It took one of New Zealand’s most celebrated poets to convince Kiwi Janet Wilson to marry for the first time at age 63. And despite 35 years of friendship and four years in a long-distance relationship, acclaimed writer Kevin Ireland (78) admits he thought the day might never come.
But this summer, to the sound of the beautiful words he penned for her, she at last became his bride – albeit one who will continue to live on the other side of the world. Janet, who is the Professor of English and Postcolonial Studies at the University of Northampton in the UK, says there were several realisations that led her to finally take the ultimate plunge.
Though the pair first met in 1976 and formed a strong bond, it wasn’t until 30 years later, after Kevin’s wife Caroline passed away, that Janet realised he might become a bigger part of her life. “We started to keep in touch more regularly, but I really didn’t expect to have an ongoing relationship because of the distance,” explains the revered academic who, with her home in Oxford, couldn’t live further away from her new husband.
“Over the last four years, Kevin has convinced me a relationship conducted on both sides of the world can work.” “I managed that simply by flying backwards and forwards enough times,” says Kevin, who is the author of several books of poetry, including his latest, Dreamy Days & Nothing Done.
And for the would-be groom, there was never any doubt his long-haul efforts were worth it. “There’s something about this that feels exactly right and you just know the feeling when you get it. And because we’re not together all the time, we’re always on our best behaviour. There’s no time for arguments – you can’t fit them in.”
But it wasn’t just Kevin’s romantic nature and dedication to the cause that led Janet slowly closer to the altar. “My father died in 2001 and my brother has been unwell recently,” she explains, “and it’s made me think about the mortality of us all. I realised we’re not getting any younger and I wanted to do something more solid while it’s possible.”
So it was that to Kevin’s surprise Janet accepted his long-standing proposal last July and the wedding plans began to take shape. Three weeks ago, with 125 of their friends and family gathered on the lawns of Old Government House in Auckland, Kevin and Janet took their vows under the boughs of the flame tree planted there more than 150 years ago by Governor Grey.
Despite their literary talents, Kevin and Janet opted for the traditional order of service. “Those words have a mystical power no modern versions can really equal,” says Kevin, a father of two. “They give you a shake and a shudder, and are moving in a deeply emotional sense.”
Instead, it was Kevin’s beautiful poem How It All Began, set to music by Janet’s sister and her musician partner that gave the wedding its most personal touch. Looking fondly at his bride, Kevin says, “My favourite moment was seeing Janet arrive, with her cousin driving her in his Mercedes-Benz with a white ribbon on the front. I felt a great sense of relief. I hadn’t expected to have that anxiety.”
Janet, who wore a cream silk ensemble and walked towards Kevin on her brother Andrew Wilson’s arm, says she felt exceedingly happy as she stood next to him with her loved ones around her. Now the couple is preparing to be apart once again, but Janet plans to retire in the next few years, allowing them to spend all their days together, dividing their time between the UK and New Zealand.
“There’s been such a wonderful response to this wedding, so much pleasure and happiness and warmth about it,” says Janet with a smile. “Everyone seems very happy about us being happy, which is one of the great things about weddings. You don’t know that until you do it.”
Kevin adds, “I really believe in marriage and I think Janet is true believer now, too.”
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