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"I have no intentions of going anywhere else whatsoever. I think I've travelled enough!"

Marie-Andreè Gleeson with her partner, Jacinto Gómez. SUR
Marie-Andreè Gleeson with her partner, Jacinto Gómez. SUR
  • Marie-Andreè Gleeson

  • Age Concern Estepona and Manilva’s new president talks about how she ended up living in Estepona

She's lived and worked in the UK, Hong Kong and the Canary Islands. But it was Estepona that British expat Marie-Andreè Gleeson finally decided to put her roots down after falling in love with the Costa del Sol town in 2002.

Born in Liverpool in 1965 to a marine pilot dad and a housewife mum, Marie-Andreè was privately educated at Notre Dame School in Woolton Village.

Although she studied graphic design at Liverpool Hope Street College, it was a part time job five nights a week at a restaurant that sparked her interest in becoming a bar tender.

So after landing a job at Mulligan's Bar at the Four Seasons Hotel next to Manchester Airport, a 22-year-old Marie-Andreè was suddenly given the opportunity to work in Hong Kong, at a trendy bar called The Jump.

She then spent the next 13 years of her life in the former British territory and met Hollywood stars such as Robert De Nero, Bruce Willis and Jean Claude Van Damme.

Marie-Andreè, 55, told SUR in English: "The Hong Kong Chinese are amazing. They taught me a new work ethic and they work very hard, a lot of people there have two or three jobs. It's an amazing place and everyone should go. It's so diverse and the people are so lovely and friendly."

Marie-Andreè explained how she decided to leave in 1997 as she was worried about how things would change when the former British territory was handed back to China.

"Overnight there was a massive change in Hong Kong," she said.

"Beforehand you would hear Cantonese being spoken on the streets, and then overnight everyone seemed to be speaking Mandarin. And they were totally different languages, like Spanish and Portuguese. But you could see the change coming, and what's going on in Hong Kong now breaks my heart."

So in 1997 Marie-Andreè moved back to the UK at the age of 35 and worked for a number of years as the manager of Cafe Rouge - but she didn't feel settled.

In 2000 she jetted off to Anfi del Mar on Gran Canaria, which was a huge timeshare resort, where she worked as a graphic designer.

She said: "It was an absolutely stunning place. But it didn't feel like Spain, it felt like a little Cuba."

Once again in 2002 Marie-Andreè decided to up sticks and move to the Costa del Sol, where her father had bought a property in Torreblanca, near Fuengirola, in 1958.

Shortly after arriving she decided to get a bus to Estepona to visit a friend for a week.

"I fell in love with the town instantly, I don't know why, I just did," she said.

And that wasn't all that she fell in love with.

In the same week she met the love of her life, Jacinto Gómez Guarinos, who was working in Estepona's port at the time.

She added: "He asked me out for a drink and then turned up in a suit with flowers, as he thought it was the polite thing to do!"

As for how Estepona has changed in the last 18 years, she explained: "It's much better than it used to be; it's a cleaner, nicer place to be and really safe."

Around 11 years ago Marie-Andreè started volunteering at the Age Concern charity shop in Estepona town centre.

She said: "I thought it was good fun and slowly started climbing the ranks, until I became president four weeks ago.

"I really enjoy it. I've been taking care of the shop and the welfare element of the charity, as there is so much going on in the community. During the lockdown we were delivering food three times a week to people in the local community.

"It's pretty much a full time job and none of us get paid, we are all 100 per cent volunteers."

Marie-Andreè added that the charity is currently looking for volunteers to help them deliver shopping and other items to people in the community. She added that they are particularly after male volunteers who can drive, as most of their staff are female.

As for what the future holds, Marie-Andreè currently lives with her partner Jacinto and her 90-year-old mother, who moved over to live with them in Estepona two years ago.

She added: "Estepona is my home now, I have no intentions of going anywhere else whatsoever. I think I've travelled enough!"

For more information on volunteering at Age Concern, email Marie-Andreè at ageconcernestepona@gmail.com or visit their Facebook page.