Delighted that you’re taking some time out of your hectic schedule to be interviewed for SimplyWeddings.com. So, let's get down to it :)
1. Did you always want to be the “Rose of Tralee” or were you coerced into it? I always dreamed of it as a young girl, but I really invested my interest in it on my return from my four years study in Aberdeen, Scotland. Many of my friends had dispersed to different countries, and I found that although I had friends a plenty around the country and the world, I lacked friends in my locality. My Mum did however encourage me to enter by cutting out the advertisements in the local papers.
2. Big celebrations for the festival this year – 50th Anniversary – tell us about the plans to celebrate! Yes that’s right. The big 5-0 this year. I think this will be the year of all years for huge celebrations. Every year is excellent, with parade’s, fireworks, balls, seisuin ceoil agus craic, the festivities in the dome, however this year the festival is inviting back the 50 previous Rose’s of Tralee along with 50 contestants for the 2009 crown. Many of the past presenters are being invited back also. If last year’s atmosphere and buzz was anything to go by, it should be an excellent time for all who travel down.
3. You’re getting married later this year in South Africa I understand, is that right? Why S.A.? My fiancé Leon is South African. He works in Cambridge for Bam as a civil engineer. We meet in South Africa two years ago when I was doing volunteering work, and he was on holiday. It was something of an immediate connection when we meet on top of the world’s highest bungee jump, and once I had him convinced to jump the 216 metre jump, we bonded even more. We met up the week after and shared our first kiss at the bottom of the beautiful Table Mountain, and in my mind I thought this would be the most beautiful place to get married. (Although I did not share that thought with him at that time for obvious reason!). We have done the long distance over and back from England to Ireland, flying each weekend to see each other. 11 months later after he asked me to marry him, we collaboratively decided that Cape Town would be the area where we would exchange our vows before God. We are getting married in October this year in a stunning wine estate just outside Cape Town.
4. How are the plans coming along? I think weddings are as stressful as you make them. We are having a wonderful time planning our big day, from picking out the bridesmaid dresses, to colour coordination, to wine and food tastings to choosing music. It is the most exhilarating time of your life, and if you stress about it you may lose such a special part of the build up to your wedding day. Leon and I are very grounded in our beliefs about marriage and as a result we remain very focused on the true meaning behind the big white wedding. We have special surprises planned right throughout the day, and a week’s itinerary planned for all the guests who wish to join us on our big day, with Slattery’s travel in Tralee.
5. What have been the most difficult obstacles in planning your Wedding? I suppose there have been lots of little things, for example the fact that we are having it so far away, and how to plan it from thousands of miles away. Also how to best meet the needs of those guests travelling to the wedding. The fact that it is so far away and costly to get there may also affect people’s capacity to be present on the day. This is a pity and we would love to have everyone present, however to have it where we have chosen has been a dream of our since the very early days in our relationship, and we would not change it for the world. Choosing the photographer and the musicians for our big day has also been difficult, but we are getting there, and enjoying the journey.
6. Where did you meet your fiancé? Was it love at first sight? I was in South Africa working in a crèche and soup kitchen in a township called Kayamandi. The work was emotionally tough but spiritually rewarding as I was working with children with H.I.V. I met a group of people during my time in Kayamandi and other townships, and we decided for the last week of our time that we would travel the Garden Route in South Africa and see some of the sites of the country. The world’s highest bungee jump was on our itinerary. Meanwhile Leon had returned to Cape Town with two friends to visit family and do some travelling, and although the world’s highest bungee jump wasn’t on Leon’s to-do-list, it was on his friend’s itinerary. So August 25th on top of the world’s highest bungee jump was where we met. I had spotted him as he was wearing a black harness and we were wearing yellow harnesses, and I questioned him as to why he was different (I was thinking he was going to somersault off it or ride off it on a bike, as a black belt in martial arts usually means he/ she is of the highest level of experience). However it was revealed that Leon was only going to walk the bridge and watch his friends, as he was too scared. The poor soul, when I think back I feel for him; I tormented him so much that he did the bungee jump! I am still convinced that he jumped off in an attempt to shut me up, but he assures me of otherwise. I suppose the whole experience made us bind so quickly although I was already attracted to him since we laid eyes on each other. I never believed in love at first sight, but I am afraid I was proven wrong, and only too happy to have been! All of the friends spent that evening together, eating, drinking and enjoying each other’s time, and just when I thought that this man couldn’t get any better, he asked me to dance and wow can he dance. See in South Africa they have a traditional dance, like we have Irish dance, they have long-arm or as we like to call it wind surfing, as that is how the man holds the lady in his arms. It was just an excellent day over all, and as we hugged good night, after sitting under the stars till 7 am the following morning, I knew there was something very different about this man. The following afternoon we all met up to say good bye, and decided that we would meet up the following weekend before we returned to our respective countries. I was so shy, which is unlike me, and so was he, but we both say it was because we knew there was something so special between us, although we hardly knew each other a week. It was that night we shared our first kiss at the foot of Table Mountain. I said to him that if he ever wanted to visit Ireland that I would love to have him visit and could show him the countryside, and little did I know that the following weekend I would pick him up at Dublin airport and that would be change in life as I knew it.
7. Personal, I know, but we all love a good romantic story –so how did Leon propose? Were you surprised? I went to visit him in Cambridge for the weekend, as I had been doing every second weekend. Early on the sunny Saturday morning, we walked to the banks of the river, and he asked if I’d like to go punting. I had noticed he had packed a picnic basket but paid little attention to it. Off we went up the river and Leon was being the ultimate gentleman and doing all the work at the back of the punt (I offered he refused!). Half way back I asked him was everything ok because he seemed a little stressed, but he said it was because he needed to concentrate on steering the punt. Here’s the part very little people know...he was so distracted by what he was about to do that the punting stick got caught in a weeping willow tree, as a result Leon was hanging out of the tree, and to make it worse I hadn’t even noticed until people passing by were taking pictures!!! It was very funny and cute at the same time. Once we finished punting past all the river bank attractions Leon moored to the side underneath a giant weeping willow tree and asked me to open the picnic basket. At the top of the basket was our scrap book filled with all our memories since day one which I had made him months previously. He asked me to turn to the back page and on it he wrote a piece about how happy I made him over the past year and how he could never see life without me in it. When I got to the last sentence of a tear-jerking piece to read he closed the book and while on his knees, asked me to marry him and make him the happiest man alive and be his wife. I was so over-whelmed with joy I started to cry, and I think for a second he was unsure of my answer as I had my head in my right hand crying (with joy though) and my left arm outstretched towards him! He had champagne, flutes and strawberries ready for the celebrations and I spent the most enjoyable time of my life sitting in that punting boat thereafter. We sat for hours in the punt, discussing how I asked her parents and other times I had thought about proposing. We’d a fabulously romantic dinner later that evening with a live piano player playing by our sides, and on the way back to the hotel we danced under the stars, over the water, singing dreams from the cranberries. The proposal was the most amazing day of my life.
8. How many guests are travelling for the Big Day? We are really uncertain about this just now. We are hoping we’ll have at least 50 from Ireland and 60 from South Africa, but that number is on the increase every day. I initially said I would have been so happy with just my immediate family there on the day, as we are appreciative of the fact it is half way down the world, however we are delighted to say there are going to be a lot more of the special people in our life present on the day.
9. What are your plans after you hand over the crown to the next Rose of Tralee? I really do not have a clue. The National Rehabilitation Hospital have offered me the contract to return in September, which is excellent in the current climate we are in, however we are not sure. Leon is a civil engineer and if the work is here for him, he would gladly move to Ireland. If that so happens I may pursue and interest in media or public relations, returning to university might also be an option to studying communications/ journalism. However on a completely different note, Leon and I may travel to a country far away to do hands on volunteer work for a year. I am doing work for Volunteer Services Overseas next month in Kenya, but they operate in 44 of the poorest countries in the world so maybe we will pursue and interest with them. Leon and I also got the opportunity to visit the Niall Melon township trust in South Africa when we were there over Christmas so this is also something we might look into. So, in answer to your question, we really are not sure what will happen in the next 8months, all we know is what we do decide to do we’ll be doing it together.
10. If you won the lotto, what would you do with the money – honestly! If I won the lotto....I have a ticket downstairs that I haven’t checked so I hope this is some kind of sign! Before I would have said that I would travel the world, but as the Rose of Tralee I am getting to travel to many of the countries that would have been on my to-do-list. However I never seem to get enough of travel, so I would travel the world for two years, I would get my dog and electronic ball thrower, my Dad and brother (Simon) tickets to all the rugby matches possible and trip around the world, my mum and dozen spa treatments and a shopping trip for her and her friends, and Leon a plane and flying lessons. I would get myself electric gates for the house, as I hate closing the gate at night, and I would probably try to open my own charity organisation in the township I worked in outside Stellenbosch, focusing on housing and provision of health care and education to orphaned children.
Editor: We wish you both lots of love, luck & happiness in the years ahead!