The moment we knew we'd met The One
In the run-up to Valentine's Day, Leona O'Neill asks three of Northern Ireland's best-known couples how they knew they'd found the love of their lives.
Gerry Armstrong (63) is a Northern Ireland World Cup legend and Sky TV Spanish football commentator. He is married to Deborah (42), and they live in Majorca with daughters, Caitlin (17) and Marianna (11). He says:
I met Deborah loads of times at functions. She says she also remembers me on flights to Paris when she was working as an air stewardess.
We officially met in the Apartment Bar in Belfast. We were out after a game - Northern Ireland had played that night and model agency boss Alison Campbell introduced us. We got on really well.
A few months later, we met again at a charity golfing event where she was a hostess, and we hit it off. A week later, I asked Alison Campbell for Deborah's number. That was 15 years ago.
I knew two minutes after I met her that she was the one. She is a really special person - I knew this straight away. We have a lot in common. We are very pleased that things worked out, long may it continue.
Yes, there is a 21-year age gap between us, but it's happiness, not age, that truly matters.
Age is only a number. It doesn't matter to me, it doesn't matter to Deborah. It doesn't matter what age you are. As long as you are happy and you are compatible, that is the most important thing of all. My wife and I have always said that age really is just a number.
I actually proposed on the pitch at Windsor Park, which is quite unique.
I did it just before we played Germany in a centenary game. It was all on camera. Deborah didn't know anything about it.
She didn't want an engagement ring, but I wasn't going to get married to her without an engagement ring, so I got a jeweller friend of mine to help me design the Tiffany high-set diamond ring. I presented it to her on the pitch. It was a very special moment. Then we got married in Thailand. There are so many things I love about Deborah. She is such a good person, such a lovely natured person. She would do anything for anyone. She has a lovely heart, inside and out, and those are the kinds of things I love about her."
Pete Snodden (37) is a broadcaster, radio presenter and host of the Cool FM Breakfast Show. He is married to Julia Snodden (37), and they have two girls, Ivana (6) and Elayna (3). Pete says:
We met when we were at the University of Ulster at Coleraine. We actually met in Kelly’s in Portrush — everyone who goes to uni in Coleraine goes there on a Wednesday night.
We met through friends and we started going out halfway through our first year. We had lots in common, but one thing that stood out was music. I was a DJ and Julia loved dance music.
I remember saying to a friend of mine, ‘If we get together, that will be it— she’ll be the one’. And that was that.
I surprised her with a proposal around 11 years ago. I told her that I had been invited to London to go and see a showcase of a band — this was back in the day when record labels used to take you away to promotion parties. I told her that we should go on the London Eye before the gig and up we went. When we were in the sky over London, I proposed to her. I had arranged for our friends to meet us at a fancy restaurant. We had dinner together and all enjoyed a great evening.
I picked the ring myself. A friend’s mum had a ring that Julia commented on — she thought it was beautiful — so I went to the jewellers and asked for a ring that was the same type. The guy said he didn’t have the ring, but he would get it made for me. Thankfully, she loved it. Julia had no idea that I was going to pop the question. No idea at all.
When the kids came along, the significance of Valentine’s Day, and just the two of us getting out, became less important. We do get out, but the kids are our lives now. They pretty much are always there, but we get out for a meal every now and then by ourselves. We are very lucky with my wife’s parents and my mum when it comes to babysitters.
It doesn’t happen all the time with the children and work and everything in between, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Whenever the two of do get out, just the two of us, it’s always great craic.
The best thing about Jules is she is my best friend and the one person I can speak to about anything.”
Rita Fitzgerald (47) is a reporter on UTV Life. She lives in east Belfast with husband John (52) and their daughter, Eleanor (7). Rita says:
We had heard each other’s names over the years through mutual friends. John was living in Dublin and I was in France, and when we were both back in Northern Ireland we literally walked into a friend's cafe in town, Snax in the City, at the same time.
I remember thinking, ‘Aw you’re John Fitzgerald’. He was all dressed up in his black tuxedo and going to a school reunion. We were cheeky over coffee. It was a gradual thing — we got to know one another and then it got serious.
We’ve been together for 12 years. I knew he was the one when we first met. There was a bit of a spark on the first day we bumped into each other. I think we both enjoyed the slight cheekiness of each other. I’d go as far as saying I thought there was going to be something serious.
John had built a cottage in Donegal, in Rathmullan. It is on a bit of family land, right on Lough Swilly. One particular day it was blowing a gale. John said we should go for a walk and I thought he was mad, but he coaxed me out and we went right down to the water’s edge with this proper windy, grey, stormy Donegal weather in the background. Then he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I could have passed out. I certainly didn’t expect it. It was so lovely. John still laughs to this day. He says he wasn’t proposing at all, it was the wind that blew him over.
We chose the engagement ring together in our friend’s jewellers, Jack Murphy’s in Newry. It was lovely to get engaged with one of my oldest school friends helping us choose the ring. It was poignant because I had lived away for such a long time and it was lovely to come home and do something very homely and simple.
The wedding was absolutely gorgeous. There is a running theme within our relationship — wind, storms and rain. I woke up on the morning of our wedding and went for a walk. It was a beautiful day on the shores of Camlough Lake. I remember thinking it would bode well for the day. When I got to the church I remember the beautiful music sailing down the valley, but then the wind picked up my veil and it almost took off. It was so windy, it was hysterical. I remember having to rush into the Galgorm under umbrellas because the rain was so fierce.
I’d like to think I’m romantic, but John always beats me hands down. Not in the typical romance category, but he’s just so thoughtful with presents and his timing of things and his approach to things. He does things like hunt out the negatives to precious pictures that have gone missing and then he has them printed. It was jaw-dropping that someone could be so thoughtful to keep digging until they unearthed these negatives.
John is amazing. It is so wonderful when you meet someone and you are single and you come together as a unit. He was always such a thoughtful, charming and loving man, but when you have children you really realise how wonderful someone can be. He has turned out to be the most amazing, loving father. And I got to see a whole different side to him that I didn’t know was there.
I was 40 when I had Ellie and he was 46, and that experience might never have come for us. We are very lucky — Ellie coming into the world has been the romantic part of our lives coming together.”