Childhood sweethearts have married in a real-life Notebook story after 22 years apart – when he proposed with the engagement ring he gave her when they were 15.
Helen Marshall, 41, and Graeme Richardson, 42, met in school and admired each other from across the corridors before they fell head over heels in young love as teens.
After nine months of romantic walks, school discos and sneaking for a snog round the back of the bike sheds, young Graeme got down on one knee and proposed.
Parents worried they were too young, and a year older, Graham went off to college, and after a family bust up, the pair drifted apart.
Just like the movie with Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, their letters proclaiming their lost love never reached each other, and they got on with their lives separately.
Both went on to have long term relationships and kids, and were even reunited from afar – catching glimpses of each other – when their children attended the same school.
When both split up with their respective partners Helen reached out to her first boyfriend – and they fell in love all over again, 20 years later.
She discovered he had pined for her for years after their forced split – and got down on one knee again, proposing with the same ring he did more than two decades earlier.
The smitten pair eloped and tied the knot on Saturday April 17.
Helen from Wasdale, Cumbria, said: “We just feel so content now.
“We live in the family farm he lived in when we were growing up.
“We’re the other half of each other.
“I just feel like I’m home.
“Like I’m whole.
“He’s my soul mate, and I’m his.
“It’s a true happy love story.”
Graeme said: “Helen’s the other half of me.
“She’s the opposite to me; the extravert to my introvert.
“It just feels like the right ending.
“I only ever thought I’d marry Helen
“I never thought I’d wear a ring but as soon as it went on I knew i would never take it off.
“It wasn’t just puppy love like everyone said it was.
“Now that we’re married all the difficulty and sorrow has disappeared.
“My friends have never known me as the happy and content man I am now.
“They are all amazed.”
Graeme was popular with the girls, and the boys all liked Helen, but neither plucked up the courage to ask each other for a date.
One lucky day a friend of Helen’s promised her a chocolate bar if she dared to ask Graeme out.
Romance blossomed from day one, and grew into true love as they walked in the Lake District and sat by picturesque waters.
They knew they wanted to be married, and Graeme worked hard at weekends for £3 an hour to buy her a diamond engagement ring.
He said: “I’d seen it in the shop window of Goldsmiths in Penrith and I knew I wanted to buy it for Helen.
“I worked really hard to save up for it.
“It was a substantial amount of money, but I can’t remember exactly how much now.
“My friend thought I was crackers.
“He had some choice words when he saw me spending that much on a ring, but it was for Helen.
“I was really blown away when she asked me out.
“There was just something about her, and I knew then that I’d never forget her.”
Aged 16 Graeme went to college, in Penrith, 50 miles away, in 1994.
He tried to keep contact by walking the 30 minute round trip to the phone box, but Helen was often out or doing homework when he called.
Helen wrote him letters but they never arrived, and coupled with family who felt the young lovers were too young to marry, they drifted apart.
Helen kept the ring – wearing it for years before tucking it away in a jewellery box.
She said: “We were together nine months and we knew we wanted to be married.
“He bought me the engagement ring and I kept it all these years.
“I bought him one but it disappeared with my letters.”
Helen, who works as a carer, was married for 16 years, and had four children: Jess 22, Leo 18, Martha 12, and Nancy, eight.
Graeme, a stone mason, had a long-term partner, for 17 years, and two children, aged 19 and 15.
Both chose to raise their families in their childhood hometown, and Graeme said he used to slow down every time he drove past her to watch her hair bouncing.
They even caught agonising glimpses of each other at sports days in the school all their children attended.
Throughout those years they went separately to the bench by the boat house that had been their special place when they were together.
Helen would sob, and Graeme sit in haunted reflection – neither knowing both were mourning their relationship.
But both harboured a secret hope that their soul mate would appear while they were there.
“We lived three miles from each other,” said Helen.
“I went away for a few years, but no more than five.
“We used to see each other at our children’s school.
“We couldn’t talk to each other or make eye contact.
“It was awful, and we were both so sad.
“He said he used to slow down every time he drove past me, and watch my hair bouncing as I walked along.”
Graeme and his partner split up in 2015, and Helen’s marriage in 2016.
Eventually, Helen contacted him on Facebook – hoping for a friendship initially.
They met for walks until one walk was the scene of their second first kiss.
Cautiously walks with kisses became more frequent, and neither can pin point the time when their new relationship formally began, but both say it felt like a perfect fit.
Graeme said: “I was so excited when Helen messaged me.
“When we first kissed again I just wanted to rush back in to it.
“It was like picking up my favourite trowel – and that’s a massive compliment coming from me.
“I just feel so proud to have her.
“Like I’ve really achieved something big.”
Graeme proposed to her, for the second time, by writing the question in the sand of a Croatian beach on holiday in 2018.
“It was such a beautiful moment,” she said.
They eloped – only telling their close family the day before – and got married on April 17.
The only guests at the wedding were Helen’s parents, Marilyn, 68, and Clark, 66, and they celebrated with burgers and champagne.
She said: “I feel like the luckiest woman alive.
“We could hardly speak it was so emotional.
“It was so romantic.
“When I look at the pictures it just fills me with sheer contentment that I have got the man that I’ve loved since I was 15.
“I feel like the luckiest woman alive.
“I really do.
“I told my two older girls the day before, and he told his two children, but otherwise only my parents knew.
“He said he finally feels happy and content in himself.
“All he ever wanted was to be happy with me.
“We’ve had a hard life and we just feel so happy and content.”
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