There’s nothing like a freshly broken heart to make a girl feel gun-shy about falling in love. Especially when that heart has been broken with the whole country watching on and weighing in with their opinions.
Yet falling in love is exactly what has happened for The Bachelor New Zealand’s Fleur Verhoeven. Unexpectedly, while reigniting her photography career, an old friendship turned into something much more.
The blonde bombshell’s new man is top Kiwi photographer Richard Wood, who also hails from Hawke’s Bay. Fleur was in Wellington in June to model for his concept shoot “Phoenix Rising”, which depicts her as a triumphant heroine thriving in the aftermath of her failed TV romance with Jordan Mauger.
“After everything that had happened, it was a way for me to show New Zealand that I was going to rise above it,” explains the Dutchwoman.
“I was a strong person who was moving on and while I had no regrets, I was closing that chapter of my life.”
Little did Fleur, 27, realise that the shoot would open up a whole new chapter for her, with sparks flying across the lens while she was posing as the mythical phoenix.
Not long afterwards, the pair attended the NZ Institute of Photography Awards, where Richard, 37, was nominated for Photographer of the Year – a title he has won twice – and Fleur gave his hand a good-luck squeeze beneath the table. The pair have been inseparable ever since - and now, they're even going into business together.
“We drove the four hours back from Wellington and talked the whole way,” smiles Fleur, speaking to Woman’s Day at our romantic shoot at Havelock North’s luxurious Black Barn Vineyards.
“It just feels so right with Richard – it’s not forced. With Jordan, for the five weeks after the final when we were hiding our relationship, it just didn’t feel right. There was always that feeling he was having doubts. With Richard, the feelings are genuine on both sides.”
So genuine, in fact, that the couple have already met each other’s families and even moved in together, after Richard inadvertently told Fleur he loved her. She recalls, “We were standing in a friend’s kitchen and I did something silly, and Richard goes, ‘That’s why I love ya.’
I said, ‘Did you just drop the L bomb?’ Then I admitted I’d been waiting for the right moment to tell him I loved him too.”
For Richard, it was a relief to share feelings that had been growing more difficult to conceal since the awards night. He confesses, “I felt pretty strongly in Wellington and was trying to deal with that. But it just got too hard.”
Richard admits it was often difficult to see Fleur on The Bachelor. “I watched the show occasionally because she was a friend and I briefly thought, ‘Well, there goes a possible future with her.’ But mostly, I was concerned she would be hurt because she’s a softie.”
However, Jordan’s loss was Richard’s gain and although it’s challenging having his love life in the national spotlight, the photographer says he has thick skin, adding, “I get more upset on Fleur’s behalf when she’s criticised.” Fortunately, their romance has been met with overwhelming support since it was revealed in Woman’s Day earlier this year.
Fleur grins, “Everyone has been so happy for us. The show was so critiqued this season and the outcome so negative that to end up in this position is such a great way to finish it all.”
And with The Bachelor in her wake, Fleur is moving forward with re-establishing herself as a family portrait photographer and building her business as a motivational speaker for young people.
“Being confident is what I value most in my life,” she tells. “I know the struggles of being a teenager and I’ve had a lot of messages lately from girls saying they look up to me, so I feel I have an opportunity to use my public profile to do something good.”
Fleur plans to add a degree in social work to her existing background as a youth worker and volunteer. And as she leans into Richard’s shoulder with a comfortable familiarity, the smile on her face speaks volumes about her feelings towards their romantic future.
“The Bachelor was such a small part of my life and it doesn’t define me,” says Fleur. “I’m also a photographer, an advocate for youth and a woman in a strong relationship.
“I don’t like to be seen as ‘poor Fleur who got dumped’. I’m Fleur who is following her dreams and doing what she loves with someone she loves.”
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