Usually we’re in the throes of celebrating our clients’ anniversaries, but in April 2016, Waterlily Weddings celebrated its own special anniversary! Congratulations to Michelle and the team for an amazing 10 years as the leading wedding planners of destination weddings in Ireland!
To celebrate, we thought it would be fun to take a trip down memory lane with Waterlily Weddings founder and lead planner, Michelle Johnstone Clark, talking about how Waterlily Weddings all began, a look at how far it’s come, and where the business plans to grow in the future for the next ten years. Here’s our little interview. Hope you enjoy getting to know a bit about your wedding planner and congratulations again to Waterlily Weddings! Looking forward to the next ten years! Slainte!
M: How did you come to start Waterlily Weddings?
MJC: “I was working in marketing in Dublin ten years ago. We were in an economic boom time, so it was fabulous working with big brands who had big money to throw at product launches and promotions. I loved working on the creative side and developed an itch for event planning. A very dear friend who worked in the hotel industry kept telling me that I should be a wedding planner. At that time the whole wedding planning industry was a foreign idea — especially in Ireland — and the only thing most people thought about when they heard “wedding planner” was Jennifer Lopez’s character in The Wedding Planner movie! I ended up moving jobs and instantly hated it. Within a few months I knew I had to make a move, so I started researching the destination wedding market in Ireland. A few business courses under my belt and joining a network of entrepreneurial women and voila! Waterlily Weddings was born!
M: How did you come up with the name, ‘Waterlily Weddings’?
MJC: “Originally I wanted to call the business ‘Perfect Day,’ but there were already several wedding-related businesses with that name. With my marketing background, I already had the experiences of naming products and brands before, so I started to think about what I wanted my weddings to be like: elegant, beautiful, calm, complementing the surroundings but still unique. One of my favorite places to visit in all of Ireland is Powerscourt House and Gardens, about 10 minutes from my hometown of Bray. When I would walk the grounds I’d often stop alongside one of the many ponds in the garden. On one such occasion I stopped and noticed how the water lily, among all of the flowers in the garden, was truly unique and beautiful. It was elegant, classically beautiful, belonged in its surroundings on the pond but still stood out with its uniqueness. It was the perfect representation of the ideals I wanted for my business.”
M: Describe the first years….how did you start out?
MJC: “I started in the corner of our first baby’s playroom! It was a small table, a big desktop computer, and a whole load of determination. Today I have a beautiful office that I love, a partner, a great team of ladies from Seattle to Kerry and a booming international business built on making couple’s dreams come true on the most important day of their lives. I truly love what I do.”
M: Who were your first clients? What was your very first gig like?!
MJC: “My first year I had four clients who all planned their wedding 12 months out. My very first wedding was for Mary and Colin, a lovely couple from Chicago who had a charming ceremony at a tiny catholic church in Letterfrack and reception at Rosleague Manor, a wonderful country house estate in the heart of Connemara. They were absolutely wonderful; relaxed and so happy to be in Ireland with their friends and family, excited to incorporate Irish traditions and having their dream wedding in a place that felt like home. Mary was an amazing Irish dancer and for the rehearsal dinner, we hired a local dance troop to come in and dance for the guests. Then as a surprise, Mary joined them in the performance! It was just brilliant. BUT…I did learn a big lesson from their wedding…
The natural Irish disposition is a ‘sure, it will be grand!’ attitude. Which is great because it keeps the blood-pressure low. But on the flip side, it forces you to trust people and take them at their word which works out most of the time. But not all of the time.
For Mary and Colin’s wedding, preparations were well underway and detailed out. I had spoken the week before their wedding day to all the vendors to confirm the details and timings. They wanted their rehearsal dinner also filmed, so with the videographer I remember saying, ‘Great, see you next Thursday!’ meaning this Thursday that was coming. So Thursday came and the rehearsal dinner in Connemara was on track. About a half an hour before guests were due to arrive, everything was set but we had no videographer. I called to make sure he was on his way, concerned since he lived 3 hours away from where the rehearsal dinner was being held. He answered and said, “Oh! I thought it was next Thursday!” My stomach just dropped and I felt sick. Luckily Mary and Colin were fine about it, and the videographer hot-footed it to Connemara and was there bright and early on the wedding morning!
Ever since then I call the week before, the day before, and everyone calls or texts on route the morning of!”
M: What have you learned in these ten years in the wedding business? How has it changed you (if at all)?
MJC: “Absolutely, 100% trust your gut. Your instincts will be your best guide on if something is right or not. This is true for every aspect of running your own business as well as the weddings themselves. I know now that it is ok to say ‘no’ and more importantly, when to say it. I also learned to believe in myself. I love that Grace Ormonde (an amazing planner of the most stunning weddings) is a big believer of ‘fake it ’till you make it.’ In the first few years one hits the ground running, with each wedding being something new and unfamiliar and that can be intimidating; the only thing that carries you through that unchartered territory is believing in yourself and trusting your instincts. Ten years later, the experience I gained planning hundreds upon hundreds of weddings has given me great confidence, something that’s apparent throughout our business and outstanding services Waterlily Weddings provides for our clients. That said, I do still love being put out of my comfort zone, being asked to do some new and different things. It keeps the creative juices flowing and allows our business to continue to evolve and grow.”
M: Your all-time, absolutely favorite spot for a wedding in all of Ireland. Yes you need to pick one place. Yes it needs to be just one.
MJC: “Good lord, this is just impossible! I simply love Ashford Castle. It is literally one of my favorite places on earth. It’s just the most magical place. The castle is the place of little girls’ dreams. When you are there you walk around in this dream-like haze. If you are the ‘princess’ type of bride, this is the most perfect place on earth!”
Waterlily Weddings has had the honor of planning weddings at Ashford Castle for the past ten years. From the classic fairytale couple of Cynthia & George, to the adventurous and modern Meghan & Joel, we love seeing how a classic venue can adapt to suit the personalities and unique qualities of each couple. It’s this challenge that we love as wedding planners.
M: Speaking of types of brides, what type of bride are you?
MJC: “Interesting! I think I am a Live In The Moment bride. I had my wedding 16 years ago and then renewed my vows in 2014; for me the most important, most treasured moments of both of those days was who I shared it with. I absolutely wanted to create an amazing, incredible experience for my guests — beautiful settings, great food, wonderful music and the most amazing celebrant — but the sentiment of the day is what is so important to me. All too often I see couples forgetting about the importance of the ceremony; the words they are saying to each other, the commitment they are making. I think it’s so important to press pause on our crazy lives and focus on what it is all about in the end: love, friendship, and family. The rest of the details will all fall into place. So for that reason, I think I tend to live in the moment.”
M: Describe the most ridiculous moment you’ve experienced as a wedding planner. I’m sure you have some good ones.
MJC: “People think that laid back brides are the best, but there is such as a thing as too laid back. In one of our first years, I had a bride who was possibly the most laid back person I have ever met. I called in to her room mid morning on her wedding day and ran through the check list with her. Then I said, ‘Oh! Let me see your dress!’ Her reply horrified me: ‘Oh…I don’t know where it is!!!’ I remember thinking WHAT???!?!?!!? Apparently she had given it to her grandfather who had gone into the city of Galway the day before, dropped it off at a dry cleaners and headed on to visit relatives and was not seen since! No granddad, no dress, and NO IDEA where either were!
So I hit the phones and within an hour I had all the day cleaners in Galway tracking down the dress. Two hours later I finally had the dress in my hands. I think I was more stressed than the bride!!”
M: Did you find the granddad I hope?!
MJC: “Apparently he had found some long lost cousins in the area, had gone to visit with them, and then showed up right before the ceremony started!”
M: What are your favorite parts about being a wedding planner?
MJC: “Well, I have to say there is nothing in the world like being there on the couple’s wedding day! As a wedding planner, you bare a remarkable amount of responsibility for the details: making sure everything is unfolding according to plan, being the point person between vendors, being the main point of contact for every guest, ensuring the bride and groom have the best day of their lives all within a highly emotionally charged environment. Is it a lot of pressure? Absolutely. Adrenaline charged? Yes. But it’s also the best job in the world because seeing the bride and groom walk back down the aisle towards you, seeing their big bright smiles and when they hug you and whisper ‘thanks’ — that moment is the best in the world. I feel incredibly blessed to play a part in a couple’s big day.”
M: Flash forward: Waterlily Weddings…10 years from now. How does it look? What are you doing?
MJC: “Today I have a partner and an amazing team, which means we can offer couples more services and more local knowledge, as the team is based all over the country. Aileen in the southwest of Ireland brings her passion and years of experience in the industry from the venue perspective; Lindsay in the west is an amazing stylist and fountain of knowledge for all things destination weddings globally and in Ireland; Mishy is hands down the most talented writer I have ever met, bringing what we do to life in words and helping us keep up to date with current trends and the very best in Irish tourism; Stephanie has just joined the team and her 10+ years at the Waldorf Astoria in New York brings unbelievable organizational skills to the team. And of course my partner, Sile, and myself; our passion shines through in showing couples and their guests the very best of Ireland, why we love it so much, and our dedication to creating and delivering the absolute best wedding experience in the world.
We have very strong creative talents to help couples conceptualize their dream weddings and support for inspiration on everything from flowers to Irish traditions. We now have ten years of creating, planning, and coordinating amazing weddings all over Ireland under our belt, and the confidence to continue doing good work and expand exploring more ceremony locations, more venues, more unique details that make getting married in Ireland an unforgettable experience for our couples.
Clients are looking for planners who are confident and knowledgeable. What makes us unique from all of the other planners out there is our ability to personalize each wedding, tailoring it to each individual couple. We’ve moved from the standardized “check-list-wedding” and instead focus the wedding day around the couple, taking care to draw out those details that make each couple distinctive and making sure those details are reflected in every aspect of their wedding day. And it’s not always about extra spend; more often than not it’s simply stepping back as the planner and asking ‘what would make this day even more amazing?’ This means a dedicated commitment to researching the absolutely perfect setting for a ceremony and venue, the perfect music to compliment the soul of your wedding, fun details that reflect the couple’s personality, and even scouting incredible locations for breathtaking photographs.
The next couple of years will see the development and launch of our welcome bags service, using that world renowned Irish hospitality to welcome our client’s guests properly to Ireland. We’re offering couples more options, pushing ourselves through the boundaries for spectacular ceremony locations and unforgettable reception celebrations, personalizing each wedding more in every detail to be unique to each couple, all in order to provide the very best of an Irish wedding experience.
You can think of what we do like a wedding cake: Are we now amazing bakers? Yes. Have we spent years learning to create the most perfect buttercream icing? Yes indeed. Is the cake going to taste and look beautiful? Heck yes. But now, in the next ten years, we’re going to blow you away with the most original, breathtaking hand-forged sugar flowers to give your cake that coveted wow-factor. And we could not be more excited about it!”