A tribute to..... Chelo
It's with great sadness that I write this blog, losing someone like Chelo, but I wanted to write something. I first met her in August 2016, pulling up in my old Corsa outside the hotel Tres Luces and there she was, this tiny pocket rocket of a lady smiling, laughing, overwhelmingly friendly. She'd actually directed me to the hotel on the phone, as my satnav died an hour out of Vigo. I just about managed to navigate the one-way maze that is the city centre to the hotel, following my non-stop 24 hour journey by car from Liverpool. During my first few weeks in Spain, Chelo helped us (the 17 people I started with) settle in. She took us round every office to get every piece of paperwork you could imagine. In the evenings, she took us for drinks and tapas. She helped me find a flat. She really brought the group together. We all got to know each other really well. Without her, I doubt I'd have some of the amazing friends I have now, even people I haven't spoken to for ages who I consider part of this family. She played a big part in creating that.
One of my funniest Chelo stories was in 2017, when I was teaching and she came to my room and said "There's an urgent parcel that you need to pick up at the local govt office". I was really worried, I thought interpol were coming for me! On a genuine level though, I wondered what the Spanish authorities wanted me for! It just so happened this was a fancy dress day and Chelo was dressed as a viking lady. I was in my work clothes. Anyway, when we arrived at the office, the guys there were very confused to see this tiny woman dressed as a Viking. They were even more confused and intrigued when they handed me the package which was in fact my divorce certificate that they needed me to clarify I had received (delivered by my ex wife). Of course, they believed Chelo was my ex wife and i'd divorced her for wearing viking clothes all the time or she'd divorced me for being so "normal". They kept asking her questions in Spanish. I think she insisted she wasn't my ex wife, but it was a memorable day to say the least. Of course, she insisted we take this photograph to remind ourselves of the madness.
It's people like Chelo who light up rooms. You knew when she was there, because she was always doing something! When we had house parties, she'd be dancing around (or jumping on) people (especially James). At 4.15pm most working days, she'd turn up in my classroom looking very professional asking for my paper registers with her headset on, always on the edge of laughing about something. She always made people smile, whether it be a "look" or a smile or a joke, or whatever - there was never a quiet moment with Chelo. Before I left Spain, she drove me to another administrative office to get my papers for Slovenia, and helped me get them. We had the chance to chat properly for first time in a while. Chelo was a sensitive soul and I empathised with that, it sounded like she was going through a tough time when I spoke with her. I saw her for the last time in the summer of 2019, I was over in Vigo and met her in Porto Santo with some other guys. I always loved being around her. I didn't speak to her much the last 12 months which is a shame but that's life.
We had a little online memorial organised by Sally today, where she gave this incredible tribute:
"Good evening everyone, thank you for your time in meeting online today to celebrate the life of the beautiful Chelo. As we all know Chelo was an incredible woman, adored by all who met her. Chelo’s caring nature, honesty and humour are just some of the many traits this amazing woman had.
Chelo was born Thursday November 1st, 1973 in Sevilla. She was a true Sevillian Beauty, proud of her southern roots and a fantastic flamenco dancer as I am sure we have all seen, especially during the feria, both in Sevilla and in Vigo too. She tried to teach me once during the Vigo Feria but quickly learnt that some people from Devon are not as graceful, especially after a couple copas!
There is a nursery rhyme in the UK used to predict the future path a child will have in life. Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace, Wednesday’s child is full of woe, Thursday’s child has far to go. Now with Chelo being born on a Thursday, from the rhyme, it was only natural that she would be a traveller, and that she was. After completing her course at the Universidad de Sevilla in English Studies in 1996, the courageous Chelo decided she wanted first-hand experience of the language. At the age of 23, Chelo moved to London. She lived in the city for 2 years, where she worked as a surgery receptionist. Chelo credited her quick gain of English idioms and language quirks to watching many episodes of EastEnders and having a very handsome South African boyfriend while she lived there. I will say no more.
On her return to Sevilla, Chelo went back into education to complete two courses in administration. She would work for a number of years in Sevilla, before making the brave move for new opportunities with her young family to Vigo. After working as a hospital administrator, Chelo joined O Castro in 2016, which is how most of us here today would come to know her as both a colleague and a dear friend.
Chelo had many strengths in administration, she ticked all the boxes. She was an excellent communicator: her grasp of languages was inspiring. She would always have a bright smile and caring words; she knew exactly what to say to cheer you up in no time. You knew she was always there to help if you had any problem, personal or work related. Her Resourcefulness: I never knew you could fit so many people into a Volkswagen until I met Chelo. Her Organisation: Only Chelo could get together 17 people to sort out boring paperwork and still make it into a good time. However, I won’t mention her time management…
I will always remember the first time I met Chelo at Tres Luces. She was so warm, and her caring nature shone through straight away, asking how our journey was and what we thought so far over an ice cold beer. She asked if we were hungry, and that was our first introduction to Fai Bistes, thank you Chelo.
She always gave her all to make sure people were content and happy, always forward thinking to make sure people were as comfortable as possible and felt settled. I will never forget one of the first Tuesday nights in Vigo, when Chelo suggested that she knew a great bar that did cocktails late into the night: La Terracita on Avenida de Castelao. What a night, 2am sharing laughs and stories, drinking pina coladas from pineapples. Chelo knew the best haunts in Vigo for having a great night. The first night we went out without her, she was horrified to hear all the places we had gone and the fact we sang Karaoke, Dios Mio!!
We would continue to have many great days and nights out with Chelo, always the life and soul of the party. Birthdays, Christmas, Reconquista, you name it, Chelo was there to party and bring her energy and joy with her. Chelo had more energy in her little finger than I have in my whole body and I love her for that. On one of our many nights out, I found out something from Chelo that made me so very happy indeed. She was a Eurovision fan, an absolute douze points of a person!! While she was living in the UK, she went to the 1998 Eurovision contest in Birmingham following Katrina and the Waves's win at the 1997 contest in Dublin. This is the same night I fell in love with Eurovision, with Dana International’s groundbreaking performance of Diva for Israel.
So in 2017, I hosted a little Eurovision party in Ramon Buch. Lucky for us, that year Portugal returned to Eurovision after a few years out and Salvador Sobral won with ‘Amar pelos dois’, Portugal’s first ever win. As soon as the winner was announced, Chelo and I started planning to go in 2018! What a weekend it was in Lisbon! I could not have asked for a better time, it was perfect and it was fantastic to share that weekend with Chelo, memories I will forever cherish dearly.
Chelo gave us all so much delight and friendship. Her passion, her love and her warmth brought us all together. This is just one of her many legacies. It pains me so much that I cannot tell her all this in person. Chelo has taught me very important lessons. To learn and grow, to use each day to show the people around us how much we cherish them, to treat anyone with respect, kindness and warmth, as she did. To love as best we can and share openly and honestly how we feel with each other. To all of you here today, if you ever need someone to talk to, we are all here for each other, please do not hesitate to contact me or anyone else, you are not alone.
Dear Chelo, thank you so very much for everything, muchas muchas gracias. Te querio cielo, con nosotros siempre."
Kirsty and James also chipped in with their words:
"How lucky & blessed we all were to have met Chelo, to have got to know her, & to have been touched by her charm, good nature, & infectious personality. I think I am not alone in saying that if it were not for her, our time in Vigo & at O Castro would have been poorer - she went way way above & beyond (often leaving her family) to ensure that we all felt settled, that we were all OK, & that we gelled together as a group. That group, & not just the new starters of that year but all present at this celebration today & those not able to make it, became like a family. A family at a time when we were all far away from our own families, & a family that I personally, & I know others, will always be grateful for meeting, & will always remember. It was beacuse of Chelo that this was possible. She touched so many of us & will leave a huge impression in the lives of so many. I have lots of lovely (& quite a few funny/inappropriate) memories of her from the short time I knew her. She became a friend to us all, & I hope that she may now find peace." James Dew
"I couldn't write anything yesterday because my heart has been broken... how is there a world with no you in it amor? Mi Chelito... we're so devastated... you're so loved and none of it makes any sense. You have been one of my best friends and confidants... you were my guardian angel in Vigo and for what you did I can never repay you. The world is less bright and fun without a Chelito in it. I love you so much, as do all of your niños... I'm sending so much love to your family.. who are as kind and caring and loving as you. If any of you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask - I'll never match the kindness and selflessness that Chelo showed me. Te quiero, I'm so happy to have had you in my life." Kirsty Hallam
I wish you were still here mate. We love you Chelo and we raised a toast for you today.