A Cumbria couple have married in an intimate ceremony, after over two decades apart spent longing for one another.
Helen Marshall, 41, and Graeme Richardson, 42, grew up in the same town and began dating in school before they fell head over heels at the age of just 15.
Helen had asked Graeme out when her friend dared her to as she had been admiring him for some time, promising her a chocolate bar if she went through with it.
The pair dated for an initial nine months before Graeme decided he would propose to Helen, saving up his £3 an hour from his weekend shifts to buy her a diamond ring from Goldsmiths.
‘I’d never forget her’
While his friends “thought [he] was crackers,” he decided he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Helen.
Graeme 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. 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."
However, they were separated a year later when, aged 16, Graeme went off to college in Penicuik, 50 miles away.
Despite his desperate attempts to keep in touch with Helen, calling her parents house when he had the chance, he could never reach her.
At the same time, Helen had been sending love letters to him but he never received them.
The couple admit their families did not approve of their young love and 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.
‘When we first kissed again I just wanted to rush back into it’
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.
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.
But Helen had tucked the ring away in a drawer to keep it safe, unwilling to part with her fond memories of Graeme and their teenage romance.
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."
Between 2015 and 2016, they both separated from their partners and Helen finally had the courage to reach out to Graeme on Facebook, hoping for an initial friendship.
She discovered he had pined for her for years after their forced split - despite seeing each other at their kids’ sports days and he would even slow down his car to watch her hair bounce when he passed her in the town they both continued to live in.
After meeting up for a few walks, they finally kissed during a romantic stroll in the same Lake District setting they had spent time together as teenagers.
Slowly, they rekindled their romance with neither able to pin-point when they became an official couple again.
Graeme said: "I was so excited when Helen messaged me. When we first kissed again I just wanted to rush back into 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."
‘It was so emotional’
Graeme proposed to her second time round 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 told my two older girls the day before, and he told his two children, but otherwise only my parents knew.”
"We just feel so content now. We live in the family farm he lived in when we were growing up.
Graeme added: "Helen’s the other half of me. She’s the opposite to me; the extrovert 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.”
"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,” he said.