Before our Co-Vice President moves back to Germany we take a heady nose dive into big hitter, María Elena´s multi-faceted life as a British-born university lecturer, author and motivational trainer and former globetrotting fashion buyer who spent her formative years amongst colourful peacocks in the heart of the English countryside.
Your parents are from Spain, do you feel at home here?
I do feel totally at home in Spain, especially in Galicia where my extended family live.
How has being brought up in an English fairytale castle where your parents worked shaped your life?
It undoubtedly gave me my fascination with clothes. Living at such a grand 356-room castle gave me a glimpse into a world where the ladies were all beautiful and glamourous. It prompted me to go into fashion retail.
As a daughter of 2 chefs, are you a culinary goddess?
Yes, I am a good cook. However, I do not enjoy cooking and the happiest period of my life was when we lived in Hong Kong and I didn´t cook anything for almost four years as we had the luxury of a live-in helper who did it all. Absolute heaven.
How did you cope moving round the UK every few years?
I had a big enough ´why´, working in fashion retail, to make the ´what´ of moving around the country at a moment´s notice manageable. I made sure that in every town I moved to I had certain elements in my life that brought me joy, such as a nice home, a friend and tennis. I called this my ´Joy Backbone´ and you can read about it in my chapter in The Book on Joy.
Do you have any amusing stories about adapting to life in Hong Kong?
As an English teacher, I would be despatched to various government schools in places far away from the glitzy Central district. Hong Kong has these fantastic minibuses that take you everywhere, but they don´t have proper bus stops. You just shout out to the driver when you want to get off. As the only Westerner on these buses, I found the thought of shouting out in my tourist Cantonese so excruciatingly mortifying that I just used to wait until someone else got off, meaning that I regularly ended up miles away from where I was meant to be and had a pretty long walk back.
You coach people on how to add more joy into their lives, how do you add more to yours?
By keeping the things that bring me joy at the forefront of my mind and ensuring that I follow them as a guide to how I live my life. l have my current top 5 on my noticeboard as a constant reminder.
What is it about being a motivational speaker that inspires you?
Having the opportunity to influence people´s lives for the good.
What was it like bringing up your husband´s 3 German-speaking children in a suburb of Dusseldorf?
As a non-German-speaking career girl, it was both a baptism of fire and a comedy of errors, involving lots of hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions.
What´s your favourite podcast?
Best Friend Therapy, which mirrors conversations I love to have with my own best friend. I also like My Wardrobe Malfunction, which is all about our relationship with clothes.
Which lesson has been the hardest to learn?
The reality of the words about friends in the poem, Train of Life, and how we never know when they will step down and vacate their seat.
Are you a natural sportswoman?
No, definitely not. However, I have always loved tennis. Nothing beats hitting a scorching winner down the line. I came to yoga during my Hong Kong years, learning it from an array of Indian yogis who manoeuvred me into positions I didn´t believe possible. I love the stretched-out feeling yoga gives me, coupled with the sense of accomplishment when conquering a tricky pose.
Which fashion website should we consult for the latest trends?
My daily guilty pleasure is the “moda” section of Hola.com. I´ve also recently gone back to my first love, fashion magazines, which are great here in Spain.
Why can´t you stay still?
I spend so much time immersed in the world of personal development, it´s almost impossible not to be. Being surrounded by positive, enthusiastic people lifts you to new heights.
Where´s next for María Elena?
My third collaborative book, The Book on Abundance, is released mid-February. My chapter is all about what a wardrobe purge tells you about yourself. I´m launching an online course, English for Fashion Buying and Retail, in the summer and following that, my friend and I are planning on creating our own podcast in the latter part of the year. The working title is ´Would I do that differently now?´ and it´s a light-hearted reflection on life with the benefit of hindsight and experience.