Gareth Gallagher was shellshocked. And smelling, slightly, of gin and tonic.
The 42-year-old planner was standing in the middle of a multi-million-dollar event he’d organized, stunned by a spat with his prime client over their drink — specifically, serving a G&T with just two ice cubes rather than three.
“They threw the drink at me for getting it wrong,” he recalls, stunned.
That “Mommie Dearest” moment was the low point of an already barrel-scraping bash.
The three-week-long family reunion — a chance for an ultra-wealthy family to come together right as the pandemic ended — had required Gallagher to corral a twenty-strong team. It was like a real-life episode of Succession, complete with dysfunction.
They were coordinating everything from private planes to penthouse stays for multiple guests across ten or more hotels.
He needed so many helping hands, Gallagher says, because everyone attending was at loggerheads.
“It was a family reunion yet none of them spoke to one another, so you become the punch bag for them all, trapped in this narcissistic, dysfunctional family,” he says.
It’s a situation that Nicole Braghin and Arianna Grijalba would recognize all too well — they’re the Miami-based planners hired and fired by billionaire Nelson Peltz in just eight days.
He’d tapped them for his actress daughter Nicola’s wedding to Brooklyn Beckham in April last year but their quick-fire departure was reportedly sparked by a squabble over Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton’s RSVP. (The issue: why was he still on the guest list, despite having declined?)
The party-planning duo and activist investor Peltz are now locked in competing lawsuits: he’s suing them for the $159,000 deposit he paid while the pair has fired back with a countersuit that seeks $50,000 in damages. The tussle continues.
That unseemly public spat serves as a reminder that the air-kissing world of party planning isn’t as carefree and glamorous as it strains to appear.
Gallagher’s new memoir, “Eventually Gareth”, is aimed at making that point, too.
Gallagher, who runs EVT Media, whose clients include Google, Levi’s and Apple, and splits his time between LA and London — he was born in England — wants to dispel the myths around the industry.
“It was really important for me to get the darker side across,” Gallaher confesses, “From the outside, everything looks great, but there’s so much dysfunction.”
Gallagher knows that first-hand: he’s experienced multiple addictions over his two-decade career — to sex, drink and drugs — but is now proudly in recovery.
Substance abuse is commonplace in his field, he warns, even while on the clock.
“I’d say 99.9% of people have worked under the influence. It’s the only way to function in an industry built around excess, a high-energy, highly strung environment where you’re working twenty-four hours a day.”
It wasn’t cocaine-induced paranoia, though, that made him think he was being followed.
That was five years ago, when he was living and working in New York, and en route to a 12-step meeting.
As he walked out of his apartment, he spotted a man in a white baseball cap lurking over the road.
The white-capped stranger was there again on the subway, a few minutes later.
Then Gallagher quickly got off and on again as a test. Sure enough, the man did the same thing.
Panicky, he confided in the woman sitting next to him, a stranger. “She said ‘I’ll walk with you and act like you know me.’ She was an angel sent from above.”
It wasn’t the end once he’d shaken off that tail, though. Once he arrived, he was unsettled by the new member of the meeting, an oddly quiet woman.
“Nobody knew her and she’d not said her name,” he recalls — and sure enough, it turned out she was also a snoop.
Both of them, he continues, had been hired by a disgruntled former corporate client keen to reclaim monies they believed he owed them, as well as wreck his reputation; thankfully, he had a good enough lawyer to prevent that happening.
It was more intimidating when he was threatened with blackmail by a hotelier whom he reported to the property’s owners for running a prostitution ring from the five-star hotel’s bar.
Gallagher, then deep in his alcoholism, had overindulged at that same drinking den the night before; withdraw your complaint, the GM thundered via an intermediary, or I’ll send footage of you to your clients.
Gallagher was undeterred; he ‘fessed up to his own shortcomings and the manager eventually was caught in separate, also illegal, wrongdoing.
Gallagher’s steely resolve was vital in another nightmareish scenario when a client in Asia decided to test him and his team in a grueling, bizarre way.
“She tried to keep us all through the night, moving tables around the conference room. We ended up walking off the job after 11 hours.”
Another stressful factor in his career: planners are often used to keep clients’ secrets.
That might involve skimming off money in a corporate setting — say, padding prices from vendors and pocketing the difference or upgrading to first class rather than business – or simple personal indiscretions.
In one instance, Gallagher had to deal with both: while running a major sales incentive for a pharma company in New York, a senior executive from overseas instructed him to extend his stay, adding five extra days at the end in a fancy suite.
Bill it to the firm as part of the conference, he told Gallagher.
This exec planned to stay on with a colleague, his mistress, once his wife had returned home.
The MD’s dishonesty was detected, and the firm queried Gallagher and his team.
A few days later, the executive drove his car into a tree at high speed and died.
“I’m ashamed to say I was associated with it, but it was one of my darkest times, when I was using cocaine to get through it,” Gallagher says now.
Most of the issues Gallagher’s parried, though, revolve more around pettiness than true life-and-death.
Take the client who spent $700 per head on a wedding, but nickel-and-dimed him on the cost of a calligrapher for the menus — better to print them at Kinko’s, they insisted.
Forget bridezillas, however: the real divas are the performers, especially boldfaced names hired to sing a few hits for several million at a private bash.
Often, he says, they’ll take umbrage at requests, hissy-fitting in response to simple asks. “We had it with Elton John, when a client asked him to sing a Kylie Minogue song,” Gallagher said; his response was a threat to pull out — hardly John’s first tantrum — putting the whole event at risk.
However a spokesperson for John denied this had happened, calling Gallagher’s claim “100% incorrect.”
Nothing beats the rider, though, that Gallagher received when he booked DJ Steve Aoki for an event in Singapore, arriving by private jet.
The requirements reached Spinal Tap levels of absurdity.
“He wanted to be met right off the plane with an extra-hot venti Starbucks latte. I just went up against him and said ‘Listen, dude, come on’.” He pauses, laughing. “The more you give, the more people want.”