Well known local couples share the secrets behind their lasting love
Fireworks explode, sparks fly, stars align, cupids sing and universes collide when you finally realise you’ve found your soulmate, as these well known local couples know only too well. They tell Leona O’Neill about the secrets of lasting love
Deborah Armstrong (43) is married to Northern Ireland World Cup legend and Sky TV Spanish football commentator Gerry Armstrong (64). The couple live in Majorca with daughters Caitlin (18) and Marianna (12).
Deborah and Gerry's love was a slow burner, but she knew he was the one shortly after a romantic gesture following a disastrous first date. "We have been together for 16 years," she says. "We had met each other so many times, we always said it was like that movie Sliding Doors.
"He was a guest at my first ever fashion show. I hadn't a clue who he was and he didn't know who I was. We met quite a few times when I was an air hostess and I used to fly him back and forth to Eurosport.
"Another night I was at another fashion show and he was doing a Northern Ireland game and we met in the Apartment Bar in Belfast. We got on really well and just chatted. He lived in London and I lived in Belfast. Then we met again at a golf tournament. The next day my friend Alison Campbell called and said he wanted my phone number and asked me if she could give it to him. I said sure. He called me and wanted to see me and that was that - the rest was history.
"I would say that it wasn't really love at first sight. It was like we really hit it off. Gerry says he knew after the first date that he and I were going to end up together. He proposed after a week of dating. He wrote me a lovely poem. It was so romantic. I had never had that done before. Then he proposed to me. I remember thinking, 'He wants to marry me and he doesn't know me'. He said that we would be married the next year. I remember thinking he was nuts, but he was right - we were married the next year.
"I think that when I got to know him, that's when the love hit. I would say that I love him more now than when I did at the very beginning. I grew to love him. I love his personality - he has a kind heart. I think that when you have kissed a couple of frogs, you know whenever someone is 'the one'.
"I knew that he was the one after our first date. I was really sick and I took a tummy bug. It was a nightmare. I stayed with my sister that night and I can remember thinking that he would never want to go out with me again.
"I thought I would never hear from him again, but he got my sister's number and her address and sent me a big bunch of flowers.
"I said to him the next day that I hope he didn't mind, that I thought the flowers were absolutely beautiful, but I put them on my mum's grave. Then he sent me another bunch and said, 'These ones are for you'. I had never been treated that way before.
"I just thought that he was so special. I got a really good feeling about him. I found a good one. We are like two old romantics."
The couple agreed to keep their engagement low-key and, with no fuss, jet off to get married in Thailand. But the no-fuss plan was swept to the side when Gerry, then assistant manager of Northern Ireland, decided to pop the question in front of thousands of fans at Windsor Park.
Today, Debroah and Gerry have been married for 15 years. Deborah says Gerry is as romantic as ever and has plans to take her back to Thailand to renew their wedding vows. She says that the secret to a happy marriage is to always be considerate of what the other person wants or feels.
"I always say that he is my best friend and I know I am his," she says. "If I had any advice to couples, I would say to always put each other first and also to trust, look out for one another and respect each other. Those are the secrets to a happy marriage."
David Blevins, is senior Ireland correspondent with Sky News. He and his wife, Ruth (45), have been together for three decades and have three children, Sarah (21), James (19)and 14-year-old Josh
It was definitely love at first sight for him, says David, but not so much for his other half - and he remembers their very first date. "Ruth and I have been together for 30 years," David says. "And we have been married for 25 of those. We met through our mothers, who nursed together in Craigavon Hospital.
"Ruth came to our door to deliver something for her mum. In my case, it was literally love at first sight. I couldn't take my eyes off her. It took me about a week though to pluck up the courage to ask her on a date. She agreed we could meet up as friends. A month later, I asked if it could be more serious. That's when she replied, 'I suppose so - you'll grow on me'.
"I knew she was the one the first time I saw her because I simply couldn't take my eyes off her and I still can't. She will murder me for saying that.
"Our first day was so romantic. We went for a walk in the rain. That was 30 years ago and I can still tell you what she was wearing - a red jumper and jeans.
"Ruth's maiden name was Bond and I remember my twin brother saying, 'I hope she isn't looking for a 007. She'll be bitterly disappointed with you'.
"I took her to Scotland to propose so she couldn't say no and go home. We got married in Portadown in 1994 and celebrated at that landmark hotel where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea."
David says his favourite thing about his wife is her good heart.
"Ruth is the kindest person I have ever met," he says. "When we go for dinner in Belfast, we are always late because Ruth stops to check on the rough sleepers, especially women or those with pets. She can't pass without checking if they need a cup of tea or something to eat."
And he has these words of wisdom about the secrets to a happy marriage.
"I'm tempted to say patience because Ruth has bucketloads of it," he says.
"For the 23 years I have worked at Sky, she has never once complained when the phone rang and I was gone in an instant to cover breaking news.
"I often tell people that when I dropped the ball at home, she caught it. I would be totally lost without her."
Rita Fitzgerald (48), a UTV Life reporter, lives in east Belfast with her architect husband John (53) and their daughter, Eleanor 'Ellie' (8)
Rita says that she and John heard each other's names several times 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," she recalls.
"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.
"I think I knew he was the one when we first met. I don't know if I believe in love at first sight - I think anyone who is wise doesn't fall in love at first sight. I think it's prudent not to.
"But there was definitely a bit of a spark of interest on the first day we bumped into each other."
Rita says that she knew her husband was the one when "everything fell into place".
"I had lived away for so long and I hadn't really had a relationship with someone from home in many years. It was just so refreshing. I never thought I was going to live back in Ireland. I was teaching in France and I came back and studied TV journalism. I got a job, then I met John," she explains.
"The whole thing just came together so nicely. He was just somebody that understood me so well. And I understood him so well. He is one of the nicest men I've ever met. He has a certain way about him - a lovely way. He is a lovely listener and makes people feel special about themselves. He still does that for me all these years later and now he does it for his daughter, which is the most amazing thing. John has turned out to be the most incredible dad in ways that I could never have imagined."
The couple got engaged with the most dramatic of backdrops.
"John had built a cottage in Donegal, in Rathmullan," she says. "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 about it. He says he wasn't proposing at all, that it was the wind that blew him over. It was magical.
"We've been together 12 years and got married in Galgorm 10 years ago this July. My mum made the cake and John's first cousin is Tim from Ash, so he sang our first song, Shining Light, which was beautiful.
"A happy marriage for us is finding the space to still be ourselves within our marriage. I had a whole life before I met John and so did he. And we haven't lost ourselves in our marriage. It's about having the space to do and be what you always were and also loving the space that you create together. And for us that is spending time with our beautiful daughter Ellie."
Radio Ulster presenter Sean Coyle has been married to his wife, Patricia, for 45 years. Together they have three daughters, Una, Clare and Fiona
I knew Patricia, we were friends,” Sean says. “I used to talk to her in the street and maybe see her at the dances. I remember one day talking to her, saying goodbye, walking away and thinking to myself, ‘I am going to marry that girl’. I had never even dated her at that stage. The first time I asked her for a date we were at a dance. I went over to her and asked her if she wanted to babysit me, no strings attached. She still laughs at that. And she did come babysitting with me and we’ve been together since.
“It was love at first sight for me. I just knew she was the one. But it wasn’t love at first sight from her point of view. I did an awful lot of chasing and she did an awful lot of running away. I couldn’t convince her it was a good move for her, but eventually she ran out of puff and agreed to go out with me.
“We got married in St Eugene’s Cathedral. Patricia lived literally across the street from the chapel, feet away from the door, and she still got a wedding car to drive her up.
“The wedding was a very small one. We started counting up the people who would be going and realised we couldn’t afford a big wedding, so we had just our immediate family there.
“It was the most nervous I have ever been. I hated every minute of it. I couldn’t handle all that pressure or enjoy it at all. I couldn’t wait to get on the plane and jet off to the exotic climate and sunshine of Douglas on the Isle of Man.
“I think the secret to a happy marriage is to always apologise, even when you are in the right and they are wrong.”
Sean Coyle, Radio Ulster, Monday-Friday, 10.30am-noon
Ulster Rugby full-back Louis Ludik (32) and his wife, Chame (31), have been together since they were teenagers in Johannesburg. The couple, who have a three-year-old son, Leo, have lived in Belfast for the past five years
Louis says he knew from early on in their relationship that his wife was ‘the one’. “We have been together for 18 years,” he says. “We were high-school sweethearts in Johannesburg. I was 15 years old and she was 14. It was love at first sight, on my side anyway.
“One Valentine’s Day she came over to me and gave me chocolates. I thought they were from her, but she told me they were from her friend. I told her I was disappointed and that I wished she had given them to me. We started dating not long after that.
“For our first date we went to the movies and to McDonald’s. It was funny. It was a double date with a friend of mine and a friend of hers, to take away the awkwardness.
“Pretty much from when we began dating we have been inseparable. We spent every moment together and went to university together. Getting married was just the next natural step for us because we were extremely happy together, so it was an easy decision to make.”
Louis says he had to trick his wife in order to secure a successful proposal.
“I was around 20 years old when I proposed to her,” he says. “I actually got her involved in the planning for her own proposal without her knowing. She is a very suspicious person, so it was difficult to manage.
“We told her that her brother was going to ask one of her good friends out and we had the house done with nice candles and things.
“She arrived at the house and we were walking to the candlelit area — I had already put the ring on her dog’s collar — and then I got down on one knee and asked her.
“Initially she told me to get up because she still thought it was her brother asking her friend out. I had to say, ‘Listen to me, I’m asking you to marry me’. She was very shocked and surprised. We got married in the north of Johannesburg on December 5, 2009.”
Louis says that there are so many great things about his wife that it is hard to pick out just one.
“There are so many amazing things about Chame,” he says. “She is obviously very attractive. She is absolutely beautiful and she is also very funny.
“But one of the best things that keeps constantly amazing me is her intelligence. Her brain is something else. It is one of things that still catches me off guard.”
And he has these words of wisdom for a long and happy marriage.
“I think open and honest communication is the secret to a happy marriage,” he says.
“I think putting your partner first and making sure they are happy is also hugely important. It is for us anyway.”