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Kiwi singer Jamie McDell marries her biggest fan

The local music darling wouldn’t let a cyclone or a pandemic ruin her special day
Nicky Birch

It was a scene Kiwi singing sensation Jamie McDell describes as something out of Baywatch – a teenage beach babe smitten by a hunky, shirtless lifeguard at Pauanui Beach every summer.

“I was 15 and we had one of those magical, passionate, love-at-first-sight summers – sunset walks and awkward kisses,” she giggles to Woman’s Day after returning from her Kawau Island honeymoon with her teen crush-turned-husband Jake Smith.

The same Coromandel beach set the scene for the couple’s adulthood reunion and later their engagement, but when it came to tying the knot, they chose a different waterside spot, near Jamie’s parents’ place in Mangawhai – and neither pandemic-fuelled postponements nor a cyclone could dampen their special day!

Construction worker Jake, 30, who has taken his wife’s surname, even duetted with his bride at the reception as a nod to their first meeting, when Jamie was on the cusp of an incredible music career, which saw her signed to a record label at 16, before the release of her hit single You’ll Never Take That Away and the best-selling album Six Strings And A Sailboat.

“My first impressions involved him running out of the ocean rescuing people,” recalls Jamie. “But I also recall him sitting in this old rec hall, playing guitar and writing songs, so there was this connection through music. Of course, I then took the guitar off him and played an original, which he was stoked about.”

Reconnecting during following summers, she says they tried “the boyfriend-girlfriend thing” but felt too young to commit, so they parted ways. “I always knew he was The One, but in my early twenties, especially with the success I was having, I was happy to be independent.

I came around to the idea of companionship later. I went to his house and said, ‘Hi! I’m ready now. You’re the person.'”

Unfortunately, Jake was in a relationship, so it was some time before the two reconciled at a surf-lifesaving event in Pauanui, which is also where Jake finally got down on one knee in 2019 after a day of fishing and surfing. “I’d been thinking I’d propose, but he beat me!” laughs Jamie.

While planning a March 2021 wedding, the pair relocated to Canada, so Jamie could be closer to the music hub of Nashville, where she completed her new album, Jamie McDell, before the pandemic hit.

During lockdown, with her album and a planned tour delayed, Jamie began doubting her career choice. “So I took a mental break,” she tells. “I was working on a farm, reading and all the things you see in The Notebook. Financially, things got difficult, so I also did some nannying. There were times I questioned whether I should keep doing music, but every time, Jake was like, ‘Don’t give up!’ He’s my biggest fan.”

After postponing their nuptials, their duo returned to Aotearoa late last year, moving to Papamoa before tying the knot in Northland in mid-February.

Sadly, Cyclone Dovi spoilt plans for a picturesque marquee set among her parents’ olive orchard, but a nearby boatshed decorated with flowers, candles and olive branches proved the perfect setting for the intimate ceremony.

Wearing a silk, satin and tulle gown that her mum Isabelle had made, Jamie walked down the aisle as her sister Tess sang John Denver’s Annie’s Song. The bride tells, “There was so much emotion with the postponement, cyclone and COVID safety restrictions, so when I got to the front and held Jake’s hands, I let out a big breath and felt like, ‘We made it!'”

The couple exchanged gold bands and recited their own vows, with Jamie hilariously recognising her “hangry” issues, promising to “make myself regular snacks and make sure I’m properly fed before communicating with you”.

A sweet moment for Jamie and her dad Terry.

As guests enjoyed canapés, her dad Terry’s signature margaritas and a pear-and-salted-caramel cake made by Jake’s cousin Alicia McKenzie, the bride performed with her band. Terry joined in as she sang All The While, the first song she wrote about Jake, while her new husband helped perform the Eagles’ Peaceful Easy Feeling.

The newlyweds then headed to Kawau Island to fish, bushwalk and finish the leftover wedding bubbly, before heading home to the Bay of Plenty for the long-awaited release of her self-titled fourth album, featuring the single Poor Boy.

Largely inspired by Jamie’s family, the Americana-style record also includes the sweet track Baggage Claim, a song about leaving Jake behind while she tours. Although she insists, “I actually find it hard to write about him because he’s perfect! My best songs come from angst and he doesn’t create that for me – he’s more my sanctuary.”

With their wedding wrapped and Jamie’s album out, the couple are now renovating their home and hope to start a family “when it feels right”.

Jamie grins, “We couldn’t be more grateful for where we’re at.”

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