Wedding planners reveal secrets to planning political nuptials


To hear Bryan Rafanelli talk about his job, you might think he’s a member of the CIA.

A task two years ago was so secretive, he told virtually no one — not even his father.

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Yet Rafanelli’s dad could’ve found out what his middle-aged son was up to by opening up virtually any glossy mag on Aug. 1, 2010, the day after Chelsea Clinton’s nuptials.

The only daughter of the former president was just one of Rafanelli’s clients. The Boston-based owner of Rafanelli Events is a wedding planner to a slew of celebs, politicians and socialites.

Whether it’s last week’s wedding of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) to James Ready (who we’re told relied on family to help arrange their big day, rather than a planner), or the upcoming nuptials for Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) — who’s poised to marry former Senate staffer Thomas Daffron next month — political vows can mean big business for those in the “I do” industry.

But Rafanelli says when dealing with Washington insiders, keeping mum is the name of the game: “We certainly respect our clients, and it’s their wedding, not my wedding, so why would I be sharing information with anyone?”

Carol Marino, of the Fairfax, Va.-based company A Perfect Wedding, is so protective of her VIP clients, she won’t even reveal their names. “I will say that we’ve had the privilege of serving so many notable dignitaries, and families, and even their high-profile wedding guests” is all the tight-lipped planner will disclose.

Like Rafanelli, Marino often makes secrecy a contractual obligation, noting, “We are very, very discreet. I myself am just very loyal to the client because I want to deliver what the client wants, and if that client wants a completely private event, then we make sure that everything from the vendors to our own staff sign a nondisclosure agreement or a confidentiality agreement.”

One thing Rafanelli will share is just how much work goes into planning soirees for some of his well-known clientele (which also includes the 2010 wedding of former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., to Huma Abedin).

A factor that ordinary Joes don’t have to lose sleep over, but politicians might have to consider? The Secret Service.

“For the average person, I think perhaps the whole security conversation is not something the majority of us worry about,” Rafanelli says with a laugh.

Marino recalls one in-demand Virginia affair where helicopters flew overhead and reporters were nabbed trying to crawl through the window of the church. “We just had to be so, so cautious. We had to check each person at the door and make sure they were on our pre-screened guest list.”

For members of Congress, Rafanelli says, seating can be especially tricky. “Most likely, politicians have friends who are political or who are in the business, and they may be high-profile as well. Therefore, if their guests have never hung out with them or been around them, then you really have to be thoughtful about where they’re seated and what their needs might be during the wedding and how they can have as regular a time as everybody else.”

On average, Americans spent about $27,000 on their weddings last year, according to a survey by TheKnot.com. But Marino says in the D.C. area, the typical cost of a 100-person wedding is nearly double that amount —around $50,000.

While the budgets for weddings she’s planned for political types have been “across the board,” Marino contends that some Capitol Hill regulars might be digging deeper into their wallets than other brides- and grooms-to-be, “I would say as far as their spending, they want it nicely done and they usually are not doing it inexpensively on their budget.” The affable coordinator has planned weddings costing anywhere from 20,000 to a million dollars.

More than a booming budget, above all, Marino says a successful wedding depends on one thing: “It really is about their commitment to each other and their love for each other. The best weddings we’ve had are when the couple is actively focused on just their love.”

Rafanelli says the goal is to make sure political types and headline-makers have a sense they’re getting the same feeling as any other couple that’s taking the plunge. “I think for a politician or any high-profile person, I really feel that the folks that we work for, they want to preserve the wedding and have as classic an experience as possible.”

After arranging Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, Rafanelli now has his sights set on a slightly younger set of potential clients. 

When asked whom he would love to plan the “I do’s” for in the future, Rafanelli replies, “After doing Chelsea’s wedding, what are my chances of getting to plan another president’s daughter’s wedding? Maybe I’ll be around when Sasha and Malia [Obama] are getting engaged. Stranger things have happened. I don’t know if they’ll want to hang out with an older guy like me then, but you never know.”