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Whirlwind romances that stand the test of time

As Cheryl Cole announces that she has tied the knot after a three-month courtship, we ask three local couples who did the same whether or not they think it’s a good idea to marry in haste.

By Kerry McKittrick

Goodbye Cheryl Cole, hello Cheryl Fernandez-Versini. The X Factor judge and Girls Aloud singer stunned the world this week by announcing she had married in secret on the island of Mustique after a whirlwind romance of just three months.

Very little is known about Cheryl's new husband — Jean-Bernard — and their wedding, although it was announced at the beginning of this week the couple have managed to keep it a secret since July 7.

In fact, it was only Cheryl's own tweet of her stunning, diamond-encrusted wedding and engagement rings that alerted the world to her newlywed status.

It's hardly surprising, given that the couple's nuptials are reported to have cost a staggering £390,000 — almost £300,000 of that being the cost of Cheryl's engagement ring alone.

The star is known for her reluctance to talk to the Press and said she only revealed her marriage to quell rumours circulating on the internet.

The guest list for the event was a little sparse, too, with just four guests believed to have been there, including Cheryl's mum, Joan Callaghan, and her PA, Lily England.

But can you really make a decision on the person you want to spend the rest of your life with after just a few months together?

We asked three local couples who didn’t quite beat Cheryl’s own record of three months, but who nevertheless decided to tie the knot after only a short time together.


Brenda Shankey (42) runs Jason Shankey Male Grooming with her husband Jason (42) and lives in Belfast with their children Lauren (12), and Will (10). She says:

I remember thinking that Jason was drop-dead gorgeous the first time I saw him — it was love at first sight and we got on like a house on fire. I very quickly ended the relationship that I was in at the time, as I didn't want to hang about.

Jason and I have been arguing about how long it took us to get engaged — he thinks it took us six months, but I thought we were only together for three.

Either way, it was quite fast and we didn't discuss it beforehand. It was a Saturday after work and Jason took me into town under the pretext of buying me a lipgloss. The next thing I knew we were in a jeweller's shop buying a ring.

We were certainly ready at the time. We were both in our late-20s and had had a couple of long-term relationships. When we were buying the ring, he didn't ask and I just laughed, so I never actually said Yes, as it were. It just felt like the right thing to do.

We got married about a year later. Although we had got engaged very quickly we wanted to stay that way for a little while before actually taking the plunge.

Jason certainly believes that marriage is for life, which doesn't seem to be quite such a popular attitude these days.

We could have got married sooner, but I don't think I would do anything differently. It was a big shock to people when we got engaged, but we did everything on our terms.

When we got married, it was a very small affair in Derry — just 16 people — and we spent no money on it. Everything was a favour called in from friends or members of the family. All our money goes into the business!

I think Cheryl Cole knows exactly what she's doing. She's been married before and she has too many people round her not to have sussed this guy out.

She's too high-profile to jump into something like this without being absolutely sure.

Jason Shankey runs Jason Shankey Male Grooming with Brenda. He says:

"I used to teach hairdressing at Belfast Institute, now Belfast Metropolitan College, before going off to work in London for three years. When I moved back they were having a staff night out and invited me along.

I went along and met this girl called Brenda, who was doing my old job and we hit it off immediately. The only trouble was that she was engaged to someone else, but she ended that quite quickly.

I think we both kind of knew straightaway — neither of us had met anyone like the other before. We were also both 29, so we were the right age to settle down. You know when someone is right for you.

We've been together for 15 years now and we're business partners, as well as husband and wife and I don't think that makes things any easier, as you do tend to bring a lot of things home from work.

I would advise caution when it comes to getting married quickly. A few of my friends did that and are now divorced.

I think it can be the luck of the draw, but if it's something you want to do, then it's worth getting your friends' opinion. They know you and will know if someone is right for you.

I think Cheryl is quite a needy person, which is why she might rush into marriage. I would also advise caution — with the perception of her wealth, it could be inviting men for the wrong reasons.

It can take a lot time to sound out someone's character and find out if marrying them is for the right or wrong reasons."


Sera McDaid (29), otherwise known as blogger The Agoraphobic Fashionista, lives in Ballymoney with her husband Lee (37) and their son Riley (4). She says:

"Lee and I met over MySpace. I had just moved home from England and was living on my parents’ sofa. I had been away for so long I had no social life in Newry, where I'm from.

It was actually my mum who suggested I started looking at MySpace to make some connections and that's were I saw this eejit in a hat.

We started chatting and, a couple of months later, we exchanged phone numbers. We talked about meeting a few times, but initially I wasn't ready.

I started getting fed up with living at home, though, and one day I said that we should meet and I would go up to Ballymoney to see him.

I did check up on him before I went. I Googled him and even looked him up at his address on the electoral register. He had also sent me videos of his band playing, so I was fairly certain that he was who he said he was.

I was shaking with nerves the whole way on the train to Ballymoney. I think when I got that nervous I realised just how invested I was in meeting him.

I got off the train, walked up the street and saw this baldy guy standing at the top of the street and all of a sudden my nerves were gone. It was like being covered in a big, comforting duvet and from that moment, as we walked up the road, we were both stupidly smiling.

That was it, really. We were inseperable from then on — I stayed over that same night and then went home, because my parents were heading off on holidays and I had to look after the dogs, Fudge and Kurt.

It felt wrong being away from him — I'm not an obsessive person at all, but things were different with Lee. If I didn't have to go home, I probably would have just stayed there

I went back the following weekend and we were messing around when, all of a sudden, I asked Lee to marry me. I didn't expect myself to say it and I didn't expect Lee to say Yes, it just came out of my mouth. There was no logic to it, we had just fallen in love.

Lee's mum took it a lot better than my parents, which was quite funny because my parents were married very quickly when my mum had just turned 18.

My parents got used to the idea, though, and Lee's mum actually gave me her old engagement ring the first time I met her.

I moved in with Lee just a few weeks later — I wasn't enjoying living in Newry and had had enough of the city life anyway. It was just me and a suitcase on the train.

I was only 21 when I met Lee and I was 22 when we got married. We didn't see a wedding as a big affair, it was just one more level of our relationship that we wanted to cement.

The date was changed a couple of times, but eventually settled on the April of the next year, a year to the day after we met. We had discussed just going and doing it in somewhere like Gretna Green, but family started to object.

Eventually, we got married in a registry office and had a party for 50 people in the upstairs room of a local pub. The whole thing cost us about £1,000 — Lee got his suit in DV8 and I got my dress on eBay. I bought all the decorations online and we dressed the place up ourselves.

I wouldn't change anything about what we did. It would be nice to have nice pictures of him in a suit and me in a nice ivory dress, but it was such a special day. We might do some kind of ceremony — a bit like a renewal of vows — when we have our 10-year anniversary.

When you're fully in love, you're fully in love. If you had told me about Cheryl Cole eight years ago, I would have said she was stupid and that they would be divorced in no time.

Now, though, I'm a lot less judgmental, because I feel that once you have a connection with someone, you'll do everything to protect that.

I would now never say to anyone ‘Don't do it, or you'll regret it’ — you don't know what life is going to bring to regret it.”


Lee McDaid acts as carer for his wife, who suffers from depression and agoraphobia. He says:

"I was 29 when Sera proposed to me and, under any other circumstance, I would have run a mile. It didn't occur to me to say no to her, though.

I had never felt like that about anyone — ever. I was 100% sure and the fact that we hadn't known each other didn't faze me at all.

I was nervous about meeting Sera but not as nervous as I thought I would be. It was strange to meet someone I'd been talking to for so long over the phone and online but that wore off quite quickly. It took from the time for us to meet on the high street and walk to my flat in about 10 minutes to feel comfortable with her.

We'd both been in relationships before, but for me it all completely changed with Sera. The idea of marriage hadn't entered my mind before she suggested it but there was no question that I would say yes.

We've now been together for eight years and married for seven. I know a lot of people see getting engaged as the possibility that they might get married — people I went to school with got engaged at a young age, but 15 years later they're still engaged.

For us, though, we didn't want to wait. We got married a year to the day that we met.

I think we originally planned to get married in September of the next year, but we decided that we just wanted to go ahead and do it.”


Audrey McKay (74) has three grown-up children. She lives in a residential home in Belfast with her husband John (83) She says:

"We will have been married for five years in September. My first husband, Laurence, had passed away — we were 18 when we got engaged and we were married for 48 years.

I then moved in to Towell House in east Belfast and it never occoured to me that I might find a new partner. I was just happy to get on with things and spend time with my grandchildren.

John moved to Towell house about a year after me and there was no big moment where I can remember meeting him. In fact, everyone else caught on before I did that we were well-suited, they were just waiting for the two of us to figure it out.

There were some sly digs from the other residents, like at dinner, when John would get teased about who he was keeping a seat next to him for.

We started to go out for meals and outings — you could say we were courting. We never talked about getting married, though.

One day, John just popped the question, six months after we met. He didn't get down on one knee, however, as he might not have been able to get up again!

We got married a year later in Knock Presbyterian Church and then we had a reception at the Park Avenue Hotel for 50 people — family and friends from the retirement home.

We're still living in the same place and we have a nice self-contained apartment there.

People are surprised when they hear our story, but everyone in here knew it was going to happen. New people who have come in think it was very romantic. We're still the only people from the home to get married."


John McKay is a former motor electrician from Belfast. He says:

“I went to Canada with my first wife about 1962. She passed away and I decided to come home to Northern Ireland around 2007. That's when I came to Towell House and moved into the room opposite Audrey's.

I never planned to meet someone else, or get married, so when I met Audrey it was a bit of a shock. Most people knew that we liked each other before we did.

We were just friends at the start and then things progressed. We've been married now for five years and we're still very happy together.

It is unusual to get married at this age, but when you live by yourself you realise how lonely you can get.

It is nice to have someone to talk to, to confide in and to be with in the long, dark nights."

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