Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Heartstoppingly romantic real-life love stories

Jason and Brenda Shankey
Jason and Brenda Shankey
Khara Pringle

... did fate and happenstance conspire to bring you face to face with the person you were destined to meet? As this year’s most talked-about movie hits cinemas today, Kerry McKittrick and Laura McGarrity go in search of some heartstoppingly romantic real-life love stories

It’s the novel that is so heart-wrenchingly romantic, so funny, so, well, true to life, that when it was first released in 2009 it became a word-of-mouth must-read.

Everyone who had laughed, cried and hoped against hope as they read One Day, the story of Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, just had to pass it onto a friend so that they could have someone to discuss it with.

David Nicholls’ book, with its distinctive orange and cream cover, has been published in 31 countries and became the UK’s 2010 bestseller. Last month its millionth copy was sold.

And now it has been made into a film, starring Anne Hathaway as Emma — apparently her stab at our Leeds-born heroine’s Yorkshire accent is pretty dire — and Jim Sturgess, whose turn as Dexter is said to be first class.

The book has a simple premise: Emma and Dexter meet on July 15 (St Swithin’s Day) during a night of drunken partying on their final night at Edinburgh University in 1988.

They kind of have a one-night stand and then pledge to stay in touch.

And then, for almost two decades, the book drops in on their lives on July 15 every year. The story plays out against a backdrop of class — Dexter has the aimlessness and sense of entitlement of those born wealthy while Emma’s more modest background makes her an idealist, struggling to get a career underway.

Its ending ... well, we can’t tell you that here in case you haven’t read it.

But suffice to say it prompts the question: can you really meet someone whom it seems you are destined to be with, no matter what?

Fate, destiny, happenstance — call it what you will — but will love always find a way?

We ask some Northern Ireland couples if one day they happened to meet ...

‘We were pals for ages’

Kerry McLean (36) is a radio presenter and lives in Ballymoney with her husband Ralph and their two children, Tara (5) and Dan (3). She says:

I can remember the first time I ever saw Ralph. I was a teenager and had snuck into Kelly's nightclub in Portrush.

Ralph was a student at Coleraine at the time and he was the first person I saw at the bottom of the stairs. I must have walked past him at least 15 times trying to catch his eye but he didn't notice me once!

When I was 18 I started working for the BBC as a runner on Good Morning Ulster and by pure coincidence it was Ralph's first week there working as a production assistant.

I knew who he was straight away but it was ages before I worked up the nerve to actually speak to him. After that we became friends — he was in another relationship at that point — but I still fancied him.

After a while I took a job in Glasgow as there weren't any staff jobs available in the BBC in Belfast at that time. I spent seven and a half years away working in Glasgow, London and even Africa for a time before I went back to Northern Ireland. My very first day back in Belfast and Ralph walked into the studio.

We became friends again just like we had been before. At that point I just didn't think he liked me so I was happy being friends as I thought it was all that was going to happen between us.

What I didn't know was that just before I went to Scotland Ralph had become single and would have asked me out then if I hadn't gone away!

Then, 10 years ago and just before Christmas we went out for a drink together and Ralph made a move.

He said he really liked me and I said I really liked him.

And we've pretty much been glued together ever since then.”

‘Fate played a big part’

Michelle Woods (29) a nurse and part-time law student at the University of Ulster, lives in Belfast with husband Ronan and children Emmet (11), Abbey (8), John-Joe (6) and Oliver (3). She says:

When I was around 13 I went to St Gerard's youth club on the Antrim Road in Belfast with all of my friends from Fortwilliam — we’d hang out with all the boys from St Malachy’s.

I met Ronan at St Gerard’s and we went out for a while but we were so young so it didn't really last.

We went off to university and lost touch really, because we had different friends and that's just what happens.

We would bump into each other once or twice a year and the chemistry was clearly there but either one of us always happened to be in a relationship.

Then, one day in 2000 I was walking past Queen’s University and I suddenly realised Ronan was walking towards me.

It was really strange, we hadn't seen each other in over a year, but we connected right away. We were both finally single at the same time.

I invited him out to the M Club that night and we have been together since then. Ronan took me to Paris the following year and proposed. We then married in 2003 and now have four wonderful children.

Looking back it was fate that we bumped into each other, but then again Belfast is really not a big place so we probably would have ran into each other somehow.

We got engaged and married quite fast but it just felt right — old feelings came back from when we were younger, feelings that had never really left. It was fluid and easy.

When we were together before and bumped into each other over the years we were just too young. Now that we're older it just works.”

‘I knew I would marry her’

Joe Lindsay (40), radio presenter and DJ, lives in Belfast with wife Mary. He says:

I'm not particularly religious or spiritual but I'm a firm believer that if you are supposed to meet someone, be it a friend or your future wife, your paths will cross.

In 2000 I had just come out of quite a long relationship and I wasn't really looking to get into a new one, I thought I had already had my chance to get married, but that year is actually when I met Mary. That's always how it happens, a lot can change when you least expect.

It all started when I wasn't able to attend a friend's birthday party so I made a mix tape to make up for it. The owner of Shu restaurant, Alan Reid, heard it and asked me to come and DJ in the bar.

It was really weird when I actually went to look around the bar the first person I met was Mary, who was working as a cocktail waitress at the time. I was immediately attracted to her, I'm hopeless with women, but I knew I wanted to make a move.

It wasn't until New Year's Eve when I gave her a wee peck at a staff party and everything changed. It felt like a cannon ball to my chest and was a real seismic moment. I went from thinking she didn't like me to realising this could really be something. Within two weeks of new years I knew I would marry her and I was right because we married in 2004.

Mary and I often think how easily we could have not met. Although just getting a different bus can change your life — everything happens for a reason.

Starting to DJ really was the catalyst to everything falling into place as I met my wife, changed my career and changed the course of my life.”

‘We were best friends’

Brenda Shankey (40) lives in Belfast with her husband Jason and their children Lauren (10) and Will (8). She says:

I hadn't met Jason yet but I took over his old job teaching hairdressing when he moved to London. When he got back three years later his mum — who was principal of the college at the time — suggested that he go out with all the teachers he used to be friends with. She also mentioned a dark-haired girl called Brenda who she thought he would get on well with.

So Jason and I met on that night after being set up by his mum. We got on really well and there was a lot of chemistry between us. I fell for him straight away but for about four months after that we were friends — best friends, really, because we went absolutely everywhere together. I knew he liked me because spent all our time together and he wasn't seeing anyone else but, because of previous relationships that didn’t work out, he wouldn't commit.

I thought about it for weeks or even months and eventually one day I sat him down and told him I was madly in love with him. I told him that I didn't want to be his friend any more and that was it. I was walking out the door. I was so nervous when I did it I was actually shaking. Thankfully, he stopped me from actually getting to the door and told me he felt the same way. From that point we've never looked back.”

‘He came to my rescue’

Photographer Khara Pringle (38) lives in Newtownards and has been going out with photographer Bradley Quinn for two years. She says:

Two years ago I was doing the wedding photography at Cathy Martin's wedding. The whole day had gone really well with no hitches. The guests were just sitting down to their meal and I was about to pack up and go home when I realised my camera had reset all of its counters to zero. I really panicked. I thought I’d lost all the photos of Cathy's big day and they aren't exactly something you can replace.

I phoned Bradley to see if he could help me. I knew him but we weren't friends because we'd been in direct competition with each other for years. But I was desperate and I happened to know that he had the same camera.

I drove to Bradley's office where thankfully he was able to download and save all of the pictures. As a thank you I invited him to the Professional Photographer of Northern Ireland awards with me. That was two years ago and we've been together ever since.”

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