The Interflora World Cup is the most prestigious competition in floristry and floral art! Like the Olympics it occurs once every 4 years…..
Out of the 13 competitions so far, Great Britain has won three times – in Miami in 1974, Stockholm in 1993 and in Melbourne in 2004. Hopes are high of another win in 2010, when Neil Whittaker from Design Element florist in Irlam represents Great Britain in Shanghai.
The Interflora World Cup 2010 will take place over the weekend of 26th – 28th March. We will be providing regular updates on Neil’s preparation and progress in the run up to the big event!
For the first in a series of posts on the Interflora World cup 2010 – we talk to former world champion David Denyer. Here David talks about the pressures of competition, the excitement of winning and his lifelong love of working with flowers…
What’s your shop called and where is it?
I’m the manager of the Lansdowne Florist in Bournemouth.
How long have you been interested in flowers and when did you decide you wanted to become a florist?
I’ve been doing floristry professionally for 20 years. I started when I was 17, although I discovered a passion for working with flowers when I was 14. I went to a horticultural college and did what was called a savouring course. So every Wednesday I’d go along and that’s when I realised I wanted to work with flowers because I loved it so much. My grandfather was a keen horticulturist – he grew big chrysanthemums; it was what that generation did – and I became interested very early on. I was always interested in flowers, plants and growth.
Who do you admire in the world of floristry?
When I was younger it was British designers, such as Betty Jones, Mike Saunders and Ian Franklin. Once I got older and started competing, I became interested in the work of Greg Lersch and Tor Gunderson. These are people who changed the course of floristry of for me. Then, when I moved on with my own style, I still admired other florists but I have got my own thing going.
Are there floristry ‘styles’?
I would class myself as an English florist – kind of like chintz, but with structure. I take what I class as British favourites – roses, garden flowers, marigolds – and create designs that are up to date.
Why do you believe it’s so important for florists to get involved in competitions?
I think it hugely important. It’s the way I’ve gone forward. If I’d only worked in a shop I wouldn’t have got the bug for design. Most people stay in their shop nine-to-five, but if you get out and compete and you see what other people are doing you really start learning. You learn what judges say about your designs, but also what they say about other people’s pieces. Once I started, I couldn’t stop and was always competing. I would recommend it to any florist. It’s not about succeeding, although it’s lovely to win. I think it’s more of a personal thing – you can chart how you’re changing and how you’re growing.
What was it like winning the 2004 Interflora World Cup?
It was scary and amazing all at the same time. Representing your country is a rare thing to do. Competing is really scary. Everything’s fine in theory but until you get there that’s all it is. Then, suddenly, it’s totally different. If you stare at other people’s work it gets frightening. But I learned to just put my head down and get on with it. You have to focus on your strengths. At the end I was absolutely exhausted. It was breathtakingly, amazingly unexpected. You pray and hope for it, but when it comes down to it you never believe you’ll win.
Who else did you rate in the competition?
It’s very difficult to say as you go there not knowing many designers. Most people are getting to almost the top of their game in their own country, but aren’t that well known internationally. The German entrant was very strong. I think I worried most about the Europeans, as I know their work.
What competitions had you won before entering the World Cup?
I’ve been very lucky and have won lots of awards. I’ve been five times Chelsea Gold Medallist, have won Best in Show at Chelsea four times and have been Florist of the Year.
How long had you been competing in flower competitions before you entered the World Cup?
I’ve been competing since I was 18. I got into it very early on, as soon as I started my career, really. Even when I was at college we would do the spring florist competitions. I started off in small competitions and really got the bug and moved on to bigger ones.
How did you feel when you found out you were going to represent the UK in the World Cup?
I did the World Cup heats at the Interflora conference. There were six of us competing for a place in the final. Then we had to compete to represent the UK and that was very exciting. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. And then, almost a year to the day later, it was the World Cup.
What was the most nerve-racking part of competing in Australia?
I think I was worried about the detail because timings can go awry. I was worried about finding my flowers in a totally different world. I had a rough list of what I wanted, but sourcing everything and making sure it arrived was tricky and nerve-racking. Once the buzzer goes and I’m competing I’m in my own world and I could be anywhere. The new fashion is to put your iPod on while you’re competing. Sadly we didn’t have that option in my day.
Where did you get your inspiration for the designs you created for the competition?
They came up with the title Fashion, Fetish and Fantasy, which I loved. I did literally focus on the theme and I think if you love the title it flows very naturally. I didn’t want to go too far down the dark route, though, and I felt it was important to stay true to myself and my style.
What did you have to create in the surprise elements of the competition and how did you prepare for these in advance?
It’s very difficult to prepare as it’s truly a surprise. Generally, there are three surprise events and the one on the first day really wakes you up again after travelling. The first one for me was a planting design. I was given African violets and ferns. I thought we would be given something very exotic that I hadn’t heard of. You can’t prepare as you have no idea what you’ll be given – all you can do is to prepare yourself to focus. You’re given 45 minutes to come up with a design. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time and with everyone having the same things [to work with] you’re all in the same boat.
How much time and dedication did it take to prepare for the competition?
I prepared for about a year. I was single at the time, so could focus a lot of my time on the competition. If I was with the partner I am with now it would have been much harder. I would seriously sit back and think very hard about doing it again. I don’t think the World Cup is a young thing – had I done it at 22 it would have crushed me.
Do you still compete in floral design competitions?
I don’t compete as much as I used to, but I still do some. I do them as and when I choose to and am still winning every now and then.
You have had such a long and successful competitive career. What keeps you driven and motivated to enter competitions year after year?
There’s always another cup to be won and no competition has ever been the same as the last. That’s what keeps me entering. I’ll read about a competition and think ‘wow, that sounds fun’. New themes really excite me. The day I don’t like the themes anymore is the day when I’ll stop competing.
What has winning the World Cup done for your business and your profile within the industry?
Winning the World Cup has hugely raised my profile. I still see myself as the young British kid I was when I started out, so it really surprises me when I hear of a young florist that want to be me. In a career sense it’s done a lot. I’m recognised all over the place, but I’ve taken it slowly. I haven’t over populated the world with my designs. I’ve chosen carefully what I’ve wanted to do and haven’t flooded the market.
What has been the pinnacle of your career thus far?
It has to be winning the World Cup. When I started competing, I used to think that when I grew up the World Cup was the competition I really wanted to compete in and now I’ve done it and won. Hopefully, though, there will be many more exciting things to come.
World Cup 2010
The themes for the World Cup 2010 are as follows:
Event One: Designer’s Choice – Flowers of the Orient
Event Two: Host’s Choice – Surprise Item
Event Three: Table Setting – Green Tea for Two
Event Four: Bridal Bouquet – Oriental Pearl
Event Five: Host’s Choice – Surprise
Event Six: Host’s Choice – Surprise
What do you think of the themes for the 2010 World Cup?
I love it! I read the information on the themes and thought ‘gosh’, I wish I was competing’. It’s just fab. I’ve always had a fascination with the Orient and I think this could thrill a lot of people – and when you’re thrilled you produce great work.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to Neil Whittaker, who is representing the UK next year?
We’ve competed against each other many times and are good friends. My advice to him has been to focus on his strengths and keep his head down and do what’s best for him. Don’t focus on what other people are doing; just think about your own work. He’s a great florist and has some fantastic ideas for the competition. Doing what he understands and is best at doing he’ll forget the pressure and enjoy it. I guess to sum up my advice would be: love doing it!
See David in Action
Here is a recent video of David doing what he loves best….