A Dutchman in London, Rob Van Helden has gone from running a flower stall on Fulham Road to heading one of the world’s largest event florists some thirty years later.
“Being Dutch helps!” says Rob of his decision to become a florist. “When I was growing up, flowers were everywhere. Friends of my parents owned a flower shop, and my dad loved flowers. The house was always full of flowers.”
Rob did not take the most direct route into floristry, however, first coming over to the UK to attend business school in Oxford and then securing a place on a management course at Selfridges. Keen to escape the obligatory shirt and tie and feeling the lure of flowers, Rob asked to move to the design team in the floristry team. “We were on a job once and the head of floristry suggested I have a go," explains Rob. "I seemed to have a knack for it, and gradually grew in confidence. Eighteen months later, I left to start up on my own.”
The first step was a flower stall on Fulham Road. Customers started asking Rob to do their house flowers, then their office flowers, event and wedding flowers, until the business outgrew his flat and he found a workshop for Rob Van Helden Floral Designs.
Today, his company designs flowers for film premieres, charity events, Royal weddings and the most glamorous international society parties. The studio also takes telephone orders for bouquets and styles house flowers for clients. Rob employs 15 full-time florists and a team of regular freelancers, some of whom have been working with Rob for 10-15 years. Rob’s sister, Patrice, handles the logistics for events worldwide. “I don’t know what I would do without her,” says Rob. “Patrice handles the operational side of the business, as well as our huge prop hire business.”
Rob and The Flower Market
Rob still does most of the buying and meets all customers personally, and he remembers his first trip to New Covent Garden Flower Market. “I came here when I was at Selfridges in the floristry department. I’d been to Aalsmeer and grown up around flowers, so I had seen scale, but I loved the vibe, the people and the atmosphere here.”
“I am in the Flower Market every morning when I’m in the country, and I like to see what’s around, what the prices are doing,” explains Rob. “We also buy direct from Holland, particularly for events abroad. Over the last year, we’ve decorated over 30 weddings in India, Mallorca, Sicily, Maldives and New York.”
“We use British summer flowers whenever we can in our work, and I’m the first person to support local wherever we are in the world,” says Rob.
“We use a lot of British foliage and herbs particularly. You can’t get a better choice of foliage anywhere in the world than at the Flower Market."
"We buy most of our flowers from John at Bloomfield, Terry and Graeme at Zest Flowers and Dennis at Dennis Edwards Flowers; and our foliage from David at GB Foliage and Bryan at Porters Foliage. Quality Plants are excellent for planted orchids and plants generally; and Whittingtons, Alfie at Donovans and Pam at E Pollard Sons are our people for essential sundries and C Best for bepoke event sundries.”