June 11, 2016 – Ballyheigue, Co. Kerry
“A custom made romance in the city of love was just the beginning for fashion designer Don O’Neill and floral designer Pascal Guillermie”
Despite the attraction of the Eiffel Tower and The Louvre Museum, there is something far more alluring about the city of Paris; its ability to make you fall in love. A claim that many can confirm to be true, including Co. Kerry native and Creative Director of THEIA, Don O’Neill and his handsome French husband Pascal Guillermie, floral designer and owner of Fleur de Pascal.
Rewind to 1993. Don, from the small Kerry seaside town of Ballyheigue, was working as a costumier in Paris. Pascal was a dancer in Karine Saporta Dance Company. Both worked on Baroque Opera ‘Phaeton’ for the opening of the New Jean Nouvel Opera De Lyon. A flurry of sequins, pleá’s and an obvious instantattraction would begin the first chapter of their love story.
Don fondly recalls one of his first close encounters with Pascal, whom he assumed was straight at the time.
“One afternoon he stormed over to me quite exasperated and took me by surprise. ’This costume doesn’t work’ he said. My French at the time wasn’t very good and Pascal’s English was equally limited. He was wearing gold sequin biker shorts (this was 1993) one of his many costumes for his role as Phaeton. Being a baroque opera, which are very fantasy driven, he was suspended from a bungee rope in a leather harness strapped to his crotch so that he could bounce across the stage in giant skyward leaps. I couldn’t understand this very troubled, very cute French man who was pointing to his crotch, trying to explain his issues. Suddenly the shorts were pulled off, revealing his ‘leave little to the imagination’ dancers thong. His leg went straight up in the air as only a super flexible dancer could do to show me his inner crotch where the jagged sequins on the Inside seam allowance had cut in to his skin and he was bleeding! My heart skipped all sorts of beats. I blushed red, redder than my hair! My heart raced as Pascal went on and on and at this stage I don’t think I was capable of hearing anything. The room seemed to be spinning. He darted over between the many racks of costumes to find another pair of shorts. I followed him and the only thing I wanted to do was take him in my arms and kiss him on the lips there and then. My heart was beating 100 miles an hour. I thought ‘get a grip of yourself Don, this man is straight, plus I don’t think I would ever be that brave or impulsive.”
Little did Don know that Pascal felt the same way about this Irish export when he first laid eyes on him. After much speculation about Pascal’s sexuality and an out sourced investigation by a friend, Don decided it was time to make a bold move.
“One day I had my modelling portfolio as I was going to a casting and as I was showing off my book, Pascal pointed to one small picture and said “I love that one”, I made a mental note and was delighted by his remark,” recalls Don. The THEIA creator later passed the picture on to Pascal’s friend to make sure he got it and with the romantic gesture, Pascal invited Don to come out dancing. There and then the start of their love story began.
Fast forward twenty years and half a life together. Don decided to mark their twentieth anniversary with one big question. An elaborate proposal was planned involving an airplane banner on South Beach, Miami.
“My emotions get the better of me, as I tell him how much I love him, I start crying and he thinks something is terribly wrong. In tears I tell him to look up as the plane was now behind me, its beautiful banner announcing “Pascal Je T’aime, will you marry me?” As he reads it, I open the red leather ring box and presented him with the ring. Overwhelmed with emotion, Pascal said yes with tears streaming down both our faces, hugging and kissing each other. Everyone on the beach around us erupted in cheers.”
THE BIG DAY
In a blissful haze, the pair began to plan their dream wedding with Pascal taking on the role of wedding planner. The wedding date was set for June 11, 2016. Ballyheigue Castle, Co. Kerry would be the location, facing the majestic sweeping views of Ballyheigue Bay and 224 guests were invited to join in the celebrations. The reception was held in a custom built glass marquee created by Pavilion Marquees and Venue decor, Galway, which was strategically situated on the driving range of Ballyheigue Golf Course, adjacent to the castle with spectacular views of the bay and mountains. Masterchefs Hospitality Limerick catered the event providing a spectacular 5 star dining experience.
For Pascal, the planning process was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. He wanted to create a fabulous three day event for his husband to be. “We both had a clear vision of what the three day celebration should be and I choose June 11 as the date as it would be Don’s fiftiethbirthday on June 12. He loves celebrating his birthday so I wanted to be sure the wedding weekend celebrations would be the best party ever for him.”
TAILOR MADE – THE DETAILS
Personalising their day was the most important aspect for the couple, along with ensuring their loved ones were taken care of. “Pascal and I are known for taking care of those we love. The wedding weekend was about making sure that all our guests felt loved and taken care of and that every detail of their weekend would feel magical. From the invitations, to hotel accommodations, their flights, tours around Ireland, the setting etc. every detail had our stamp on it, nothing was overlooked, so that the experience for everyone was seamless, and utterly magical.”
Don and Pascal’s vision for their wedding day was one that married rustic and elegance together. Tapping into the natural beauty surrounding Ballyheigue, they held the ceremony at the castle, allowing guests to arrive along a sweeping driveway through old world ruins. “To sit in front of it (ruins) on rows of white chairs, facing out with views over the magnificent bay, views that sweep for miles and miles was magical,” shared Don.
TALENTS IN ABUNDANCE
The pair undoubtedly utilised their many talents, with Pascal doing the main portion of the planning, designer Don was also working on an extremely important task; creating their wedding attire. “It was probably one of the most difficult design challenges I have ever faced. These had to be special, magical, unlike anything anyone had ever seen, I wanted my Pascal to look like Prince charming, the magic maker I believe him to be. I knew I wanted them to be Nehru jackets in a very specific shade of blue-grey, which took forever to find. The embroideries were similar and were hand made by a couture studio in Mumbai, using micro antique silver glass beads, zardozi wire and Swarovski crystals. I drew the embroidery patterns, which had my signature Celtic spirals, intertwined with fuchsia. Pascal’s jacket had two regal seahorses, his favourite creature, as it’s the only male to give birth to its young. My jacket had the Celtic gryphon from the Book Kells Chi-Rho page. The zip front jackets had silk charneuse linings with fuchsia pink piping. Underneath the jackets we wore white shirts which had fuchsias embroidered on the tips of the collars and cuffs. Halfway through the first dance we unzipped each other’s jackets to reveal a very special embroidery on the back of each of our shirts. The seahorse from Pascal’s jacket and the Celtic gryphon from mine were now united, together on our shirts in a heart shape, intricately hand embroidered in Antique silver glass beads and crystals,” shares Don.
The ring bearers were Don’s niece Aoife Mahony who wore a one shoulder, hand embroidered, crunchy sequin THEIA gown in Azurite blue and Pascal’s brother Laurent, stunned in a Hugo Boss tuxedo with a hand tied silk bowtie.
While the grooms looked spectacular, the newlyweds were blown away by the style of their guests. Pascal made sure there would be 50 THEIA dresses to go with the theme of celebrating Don’s birthday, some of the ladies already owned dresses, other’s went and got them. It was a high style wedding.
BLOOMING BEST BITS
Their day was threaded with cherished moments, including Pascal’s mother Sylvaine walking Pascal down the aisle first followed by Don and his father Donal. Don’s sister Deirdre stunned the crowd with her beautiful voice as she sang throughout the ceremony. Together with Eleanor’s Flowers in Tralee, Pascal and Eleanor decked the reception venue out to the highest of standards. “I made a drawing of the centrepieces and all the details of the set-up of one of the 32ft long table and emailed it to our dear friend Eleanor Groves. She recreated everything on the wedding day to perfection. I wanted the whole wedding with only one kind of flower, the Irish fuchsia which was Don’s late mother Mim’s favourite flower. This way, everywhere we were, she would be there with us as well,” said the Frenchman.
Irish folk band Spailpin entertained the guests at Friday night’s welcome dinner at Flahives charming Beer Garden, catered by Padraig Dennehy and more trad music was heard during their cocktail reception the next day. Their first dance was performed by renowned Irish musician Frances Black (This Love Will Carry) and her daughter, Aoife Scott performed her hit single “The Wild Atlantic Way”. The Bentley Boys played for the rest of the evening and DJ Ray Stack had the floor full right into Sunday morning.
The cakes (all chocolate biscuit) were inspired by THEIA gowns and created by Don and Pascal’s friends, Katherine O’Leary, Mairead Keating and Diane Keating. Served Sunday for Don’s Birthday Brunch, fabulously catered by Mozart’s Tralee, once more at Flahive’s Beer garden.
For Pascal, the pivotal ‘I do’ moment was a turning point on the best day of his life. “The moment our amazing celebrant Lynne Glasscoe from Ceremony Ireland said “I now present all of you a couple in love as husband and husband and Don you may kiss your Pascal …” I didn’t give her time to finish her sentence, nor give Don the time to kiss me. I just jumped into his arms for the very first time after 23 years together, I kissed the love of my life as my husband,” recalls Pascal.
Don thoroughly enjoyed the 10-minute walk from his parent’s home to the castle. They stole these precious 10 minutes together, excited about what was to come, and floated red balloons overhead. When their guests saw them (they had no idea the guys would be on foot) there was a rapturous applause and cheering outside the castle. And just like that, an instant attraction became a perfect Happily Ever After of the most romantic kind.