Between 2014 and 2016, Tiffany Wright attended 17 weddings. As well as becoming an expert on guest etiquette, Wright noticed the brides had one thing in common.
"They always seemed quite stressed at certain points in the wedding," she said. "Although she had family and friends around her, I didn't feel there were things she could ask them to do in case they missed out on the fun."
This observation was enough to inspire Wright, who had previously worked as a marriage proposal planner, to think about a new role in the wedding industry. She started a career as a professional bridesmaid, with the option of working "undercover" for the brides who might prefer to keep their helping hand a secret.
"I had been used to dealing with other people's wedding problems, so it felt like the right time to set up my bridesmaid business," she explained. Reflecting on her own experience as a bride also encouraged her to make the move.
"I got married in 2012 and and I had six bridesmaids," Wright recalled. "When we were all getting ready together I discovered that my strapless bra, which I hadn't tried on, was so uncomfortable. I would have loved to ask one of them to run out and get me another bra, and I remember thinking at that stage, 'who is there to help me with this?'"
Wright recognized that brides, and sometimes grooms, often need an extra pair of hands to do the "boring jobs," from organizing transportation to finding a quick way to remove a nail polish stain from a bridesmaid's dress. By becoming a "bridal PA," she has also tapped into the lucrative wedding industry that shows little sign of slowing down.
Wright offers three packages as part of her Undercover Bridesmaid service. For £250, the 'Online Bridesmaid' option is the most basic and includes 1:1 sessions where Wright will advise on arranging bridesmaid duties and the endless wedding planning choices, from colour themes to seating plans.
The 'Ultimate Professional Bridesmaid' package includes extras like wedding and bridesmaid dress shopping, running personal errands and most importantly, walking down the aisle on the big day. The price for this top-of-the-range service can vary, depending on each bride's budget.
And for soon-to-be-bridesmaids, there's the 'Maid of Honor SOS' service. It starts from £250 and is aimed at maid of honors who want help with carrying out their duties, including arranging the bachelorette party and writing a maid of honor speech, often without the bride even knowing.
Julia, 34, from London, bought the 'Ultimate Professional Bridesmaid' package for her wedding last May. "I have a large group of close girlfriends and if I had picked all of them, I would have had 20 bridesmaids walking down the aisle with me. So I decided to have none," she explained. "When I eventually started the wedding planning I began to panic. Despite having my sister and mum to help me I still felt overwhelmed, but once I hired Tiffany, my to-do list swiftly evaporated."
Wright stresses that her role is different from a traditional wedding planner, because she offers more than just practical help.
"People hire me for a couple of reasons," she said. "They don't want to have to ask their best friends to the dirty work or the boring jobs, but they are the jobs that need to get done. Nowadays people are having more and more bridesmaids and I've had people hire me to keep them under control, as well as arranging the dress fittings and organizing the hen do, so brides don't have to chase their loved ones."
Although she works closely with her clients, Wright believes the lack of family connection or friendship is a real benefit. "I've been to a wedding where the parents of the bride were recently divorced and I was seated in between them to make sure nothing happened during the wedding breakfast," she added.
Of course, working undercover isn't always straightforward, particularly if she's joining a group of bridesmaids who aren't aware Wright has been employed by the bride. "Controlling the other bridesmaids can be a drama in itself," she said. "There's often one alpha bridesmaid who is suspicious of me and trying to negotiate that and make sure everyone is happy can be difficult."
To keep any awkward moments to a minimum, Wright often works with the bride to come up with a back story on how they met—and because she gets to know the bride so well, she can confidently answer the questions that get thrown at her by those who get suspicious.
As for the "bridezilla" requests, these mostly involve phone calls at midnight about turning to-do lists into spreadsheets. Wright has also been asked to dye her hair from blonde to brunette for her role as a bridesmaid at a wedding next year, although surprisingly it's the "bridechillas" that stress her out the most (those brides who are so laid-back that they can't even make the simplest decisions).
On the plus side, being a professional bridesmaid doesn't sound dull. And, more often that not, it presents some unexpected but very special moments.
"The last wedding I went to, the father of the bride knew that I'd been hired and he was so nervous about doing his speech," she said. "About five minutes before he was due to speak, he asked me to read a beautiful poem he had written about his daughter because he was too emotional. My job might be unique, but it's experiences like these that make it so rewarding."