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Planning Retirement Online

Let's Party!

December 2012  

Let's party in later life article series...

This series looks at some of the more unusual ideas to help you celebrate with style and panache – at affordable price levels, of course!

To see the full list of articles see the main Celebrating in Later Life page

Let's Party - Surprise!

by LaterLife features editor Sally Smith

This month we are looking at surprises. It can be wonderful to hold a surprise party, but there is also scope for things to go disastrously wrong! So early planning is essential...

Let’s give a surprise party! The idea sounds terrific, all the fun of secret planning and organisation and then the wonderful moment when your relation or friend is exposed to an unexpected celebration.

But ask anyone who has been at the receiving end of a surprise event and many will say that secretly they really wish they had known about it beforehand. This IS especially true for women who might be meeting friends they hadn’t seen for ages and would have really liked to have had their hair done or at least looked better. For both men and women, many confess later that they would have felt much better if they had had some warning so that they could have been psychologically more prepared and also dressed in a more appropriate fashion.

The psychology is interesting, for some the shock is overwhelming and it can be an hour or two before the person feels back to their normal state.

On the other hand, some people say surprise events are the very best of all and that wonderful moment of finding that something special has been planned is remembered for ever.

A few key tips can be useful to help make sure you have thought of all aspects:

  1. Is it the right person? Some people really aren’t suitable candidates for a surprise. Think carefully before you decide to go ahead.

  2. Allow enough time. Organising a surprise party that really works needs quite a bit of planning and keeping things secret means sometimes things take longer. If you are inviting old friends and relations, the more notice the better obviously. Nothing is worse than organising a big surprise and then finding that only a couple of people can make it.

  3. Secret! This is really really hard. People need to be told clearly, and continually reminded not to give anything away. This is probably the most difficult aspect of a surprise party. Some people have even accused their partners of having affairs because of all the secret phone calls going on, so you need to watch your actions at home as well. One idea is to talk vaguely about a fictitious but simple other event on the special day just so the person doesn’t think you have totally forgotten, or become suspicious why you aren’t saying anything about celebrating.

  4. Enlist a supporter to help. Planning a surprise is much easier when someone else is in on the secret. You can direct phone calls, emails and all organisational aspects to your co-conspirator’s address.

  5. Don’t be over ambitious. Just a surprise evening out with a couple of friends can be perfect; you don’t need a cast of thousands to make a surprise party work. If you are bringing in friends or relations that the person hasn’t seen for ten, twenty or even forty years, which sometimes happens, be prepared to stand by and take control if it all gets too emotional.

  6. Check dress code and tell all the guests. It is vital that the person celebrating must feel comfortable in the clothes they are wearing for what is going on; they really don’t want to be in casual clothes if everyone else is in full party mode.

  7. Don’t forget the last minute detail. If people are arriving to hide in a room, where are they going to put their coats and cars so they won’t be spotted? Be aware that a group of excited people can be very hard to keep completely quiet, even when they trying! Allocate just one person to be responsible for taking any photographs you might want. If the guest arrives in a room to find a mass of mobiles and cameras facing them, it can be more daunting than fun.

  8. The big surprise! Someone needs to be given the task of early warning so that timing is perfect. Allocate just one person to call surprise if that is what you want, otherwise it can all be a bit flat and confused as people start saying different things at the same time. Today most surprise parties feature the guest entering a room where a party is already in full swing. That way they take a moment to register what is going on and then amazement as they realise everyone there is a close friend or relative.

  9. It’s not the end of the world if the person finds out beforehand. But if so, let people know the surprise element has gone and it is now just a great party. There is nothing worse than someone trying to pretend to be surprised when they clearly guessed or knew all about it.


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