Woman on top – Pre­cious Thamaga

PRE­CIOUS TUMISHO THAMAGA, 35, stages lux­ury events and be­spoke wed­dings. The busi­ness­woman gives us a glimpse into her life as the coun­try’s sought-af­ter fairy god­mother.

True Love - - Sumario - By SISONKE LABASE

it’s a scorch­ing hot day at the scenic Green Leaves Coun­try Lodge & Venue in Hart­beespoort. Pre­cious Thamaga is busy set­ting up for an in­ti­mate wed­ding. With beau­ti­ful moun­tain views and lush green­ery serv­ing as the per­fect back­drop, I get why Pre­cious and the bride chose this venue.

“The theme is ‘time­less and ro­man­tic’. I did a mock-up for the bride and she was happy. She knows ex­actly what she’s go­ing to get on her big day. It’s an indoor wed­ding, which will hap­pen at this chapel. The floors are cov­ered in a red car­pet, but we will put white floor­ing over it. Then the guests will see the spec­tac­u­lar views out­side af­ter the for­mal cer­e­mony,” she tells me in-be­tween the prep.

Be­hind the scenes, there’s lots of ac­tiv­ity: staff is set­ting up while con­trac­tors drop off props for the event. Pre­cious ex­cuses her­self to have a Skype call with the new bride. The con­ver­sa­tion is straight­for­ward yet sweet: the plan­ner is up­dat­ing her client on the progress. I ask Pre­cious how she goes about creat­ing some­one’s big day. “It takes a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion; you must ask every pos­si­ble ques­tion. I also in­volve the groom be­cause the wed­ding isn’t just about the bride; you want him to have a great ex­pe­ri­ence too. The guests are next on my plan be­cause how they’re treated af­fects ev­ery­thing. I cover all the bases and then cre­ate a mock-up be­fore get­ting the client’s ap­proval,” she ex­plains.

Pre­cious the Plan­ner, as she’s pop­u­larly known, has planned many un­for­get­table wed­dings across the coun­try, as well as in Swazi­land, Botswana and Zim­babwe. She’s also the brains be­hind events for SA’s crème de la crème – the busi­ness­woman staged Bo­nang Matheba’s 30th birth­day; Min­nie Dlamini’s tra­di­tional wed­ding; as well as Boity Thulo’s Lim­it­less prod­uct launch. Yet, Pre­cious doesn’t want to be dubbed ‘the celebrity plan­ner’. “That ti­tle made me hit a low. Yes, I do celebrity wed­dings and func­tions but it feels like I’m shut­ting out my reg­u­lar clients. I don’t want peo­ple to think I’m out of reach. I’ve lost one or two clients that felt like I’m too ‘big’ for them. So be­ing called a ‘celeb plan­ner’ has its down­sides. High pro­file clients are great but I still want to be ac­ces­si­ble to any­one who wants the op­u­lence I bring to events.”

The plan­ner keeps mak­ing phone calls: she’s try­ing to find out how far the driver is as she’s ex­pect­ing ex­tra nap­kins. But she’s sur­pris­ingly calm. “I do get frus­trated, es­pe­cially when things aren’t com­ing to­gether. But I’ve learnt to let go of sup­pli­ers if the re­la­tion­ship isn’t work­ing.”

Au­then­tic­ity and at­ten­tion to de­tail are im­por­tant to Pre­cious. “I think the finer de­tails set me apart – I love lux­ury and time­less beauty. That’s my sig­na­ture style. I don’t fol­low trends – I don’t want there to be a dif­fer­ence be­tween a cheaper or higher budget wed­ding or event. The dis­tin­guish­ing el­e­ment must be how be­spoke and lux­u­ri­ous the func­tion is.”

The most ex­pen­sive wed­ding she’s done cost about R2 mil­lion. But, she says, a wed­ding of about 100 guests will cost R300 000. Pre­cious works with her two sis­ters, which is a source of com­fort for her. “I love be­ing at the venue all the time and see­ing the fi­nal touches come to­gether. I’m a con­trol freak! Last year I had to plan two wed­dings but I wasn’t present – that frus­trated me. This is not just a busi­ness for me. It’s about putting my per­sonal touch. Now that I have my sis­ters by my side, I can let go a bit.”

Be­fore the 35-year-old be­came Pre­cious the Plan­ner, she was a vil­lage girl who hails from Lim­popo. She never fin­ished her stud­ies and went on to hus­tle her way through life. “I didn’t com­plete my diploma be­cause I come from a big fam­ily. There were six of us. When I was do­ing my se­cond year of travel and tourism at the then Pre­to­ria Tech­nikon, my par­ents couldn’t cope with the fi­nan­cial de­mands. So I of­fered to drop out and find work in 2000. That al­lowed my older sis­ter to com­plete her stud­ies.”

“I used the lit­tle knowl­edge that I’d learnt from my diploma in travel and tourism to get into the in­dus­try. While I was work­ing as a re­cep­tion­ist for an ar­chi­tec­tural firm, I got ac­cess to the In­ter­net and found an op­por­tu­nity to be a re­cep­tion­ist at Sun In­ter­na­tional in 2003. There, I got to ex­pe­ri­ence a lit­tle bit of ev­ery­thing – I saw how the PR world worked. I was pro­moted to PR as­sis­tant, which I did for a year and a half. I did all the hard ground work but never got to see what I’d planned come to life. So I de­cided to study fur­ther and see where I could go.”

This go-get­ter at­ti­tude saw her climb the PR and events co­or­di­na­tor lad­der. “When­ever I ap­plied for jobs, I’d make it very clear that I ex­pected the com­pany to pay for my stud­ies. I left Sun In­ter­na­tional in 2005 for CC Africa, which is now called &Be­yond. They do lux­ury sa­fari ex­pe­ri­ences and host cor­po­rate func­tions. I worked dur­ing the week, and at­tended classes at Damelin dur­ing week­ends. I en­rolled for an events man­age­ment course.” It’s while work­ing for Mass­mart as a brand manager that the com­pany hired a life coach for staff. “That’s when I knew I wanted to branch out on my own. I talked with my boss to ask if I could im­ple­ment my busi­ness plan while work­ing. She said yes.” And so Pre­cious Cel­e­bra­tions was reg­is­tered in 2010. “Cor­po­rate events were sat­u­rated so I chose to do wed­dings for black peo­ple. I used my sav­ings to start Pre­cious Cel­e­bra­tions. I didn’t want to use Google im­ages so I did free wed­dings so I could grow a port­fo­lio for my web­site. I soon se­cured two pay­ing clients. ”

“I love see­ing the sat­is­fac­tion on cou­ples’ faces. Wed­dings are so per­sonal, so be­ing a part of them and mak­ing it a dream come true is amaz­ing,” she adds.

“I’m blessed to have a grow­ing busi­ness. I’ve put sys­tems in place so that when I’m not around, the busi­ness doesn’t die. I’d love to own a venue, and make my mark in this in­dus­try.” I know Pre­cious’ dreams will come true. Wit­ness­ing how this venue trans­formed, it’s no won­der peo­ple love Pre­cious the Plan­ner – she has the Mi­das Touch.

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