Zeri Cheetham-Karcz shares her tips on planning the perfect hen party
PUBLISHED: 11:31 31 July 2019 | UPDATED: 11:31 31 July 2019
Zeri Cheetham-Karcz may have started her working life as a model and actress, but today her portfolio looks rather different.
Zeri Cheetham-Karcz has followed a meandering career path, as many successful young women do today, seeing and taking opportunities as they arise until she found her true calling. From model to actress to independent businesswoman, she has proven that, should you desire it, you can have it. Which is also, it occurs to me, pretty much the mantra she runs her travel planning business by, too.
'I went to university in Leeds and studied business and public relations,' she tells me. 'While I was there I got a part in Waterloo Road. I then went on to work on a number of shows, including Cracker, Scott and Bailey and Coronation Street. It always felt like quite an achievement, but not a career that offered any long term job security, so in 2011 I established my own PR business, Red Russian PR. I guess I saw it as my fall-back position! I looked after actors, celebrities, sports stars… It was a busy and demanding job, but I loved it.'
Zeri vibrates with energy; she's like a rather glamorous cat, ready to leap into action at any moment, aware of what's happening around her, yet completely engaged in our conversation. She may be sitting at a small table in Hale's Cibo restaurant, but I can quite easily imagine her herding far less-focussed celebrities and their assorted entourages to where they need to be, protecting her charges from unwanted attention and managing to keep a smile on her face the whole time.
I wonder why she chose to step away from it all. 'Children!' she laughs. When Zeri established Red Russian she was single, no children. The advent of first one, then a second child, rather changed everything.
'While I was pregnant with my second child, Romeo, I was also planning my wedding and chasing round after my toddler, Rocco. Something had to give. It's not in me to deliver less than 100% to anything, so I closed it all down.
'This was the only time in my life when I haven't been working… and also the time when I had a bit of a lightbulb moment.'
Zeri was using a wedding planner to help her with the wedding day, and a travel planner to help her with the honeymoon, but could find nobody to help her with the hen party she wanted.
'I realised it was a bit of an opportunity,' she says. 'I decided that it was something I could do, and brought the Red Russian brand back, but this time as Red Russian Travel. I help brides plan their perfect hen party - whether this is a weekend in Las Vegas or a spa day in Cheshire.
'Really, when women have quite enough going on in their lives, leaving the hen party to the last minute can be quite stressful. I encourage women to start thinking about it early, get a kitty going where each of the invited friends or family contribute a little each month and before you know it you can have something really wonderful and really memorable.'
Zeri has, as you might expect, quite the network of glamorous friends in Manchester and Cheshire, so she knows what luxury looks like, whether this is a trip to Paris or a cosy night with good friends, fine food and drink and nothing more than chatter and gossip on the agenda. 'A hen weekend doesn't have to be full on, it doesn't have to be L-plates and vodka shots; in fact, this is exactly what most of my clients don't want! Because of this, I call the ladies Swans, rather than Hens, to reference the more high-end approach they want to take.'
Her biggest brief so far came from Hanna Miraftab, Real Housewife and full-time dentist, who asked Zeri to plan a long weekend in Las Vegas for her and her closest friends.
'Hannah is so busy, what with filming for Real Housewives, running her own business and planning her wedding. She asked me to plan her hen weekend and her greatest wish was that she didn't need to think of anything, at all, while they were away.
'It's a lot of work, planning the trip to the smallest detail, but it's what my clients need. They want travel to and from everywhere sorted, they want the hotel and restaurants booked and doubly confirmed. They want to know what bar to go to and when they'll have the best experience. They want insider knowledge on stuff to do, places to go, shops to discover… and all with no need to worry about anything while they're there.'
To make this happen, Zeri spends time on her own holidays scouting venues, meeting up with useful people who can deliver the hot tips and latest news and familiarising herself with the location. For destinations she has yet to visit, a lot of time is spent in research, reaching out and quadruple checking everything.
It's not just the level of detail about the location that reassures Zeri's clients however, but the precise planning that goes into her itineraries, and it was this that led to a second brief from Hannah, this time with fiancé Martin too.
'They asked me to plan their honeymoon,' says Zeri. 'But it's really not the usual type of honeymoon. It's actually a growing trend - young, financially secure couples who can take exotic holidays whenever they wish don't want to do the same on their honeymoon: they are looking for ways to make memories that will bind them even closer. For Hannah and Martin, this means volunteering. Hannah is a dentist and Martin a doctor, so they asked me to find somewhere in Africa they could do some volunteer work, before finishing with some more traditional luxury. Oh my, it was a lot of work! It's hard actually reaching out to a lot of these charities, and then planning dates, travel, visas, vaccinations... Everything needed to fit together like a jigsaw, so there's no wasted time, or money. It's all sorted, though, and they're really excited.'
Today, Zeri juggles motherhood with work, just as so many of us do, loving being able to achieve the best of work-life balances.
'It's the perfect balance,' she says. 'Weeks of frenzied planning and phone calls, then weeks of full-on mother and child time. A lot of what I do can be done when they're in bed, of course, so when they need me, I can be there and as my life evolves, so can my work.'