First Encounters: Mela Preston and Thady Nolan

An English woman and an Irish man living happily and successfully in the south of France - so how did they meet?


Mela Preston is from Chester in England. She worked in marketing in Manchester before going to Nice in 2005. She met and married Thady Nolan and now works as marketing manager for the three Ma Nolan’s pubs on the Riviera. She lives in Nice with her husband and three children

I met Thady in Ma Nolan’s. I’m originally from Chester, and came over on holiday from Manchester in December 2005 with my best friend, Louise, for a break from England and the weather. We just packed up Louise’s Ford Ka and drove over a couple of weeks before Christmas. In Nice, we heard Ma Nolan’s was a good place to work, so I dropped off a CV. Thady left me a voicemail: I couldn’t understand a word he was saying – he had a ridiculously thick accent. He asked me in for an interview and we got on fantastically well, so I was more than a little disappointed when he said, “I won’t employ you – I’d rather take you out”.

My first marriage had broken down, that’s one of the reasons I came over. I was certainly not looking for any kind of a relationship. I was very hesitant in the beginning but he persevered. My friend and I worked in other bars and walked dogs. I was also a masseuse on the beach. Four months after meeting Thady, I fell pregnant with our first child.

It was strangely meant to be. We were both delighted. I moved in with Thady right away – my friend Louise did too. Thady had bought a fantastic two-bed apartment in the old town; I was very spoiled. We had been staying in a cockroach-infested studio before that. We got married here in June 2009, in a Christian Dior chateau outside Nice. Then our second child came along – Sorcha is five and Maggie is two.

Thady conned me into using my marketing skills, asking me to work as Ma Nolan’s marketing manager. I really wasn’t sure if I wanted to do marketing again but he persuaded me. I had no French when I came here, now it’s at an okay level. Sorcha’s in a bilingual school and Maggie started kindergarten. I think France is a good place to bring up kids, they tend to stay younger for longer. In Nice, it’s all about family and I love that.

Thady and I have had culture clashes, but only over stuff like rugby. I do have an Irish grandfather, so Thady’s really, really happy that our children are mostly Irish. My mum, Ann, and sister Libby and friends come over as often as they can; I go back home in summer for a while.

Thady’s mother came over to cut the official ribbon on the new Ma Nolan’s pub in Cannes last autumn. She doesn’t get over that often but she loves it when she’s here.

I have visited quite a few places in Ireland – I have gone to Portlaoise but I would love to do the whole Ireland tour when the children are older.

Thady Nolan is originally from Portlaoise. He moved to the south of France in 2002 to work as a computer engineer for an Irish technology firm. In 2005, he opened an Irish pub, Ma Nolan’s, in Nice’s old town. He now has three pubs: a second Ma Nolan’s in Nice’s old port and a third, opened last autumn, in Cannes. He lives with his wife Mela and three children, Sorcha (5) and Maggie (2) and Tadhg, born on July 3rd

I ’m from Portlaoise, studied computer engineering at Carlow RTC, then University of Limerick, and went to work for S3 [an Irish technology company] straight out of college. In 2002, they asked me to go to Nice on a short contract. I played rugby for Ballincollig and said I’d only go for four months. But then I got an injury and, at 34, I was out of the game. So I signed up for another three-month contract.

My mates would come over to Nice for the weekend but we’d find there was nowhere for the over-25s to go out. There was Wayne’s Bar – it ’s an institution, but it’s for a younger crowd – or local bars that close at 9pm.

So I saw an opening; I just felt I knew what a good pub was. I looked around, found this place in a great location, just off the Cours Saleya, on the edge of Nice’s old town. I called a friend who handed me a business plan in June 2004 and made sure I did it right. Eventually I sent the business plan to anyone who might invest. We opened Ma Nolan’s in June 2005. The day we opened was the first time I pulled a pint. It took off right away.

Mela came into the bar in December 2005 looking for a job and left her CV. I called her and she couldn’t understand a word I said; she thought I was called Teddy. Thady is short for Thaddeus – it’s a family name. I hate being called Teddy. But we got on brilliantly and hooked up on Christmas Day: we had Christmas dinner in the pub.

I wasn’t looking for a permanent relationship, it just happened.

We had a crazy couple of months: she kept threatening to leave, saying she was going to Barcelona. A few months later, she was pregnant and moved in with me.

My mother was relieved I had settled down, I think she’d given up on me. I named the pubs after her – she’s a real Irish mammy. When I lived in Dublin, I used to drive to Cork with one of my rugby mates and he’d always ask, can we call into Ma Nolan for a cuppa?

Mela and I went to see the Ireland-England match in Croke Park a few years ago. I was with my mates from Stillorgan Rugby Club and they were giving it loads about 800 years of oppression. By half-time she wasn’t talking to me or anyone else. Her heart is with England. However, we went to Twickenham the year before last and she got her revenge.

Mela does marketing for Ma Nolan’s and she’s responsible for our website. I have three half-English, half-Irish children. I’m very, very fortunate.

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