Sonal Dave: Toastmaster & Ceremonies Celebrant Extraordinaire

Sunetra Senior Tuesday 08th January 2019 00:14 EST

As a top-notch Toastmaster & Celebrant, hosting and co-ordinating various vibrant ceremonies, from signature weddings and fashion shows to civic and corporate events across the globe, Sonal defies the stereotype of a quiet, compliant woman, and in an empowering social context. "People are becoming more individual nowadays: they aren't as bound by others anymore. They don't necessarily want a standard approach. As someone who naturally believes in self-expression, my work has always been about respecting my clients and ensuring that they have the unique experience that they deserve: whether it be grand and ornate or intimate and small. I've had a request for a 60s -70s wedding for example, which involved a lot of big frills and collars. Another had a Motown theme to it, and soon I'll be conducting one based on the This Is Your Life television show. That particular couple wants to look back on their fonder memories in a more quirky, humorous way." Though the typical formal suit and attire aren't always present then, the feisty performer's gigs are distinctly eventful.

Indeed, you can imagine Sonal, in what is her signature red tailcoat, energetically leading the shows: "I am a loud visual presence," she told us. and really enjoys entertaining her audience. As the only full time practicing South-Asian woman in the trade in the UK, I'm especially proud. I'm good at speaking, and can keep guests happy but remain professional and vocal. I preserve the chosen thematic concept as well as managing the practical matters involved around the event:  for example, if you've ordered a string quartet, need to do a last-minute check on the venue, or need someone to cover unexpected disruptions during the show, I manage this, but with that extra invested enthusiasm intact!" Unsurprisingly, Sonal recently won Celebrant of the Year at the Wedding Awards, 2019. 


Her digression from a traditionally placid gender role, is certainly the reason Sonal has been so successful at her specialist profession. "I was never going to be a typical worker bee who worked a 9-5 job," she commented. "A child performer for the English National Opera and Sadler's Wells, I was outspoken and breaking the norm from a very young age." In addition to her cultural circumstances, the sparky organiser has also had to fight an invisible disability, which made the determination to stand her ground and emanate a boldness even greater. "I have faced discrimination, bullying and overcome many hardships. It has made me value my individuality."

Today, having created a living out of celebrating this, Sonal has made projecting uniqueness a veritable trademark. Prior to her becoming a luxury toastmaster & Ceremonies Celebrant in 2018, she had actually been appointed a magistrate in 2004, in another unconventional career twist, in which she directly drew from her difficult life experience. "Again, a magistrate's post was historically typically given to older white men who command authority. However, I could thrive because I had that empathy for people being put in front of me in the court. Magistrates have been notoriously privileged and where some could not relate to the struggles and pressures placed on persons in the cases, I knew what it was to work hard in the face of adversity to escape the odds."

Sonal continues her interpersonal philanthropy by donating to a number of children's charities. She is also preparing to open a series of confidence-building workshops at the end of January to help women with public speaking. My aim is to help many "dare to dream and dare to be different," she beamed. "To reach in and tap into that inner spirit that allows them to feel themselves and entirely whole." Thus, Sonal beautifully demonstrates how having a stake in individual freedom can be a bastion for a wider modern liberty: "I strongly believe that it's better to be working as something you are passionate about as opposed to working under someone else in exchange for a fearful sort of safety. Self-love and waking up with a smile are more important than following what someone tells you to do to the detriment of your intuition and potential." Showing that the working world can be moulded into a creative lifestyle, the vibrant maverick not only highlights the importance of courage, but also the connection to the self as one exercises it. "If you hold yourself in a dignified way, you can overcome any obstacle. Don't be distracted by the superficial trimmings. There's a true story, deep down in everyone just waiting to be told." Ultimately,the trick, Sonal seems to tell us, is to invest in yourself and find it.

Is humour a big component in the spoken aspect of your work?

Absolutely. Whatever the event, there is a high degree of stress so it is important to have levity. I am also a natural entertainer, who doesn't resort to crude jokes and interacts responsively with the crowd. I also bring my own journey to people. It allows people to relate, and enhances the work.

Occasionally, I'll also act as a peacemaker or mediator, and being light hearted is important there too.


What exactly is a celebrant?

Usually, you'll have a ceremony conducted by a registrar, minister or another type of religious leader, but what I do is secular, individual and very open. You can write your own vows, have your own sort of naming ceremony, renewal of vows, funeral or suggest whatever respective plan you wish. In that sense, I'm more spiritual and celebratory.

 What do you love best about your work?

I love the way people can personalise their events. It's great helping in that and seeing the playful fervour come out. When you really listen, everyone has an interesting vision to give.

Do you do other empowering entertainment work?

My husband has a great band, D26, and I sometimes perform in that!

What's most important in your career?

Being a well-rounded person.

Do you roast while you toast?

No, I won't actively take the mickey, but I'll call people out in good spirit. So...don't be boring!

Tell us more on what are you hoping to achieve with your workshops?

I want to encourage women to stand up and take the social stage. For me, life is a continuous learning curve so it pains me to think that some women think life ends with marriage and settling down, and nothing else. For example: a woman I know is an amazing artist and has just recently started drawing again. It's stunning. I hope to keep inspiring people and evoking a positive domino effect.

The fact that I am a tangible role model should also help. A lot of women aren't exposed to self-expression as a choice. I want to create a safe environment where women feel comfortable opening up emotionally.

Finally, what are some, no doubt gushing, descriptors people have used to describe you?

Humble, well-organised, professional, authentic, inspiring and plucky.

Essentially: you cannot do without me!


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