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From basement to Bollinger…

From basement to Bollinger… supporting image

Helena Briden spoke to Northside about life at one of Yorkshire’s grandest estates…

Carlton Towers is many things: an extraordinary house, a country estate teeming with wildlife, one of Yorkshire’s true hidden gems. But it isn’t so much a stately home as it is simply the home of Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard, whose gift is to make everyone feel like part of the family. Here, general manager Helen Briden speaks to Northside about life at one of Yorkshire’s premium wedding and events venues.


What lead you to Carlton Towers?

After an all-encompassing career in corporate sales and marketing, I needed a sabbatical. So I took the opportunity to train as a scuba instructor in Florida, before moving to the Bahamas to make it a full-time career. However, I soon found such a drastic lifestyle change challenging and elected to move to Canada, where I was headhunted by the owner of a dive shop.


After surviving (just) their coldest winter in 44 years, the Bahamas called once again, and it was there that I set up my own event management business. After eight rewarding years, though, it was time to return to the UK, where I spent five years heading up the conferencing and events department at Leeds United FC, where I won the esteemed Leeds Live it, Love it Award.


Next came a four-year stint in consultancy, and that’s when I was approached by Carlton Towers. With such an extensive background across the board, they saw me as a good fit for general manager, and the rest is history I suppose. I’d actually visited in 2007 and remember thinking “wow, what an amazing place this would be to work” – it almost felt like fate.


What is a typical working day like?

There’s no ‘typical’ day. We’re not a hotel, we’re a private family home, and therefore only open at certain times – weddings, afternoon teas, corporate events etc. One minute I could be down in the boiler room dealing with the central heating and the next I could be upstairs conducting a Bollinger champagne reception, it is a very unique role.


What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I volunteered my time in the aftermath of hurricane Wilma in the Bahamas, working around the clock to bring immediate relief. This was a very challenging but extremely rewarding part of my life.


What do you enjoy most about your job?

Seeing the smiles on people faces as I stand on the doorstep the morning after a wedding (knowing we’ve made their dreams come true) is so rewarding.


Tell us about Lord and Lady Gerald Fitzalan Howard.

Lord and Lady Fitzalan Howard are a joy. They leave me to run Carlton Towers day in day out, but they also love to get involved. Recently we had a corporate event take over the house and after a day shooting they invited the guests to their private quarters for drinks. There are no airs and graces at Carlton Towers, just a relaxed Yorkshire conviviality.


What advice would you give to anyone thinking of a similar career?

It’s probably the hardest trade to go into, but certainly the most rewarding. You have to be able to multitask, especially when part of a small team. It is an ever-changing industry that you have to adjust in line with, especially in event management, where you’re tasked with making someone’s idea/concept a reality. You must be committed.


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