Candace Guppy-Sobion built her career on being the life of the party. As one half of TT’s premier party-planning couple, Guppy-Sobion, 33, who is married to Caesar’s Army commander in chief Jules Sobion, was one of the pioneers of the Ash Wednesday post-Carnival cool down parties, Wine Down. But after just about a decade in the business – and a spiritual awakening – she’s amended her mission, converging her passions, her dreams and her faith, into a more personal endeavour.
“I guess God has always been part of my story, I just didn’t realise it until now. When I started my business, whenever people asked me what my business plan was, I would say it was my gut feeling. I know now that was God speaking to me,” she said.
Her epiphany came about three years ago in 2017, when in the midst of a whirlwind schedule travelling from Trinidad to New York to Toronto then to Barbados for planning, parties and promotions, she developed a sharp pain in her neck and along her side. She couldn’t move, but she also couldn’t stop. She tried desperately to resolve the pain, visiting the chiropractor for massages, but even still, she continued to work, bound to a wheelchair while insisting she meet her commitments. Lying in bed in Barbados, she recalls two pivotal moments that transformed her mindset – a voice inside her telling her to get up and a tweet from Pope Francis about love and forgiveness that helped her put her life in perspective.
“I didn’t realise it at that time, but it was exactly what I needed to make my turnaround.”
One of the first things she did was resolve to end Wine Down because as a practising Roman Catholic she felt the day, Ash Wednesday, deserved to be dedicated to God.
“I helped make Ash Wednesday cool-downs a thing. Now I have to make it not a thing,” she laughed. To suddenly stop something that had become so iconic on the Carnival calendar – and which was profitable – was conflicting, but she resolved personally that this was what God wanted her to do.
“I had to honour that voice inside of me, to not disobey what was inside me.” Her approach to business also changed. Her brand, Candy Coated, is an event planning and management enterprise. She also plans travel and tour experiences to countries around the world – particularly India. The company was initially split in two – Candy Coated Events and Candy Coated Travels. Now, as her focus shifts from parties to travel and enriching life experiences, she now operates as Candy Coated Experiences.
It might seem like a 180-degree turn, to be sure, but to understand her story, it’s important to start from the beginning. And when I sat with her earlier this week to chat, she insisted that everything in her life happened in the way it did to allow for this moment of transcendence. Travel has always been Guppy-Sobion’s true love (after her husband, of course). She recalls that at five years old, on a trip to the US, she decided she wanted to be a flight attendant, because in her child’s mind, a flight attendant had the best job – travelling the world. At high school, though, as she became more involved in activism and debating, her world opened up to more, and she became interested in politics and human rights, arranging one of the first marches for peace, getting her classmates involved in speaking out against crime.
At university in Jamaica, she studied international relations – a commingling of her passions of sorts, studying the world but in a way to make it better. It was at university though, that her talent for helping people have fun would come to a fore. Her first experience in planning was hiring a bus to take some of her friends to a weekend event in Ocho Rios from Kingston. It was the attention to small details that really raised her reputation – simply by providing food and drinks on the trip, she elevated the experience and got return queries about when was the next event. She also invited Jules to visit while she was in Jamaica and it’s there, she said, she fell in love with him. Her reputation, she added, also helped him when he started planning parties in Jamaica because she had already established a network.
On her return to TT, she worked for Jules, heading the Ceasar’s Army Adventures arm, effectively the precursor to Candy Coated, but the tension of being in a relationship with the person who was also basically her boss caused a brief split (that has thankfully been mended). But it helped her envision what she wanted her brand to be. She catered primarily to women and for smaller events (not like the legendary Ceasars Army Carnival bashes). One of the parties she organised was trip to the Nylon Pool in Tobago – which would eventually serve as the inspiration for Wine Down.
Guppy-Sobion might seem to have a Midas touch with her planning and execution, but she is open and honest about her failures as well, including vendors who don’t deliver, losing hundreds of thousands of dollars from events that didn’t go as planned, and worst of all, being unable honour her commitments to her clients. But, she is adamant, this has strengthened her resolve, and is all part of her journey – God’s plan. Her successes and failures have ultimately led her to the place she is now and she has grown and learnt, and she is at a point now where she wants to return to her passion – travelling the world and sharing those experiences with others.
India, for example, is special to her. She is of Indian descent, but the country was the first tour she planned and executed as a young professional working in the events office at the University of the West Indies in St Augustine. She was a recent graduate who had never travelled to India before, but her boss at the time trusted her to handle the journey and she did. The success of that encouraged her and inspired her to continue with planning tours. Her trips to India have been hits, but she acknowledges some misses, like Bali, where she admits the error in judgement for not making a reconnaissance trip before taking a group as inexperienced about the country as she was. India, and Israel, where she visited last year, are also deeply spiritual experiences for her.
Another evolution for her – back to her passion as a youth – is exploring the possibility of entering politics. Guppy-Sobion had her first taste of public service when she was part of the Tourism Development Company board that imploded last year. It was a profound learning experience for her, and it also sharpened her resolve for serving the people. Being on that board, she said, exposed her to certain inefficiencies that she believes if the country needs to move forward, have to be overcome – from dealing with people to getting things done. Her journey, she believes, has set her up to work for the people. She’s not in it for the money, but her passion to make her country a better place. She’s also inspired by her late father-in-law, former attorney general Keith Sobion, to put the country ahead of herself if she ever enters politics.
She admits it’s been a challenge somewhat to get her family, especially her sister, Tenille, who works with her and with whom she is very close, as well as her husband, to understand her journey. Initially, she tried to change them. But instead, she realised that everybody has their own journey, and God has his own vision for them.
“We all have different journeys and different stories and there is some mystery involved in how all our stories are intertwined but we can’t really see that beforehand we can’t predict what the future holds. We just have to learn to live with each other. Eventually, we learnt how to respect each other and I guess he (Jules) sees me and knows what I am experiencing is genuine.” The thing she has learnt most to do, though, is love.
“I believe in love and I believe that power is so strong and because of that I believe in hope and a brighter day tomorrow. Jules sees that and he wants that too. Because he can see that it is real. My only hope is that I can lead people in the direction they have to go and that they should go.”