How we met: ‘I was rude about his hot cross buns’

As a longtime fan of the Archers, Mary joined a Facebook appreciation group for the radio programme in 2019. “I’d started listening to it when my children were young and got hooked,” she says. “I thought it would be a good place to chat with like-minded people about the show.” At the time, she was living in Worcester and working as a floodwater resilience expert.

During the Easter holidays, she spotted a picture of some hot cross buns that another member, Nigel, had posted on the group. “I was rude and told him they looked as if they belonged in a rockery. We started having a bit of banter,” she says. Some of the other fans didn’t like the distraction, so the pair joined a splinter group of 100 people, where they could talk about anything they liked. Nigel, a widower, told the group he was living in Winchester and working in graphic design.

“Mary sent me a message because she was looking for a graphic designer to work on a project with her,” he says. They agreed to get together for coffee to discuss it. “We met at a Costa at the edge of the M3 and ended up talking for hours,” says Mary. Nigel was in awe of her. “She was so eloquent and knew her subject really well. I found her so interesting.” Mary also enjoyed the fact they could laugh together. “We were pulling each other’s legs. He turned up in this revolting Hawaiian shirt and we had a joke about that,” she says.

After he completed her graphic design project, she asked if he’d consider doing the photography and design for a book she was working on. “We spent the next few months touring around the UK, doing interviews with people whose properties had been flooded,” she says. “The book was designed to help people better protect their properties for the future.”

As they got to know each other, their friendship grew and, by the end of the year, it became clear that romance was blossoming. “We started getting closer and there was a glint in our eyes. Soon we were holding hands and going for walks together. We suddenly realised it was love,” says Mary.

When the pandemic hit in March, Mary went to stay with Nigel. “It was the time of my life,” says Nigel. “We went for long walks and did nothing but laugh.”

In early 2021, they bought a house in Ledbury, not far from where Mary’s five children live. “Nigel has two children as well, but we decided to move near my family as one of my children is severely disabled and I have young grandchildren,” she says.

In the summer of that year, they faced their first major challenge together when Nigel’s youngest son, Mike, 26, suffered a stroke. On the same day, Mary’s newborn grandson, Ethan, was scheduled for lifesaving heart surgery. “It was such a stressful time and initially we had to be in different places,” says Mary.

Several days later, Mike was diagnosed with a genetic heart condition and received a heart transplant. “We realised his mother must have had the same condition and that’s why she died so young,” says Nigel. “Thankfully, I had Mary by my side and we supported each other through.” Nigel asked Mike if he should marry Mary. “I asked him to be best man at the wedding so he would have something to look forward to and work towards.” He proposed in September 2021 and, by November, both Mike and baby Ethan were well enough to attend a small, socially distanced wedding. The couple married in a manor house and invited their friends from the Archers Facebook group to watch online. “We even danced out to the Archers’ theme song and Mike did an amazing speech,” says Mary.

As well as helping each other through family trauma, Mary says Nigel supports her in looking after her youngest son. “When you have a child who is profoundly disabled, it can be very emotional. You can get calls at any time to say your child is being blue-lighted to a hospital or having a behavioural crisis,” she says. “It can break a person, but he’s always there to put his arms around me and pour me a glass of red wine.”

Like Mary, Nigel appreciates the relationship they’ve developed. “She is so good at her job and very confident. She has a soft side as well, which I saw very early on. We are just constantly happy with each other.”