Holly Bonelle – ‘If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it’

In this #YesSheCan blog, we talk to Holly Bonelle, a Senior Account Manager at First Event. Holly talks to us about her career in the planning and events industry, where her passion and drive comes from and the people who have inspired her the most.

I’ve always been an organiser and I think I always knew I wanted to work in the events industry. Right from my school days when I organised the year 11 prom, our Sixth Form leavers party, and even girls holidays, I just loved the satisfaction I got from seeing people enjoy themselves at experiences I had created. After I finished University, I completed a few ski seasons as a rep, looking after the guests when they came into the resort, selling and managing trips for them and ski guiding. After my seasons ended, I worked at a private event agency where I managed weddings and private events. I worked there for 3 years before joining First Event as a Senior Account Executive. I was then promoted to Account Manager, then earlier this year I was promoted to Senior Account Manager at First Event.  

I’ll admit it’s a bit tricky to describe a typical day in my job role: no two days are ever the same at First Event! Whether it’s taking briefs, working on budgets, talking through ideas with clients, managing the team or travelling to our event sites, there’s always something new to get stuck into. Some of my favourite parts of my day are when the team gets together to brainstorm an event idea. I love bouncing ideas off of each other, thinking about destinations, what the event could look like, then matching it against the logistics and budget element of event planning and knowing you will delight your clients. One of my most memorable and bizarre days was when I had to measure the average circumference of a taco in order to build a taco wall for one of our clients. Safe to say I haven’t had to do that again, but the range of crazy things this job entails is just one of the things I love about it. 

I’ve always been a planner, even outside of my event industry experience when I worked in hospitality, I loved working with people and seeing the direct impact these experiences had on our customers. When I started working in the events industry, I worked mostly on private parties and weddings, and had never really thought about what a career in corporate events could look like. I knew it was an area I wanted to go into, and I was craving that overseas element I had experienced in my ski season, so the role I’m in now really seems like the best of both worlds. 

The biggest challenge I’ve faced has been around finding a work-life balance. One of my previous employers was a very small business, and while I loved the events I worked on, we were stretched really thin as a team, which meant my personal life often took the strain. Events is absolutely a lifestyle but its’ important to have the balance.

It sounds simple to let you know how I overcame my setbacks, but it just came down to hard work and applying for lots of jobs. Even though I knew when my previous role wasn’t where I wanted to be, one of the hardest things was finding the courage to admit that it wasn’t working and then doing something about it. It sounds simple, but it was my hard work and determination to find the right job for me that got me past that. Now that I’m with First Event, I feel like I’ve got so many opportunities for progression, I travel to some amazing destinations, and I work alongside some incredible departments and individuals who add to my understanding of the events industry every day. 

An important initiative that I feel passionate about in my role is bringing your ‘A’ game to any event, no matter how big or small, is something I’ve been passionate about ever since I planned my first event. I think you should always strive for perfection in what you do, and as long as you approach it with the right mindset, you can make any event great. I’ve always enjoyed working hard and seeing the results of that hard work affect the people we work with. My mum is also a very successful woman in her field, so I’ve definitely been inspired by the standard of hard work and drive she’s set within our family: she’s my role model. 

The events industry is quite female dominated, and that brings with it lots of inspiring women working in roles similar to mine that I can learn from. It is such a huge team players game: everyone has to pull their weight and add their skills to the project. I love working in collaboration with some really talented people, but some of the hardest lessons in my career have been around needing to prioritise my own needs and growth. When I knew I had to leave one of my old positions in order to develop my career, I felt so guilty that I was leaving my team short of my support. But prioritising yourself isn’t selfish when it means you can contribute more to the industry you love in the long run. 

The mantra that I live my life by would be to work hard, but not to the detriment of the other passions or relationships in your life. If you’re not balancing, you’re not succeeding. 

My top three tips I would give to young females starting their careers would be:

  • Put the work and the hours in. Taking shortcuts will catch up with you in the long run.
  • Working in events is not as glamorous as it looks. It’s not a 9-5 job, it’s a lifestyle. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it because you won’t be good at it.
  • Don’t think that people are going to ‘give’ you opportunities. If you want an opportunity, you need to not be afraid to ‘ask’ for it. 


The best bit of advice I have ever been given would be to be like a swan…. Even when you’re stressed and paddling away underneath, on the surface you’ve got to look cool, calm and collected. 

One woman who has impacted my life would in a very roundabout way I think one of my ex-employers ended up having a positive impact on my life. This particular employer wasn’t very understanding about the fact I had a life outside of work, or about the strain the job was taking on my mental health. So in that sense, working with her showed me what to avoid in future employers, which in turn has led me to find First Event, who couldn’t be a more understanding and supportive employer. But working with this person also instilled in me a need for perfection in everything I do. We used to manage and produce numerous high quality private events, and I always knew that the expectations were extremely high. Being able to deliver so many events to such a high standard was a great experience and has definitely made me the person I am today. 

People get it wrong when they think you have to be unapproachable and fierce in order to be a good leader. I’ve found it’s the complete opposite. Your team will take more from you when you’re open, approachable, empathetic and on their level. I think sometimes women think that in order to be a leader you’ve got to be dominant and uncaring, which just isn’t my style at all. One key leadership lesson ive learned along the way would be that If you take yourself seriously and believe in your skills and experience of what you do, other people will take you seriously too. 

What I would say to my 16-year-old self would be simply to stop reading magazines about how you need to be a size zero to be worth anything and pay more attention to how awesome you are!

If I could describe what feminism is to me I would say:  Equality. Empowerment. Opportunities. 

If I could do it all again, I don’t think I would have gone to university. I had a great time and learnt a lot along the way, but I know that I could have got more out of my real- life experiences of working in the sector I was passionate about. I know that when I was leaving school, University was seen as the best option to pursue for those wanting a career or profession, but opinions about education and learning are definitely changing and becoming more inclusive which is really great to see. 

If you enjoyed reading about Holly’s inspiring story, you can read more from other amazing Role Models on our blog like Jessie Davies and Hannah McCreesh.

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