25 Nov From model agency to model expat. Falling in love in more ways than one.
Where are you from?
This is a question we are asked on a regular basis. May seem like a simple question, but when you are just going about your daily chores, in the place you call home, it can cause a momentary feeling of insecurity.
The lure of Spain
After meeting my partner Guillaume 16 years ago while working in the kids club at Club Med, freshly out of university, I had no idea the adventure that lay ahead for us both. Little did I know we would end up living and working together in Barcelona, with our 2 children.
We lived for a year in Paris, while Guillaume finished his studies, and then for 5 years in London. Strangely enough neither place really worked for us, in Paris we felt claustrophobic, and I never really adapted to the ‘each to his own’ atmosphere in the ridiculously fashionable city. In London I was so happy to be close to my family and friends but things just didn’t fall into place after a series of interesting but unfulfilling Jobs. On a rainy evening, while we were walking our excitable mutt Simba (found in a bar while working at Club Med and brought back, much to the surprise of, our exceptionally understanding parents in law!) that Guillaume suggested we tried out life in the warmer climate of Spain, where he had spent 6 months doing an internship at an Olive Oil Factory, and had fallen in love with the country and it’s cultures. At any other time, I would have laughed this off, we both had good Jobs, and I have always been very attached to my family life in the UK. But he caught me in a moment of madness, and the combination of a particularly bad day at work, the wet and soggy clothes, and not so awe inspiring landscape of Barnes common, made his suggestion the best thing I had heard all year…
Before long we had both handed in our notice and the adventure began.. As Guillaume’s parents are based in the south of France near Toulouse, and there were easy flights back to Bournemouth and London, Barcelona seemed like the perfect option. We packed up and spent a month living with my Mum and Dad in Dorset while planning the journey and logistics of moving to Spain with Simba. This culminated with a great send off party, where I experienced an incredible feeling of mixed emotions, deep in my heart already knowing this would not be a short term move, and still not quite ready to consider another country my ‘Home’
We lived for a while with Guillaume’s family in Cazals, whilst driving in his Grandad’s old car back and forth to Barcelona (5 hours) to visit flats and get a feeling for the city. I can still not pinpoint it, but I felt welcomed in Barcelona from the first moment we moved here. A combination of the kindness of the lady who rented us our first flat, perfect blue skies, random barmen coming and sitting to have a drink at our table, and the general feel good feeling in the city, meant that it all slotted together perfectly and I could already see the positive side of moving here.
After trying out city life in the centre of the Born, with our slightly over-enthusiastic Simba, we decided to try slightly further afield, and jumped on the train, in the direction of France, getting off at each station and having a look around. When we arrived at Badalona, we fell in love with the Little seaside town, with its bars and restaurants lining the boardwalk.
Unfortunately with our lack of employment at the time we decided it was slightly out of budget and carried on up the coast. It was in El Masnou that we found the perfect home, and after much negotiation, and feeling a Little shocked that the agency asked us for a months rent as commission we agreed to sign the contract one day after lunch. The unsuspecting estate agent, kindly explained to us that the best place to eat was in a Little village up the mountain called Alella. We got on the bus and headed up. As soon as we arrived I realised we had made a mistake, we instantly fell in love with the pretty, unpretentious, and friendly village. After looking in the window of the estate agents, we decided to change our plans and called the estate agent to cancel our meeting. That same afternoon we visited what would be our first home in Alella. A lovely Little garden flat with a communal swimming pool.
Settling into village life
The first few months in Alella were spent getting to know our neighbours, and researching the job market. At weekends I did have to pinch myself as I sat by our pool in the sun, then as we wandered down to the local bar for cocktails and dancing… Guillaume was employed relatively fast in a local company as marketing manager, and I worked for a while in a marketing role for a destination management firm. At this time we sought out any English speaking people in the village (at the time very few people!) and really kept to ourselves, due to a combination of lack of confidence and language skills. We spotted a niche in the market for a good estate agency that not only had language skills, but also offered a wider search service for people looking to move to the city with little knowledge. We had been shocked when the agents here charged us a whole months rent for a very mediocre service, and after minimal work. We had literally seen a photo in the window of the agency, walked in, done one visit and signed the contract. Our idea was to set up a true search service, across the city, helping people find the right area, along with advice for the move, translation of the contracts, and post contractual support. At the time we were only one of 2 solely rental agencies offering this type of service, I remember the first ad we posted on line received 300 enquiries on the first night. So Loco Locations was born, and now 10 years later and still run by Guillaume boasts a database of over 2500 rental properties in Barcelona and surroundings. Alongside the rental business I used my experience gained in London in production to set up Loco Locations film, a location management business offering full location and production services to the audio-visual market.
The biggest change….
It was in 2006 when our lives here really changed and I found out I was pregnant with our first son Max. I had never considered having a child abroad and it was a moment of lots of decisions and insecurity. But we realised that what we had here was truly special, as I watched other mums always outside with their kids, easily combining work and family due to high quality yet reasonably priced childcare, It was a no brainer.
Our lives completely changed when Max started to attend the local village crèche, suddenly we were in contact with all the local families, who had kids the same age. Our language skills snowballed as each day we were faced with challenges that involved expanding our local knowledge and of course language. I’ll never forget the evening I sat trying to answer the questions on Max’s crèche inscription, with my Catalan dictionary to hand and wondering if this really was a good idea! Little by Little we began to visit friends houses, we were invited to birthday parties, we participated in parent and teacher meetings, expressed our feelings and began to really feel a part of the local community. I have never been one to keep quiet about my feelings, and loved being able to finally express myself coherently, and have in depth conversations with the fellow mums and dads.
When Eddie was born in 2010, we already had a wonderful network of friends and could not have been happier. Fortunately thanks to Ryanair’s cheap flights my family and friends came over regularly and we went home on a regular basis. Probably seeing more of them than during our hectic London days…
Sadly shortly after his birth our second son Eddie was diagnosed with a rare blood disorder which meant we had to spend a lot of time in the local hospital. This was when we really had to pull ourselves together to understand what people were saying to us as they explained the diagnosis and treatment. We were overwhelmed by the offers of help from our relatively new friends, and the support was incredible. Fortunately a year later he was declared clear and able to go to the local crèche.
We made the decision to send our kids to the local school. There is a great international school in Alella, but we decided that as we already spoke English and French at home, the best option for the kids would be to immerse themselves completely in the local culture. Also their friends from the local crèche were almost all headed to the school next door, and we wanted the boys to continue with their group of friends. The Escola Fabra in Alella is a fantastic school, in beautiful location, with sea views and next to a stunning Little Woodland, where the kids and parents often meet up to burn of steam and chat after school.
With 2 boys at home, and living in Spain, football is a rite of passage… both the boys began to play for the local club, and Eddie began training aged 1 and a half! Being the baby of the club he was looked after incredibly well, and on most occasions when I came to get him from training he would already be in the bar, sat on the lap of the club’s director, with a sandwich in one hand and sweets in the other. The football club became our second family, and I felt completely at home and safe while there with the boys, almost every day of the week and at weekends for the wonderfully emotional and exciting matches. Sitting in the sun with a beer watching Max play in the match with all our friends, while Eddie rushed about at the other end of the pitch with his friends was just perfect. Each match was followed by a delicious home cooked meal in the run down club bar, cooked by the lovely Montse, who would hug the boys every time they arrived, in the wonderful Mediterranean way, as if they were truly part of her family.
We participate fully in all the village activities, fiestas, and seemingly never ending parties, processions and huge feasts in the town hall square. In Spain the feeling of community is predominant in every way. I love going to a restaurant and seeing the whole family eating out together, from the tiniest baby to the great grandma (always at the head of the table) These moments do pull on my heartstrings, as I wish I was also sat with my family! We are invited continually to family reunions, parties and events by our friends here, and really feel well and truly ‘adopted’ I never feel happier than when I’m sitting with friends in the sun, the boys are rushing around in the fresh air with their mates, always smiling and happy, everything just fits into place. Spanish village life really suits us. My friends and family from home always comment on how many friends we have in the village, whenever we pop to the shops, the trip is usually delayed by about an hour, while we greet and chat to almost every person we cross in the street! We also have the wonderful advantage of having Barcelona city centre only 15km away and an easy 10-20 minute drive, when we feel the need for some action!
There are upsides and downsides to being an ‘Expat’. Of course the obvious downside would be the distance between you and those you are most close to, I miss my family like crazy, however enjoy more than ever the moments when I do see them, and the sense of excitement when I go to pick them up from the airport here will never fade. I could do without the goodbyes when they go back, and have spent many a journey driving back home with blurry vision..
It is actually nice at times to feel ‘different’ I love meeting our friends from here and recounting tales from back home, explaining about our culture, and helping people on a regular basis with their English!
3 years ago I set up with my business partner Marta Pons, Little Monkeys, a child model agency based in Barcelona. After working at Models 1 in London I decided to expand my production service offer and use my agency and international experience to set up an agency for young models and actors. We work with international clients and are now considered one of Spain’s most prestigious agencies. Having 2 local businesses has really been the final step to feeling integrated in Spain. Apart from the odd grammatical slip while chatting, or faux pas regarding a local custom, I now feel a true part of this wonderful community. I feel so lucky to have been accepted here and to be able to live the true Catalan lifestyle. I believe our choice to live here has been a true success as regards our kids, they are growing up speaking fluently English, French, Catalan and Castilian, they are so happy, live an adventurous outdoor lifestyle and have some truly special friends.
So when I am asked ‘where are you from?’ I often hesitate, my roots and family are back home, I am and will always be British, I love my country more than anything., but right now I can proudly say I’m from Alella, and loving every moment.
Kate’s child talent agency:
Guillame’s relocation agency: