Q&A with Paul Hawkins

Paul Hawkins is a leading floral decorator who earnt the title “The Friendly Florist” when he did a regular stint on The Big Breakfast and has appeared on many other TV programmes across all channels since then. 

He has been passionate about flowers from an early age.  He started his career training at Colefax & Fowler before doing an apprenticeship at Moyses Stevens.  His reputation as an innovative, likeable and sought-after florist has been cemented by his portfolio of private and commercial clients and continuous word of mouth recommendations. 

We reached out to Paul to see if we could ask him some questions about the art of decorating with flowers, what is happening to all of the seasonal flowers that are not being used and also learn a bit more about his colourful career. 

(Please note this interview was conducted via e-mail in keeping with current social distancing guidelines).

Paul, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions.  Firstly, you’ve had a long spanning career as a floral decorator.  Can you tell us a little bit more about how you started and established your career?

I’ve always been a keen gardener and loved pressing flowers and tinkering in my grandparents’ lovely garden as a child. My parents had an Old Vicarage and the garden was heaven. I was obsessed with it. I was a child actor in the West End and on TV but it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue as an adult and the pull of all things decorative, proved to be too strong.

I worked at Colefax & Fowler and ran their antiques and accessories department in the Fulham Road. It was huge fun and I worked with a fab bunch of people. One girl always seemed to arrive in a ball dress, slightly worse for wear, from the night before!  A rather terrifying but fabulously talented woman called Val Cridland supplied us with lots of decorative bits and pieces, she also supplied flowers to go in various vessels around the showroom. She commandeered me to help her and I absolutely adored it. That was it. I was hooked on flowers.

I took the floral plunge and went to work for the amazing Martin Robinson. He specialised in dried flowers and I learnt loads with him. I then worked for the late Robert Day on Pimlico Road. He was achingly talented, having worked with The God, Ken Turner, for many years. The shop was divine and the clients were fabulous. I learnt LOADS, there.

I still needed to learn more floral theory. I then went to work at Royal florist, Moyses Stevens, then run by the utterly fabulous, Jennifer d’Abo. I worked in the workroom, under the watchful eye of John McCormick (who taught me not to waste a single thing).  I also attended their flower school to learn all those finickity things like wiring. (Which I am still useless at – give me a big urn and half an herbaceous border and I’m away!!)

Can you remember your first solo commission?  What would you do differently with the benefit of 20 years’ experience? 

During my years at Moyses I looked after the Ralph Lauren contract, which was great training in the art of providing weekly flowers. I was 24 and thought ‘I want to start my own business’. When I handed in my notice, Jennifer suggested I take the RL contract to boost my new venture. This was such a lovely gesture and paved a gloriously flowery and successful path for me.

So, with a weekly contract with Ralph Lauren, my business started on a great track. It quickly led to many prestigious clients and weddings and parties in some of the grandest places in the land. I was terribly lucky.

After years in the business, it sounds rather smug to say, I’ve loved the way it’s gone. Most of it has been word of mouth and being at the right place at the right time. The variety of work, clients and locations is always so inspiring. From day one, I have always kept my work seasonal, natural and fairly traditional. I find the idea of out of season flowers so depressing… who wants peonies at Christmas?!

How did you end up as ‘The Friendly Florist’ on The Big Breakfast?  Do you enjoy the TV work that you’ve done?

I adored working on The Big Breakfast. I met the wonderful, Charles Parsons, who created it, at a party and that was that. I did the flowers for the set every week and that lead to me having a regular ‘expert” spot on the show with the gorgeous, Paula Yates. She was always fabulous fun with a rather naughty and infectious sense of humour. One had to be up soooo early to get to the set…. but I was used to that, because, as a florist, you have to be at the flower market at silly o clock.

This led to a regular spot on GMTV, This Morning with Richard & Judy and numerous other daytime shows. I then co presented a 13-part gardening programme with, Blue Peter gardener, Clare Bradley for Channel 5 called The Great Garden Game, which was just the best fun. We shot it at 13 stately homes all over the UK. Very happy memories.

These days, I am delighted to present regular shows on QVC UK, as I am an ambassador for Peony Faux Flowers. Live TV is great fun and always a fantastic buzz.

Do you have a favourite type of commission?  And why?

My favourite commission would be doing a pair of massive seasonal urns in an ancient country church, brimming with herbaceous blooms and masses of heavenly indigenous native foliages….or a huge fireplace decoration in a ravishing house.

I am so lucky to have such an amazing team of talented florists and when we go away on a large job, it’s always fun. Doing what one adores, with a super bunch of like-minded lovelies! It couldn’t be done without all my amazing suppliers, who I have used for years, over at the marvellous New Covent Garden Flower Market.

Are there any events or projects that you’ve worked on of which you are most proud? 

It’s hard to pick one out. I’ve done parties and weddings all over the place, from rural Ireland, Guernsey, Tuscany and Scotland, to the South of France, Capri, The Cotswolds and Cornwall.

I remember doing loads of fabulous jobs for The National Trust, throughout their Centenary year. Working alongside the amazing Pat Albeck and her wonderful husband. Another lovely job was a huge grand dinner for HRH The Queen, at Claridges, she threw for Sir Martin Charteris, her long standing and loyal private secretary. I remember watching through a crack in the door. She had the most marvellous silver hook, which she attached to the table, on which to hang her handbag!

The glitziest party I did was for Ivana Trump at her amazing place in Cadogan Square – that was a bit of an adventure! There are some other juicy ones but sadly NDA’s prevent me from spilling the beans…. Boring!!!

My proudest moment: I was delighted to be included in Country Life’s Britain’s Top Ten Florists.

Do you have a fantasy client or commission?

Fantasy clients and commissions…. what florist wouldn’t say no to a royal wedding!!?

What are your top tips for decorating with flowers?  (Other than hiring you to come and do it for us!) 

Keep it simple. I think you are better off doing one or two huge decorations in a big room, rather than trying to do something on every surface. It can get far too fussy and fiddly.

Concentrate your expensive and “star performing“ flowers in the middle of your decoration and soften the edges and fill in the gaps with your “supporting cast” blooms.  To me, it’s always been all about the foliage and the vessel. Get them right and the flowers will follow through.

I also always think you need twice as many ingredients, as you think you need!  Try and buy British flowers, if you can – our lovely regional growers need our support.

How are the flower markets and their clients adapting to the situation?  Are there a lot of flowers going to waste?

It’s been quite a learning curve, with lockdown. The wastage has been eye watering. I feel so sorry for the growers.  Big weddings, parties and weekly contracts have been cancelled but this will all be a distant memory one day. We will all appreciate lovely blooms, even more, when they become available again. I am so lucky to work with incredible party planners and I know all the big events will be rescheduled.

Any tips on keeping cheerful during this period of time?

During the lockdown, I have started recording weekly flowery podcasts, with my amazing producer friend, Lucy Nolan. If you want to hear some jolly flower banter and pick up some tip top flowery tips, do tune in. It’s called FabulousFlowersTV and is available on Spotify, Apple and Podbean

For more floral inspiration, do take a peek at my Instagram @paulhawkinsflowers

Or my website

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions!

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