainably as possible, to work only using what is seasonally available in the UK is impossible without a significant re-education of people’s perception of floral décor.

You’ve published seven books; your current one is “people of the flower market”. Where do you find the time, and do you find writing cathartic?

I enjoy the English language and playing with words, crafting a sentence and a phrase. I travel a lot on flights to LA and I am fortunate enough to fly in premium seating. I’m always awake on a plane; I don’t watch films; I settle myself in and set up my “desk” and write. I’m in my little bubble, an enclave in the sky; this is how I like to write.

Was appearing on TV for the first time reasonably daunting?

Because I have always been confident in knowing my subject – flowers – it has allowed me to be relatively confident; I was a regular on breakfast TV and the living channel, along with other daytime shows and where I cut my teeth.

Your place of work is the arches; what’s the history of the arches, and when did you acquire them? Do you get used to the train noise, or do you have music to mask it a little? Are the arches beneficial in terms of temperature control and light for the flowers?

I’ve been in business for 35 years, and for the last 20-years, we have been based within a series of Victorian railway arches. We have a conjoined atrium providing additional space. The brickwork is dank but waterproof, which provides a cool temperature ideal for the flowers. When I was first shown the arches, I didn’t want them. I had visions of no daylight and it being dank and dark, and with trains hurtling overhead. However, we are lucky that our offices and kitchen extend beyond the arch, so we do get daylight. We don’t even notice the trains anymore, however, often clients react to them and think it’s thunder. Thankfully, it’s not a busy line, whereas if you’re below the Eurostar, then there’s a constant and hefty supply of trains; we are lucky – ours are much quieter.

After your events, what happens to the flowers?

We have had to harden our hearts to this. In the same way, no one would think to gather up odds and ends from each butter dish; we have to consider the flowers and butter have done their job, and served their purpose! For most events, we will have been nurturing the flowers to ensure they are fully open for the finite period of the event. Often this will mean we spent two weeks conditioning them to be “on point” for the night. Frequently we are not able to create arrangements within water due to venue restrictions, so after a warm night in a venue, the flowers really are pretty tired. However, we love it when people take a few stems away with them to enjoy for a couple of days.

We are also lucky to work with a charity called “Floral Angels” who have her royal highness the queen consort as patron. They will repurpose large decorations post-event, making them into little bunches and posies, which they distribute to hospices and care homes.

Do you try and best guide wedding couples/clients to natural seasonal flowers, as opposed to man-made technology choices all year round?

It is human nature that most brides wish for perfection, and many provide a prescribed list of flowers, roses, hydrangeas, and orchids, and despite suggesting seasonal alternatives, most continue to seek the perfection of imported blooms, so I become a floral prostitute giving them what they pay me to produce.

Where do your inspirations come from?

Luckily I am able to travel around the world, and I get to work within extraordinary spaces when closed to the public; I am very fortunate to work with the finest venues and suppliers, all of which are inspiring. Thankfully, my clients have spectacular budgets, enabling us to create magic!

Extreme request from a client?

I worked on an event where a client actually built from scratch three structures within a resort hotel, and one of the structures the hotel still uses for guests. The construction of each took many months, and all for a few hours of an evening party; it did however look blooming amazing.

So you work in London, is home close by and how do you relax from your work?

Home is close to Lycett towers, and as I drive home, I begin to think about what I will cook for supper. Food and cooking are one of my greatest pleasures, and it is how I relax and unwind.

Recently, you were invited to chat with Sophie and Jamie on their @nearlywedspodcast how was that?

Brilliant, such a laugh; we three just hit it off; they both are truly lovely and so normal it was effortless and hilarious; all three of us bounced off one another, and we could have spoken for half a day.

Do you have a royal warrant?

I don’t have a retail arm, so I wouldn’t wish to have one. I have been fortunate to have enjoyed commissions for the royal family.

Mental health/wellbeing and surrounding oneself with botanicals is your key?

I’ve known forever how much horticulture and time within a garden aids our health and well-being. I was reminded of this when covid hit, and we faced lockdown; I was fortunate to have a little garden, where I spent a lot of time with my hands in the soil. It made me once again truly discover nature and all the majestic treasures it holds.
Rhs research goes back many years and demonstrates to us that plants are beneficial to our health, to our working environment, especially when we’re using devices and screens.

Finally, what exciting projects are you working on in 2023?

Although it has taken a while to click back in, the return of international and overseas events has begun in earnest and is hugely fascinating and challenging for us. We love the thrill of working in new places alongside new and incredibly artistic individuals to achieve a unique and bespoke event. It’s the very reason we refuse all regular weekly contract work. To us, it’s bloody boring; we like nothing more than creating magical memories and then moving on to the next amazing location!