Some occupations are more rom-com friendly than others, sometimes even to the point of cliché (Why do so many male love interests work as architects? How on earth do writer or journalist characters earn enough to live in such enormous apartments?). But Sophie Breeze, the heroine of Katy Birchall’s The Secret Bridesmaid, has a job that is both refreshingly unique and perfectly suited for the genre: She’s a wedding planner who goes incognito as a bridesmaid on the big day (and sometimes before), allowing the happy couple to maintain a facade to their guests that all the festivities have been put together with no professional assistance. We talked to Birchall about her favorite wedding traditions, the real-life inspirations for her rom-com and why she’s anti-canapé.
Where did you get the idea for a professional wedding planner going incognito as a bridesmaid?
A few years ago, I read online that professional bridesmaids genuinely exist and I remember being amazed at the idea. The more I thought about it, the more I considered how it must be both fun and incredibly stressful to go undercover at someone’s wedding. You’d meet so many interesting people and find yourself in the most bizarre and joyful scenarios—there’s nothing quite like a wedding—but also have to learn everything there is to know about someone in a short amount of time to pass yourself off as their close friend. I mulled over the idea for a couple of years before I had the courage to start writing the book!
"I could definitely live without the first dance. The idea of everyone watching me attempt to dance is a genuine nightmare."
How long do you think you would survive if you had to do Sophie's job? Or do you think you would be great at it?
I’m not sure I could be nearly so levelheaded and efficient as Sophie in such high-stress situations, especially as a wedding is one of the most important days of someone’s life. It’s a lot of pressure to get it right!
Having said that, I absolutely LOVE being a bridesmaid and have been lucky enough to be one a few times. All those bridesmaid experiences made me so passionate about weddings that I wanted to write a book that revolved around them.
What is your favorite wedding tradition? Which one could you live without?
My favorite wedding tradition is the speeches. I love the personal anecdotes that are revealed in speeches, especially the comedy ones. Also, a lot of people I know don’t declare their love for one another openly—maybe that’s down to the classic British stiff upper lip—so I think it’s quite sweet that it’s a rare opportunity in life to stand up and say how you feel about that one person.
I could definitely live without the first dance. The idea of everyone watching me attempt to dance is a genuine nightmare. I will certainly be scrapping that tradition when I get married!
All of the weddings Sophie works on are so unique and fun! Which one would you most like to attend as a guest? Are there any that sound like a nightmare to you?
I would love to attend Nisha and Luke’s. I had so much fun writing that chapter! I love how many days the celebrations run over and the fusion of the two cultures. I also would happily attend Cordelia’s as I’d say that would be rather spectacular.
None sound like a nightmare to me. That’s honestly the best thing about weddings, they are all so different, but always fun, because the happy nature of the day means that everyone there can just let go, celebrate and have a day off from life.
Was Cordelia inspired by any real-life celebrities or socialites?
When I was at school in the 1990s, there was a huge obsession at the time with “It Girls,” British socialites who were rich, fashionable and always photographed at celebrity parties. I’ve always loved glossy magazines and those It Girls were constantly on the front of them. I think Cordelia was influenced by a mix of those women, and also by modern, reality TV stars—specifically the ones who end up surprising you.
Are you Team Sophie or Team Tom when it comes to the subject of canapés? If you are Team Sophie, what is your ideal appetizer situation?
I am Team Tom on this one. I genuinely panic at the thought of eating one. Do you attempt to eat half and risk a mess? Or do you throw caution to the wind and eat it in one, risking an awkward pause in conversation because your mouth is too full to speak? What if you’re holding your clutch and a glass of champagne and you’re offered a canapé? What then? How do you hold everything? And, on top of all that, sometimes you’re offered a napkin too. How can you hold a napkin in one hand under the canapé in the other, as well as holding a glass?!
Canapés boggle my brain. They have to be teeny tiny for me to handle the situation or I completely avoid them.
One of my favorite things about this book is that Sophie so clearly, clearly is her parents' daughter. How did you develop their characters? Did they spring more or less fully formed once you had Sophie down? Or did it take a few drafts for their personalities to come into focus?
Once I’d worked Sophie out, I could imagine her parents quite vividly. They’re so different, but their personalities complement each other, a dynamic that is a lot of fun to write. Sophie is efficient and determined like her mother—I knew right from the start that her mum was much more preoccupied by Sophie’s unique career path than her romantic relationships—but has the gentle nature of her father.
Your website says you are "mildly obsessed with Jane Austen." Who is your favorite Austen heroine, who is your favorite hero and do you have a firmly held but unpopular opinion about any of the books or characters?
My favorite Austen heroine is Emma Woodhouse. She’s smart, elegant and sure of herself, but is also snobbish, self-centered and stubborn. She makes so many mistakes and ends up acknowledging that and doing her best to learn from them. She’s not a perfect heroine in the slightest, which is why I love her. I aspire to be more Lizzy Bennet, but Emma’s story has my heart!
My favorite hero is a toss-up between Mr. Darcy (too obvious?) and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey. Mr. Darcy has that attractive broody-but-secretly-nice-guy vibe, but Tilney wins by a long way when it comes to excellent chat and a corking sense of humor.
I’m not sure if it’s that unpopular an opinion, but I root for Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park. Her materialistic flaws aside, she’s brilliant, fun, charismatic and a lot more interesting than our irritating protagonist, Fanny. I’m not convinced Mary is a villain at all.
What's next for you?
I’m currently having a ball writing my next wedding-themed romantic comedy, which will be hitting shelves in 2022, as well as working on a few children’s and young adult novels. It’s very busy, but in the best way.
Author photo by Imogen Forte.