WILL Kerr has had dealings with Royalty; Hollywood A-listers and world famous singing sensations in previous roles in London but now he is back home working with a couple of ‘stars’ with a difference at his new flower shop in Ballymena.
A distinctive feature of Will’s ‘Le Jardin Sauvage’ floral outlet at Broughshane Street is the presence of his two pet parakeets.
The birds are brothers and are called ‘Onslow’ and ‘Sammy’ and just like the actors and singers Will used to encounter – they love the limelight.
His customers at Le Jardin Sauvage also love them.
The people coming through the door also love the array of plants and flowers on offer.
Occasionally when Will is in the shop alone he will let the birds out of their cage to fly around and they never try to get out the door.
Will (38) told ‘Ballymena Daily’: “People love them in here, they are quite tame. They have been with me since the start, they are both brothers. They are good company, they are getting a bit used to it, they are my little mascots.”
Will became interested in flowers at a young age.
He said: “My grandmother gave me seeds and that was it. I just became crazy about plants, growing things and anything to do with horticulture I was interested in it.”
He worked in flower shops including Jim Bell’s in Ballymena and then moved to London to do fine art and obtained jobs in the floral trade, working at top department store Peter Jones in London and also internationally-renowned Claridge’s Hotel in the city’s Mayfair district.
He said he is loving being back in Ballymena. “I have been there, done that,” he says of his time in London.
The opening of his new business unfortunately coincided with the coronavirus lockdown restrictions but Will was determined not to be beaten and his outlet – close to the Co-Op on Broughshane Street – is now fully open for business with social distancing in place.
Will adds: “It is my passion. I have always wanted to have a shop in Ballymena. I got the lease on the 28th of February and the day lockdown happened was when I started.
“I had a lot things like weddings cancelled so I had to change tack. I did the place up, I went for house plants. I wouldn’t let it beat me. The plants have really taken off, more than the flowers.
“I am a perfectionist in what I do, I had to be. If there was one dead leaf in all of Claridge’s it would be photographed, so you needed to be really bang on it.”
Recalling his time in London, Will told us: “My background is floristry, I used to manage the flowers in Claridge’s, I was there for four years, and met a lot of celebrities.
“Before that I managed ‘Prince Charles’ florists’ in Peter Jones department store in Sloane Square where we had the Royal Warrant. We had the Queen Mother before that and then you keep that for five years.
“Princess Diana used to go there to get her school uniforms for her children. Peter Jones was her favourite department store.”
Will added: “That was why Kate Middleton (now the Duchess of Cambridge) started shopping there. She came in and bought flowers, she always bought hyacinths from me.
“She was getting married and towards the end of it there were 50 papparazzi outside the shop. She is very nice, very understated, and she held the door for customers that didn’t know it was her.
“Princess Beatrice came in one day, she was very nice, she bought peonies. She was in with her bodyguard. She was more pretty in real life. Prince Harry shopped there, but I didn’t see him.”
Will also met a Who’s Who of stars who often told him illuminating stories.
Singer and actress Courtney Love came in with a “big wadge of cash in her hand – about £10,000.”
Added Will: “I went for a cigarette with her, she was really out there. I had a rose called Malibu and she said she had a lovely house in Malibu.”
“We had Brian May which was very interesting as Queen was playing on the radio at the time. He was in with Anita Dobson from Eastenders.
“We also had Will Young and a lot of supermodels came in – Claudia Schiffer – she was very glum but beautiful. She came in buy advent wreaths.
“Eva Herzigová, the wonder-bra model, she is very tall. You could tell there was something very striking about her.”
Others included food writer, chef and cooking show host Nigella Lawson; and singers James Blunt and Lulu.
Regarding Lulu, Will said: “I always said hello to her when she came in and once I gave her a rose on Valentine’s.”
Another model who visited was Yasmin LeBon. “She is beautiful,” said Will.
From Peter Jones it was onto Claridge’s where he managed the McQueens flower shop at the hotel and was also responsible for floral arrangements including in penthouses and suites.
He featured in a documentary called ‘Inside Claridge’s’ which first broadcast in 2012 – “in the last episode you could see me in the managers’ meeting,” explained Will.
Will said Claridge’s is famous for somebody ringing once and asking if they could ‘speak to The King’ and they were asked: ‘What King?’ as two were staying at the time.
Singers like Madonna and Jennifer Lopez stayed at the hotel.
Other famous names included singers Christina Aguilera and Paul Simon; X-Factor’s Sharon Osbourne; Dame Joan Collins and actors like Leonardo DiCaprio and Ben Affleck.
He added: “We had a flower shop on the ground floor. I had 5am starts. We had a thing called ‘Chihuly’ which is a very famous sculpture, I was responsible for that.
“There were orchids in every room so I had to ensure there was an orchid in each room – there are 300 rooms and I was responsible for the gardens at the penthouse so if Madonna or J-Lo walked in that had to be tip-top.
“I had to have their favourite flowers in the room before they arrived. Those rooms were £7,000 a night.”
Others who were in the hotel included ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ actress Anne Hathaway.
Many movie publicity launches took place at Claridge’s – “we had the contract with Paramount and Warner Brothers” explained Will.
That meant he often would get to deal with the stars.
Inevitably, he said he had to handle a few ‘Diva’ moments including one star who wouldn’t speak directly but “speaks through her assistant”.
He witnessed some emotional moments in the lives of stars.
He recalled Sharon Osbourne staying in the penthouse with her husband Ozzy around the time of her X-Factor days.
She came to get flowers and wrote on a card to Ozzy: ‘To my King’.
“She does love the man – I thought that was really sweet,” said Will.
Dame Joan Collins had her Damehood party in Claridge’s – “She is fabulous” was Will’s verdict.
Will also did flowers for movie press launches at the hotel for people like Tom Hanks and “the most beautiful one was Charlize Theron”.
Added Will: “I met her in the corridor. She was the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”
He recalled Paul Simon telling him: “Your flowers are lovely”.
And now the attention to detail which Will was known for in London has been brought to his Ballymena shop.
Why not pop in and see for yourself.
‘Ballymena Daily’ would like to wish Will every success.