A WOMAN’S WORK – Monica Coumbe

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[Feminism was last year’s word of the year, seeing a 70% spike in online searches and it seems that female empowerment is here to stay in 2018 – and I couldn’t be more ecstatic.

Women are making real moves across the globe in activism and politics, with the recent shift in high profile stars using their influence and putting their weight behind solving some of the toughest issues women are facing in business. Be it the gender pay gap, harassment in the workplace or period poverty, the world’s ears are perking up and eyes are opening to systemic gender discrimination.

But it’s not just about star power – ordinary women making small steps to change the face of local workplaces and sectors can be just as inspiring.

We thought it was high-time a little attention was paid to local women doing incredible things; daring to make the bold step into starting their own business, smashing through the glass ceiling in a traditionally male-dominated sector, and making a difference to the development of local girls. Here’s the first of our monthly profiles on Gibraltarian women in business that inspire us.]


 

Off Gibraltar’s Main Street, winding up through towards the Upper Town, you can find a quaint little shop on Governor’s Street. But don’t be deceived by its size; hundreds of floral arrangements, colour themes, design templates and first dance songs have been decided upon and planned from the office, and hundreds of years of marital bliss have come together in the Hour Weddings studio.

Monica Coumbe

Our inaugural profile is on Monica Viroomal Coumbe, owner of Hour Weddings planning service. She decided to make a complete career switch and step into entrepreneurship a little later in life, all while raising two young children. A decade on, her wedding planning business is thriving; she’s showcased her work to an audience of two million viewers on Channel 5, organised the current Chief Minister’s wedding and in the last year organised over 100 weddings.

From epic love stories of people coming together from across the world, to cringe-worthy cancellations and awkward Ross Geller-style name blunders during ceremonies, Monica has seen it all. Here she shares the details of making it work when you’re in a 24/7 business, taming bridezillas and what a day in the life of a wedding planner looks like.

I chose this career because…

I wasn’t inspired to start the business actually, I was thinking of focusing more on event planning. For me weddings were a no-go area, only because my father died four days before my own. But a few friends really insisted that I should become a wedding planner instead, and it almost happened by chance, not by choice and I was roped into it slowly. Obviously I enjoy it thoroughly, because I’ve been doing it for the last 10 years.

I didn’t even know what planning a wedding entailed, I had done events but I thought weddings meant I was going to have to be too close to bridezillas and that would do my head in, but I actually love working with my clients – especially now that I’ve totally turned into a total bridezilla myself!

A typical day looks like…

On the morning of a big wedding I wake up at 6:30am and the first thing I do is check my mail and messages to make sure there aren’t any last minute hiccups or requests that have come through overnight. I get up go to my office on Governor’s Street, have my first coffee, and then check the rota to see who’s helping to set up that day. I double check the list of all the props and decorations that have to be taken to the venue, make sure all the external details are in place, so AV systems I may have ordered, makeup artists and hairdressers have made it to the bride on time, checking the bows have made it to the wedding car. So there’s list after list to make sure everything is in place after months and sometimes years of planning.

I’m in the background for the first part of the day, until the wedding starts in the afternoon – it’s then that I change from the organiser, to the planner. I’ll change my clothes, put my heels on and make sure I look decent, then I’ll be at the wedding, receiving guests, allocating seats, ensuring everything goes to plan and follows the itinerary we set, right up until the first dance. Only then is my work done, and the party really begins – with Gibraltarian weddings that can often mean my day finishes at midnight.

My career defining moment was…

My first destination wedding, which took play in the Canary Islands. I was thrown completely out of my comfort zone, I had to coordinate about 250 guests coming from all over the world and there were 16 events over the course of a few days – and I had to organise it all in three months. It was the most stressful wedding I’ve ever been a part of, but the results were fantastic, so it all worked out in the end.

Another highlight was being featured in Channel 5’s Gibraltar: Britain in the Sun. The programme changed everything for me really, it had 2 million viewers, I was even recognised by someone while on holiday in the Caribbean.

The best part of my job is…

Seeing a vision come together, and learning about the stories from the couples I work with. Interesting stories about how people meet from all over the world, how they end up in that chair, organising their special day with me in Gibraltar.

I’ve had epic love stories straight out of a movie and then the most bizarre stories too.

I had the sweetest bride turn out to be a bigamist, a man once asked me to break the news to his bride that the wedding was off, because he didn’t have the guts to tell her himself – which I obviously did not do, and I even had an 80-year-old groom who had been married 12 previous times – the wedding I organised for him was lucky number 13!

I had high school sweet hearts from the US find each other decades later and get married right here in Gibraltar with me.

Their stories are really important to me, and it’s beautiful to create something you imagined, presented to the bride and groom, and it becoming a reality – which is the biggest gift of all, it’s like an art for me really.

The worst part of my job is…

You feel like you’re on call 24/7, and that can be tough. Sometimes the most challenging part of the job is having to meet demands outside of working hours, as you have to be on it almost all of the time because you’re helping your client create their vision and acting as their problem solver. But 3:00am requests in some cases can feel a bit much.

If I could be anything else, I would be…

I always wanted to do a bit of everything as a child, I never saw a clear vision of what I wanted to do but I always loved being creative, so really this is what my job is. It gives me a balance between being creative and doing all the logistics behind it.

But I always wanted to be a flamenco dancer; I still have the urge to learn how to dance like a sevillana.

The advice I’d give to anyone wanting to go into this business…

I think you need a flair for piecing together a vision, so having a creative side is key. You also need a lot of patience; you need to be customer friendly and above all very organised. Having a great team behind you is another important factor, because most of what I do would be impossible to execute alone.