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Pippa should enjoy big day and future despite few bumps on road to altar

 

The journey to the church hasn't been entirely smooth for Pippa Middleton and fiance James Matthews. The Duchess of Cambridge's sister enjoyed dinner dates with the London financier back in 2012 and then she dated Nico Jackson for three years. When they split in 2015, her romance with James was back on. Una Brankin, who had an on-off relationship with husband Declan, says a faltering start is no barrier to lasting happiness.

A few years ago, my husband ran into an old flame of mine from university days. They had crossed paths back then, having sometimes socialised in the same circles, but hadn't seen each other since.

Mid-conversation, the ex asked what had become of me, after I left Belfast for Dublin in 1992. Astonished was the only way to describe his face, according to Declan, when he told him we'd tied the knot in 2002 and settled down south.

The former flame isn't the only one amazed at what unfolded after those early courting days. No-one - least of all the two of us - ever thought we'd end up together. I even remember the broadcaster John Kelly telling me that we didn't look suited to each other.

Declan was a scruffy art student and lead guitarist in a band with his brothers. I was three years older and constantly immersed in library books of political philosophy, which I found fascinating at the time.

Footloose and carefree, we were heading for a break-up from day one and our first date at Bleakers 'two-for-one' night, a studenty hot-spot on the lower Malone Road. There was an attraction and a frivolous connection, but we were no love match.

For a start, we were both two-timing and even when we made the break with our respective others soon after, we both knew there was no future for us. We were simply too young and had too much ahead of us.

But the fact is, if we hadn't broken up in the earlier days - and again, mid-way through our relationship - we wouldn't be married and happy together now.

The first split came when I was holed-up cramming for my post-graduate exams. With no mobile phones and no internet in existence then, the only means of contact with the ever casual Declan was by a public telephone at the end of Ulsterville Avenue.

Being slightly old-fashioned and aloof, I didn't like ringing him, so we lost contact for a few weeks. He met somebody else, annoyingly a former Miss PTQ (Queen's University beauty queen), and I headed away for the summer.

We drifted together again in the autumn and continued on our merry aimless way, until he told me he had a secret. No, he wasn't married. Or gay. Or entering the priesthood. No. He had signed a recording contract with Sony a year previously, with his two brothers, and none had breathed a word of it until they were recording their first album. Impressed by his discretion and unwillingness to boast, I think I started to fall for him then. Terrible timing, obviously.

Here he was at 24, on the cusp of an adventure that involved travelling on a tour bus and meeting girls at every stop. And there was I, old hat by that stage.

Or so I thought.

Anyway, I told him I didn't expect him to be faithful. He just smiled and said nothing, and flew off to London to finish the album. Shortly afterwards, I took a job in a Sunday newspaper in Dublin, thinking the strange little romance we'd had was over.

But it wasn't, quite. When he'd come back from recording or touring, he'd ring me. We'd meet up and have a laugh. Then he'd be off again, doing whatever musicians do on tour that stays on tour, and not ringing me for weeks or months at a time.

I tried to move on but never, as Prince and Sinead O'Connor sang, met anyone who compared. I was sensible enough not to let my heart rule my head, though, and, over a tearful dinner in an Italian restaurant near Grafton Street, I told him we'd met too soon and needed to end it.

Imagine my surprise, then, when he didn't like this new state of affairs. As usual, he fell silent but it had taken him aback. The next day, he went off again with the band and I started having a whale of a time socialising with my new flatmate and her boyfriend and pals in Dublin.

A few non-event dates later, with nice-but-dull guys, Declan was back in town and looking for a flat with his brother, having decided to move their base from Belfast to Dublin.

Slowly, things fell into place. Declan started joining my friends and me on days and nights out, and suddenly life was fun again. It was a bit like going back in time to our college days, with the benefit of knowing each other better.

We fell in love properly, this time, and he asked me to marry him in New York at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve. (Oh dear, I've become a bit teary…)

So, yes, as with Pippa and James, it took a break-up - or two - to give Declan and I the time and space to grow up, do our own thing and eventually realise we're right for each other.

Now I better sign off, before you go reaching for the sick bucket. Sorry!

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