I was asked by The British Florist Association to write about my Chelsea experience last year. They published it in one of their magazines, which is sent out to members all over the UK. I thought that it would possibly be a great read for anyone thinking about competing, anyone who tried but gave up and just for anyone who wants to try and sus out what goes on in my crazy head! There's a link at the bottom that will take you to one of their videos and me talking about my piece after i had finished set up.
Youve spilt endless amounts of tears, convinced yourself that you're phoning the BFA and telling them you're pulling out. You have woken up in a cold sweat by dreams that make you believe set up night and your piece isnt even started, or you've put on the very last detail and the whole thing has disintigrated infront of your eyes. You've sliced your fingers open, burnt the already existed blisters on your fingers. Yet here you are...standing with the other 15 competitors, your peers and your friends. After 8 long weeks of living your design, all that stands between you relieving that knot youve had in your stomach is Denis Van Wonderen and the envelope that he's holding. Never have you ever felt so excited, nervous and sick all at the same time. This is what we worked so hard for.
It's not your name read out, but regardless, we know the effort everyone has put in and you cant help but be exstatic for this years winner. In this years case, how can you not be over joyed when the Winner, Di Marvel, has been one of your closest friends since you first met, at that very spot, in the same situation, 5 years before. The RHS Chelsea florist of the year competition is unique in so many ways, but especially in the sense that those who compete together make life long friendships. Are there any other competitions that can really boast that?
For a minute that knot in your stomach disappears as you celebrate with Di. Until you see the sealed envelope being set down infront of your piece. 2016 was my 4th time competing at Chelsea. I've been fortunate enough to have already been awarded two silver medals. Unfortunately last year I was presented with what we call the dreaded letter. A no Award. One point away from a medal. No one judges you has hard as you judge yourself. Ill be the first to admit, that hit me hard. My confidence plummited, I questioned not only my 17 years of floristry and any skills i possibly had, but I questioned myself and who I was. Thats how much this competition means to us competitors. We put ourselves out there to be critiqued, open to being knocked back and stripped apart. It took me several months but with the help of your fellow competitors, friends and industry leaders, you eventually start to pick yourself back up.
So here you are..a year later, with those ghosts from last year still haunting you, and all those emotions come flooding back. Who would have thought just opening a sealed envelope could make or break a person. I cant remember what went on around me. I only remember hiding behind my headdress, on my own, my hands shaking, stomach turning and then the tears bursting out. Id eventually done it, there it was, in my hands....my very own GOLD medal.
For the first time i'd been at Chelsea without any family. Id travelled the 700 plus miles, driving the whole way only travelling the last couple of hours with Denise who had kindly come to look after me. Apparently, the fact that i was 20 weeks pregnant whilst as Chelsea, meant that I needed extra looking after and fussing. Still not something im sure I agree with, but im certain that being pregnant actually stopped me from stressing out as much as perhaps I usually would.
The first thing I did was phone my Mum, Tracy Griffin apparently has a video of that. I can only imagine the stuttering drippy mess that I must be in that. Maybe its a good job my Mum wasn't there, Ive seen the emotional state she was in with a silver haha! Trying to get your fiance on the phone who at the time, was a bus driver proved to be difficult, so unfortunately he just had to make do with the simple text "GOLD!!!" Well...what else was needed to be said?
There were three gold medals awarded this year, Di, Helena Pike and myself. That made it all the more special. The three of us all first met through The RHS Chelsea florist of the year competition, sharing the gold with two of my best friends is a memory that will always be associated with winning my gold medal.
Here I am three months later and to be honest, im not sure it will ever sink it. Ive the medal certificate on the shelf, i see it every day, but it still doesn't seem real. When the actual medal arrives later this year, Im still not convinced that it will appear real then either. You know what though...we do it over and over again. We joke that competing in the floral world is a disease, but in a way it is. It grips you in a way like no other. I was a competitive Highland dancer for 15 years, but it has nothing on floristry. I think it's because the only person you are really competing against is yourself. You do it to improve on what you did the year before...to prove to yourself that you do have a flair, an ability. You dont compete against those around you. They are there, as Ive learnt, so help you in times of need, to pick you up when you need a hand and to give you a kick up the behind when you need it. There really is no other competition like it. I urge anyone out there who hasnt yet had a go at their local heats to step up and try it. Use it as a platform to build upon. You might not qualify, you might not get a medal, but what you will learn about yourself and the life long friends you will make, will mean far more to you in the long run.