Real Life

Love in a wheel chair

When quadriplegic Phillip Booth hears his opera singer wife Julia serenade him, something magical happens. Although the 34-year-old is paralysed and has no feeling in most of his body, listening to the voice of his gorgeous wife gives Phillip chills down his spine.

“When I hear Julia sing the high notes, I get that tingly feeling,” the Hamilton man says as he gazes lovingly at his wife.

The sweethearts, who married earlier this year, have a love story that rivals many of the romantic operas Julia (24) has starred in.

In 1996, sports-mad Phillip was paralysed from the shoulders down when he broke his neck in a freak accident during a rugby game for his club in Hamilton. As Phillip lay in bed and endured many months of rehabilitation, he often thought about whether or not he would ever find true love. So when Julia came into his life, five years after the tragic event, he describes it today as the moment his “dream met with reality.”

Julia, a Canadian with Kiwi parents, was on a three-month holiday in New Zealand when she and Phillip met. The soprano says it was an instant attraction and she wasn’t fazed by the fact Phillip was in a wheelchair or that he was a typical Kiwi bloke with no idea about opera.

“The chemistry together was so strong. I felt completely at ease with him,” Julia says. “I had not felt like that with anybody else before.”

Unfortunately the romance had to overcome its first hurdle when Julia had to return to Canada just a few weeks after meeting her soulmate. “I didn’t want to leave. When I got back, I drove my friends mad talking about this guy they had never met,” she laughs.

But when Julia mentioned the fact that Phillip was in a wheelchair, she got quite a few raised eyebrows. “I was like, ‘oum I’ve fallen in love with this guy, oh, and he’s a quadriplegic’,” she laughs.

“People were surprised, but I think that’s a typical response. I didn’t see Phil’s disability as a barrier. I saw past that to the great person that Phil is.”

For two years the couple kept up a long-distance relationship, and Phillip even encouraged Julia to see other people, although that was something she couldn’t bring herself to do. “I was so much in love and so committed to him. I wanted to make this relationship work,” she says.

The connection between them was so strong, that Julia took the plunge, gave up her life in Canada and moved to New Zealand to be with Phillip. “oy family was telling me that I needed to move closer to Phil and sort it out and decide if we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives.”

As soon as Julia arrived in New Zealand and saw Phillip again, she knew it was the right thing to do. Phillip proposed and they got married in March this year, exchanging vows in a beautiful ceremony in Hamilton in front of 160 family and friends.

Since meeting Julia, Phillip has become a bit of an opera buff, while Julia in turn has picked up her husband’s love of extreme sports. Phillip has long had a passion for thrills and spills. Just three months before his accident, he had returned from his big oE with memorable tales of his trip, including being thrown metres by a bull at the famous Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain.

Julia, who once used to prefer more subdued activities, has participated in many thrill-seeking adventures since meeting Phillip.”He’s taken me parachuting and on lots of other exciting challenges and I’ve loved every moment of it,” says Julia. “He’s taken me out of my comfort zone and that has been extremely liberating.”

The couple plan to have children in the future but, for the moment, Julia is concentrating on her career as an opera teacher and performer. This month, she will be touring Auckland and Wellington with New Zealand opera’s production of Jenufa.

Just as Phillip finds his wife’s singing spine-tinglingly amazing, Julia says that knowing her husband is in the audience listening to her sing is a huge inspiration. “I appreciate it when Phil comes to support me,” she says. “He gives me honest feedback, not in a connoisseur musical fashion, just real raw opinion. I love that.”

The newlyweds are looking forward to spending their future together in the spacious home they have built in Hamilton. As Julia jumps on her husband’s wheelchair to sit on his lap, she explains the reason their love is so lasting and true. “Phil reminds me it’s important to be yourself and to value the simple things in life,” she says. “I’m proud of him for the things he has achieved and for the husband he is.”

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