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You only need look at the hashtag #firstbirthday on Instagram to see that with 3.4 million posts, it’s a trending topic. From Kylie Jenner spending a reported $1m on daughter Stormi’s first birthday, to Harper Beckham’s Buckingham Palace afternoon tea, a child’s birthday party is big news.
From toy-shop sleepovers and elaborate escape rooms to balloon installations and cinematographers, here’s how to impress your darling children and their pals with an interactive experience they will never forget.
Sure, you can probably cobble a party together yourself, but if money is no object (and the thought of entertaining 30+ kids brings you out in a cold sweat) there’s help on hand.
Event planner extraordinaire Steven Duggan has designed parties for both Elton John and Adele’s children and is one of the best in the business. Most of his clients are millionaires based in the UK, Dubai and Russia and budgets range from £20k to £300k+.
“There’s been a huge rise in the trend for immersive experiences and we’ve planned everything from an Alice in Wonderland world, with character actors leading children on an adventure down a rabbit hole, to a Peppa Pig party complete with a garden maze and petting zoo with real pigs,” Duggan explains.
Old Etonians George Whitefield and Charlie Astor fell into children’s party planning after being tasked with throwing a bash for their House Master’s daughter. Since officially starting Sharky & George in 2007, the duo now employ 180 staff, planning over 80 events a week, including for children of celebrities Holly Willoughby, Edith Bowman and Bear Grylls.
“We cater for most budgets, from low-key birthdays for £300 to six-figure sums that involve hiring helicopters and speedboats to take ten-year-olds down the Thames, all captured by a drone,” says Whitefield.
You’re spoilt for choice in London, from a sleepover for 15 in Hamleys, including a midnight movie and feast (from £5,000), to interactive parties at the Science Museum (from £30 per child) or a Dinosaur Party at the Natural History Museum (from £50 per child).
Claridge’s and The Connaught also cater for kid’s parties, and Harrods offers bespoke parties and presents for members of its kids’ club, Mini Harrods. Hiring a hotel space comes with added benefits of in-house catering and bathroom facilities for your guests.
However, party planners agree the real fun comes from a blank canvas – use your garden or a purpose-built event space, like The Orangery in Holland Park or Aynhoe Park in Oxfordshire, where you can create something unique.
“My favourite party was a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed event where we created a whole world from scratch,” says Duggan. “We planted oak trees, changed the flooring to create a rolling forest with hills and had a chocolate fountain with dancing Oompa Loompas. There was lighting, rigs and performances from actors all night. It was a fantastic way to showcase how much you can actually do.”
Themes and activities
The rise of escape rooms, Secret Cinema and The Crystal Maze has spilled over into the world of children’s parties. “Over and again we’re tasked with creating something to challenge and entertain kids in an exciting, imaginative way,” says George.
“Of course, Disney characters, food fights and unicorns are still popular, but for aged six and above you can expect high-octane treasure hunts, quests and mazes or ‘mini-Olympics’ – parties designed to get children active.”
Decorations and décor
Nothing screams party more than (biodegradable) balloons. In need of a 3D Thomas the Tank or Elsa? No problem. Want to have a ‘Kidchella’ entrance arch? Bring it on.
“Our motto is ‘bigger is better’ and nothing is too much of a challenge,” says Bubblegum Balloons’ Laura Slater. “Our hero installations are usually balloon characters, with my personal favourite being the Lightning McQueen fire truck that the kids could actually sit in while flashing the headlights and beeping the horn.”
“We work with caterers or hotel chefs to create quick, healthy food to sustain the kids,” says Whitefield. “Just steer clear of sugar – no parent will thank you for a free-for-all pick n’ mix.”
Splashing the cash on a one-year-old who won’t remember the day itself? Not a problem. “More parents now want to capture a cinematic production and it’s not unusual for us to have three crews filming, plus a couple of photographers shooting creative features, big moments and guests,” says Duggan.
Presents and party swag
To avoid looking ostentatious, many parents have overhauled children’s party bags, so instead of finding an iPod to take home, these days you’re more likely to discover details about an endangered animal sponsored in your name or personalised organic clothing your child can wear – Cressida Jamieson designs bespoke tees of choice (from £60).
The same goes for presents. “Parents we work with prefer charity donations in their child’s name, instead of a present they are likely to have already,” says Duggan.
Remember, whatever you plan you’ll be tasked with trying to outdo yourself in just 364 days…
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