All aboard the love voyage
Kira and Mark Walton have made a life together in Sligo, where they run their successful seaweed-based beauty business.
Mothers know best, of course, so when Kira Walton's mother told her to marry a guy with good teeth, she went out and did just that. "What attracted me to Mark was his eyes and teeth," she says, recalling how she first met her husband and business partner in Voya beauty products in 2001, through a mutual friend.
Mind you, things nearly fell apart before they started dating, as one day, Mark dropped over a hair bandana, that Kira had left behind on a night out, to her office the following day. She was mortified when he slipped the triangular piece of material out of his pocket and swung it around his finger, fearing that her colleagues would think it was her underwear.
He made up for it by e-mailing her a different song every day, which she thought was very sweet.
Mark, then 27, was smitten with Kira, then aged 30, the first time he saw her walk through the door. "I thought, 'That woman is amazing-looking and really beautiful,'" he says. "There are lots of beautiful women in the world, but for some reason, she struck a chord with me. She was quite intimidating, because she was really good-looking, tall, and had a strong personality, which she gets from her dad. I knew it would take hard work to get her, and it took me a while to actually ask her out."
Mark, 39, comes in the middle of Margaret and Michael Walton's three children and he grew up in Ransboro, Sligo. His dad was a Telecom Eircom engineer and an award-winning vegetable-grower, and is the main harvester of the seaweed they use in the products they manufacture. "He still has a six pack, which I'm jealous of," says Mark. "My mum was a restaurant chef and I have inherited my cooking skills from her. When we were dating, I would make Kira French toast in the morning, which I never did for anyone else, as I wanted to do nice things for her."
Mark studied law at Newcastle University in England, and went to Belfast to do a master's in Queen's in law and IT. He knew he wasn't going to become a lawyer, so he moved to Dublin when he became a business strategist. About six months into the relationship, the company he was working for closed its Dublin office and so Mark went to work at his family's seaweed baths in Sligo. With them being in different counties, Kira feared it might not work, and Mark jokes that she tried to get rid of him.
"He kept telling me that he was a good, Catholic boy from the west of Ireland, so I said he should just go and find a good Catholic girl there, but he didn't take no for an answer," says Kira."He gives me so much love, and is so patient, whereas I can flip sometimes. He always does a good deed of the day, and has time for people. I think that I bring Mark out of himself, because when he isn't comfortable, he can be quite introverted, so we complement each other. What I think is funny is when he walks into the bedroom and tries to be all sexy at the door, thinking he has a six-pack or something. I just look up from my book and laugh. Men look in the mirror and think they are so hot. Mark always tells me that he thinks he lost weight and I'm like, 'Yeah, whatever.'"
The entertaining Kira, 42, comes in the middle of Leo and Rosemary Guckian's three daughters, and she grew up in Dunboyne, County Meath. Her dad's work at Aer Lingus took them abroad, and the family lived in other countries, including the Bahamas, for several years.
Kira did visual communications at DIT after school and became an illustrator, spending seven years with Riverdeep. She and Mark were married in 2006, and in a lovely twist, her sister Bernice and Mark's brother Neil subsequently fell in love.
"Kira thought it was great when they started seeing each other, but I was so worried that Neil would mess it up and for the rest of our lives there would be an awkwardness there," says Mark, laughing. "I told him that if he wanted to break up, Bernice would have to be the one to end it, but I needn't have worried as they are very happily married now and have two little girls. They live right beside us and run the family seaweed baths."
While Mark and Kira don't have a family yet, they remain hopeful, and meanwhile their terrier Buddie and successful business keep them busy. Having moved to Sligo, they formed Voya, and six years later, have more than 100 beauty and skincare products selling in 36 countries around the world. Their luxury products are organic and seaweed-based, and with Kira's skills in design and Mark's financial acumen, they were quickly on to a winner. They now employ over 20 people and are expanding and heavily exporting. Kira is nominated for Image magazine's business entrepreneur woman of the year award later this month, and she and Mark are also finalists in the Business & Finance AIB entrepreneur award.
"Kira is so creative, whereas I am more of a numbers guy," says Mark. "We have so much fun together, and I think the key to a good relationship is when you meet someone who you can be completely ridiculous with, which is rare. We have very different backgrounds, but the same aspirations and views. Kira is as daft as a wire brush, and she is a great tonic for me, because I can get caught up in things and she takes me out of it like no one else. She has the coldest feet in the world though - it's like she has two blocks of ice attached to her body."
The hard part was learning to switch off in the evenings, and it literally took the Waltons years to be able to do that. They live beside the beach, so Kira loves going on walks with the dog to unwind. and also does yoga and a bit of painting. Mark is still a surfer dude and loves fly-fishing.
"I used to love pillow talk about work, and would dump things on Mark and then fall asleep," Kira admits. "He would then be awake all night thinking about it, so we've had to ban work talk in the bedroom."