Win Our Wedding competition leaves brides in lurch

By Erinn Kerr

  • Published
Gary Smith and Laura HusseyImage source, Laura Hussey
Image caption,
Laura Hussey and her fiancé, Gary Smyth, were due to get married in March after winning a 20,000 euro (£18,000) package

Five Irish couples who won what they thought were dream weddings have been left heartbroken after the 20,000 euro (£18,000) prize money was withdrawn.

Each couple topped a poll after their friends and family bought the most votes from the Win Our Wedding competition online and via text.

Votes were encouraged by the promise that 5% of the money would be given to the Make A Wish Charity.

But now the winners have been informed their weddings will not be funded.

Elaine Whitney, the face of the company behind Win Our Wedding, wrote in an email that the competition had to close due to "cash-flow" struggles and "bad publicity".

Image source, Laura Hussey
Image caption,
Elaine Whitney delivered the bad news to 'winning' couples in an email on Friday

She said she "sincerely apologised" for letting the couples down and hinted that some of the suppliers may agree to go ahead without payment. The competition's Facebook page has since been taken down.

Ms Whitney has been contacted by the BBC and made no comment, but told the Irish Examiner: "There are two things I'm guilty of, one is not closing the company in 2016 and the other is letting couples down.

"I am absolutely heartbroken."

Ms Whitney has started a new company based on a new model and has said she will be able to cover the cost of two weddings in 2018 once the new model is up and running, The Examiner reported.

'Pyramid scheme'

A spokesperson for Make A Wish Ireland, who grant wishes to children with life-threatening conditions, said Win Our Wedding had not honoured its donation agreement, and the partnership had been terminated in December 2015.

"If the Make-A-Wish Ireland logo appeared on any Win Our Wedding literature since 31 December 2015, it was without the approval of Make-A-Wish Ireland," said the charity.

The Consumers' Association of Ireland has raised concerns the platform upon which the scheme resembles a pyramid scheme.

"This brings concerns as to the legal advice sought and received upon establishment of the company," said the association's Dermott Jewell.

"It is clear from the messages that the situation has deteriorated over the last six months," he told BBC News NI.

"This raises questions regarding the consideration of continuing while knowing of a financial problem which raises the consideration of reckless trading."

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Ireland has advised anyone with concerns about the competition to contact their consumer helpline.

'You've shattered our dreams' - a bride's tale

Laura Hussey and her fiancé, Gary Smyth, were due to get married in March after winning a 20,000 euros package.

Miss Hussey, from Longford, County Longford, said a friend tagged her in a post about the competition last September.

Image source, Laura Hussey
Image caption,
Miss Hussey estimates about 2,000 euro (£1,780) was spent on the competition by friends and family

"We have been together 21 years and have three beautiful children, but one thing and another means we've never had the money for a wedding," she said.

"We are both from the same very close-knit community, so everyone got behind us straight away.

"Everyone from the Girl Guides to the local driving school supported us."

Image source, Laura Hussey
Image caption,
Miss Hussey has already chosen her wedding dress

Miss Hussey estimates that about 2,000 euros was spent on the competition by their friends and family.

Image source, Laura Hussey
Image caption,
Each couple topped a competition poll after friends and family bought thousands of euros worth of votes

The couple even threw some of their own wages into votes in the closing days of the competition.

Miss Hussey replied to Friday's email saying: "How am I going to explain this to my kids and family?

"You've just shattered our dreams."

Competition winners Carol Fleming and her fiancé Dermot Molloy, from Drangan, County Tipperary, discovered the funding would not be forthcoming less than four weeks before their wedding in August.

Image source, Carol Fleming
Image caption,
Carol Fleming, her fiancé Dermot Molloy and their son Danny

Their son Danny has a rare heart condition.

Winning the competition was supposed to have made the family's life easier, but it had instead become a "nightmare", said Miss Fleming.

Image source, Carol Fleming
Image caption,
Miss Fleming said the competition had become a nightmare

She said the couple had entered the competition in March - three months after the agreement between Make A Wish and Win Our Wedding was terminated - but were not made aware no money would be going to the charity.

Most of the suppliers booked for the wedding have agreed to do the work for free and the wedding will still go ahead in August.

Image source, Cynthia Geelan
Image caption,
Cynthia Geelan and her fiancé Michael Cruise were also winners and were due to get married in December

Cynthia Geelan and her fiancé Michael Cruise, from Newtownforbes, County Longford, are due to get married on 9 December, and remain hopeful their wedding will go ahead as planned.

Image source, Peggy O'Callaghan
Image caption,
Peggy O'Callaghan, from New South Wales in Australia and her fiancé Keith Smith, from County Cavan, are now doubtful their wedding will go ahead

Peggy O'Callaghan and Keith Smith, who both live in Australia, were hoping to move home to Ireland after winning the competition, as they did not think they would be able to afford the expense of both flights and a wedding.

They are now doubtful their wedding will go ahead.

Kathy Smith and Luke Kelly, from Cavan won the competition in 2015 and were due to get married in November this year.

Image source, Kathy Smith
Image caption,
Kathy Smith and Luke Kelly have decided to downsize their wedding

Miss Smith said: "We were constantly running into issues with them for payments, saying they had other weddings in front of ours that had to be priority and that we couldn't book in anything else for another while.

"Now that we have heard that the competition won't be paying out any more money, we have had to downsize our wedding.

"In total, we have received around 4,500 euros from them and are still owed around 15,000, which has left us in a difficult position to pay for our wedding this November."