The Royals’ party planner reveals his Christmas hosting tips

Many people are counting down the minutes until a big family get-together this Christmas – especially after last year’s shenanigans. For some though, the thought of hosting comes riddled with stress – how do you fit 16 people and two dogs into a three bedroom house? And what do you feed them?

Let’s be honest, most of us will just be happy to spend quality time with family and friends this Christmas – you don’t have to drive yourself mad fluffing towels or ironing pillowcases. But, if you want to give proceedings a bit of gloss, then you can do worse than turning to Johnny Roxburgh for Christmas hosting tips.

christmas hosting tips royal party planner
Photographer: Sim Canetty-Clarke

As a party planner to the royals, and with over 40 years experience creating magical events, Johnny has truly earned his nickname as ‘The Party Architect’. Christmas is his favourite time of year to host, and so, alongside Habitat, he’s shared some brilliant ideas for hosting in the festive period.

Whether you’re planning a Christmas lunch for four people or a party for 40, there’s something you can learn from Johnny’s festive tips…

Johnny’s Christmas hosting tips

Don’t put all the food on the dining table

Forget putting all the food on the table which ends up like a game of Tetris trying to squeeze in the turkey around your table decorations. It’s all about a buffet station. Utilise your kitchen work spaces or a sideboard which you can put place mats on to mark out where the serving bowls sit, weaving thin wire lights around this.

The main table might seem a good choice to present the food as people sit down but by the time everyone has helped themselves and gone in for seconds or thirds, you’re left with half a turkey on a plate, gravy splatterings all over the tablecloth and an apocalyptic-esque scene. Not very chic at all.

Utilising a separate surface means your elegantly decorated table remains that way and when you bring out the Christmas pudding there is no one trying to frantically wipe the table or clear the serving dishes.

christmas table christmas hosting tips
Habitat

Avoid candle danger

Low lighting is an easy way to make your Christmas setting instantly stylish. You’d be amazed at the amount of knocked over candles or ‘napkins on fire’ scenarios that happen at dinner parties.

Opt for reusable LED candles, a practical and safe alternative to the real deal. They flicker magically on a dining table without the worry of Christmas cracker ends catching or wax covered tables. They’re a great addition to any household and far more cost-efficient than candles (even the Royal Household are famously careful about Christmas costs). Similarly, LED lights outside the front door create a glorious glow that will impress guests upon arrival.

The secret art of napkin rolling

Though it’s by no means necessary, it’s well worth investing in a secondary set of napkins that you can serve with your pudding. Spray these with a sweet-scented room spray and you’ll ensure your guests have clean napkins after the main course which, let’s face it, can all get a bit messy.

Embrace the drinks trolley

The ultimate host will wow guests by serving drinks before their very eyes on a drinks trolley. They help steer clear of clutter, are relatively affordable and add a touch of glamour to the evening. Sales of these surged during lockdown and according to Google Trends, searches in the UK for bar carts are up by +650% in the last month.

christmas hosting tips
Habitat

Repurpose Christmas decorations

I have a huge collection of vintage glass baubles collected over the years, all in a vibrant holly green and scarlet red that I like to scatter around the table. Add in small bundles of olive and forest green baubles, accented with some more vibrant touches of apricot and you can create a river of colour running down the table that acts like a shimmering, glittering garland, especially in candlelight. Alternatively, you can fill big glass vases with them to act as centrepieces for a more showy finish.

The sign of a good host is always having nibbles on offer to keep hungry guests happy before the main event. It also allows you more time in the kitchen if needs be. Creative flare goes a long way; place decorations amongst the snacks in large novelty serving bowls to add some festive theatre for your guests.

READ MORE: The best Christmas present ideas

Multi-coloured lights are back

People normally steer clear of coloured lights but sometimes, too much harsh white light can end up looking a bit clinical and tired. I created a fantastic Russian Christmas party for a client at the Whitehall Banqueting House, the bright colours looked fabulous, and guests loved it, making a change from neutral and earthy tones.

An easy way to add festive flair to your setting, they also give your outdoors a ‘retro’ Christmas feel that even a Who from Whovillle would be jealous of. Last year, I dressed my huge olive tree in my front garden with sparkly multi-coloured lights in glorious 50s colours, which I bought in Germany two years ago. It looked so cheerful, and I like to think it put a smile on people’s faces on those bleak days last winter. I will be doing the same this year!

christmas hosting tips
Getty

Box up awkward-shaped gifts

Make presents look tidy and uncluttered by using square boxes to avoid any oddly-shaped gifts at the foot of the tree. This also makes stacking presents effortless and creates a ‘full’ look under the tree.

Decorate your serveware

One last little flourish I like to do is decorate any serveware that has handles. When you serve the mince pies, as most tend to do, I tie a little red or gold bow around the handle of the sugar sifter and pass that around with the platter of pies.

READ MORE: Christmas TV guide