Special effects

As well as a wedding this was a variety show


It’s hard not to be totally charmed by a man who spots you in a café-bar, kisses your hand and says “hello, I am 
Francisco Rodriguez-Weil,” 
in a disarmingly soft Venezuelan accent.

He was looking suave, with slightly ruffled black hair, fitted black jacket and a pink jumper. I knew it would be fun exploring the heart and mind of this set designer and wedding planner who masterminded the extravagant nine-hour long Kogan wedding at the Landmark hotel. You know, the one where the billionaire Russian oligarch Valerie Kogan spent £3.5 million hiring Elton John and Maria Carey to sing at the wedding of his 19-year-old granddaughter, Irene and her groom, Daniel Kevey. No doubt, Valerie Kogan would have had exacting standards but that was not all. In the mix of what must have been pretty high-maintenance guests were countless Russian pop stars and opera singers. Mark Ronson was there doing a DJ stint and Antonio Banderas made a speech. So no pressure then.

Francisco has a degree in architecture and graduated with distinction from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. He has a solid background in set and costume design and has worked on countless operas, dance and theatre sets. In 2013 he designed the magnificent stage and costumes for the Coronation Festival gala at Buckingham Palace and last year was nominated for a Bafta for set and costume design.

Yet he concedes this wedding was a challenge: “As well as a wedding, this was a variety show. There were so many performers, including a high-profile DJ, dancers and a variety of singers, all of whom had their own audio and lighting needs. It was far too much equipment for the room. So we had to build a platform, one that blended discreetly with the décor and indeed one that pleased the hotel.


“There was a lot of negotiation and it worked — all the electronics were seamlessly operated behind the scenes.

“We also had to co-ordinate the nine-course meal so the live performers would not be watching guests eat. It was precision timing.”

Francisco, though London-born, was brought up as a Catholic in Venezuela. He found out he had Jewish links just a few years ago quite by accident. “I was working on a film called You Are Me by Jewish director Peter Speyer. The plot involved a Holocaust survivor. He asked me to research the last number used in the concentration camp for his film. I wrote to the Jewish museum in Auschwitz. They were able to oblige and in their response they mentioned that I had a Jewish surname, saying: “many Jewish people died with that name”.

After a pensive pause, he says: “The idea that I was Jewish didn’t seem strange — I’d always suspected I had some sort of Jewish lineage.

I have many Jewish friends and in fact it was at a Seder one Pesach a couple of years ago when the hostess suggested I contact the rabbi of West London Synagogue. He was helpful and I got so fascinated that I fell in love with Judaism and converted. I am now a regular at West London Synagogue.”

Francisco has presided over plenty of Jewish weddings and he notes that “no matter what their persuasion, how liberal they are, tradition is always a priority. The elements that define a Jewish wedding are always desired, such as getting the chupah just so and the breaking of the glass.”

Asked what makes a wedding great, Francisco does not hesitate: “Without a doubt, the guest list is the priority. Where you place everyone is key, because the way conversations flow between guests will make the wedding.”

Francisco himself married recently and presided over his own wedding, choosing the Art Deco Eltham Palace as the venue. His suit was a relaxed grey number, given to him by “my best man who has a high-ranking role in Ralph Lauren”. The music was inspired by his Latin roots, “I had a great salsa Latin band and I flew in a harpist from Venezuela”. To breathe in some fun, “we opened boxes of costumes and everyone dressed up in 1930s outfits”. He spent time consulting with the chef, oversaw the kitchens, chose the theme of the food and left the rest to them. And the photos?

“Ah,” says Francisco,”we don’t have many” and then adds, sheepishly, “the photographer got stranded on the day in a plane strike and couldn’t make it.”.

Francisco smiles.

“If only we’d had a wedding planner.”


To contact Francisco’s wedding-planning service, see

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