I had the distinct privilege of being asked to be a best man recently and was absolutely touched that Justin thought of me in such high regard so I was determined to repay his faith by at least getting my first and arguably the most important job right, arranging the stag.
How hard could it be to round up our closest buddies, decide where to go and how to do it and send JJ off in style? Justin is a man who knows what he wants, until he changes his mind that is! At first we were looking at Thailand, we wanted the solitude and serenity of a spa like resort which was close enough to the party for us to be able to dip in and out. You see, JJ has diabetes so the days of simply drinking until the point of collapse were well and truly behind us so with that very much in mind, he decided he wants to go to the party capital of Las Vegas instead!
Some of our best memories have happened in the shiny lights of the Nevada desert so it's pretty hard not to want to go there whenever the venue for a stag trip is suggested. Our party of five turned into a squad of 10 but not overnight and the highlight of my role pre-stag was to check whether our friend Charlie had actually received his passport in time after leaving it ridiculously late with the renewal even though he had five months to do it!
Subsequently he didn't make the flight but due to his sheer enthusiasm to share at least the last night out with us he turned up to a hero's welcome, a long way to go for a party! Whilst he did make it past the homeland borders eventually, this oversight wasn't forgiven so easily by the group. We can be tough on each other in these situations and thanks to what we call the 'tunnel of death' Charlie will probably check his passport regularly from now on.
I never feel like I'm going away until I'm at the airport which is why on this occasion I insisted on getting to Gatwick early, to kick off the stag do in style I booked the group into the Virgin Holidays v-room lounge where we had a little drink to celebrate all that we had experienced together in the past and all that was about to happen in the near future!
I thought it would be quite a grown up thing to do but they had computers in there so before I'd even gone anywhere I'd already begun thinking how much the boys would have loved it in there! In fact the airport is a much less stressful place when you get there early (unless you're Charlie who doesn't have a passport)
One thing I was dreading was how it would be sharing a room with JJ and the 'plus one'. By this, I mean the guy that comes on the stag from the bride's side of the family. Usually at first everyone treats them with apprehension in case they are relaying information of our almost reckless drunken behaviour back to camp, then actually, you realise his behaviour is worse than anyone else's, the suspicion clears and he soon becomes a part of the family! In reality, the 'plus one' Darren was a really cool guy and everyone loved him.
We took a plush suite at the Cosmopolitan hotel through Virgin Holidays and seemingly part of my job description was to endure the unimaginable; not a sheer drop from the peak of the stratosphere, neither was it to dress up in a Borat style mankini. If you had ever heard JJ snore and see how much he fidgets you'd know why I was the right man for the job as fortunately I could sleep through a tornado but I was beginning to hope his fiancé Zoe could too or they'd end up in separate bedrooms for sure!
It's the little moments of fun that mean the most for me. Everyone in our group (except for JJ) loves a game that carries a forfeit so when we stumbled across a pool table we had to have a game of killer for shots and if you committed a foul, you had to do a series of exercises that were more for a boot-camp class than the hotel lobby. What added to the jeopardy was that all the shots looked the same but four of them were chilli vodka which was quite amusing to watch people drink.
The pool parties and nights out blurred into one as we flitted between places like Marquee, Hakassan and Tryst enjoying some of the best clubs we'd ever been in. We broke things up with a meal one night at STK where we caught our breath ready to go again for the second half of the trip.
In football you have a man of the match so in stag's it's only fair to have a player of the tournament. None of us had ever met JJ's slightly younger brother Leon. We had heard they were quite different even though when walking behind them you'd easily mistake them for twins. That was where the similarities ended. Leon was the intelligent one, a chartered accountant, sensible and unassumingly quiet, until he got in a club with a drink in his hand.
We all loved Leon because he took Vegas for exactly what it was, an opportunity to let your hair down and say to hell with self-conscious boundaries. He would explode into life, make everyone around him part of his crew and do crazy stupid things in his own little world, because he could. He was an inspiration and a leader, a breath of fresh air and all the boys can't wait for the wedding...so we can see Leon in action once again!
I've omitted to mention the time we walked outside a club and he was trying to innocently high-five every person that crossed his path which sounds cool, and it was, but for the moment when, without any intention other than to say 'bye' he slapped what appeared to be a very large gangster rapper on the back which took the chap by surprise. Fortunately regardless of how big Leon's hands are, the guy took it better than some might of and I'm still here to tell you the story.
I never quite switch off from being a Dad. I found myself face-timing the kids and showing them the pool parties, hotel lobbies and casinos telling them that in 10 years' time they'd be there with their friends. It's scary because it's true! And, if they let me I'll be right there with them trying to keep up!
Vegas can sometimes be portrayed as a stag and hen destination but I'd really like to do it with the family, I've only ever been in groups of lads but there's evidently a whole other side to the place with all of the shows like Britney and the excursions like the Grand Canyon, and there's always a sports exhibition game going on and I actually really like the idea of showing the boys the one place on earth that will truly make their eyes pop out of their heads!
Follow in my footsteps: You can enjoy three nights in Sin City at the five-star Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas from around £1,035pp when you book with Virgin Holidays. Flights from London Gatwick on Virgin Atlantic are included in the price and the Virgin Holidays v-room costs £24.50 for adults and £14 for kids. If you fancy finding out more about visiting Vegas, try www.virginholidays.co.uk, call 0844 557 3859 or visit one of Virgin Holidays' 110 stores located in Debenhams, House of Fraser, Tesco and Sainsbury's stores nationwide.