After receiving a Global Lifetime Achievement Award Paula Carroll, Director of Sales & Marketing at Ashford Castle, chats about her impressive career and being swept off her feet by Richard E Grant

Congratulations on your award! How did it feel to receive it?
Any time that you’re recognised by your industry peers is great. I was just glad to be alive to collect it! It’s certainly been the proudest moment of my career so far and was very humbling to receive it. Niall Rochford [General Manager of Ashford Castle and The Lodge] actually said it was the first time he had seen me speechless.

What’s your background in hospitality?
My first job was with Bord Failte in 1978 where I was dispatched off to the London office before moving to Manchester. I loved it; it gave me a real love for the country. I was then headhunted by Trusthouse Forte, the biggest hotel company in the world at the time and so in 1981, I joined the Shelbourne Hotel as Director of Sales and Marketing. I remember sitting with my late mum and dad in the Aisling restaurant in the Shelbourne and telling them I had been offered a job there. My father said, but you’re not taking it of course, you have a good pensionable job where you are. I think it was that terrifying word ‘pensionable’ that prompted me for the first time in my life to go against my parents! So I took the job but wanted to experience the hotelier side of the business. I spent a year in the Airport Hotel and another year in Actons in Kinsale before moving to the Shelbourne.

Then you were offered a role in the US…
Yes, in 1987 I was all set to move to Chicago with Trusthouse Forte but one day I got a call from Bill Dowling, the Chairman of Ashford and Dromoland Castle offering me a role in Cong, Co Mayo. In the overall context of my life, I can assure you that Cong was not on my radar. Chicago was absolutely where I was going but I thought, maybe I could go down for a year.

So you swapped Chicago for Cong?
I did and I’ve been there ever since. At the time, I had the audacity to ask Trusthouse Forte to hold the job offer open for me for a year, which they did and so off I went to the west and that’s where I’ve stayed. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend my entire career. I don’t know many people at this point in their lives who could say that they love what they do. Of course, I’ve had my ups and downs and in 2018 I had two cancer diagnoses. I think sometimes people who have cancer wonder if there is a life after it and I’m living proof that there absolutely is.

What do you attribute your success to?
I’ve had the privilege of working with three industry stalwarts – Rory Murphy, Mark Nolan and Niall Rochford. All three are just extraordinary hoteliers and have been a joy to work with. Anyone that knows me would know I’m very motivated, very relationship-driven and disciplined but all of those things can only be respected in an environment where you’re allowed to flourish. What’s kept me at Ashford Castle is the passion and professionalism of the people I work with. I’m still working with about 25% of the team who started either before me or around the same time. The people of Ashford have kept me there and they will decide when it’s time for me to go.

What’s the funniest interaction you’ve ever had with a guest?
There are so many and I could tell you loads. I think one of the best ones was when Richard E Grant came to stay when he was filming Hotel Secrets. If you find it online, you’ll see Richard picking me up and bringing me inside the Castle. That was great fun.