Saturday 10 December 2016

Meet Sharon McMeel: The top Irish wedding planner too busy planning other people's nuptials to think about her own

Joy Orpen

Published 15/06/2015 | 02:30

Shaon McMeel - busy planning other people's weddings. Photo: Tony Gavin
Shaon McMeel - busy planning other people's weddings. Photo: Tony Gavin

Sharon McMeel (37) is a wedding planner. She lives in Dooradoyle, Co Limerick, with Dave, her boyfriend of over seven years.

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Sharon says that they will get married some day, but currently, she is too busy planning other people's weddings

I get up somewhere between 6am and 7am. I'm trying to train myself to become a morning person. Life seems to be getting busier by the minute, so the only way to get more time is to get up earlier. I live in Dooradoyle in Limerick, with my boyfriend, Dave. Sometimes he's up before me. He has his own business - he's an electrician. That's very handy for me, in my line of work. I'm a wedding planner, and I often need someone to do lights and electrical bits and pieces. Dave gets roped in to help me quite a lot.

I have a NutriBullet and a juicer, and both are invaluable for breakfast. I often have a combination of nuts, fruit, vegetables and coconut milk. I enjoy listening to Ian Dempsey on Today FM in the mornings. You're still waking up at that stage and you don't want anything too taxing. I get washed and dressed, and then go to my office in Limerick city centre. My business is called Sharon McMeel - Your Day, Your Story. I set it up in 2007.

I always knew that I wanted to work for myself. My dad had his own business, as an accountant, and I remember how he started it when we were kids. Initially, he worked from home, and then he moved into an office and grew the business. I always admired his work ethic.

Before I set up the business, I used to work in the Castle Oaks Hotel, where I became their wedding and events coordinator. Sometimes you could be doing six weddings a week. I loved listening to people's stories about how they got engaged, and I enjoyed helping them with the reception. But as time went on, I realised that I wanted to be more involved. I wanted to organise the full day from start to finish. That's what I do now.

When I get in to the office, I go through my emails and see what kind of inquiries are coming in. I look at Facebook and the newspapers to see what's happening. It's important to keep up to date with everything that is going on in the wedding industry. When celebrities get married, they set wedding trends for the following year.

Most of the time, the initial contact would be from the bride. Occasionally, I'd have a groom contacting me, telling me that the bride is getting stressed and obviously needs help, but she won't ask for it. So he wants me to step in. Having someone else come in and do all the worrying for you makes a difference. It can be hard for people to understand what wedding planners do. For me, it changes with every couple, because each one has different needs.

Some people come to me the minute they are engaged. Often, they tell me that they don't have time to look for a venue and they need my help. Sometimes they will have thought about a budget, but not always. They need to look at that before they start booking places. There is no point in saying that Luttrellstown Castle is amazing and then realising that their budget would only cover the drinks reception there.

It's important to listen to the couple and what they want. Some women bring in photos of what they would like. Sometimes I learn that they have been collecting these long before they were engaged and, often, even before the man was on the scene at all. When I start asking questions, the woman frequently takes over. At times, you can see the men looking, as if to say, 'When will all this be over?' But when I ask what part of the day is important to them, I often find out that the guys love to get involved in the music.

Years ago, I had a couple who were both big into their rugby. The bride was a Leinster fan and the groom was a staunch Munster fan. It was a big part of their personalities, and we wanted to bring elements of it into their wedding. When the meal was over, they had their first dance in the changing room in Thomond Park. And I arranged to get video messages from both Brian O'Driscoll and Paul O'Connell. The couple didn't know anything about that beforehand.

I always try to have a little surprise for them. Another bride was determined to have her wedding ceremony outside. It was due to start at 3pm, but then we found out that there was rain forecast for that time, so I arranged that everything started an hour earlier and she missed the rain.

During my working day, I could be doing anything from finding a venue to going wedding-dress shopping. Often brides can end up looking 20 years older when they have 14 layers of make-up on and their hair pulled back in a bun. I tell them that the groom is waiting to see them at the other end of the aisle, so they should be themselves and not this image. I have an advantage in that I'm slightly outside of things, so I can give people advice in a 'neutral but nice' way. But it's not my wedding, so my taste has nothing to do with it.

On the day of a wedding, I will be with the bride first thing in the morning, from her breakfast to her make-up. Then I'll check that the groom is up and alive. I'm with them several times during the day, making sure that everything goes according to plan. I'm normally buzzing from weddings, because they have such good energy. When you stand in the side of a doorway and watch everyone dancing, all smiling and happy, there is a great feeling of satisfaction.

When I get home, I tell Dave how the day went. I'm still on and talking at the speed of lightning. It takes me about half an hour to come down and then the exhaustion hits me. I've been with Dave for over seven years. We're very happy, but we're not married. My mother keeps asking why not, and because of my job, Dave gets an awful slagging about it. We will do it, some day. When I was a little girl, I had a vision of what my wedding would be like, but with my work, all that has changed. You forget about living up to some image and meeting everyone else's expectations. Instead, you learn about what's important and why people get married. It's all about the couple.

In conversation with Ciara Dwyer

sharonmcmeel.ie

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