One of London’s most exclusive and well-respected staffing companies, High Society provide staff for everything from events at Buckingham Palace to film sets with A-list actors. We caught up with founder, Fergus O’Loghlen to find out how an idea he came up with at University has gone on to achieve such great things.
Why did you decide to set up High Society?
When I was a student at Oxford Brookes studying hotel management, I provided staff for local catering companies and sometimes didn’t charge. Upon leaving University I saw a gap in the market, and I set up High Society from a flat in Fulham. The facilities were good with a designated training room and we used to hold training sessions on the ground floor living room, with staff learning everything they needed to know. My neighbours thought I had a very busy social life when they looked through the window and saw scores of staff clearing plates and pouring from bottles, every other day! We laughed about it together when they later realised.
We had a lot of gap year staff in the first few years of starting up, mainly from Harrow and Eton. One very smart boy arrived wearing a suit and tie, and was looking to save money to teach English abroad. I trained him, and remember him as he was very mature and sensible for someone of his age. He did a lot of work for High Society that year. He was Benedict Cumberbatch. Later my staff met Benedict behind the scenes on War Horse on Dartmoor, as we were looking after A-list actors’ trailers – of course he was on the other side of being catered for!
What do you look for when hiring staff?
We have always had a three-step recruitment process: telephone; face-to-face interview; then separate training sessions, so it is rigorous, and continuously assessed. We always find that a successful candidate has three main qualities: a great attitude, positivity and initiative. Even with these basic attributes it is enough to start in the industry, and we can build on that. Events and staffing is a people’s industry, so having the right personality goes a long way. More companies than ever are moving towards on-line induction and recruitment, but we would never move away from the more time consuming but rewarding processes we know work for us.
Have you had any memorable moments (both good and bad)?
It was nice to be asked to supply twelve restaurant-trained staff every day for two week’s worth of live Hell’s Kitchen shows. Needless to say, the staff were exhausted at the end after working 12 hour days in the restaurant, but being asked back to the wrap party was a lovely gesture from the production team. Even better was that on arrival to Brick lane where it was all being filmed, the staff and I were allowed in ahead of the press who were all queuing, for an exclusive photo shoot with Gordon Ramsey.. it was a nice gesture and a thank you to the staff team who worked so hard front of house.
Another great moment this year was working in the Queen’s household; we had an event at St James’s Palace and at Buckingham Palace on the same evening.
Do you have a favourite type of event to work at?
We love supplying staff to work behind the scenes on film-sets. It can be demanding looking after actors and their PAs, but rewarding. One of the girls was given a skull ring by Johnny Depp as it was her birthday when she was working. The best kind of events are ones that offer something really special. Helping with dinners in the exhibitions of The Natural History Museum, serving wine at the top of The Shard or serving A-listers and VIPs are the most memorable ones.
What’s the most important thing to remember when hosting an event?
Keep calm and know your timings – nothing makes an event go wrong more than worrying about it. Be confident that you have planned everything meticulously and stick to your timings. You also have to make sure to always smile no matter what, that makes a huge difference.
What would you say to anyone looking to employ staff for an event but can’t decide?
It is always worth going on recommendation, rather than just going on an online search. Staffing is so important to get right. With events, the finer details make all the difference and that extends right from the table decorations to the staff. If you’re hosting a dinner party having reliable, well trained and personable people to help can mean the difference between something good and something really special. Plus you have someone to deal with the washing up at the end!
What is the most difficult part of your job?
Keeping in touch and talking at a personal level with all the staff is always challenging due to transient nature of our business, our hand-picking approach and placing all staff during the busiest times. We pride ourselves on having a face to face approach, knowing our staff personally and hand picking them for our clients so they are right for the event. When we have a lot of events to handle we have to pay special attention to ensure we maintain our high standards.
And what is the most rewarding?
Seeing happy clients and a job done well. Anyone who works in events knows how stressful it can be but when we get great feedback at the end of it, that really makes it worthwhile. Also the opportunity to work with some of the best venues and events in London is a reward in itself.