Real Life

NZ’s first radio wedding couple celebrate 25 years of wedded bliss

It’s been a quarter of a century since they were married at first sight!
Sacha Kahaki

It’s hard to believe that it’s already 25 years since the country fell in love with, well, two people falling in love.

Zane Nicholl and Paula Stockwell were matched by their mates during a groundbreaking radio promotion for The Edge called Two Strangers And A Wedding. Back in 1999, there was no Love Island, no Married At First Sight and no Tinder – it was the first time there’d been an opportunity of this type in Aotearoa.

Remarkably, for this pair, who first laid eyes on each other at the altar, the mutual attraction was instant and their love grew quickly. And now, as parents to three young adults, they’re sharing their own relationship advice with their children, Max, 22, Jack, 19, and Olive, 14.

“It’s pretty simple – be honest, speak your truth and always be mindful of the other person,” tells Zane, 56, settling in for an exclusive interview with Woman’s Day at the couple’s Hamilton home.

“We recently had some feedback that our kids are great to have around – grateful for what they have and helpful towards anyone who is having any sort of issue. I think that’s the best compliment any parent can receive. It makes my heart sing!”

“We’re very lucky that our kids are nice, kind and soft-hearted,” chips in Paula, 52.

Quite possibly, they’ve had two of the country’s most wonderful role models.

With their kids (from left) Max, Olive and Jack.

Spending time with the Nicholls, it’s clear that theirs is a deep, true love. There’s a shared sense of humour – such as when Zane wonders aloud if it’s using Paula’s Thin Lizzy that keeps him looking youthful – and plenty of gentle Kiwi ribbing.

But there’s also a profound respect for one another, evident whenever they speak about their relationship, which began in a blaze of publicity – something unfamiliar to them both.

“We watched out for each other from the word go,” recalls Zane. “We were in it together and I was really attracted to the way Paula was handling herself in those situations.”

Fast-forward to 2024 and they still have people approach them on the street or at cafés to ask how life is going. The answer? It’s changing – fast!

Zane says empty-nest syndrome is becoming a reality for the couple as Max gains his independence, Jack contemplates his, and little Olive becomes increasingly caught up in clothes, makeup and boys!

Max, who has autism, attended a special-needs school up until he was 21.

“He was experiencing that people in his class were moving out of home and going flatting, so it became a massive goal of his to do the same,” says Zane with obvious pride. “We began working with disability-support organisation Aspire to find a place that catered for people with special needs.”

The story of their love.

It had to be somewhere Max would flourish alongside others with similar traits, continues Zane. “Max, for example, doesn’t like noise, so we had to find a place that was pretty quiet. He moved into

a flat at the beginning of 2023 and he loves it – he’s living the dream! And while we’re both so excited for him, it’s crazy not to see him every day.”

Jack has recently finished school and is considering his next move, while Olive is “just delightful”, says Zane. “All our kids are fantastic, but the father-daughter relationship is one I really treasure.”

Paula, who works with special-needs students at a local school, says forming strong individual bonds with the children has been a priority for the couple.

“We have date nights with each kid separately, taking them out to do something they like. They’re all really cool, open kids, but you have different conversations when you get them on your own. I enjoy it as much as they do!”

Zane, who is a track manager at the Hampton Downs Motorsport Park, says their dates don’t need to be elaborate.

“Often, I’ll just take one of the boys out for a coffee and we’ll talk. We might reflect on what the week’s been like or how they’re feeling. It’s really important for guys to talk about how they feel. It’s good to be able to be a mate to them, help them out if they are having some issues and try to share some of my own life experiences to help them through.”

In fact, Paula says it was Zane’s open nature and caring heart that drew her to him in the first place.

“He’s a talker!” she laughs. “Him being so in touch with his emotions has helped us get through hard times. We don’t normally fight, but if we do, we’ve been able to talk it out.”

“Well,” quips Zane, “there’s a bit of a quiet period first!”

With the kids so independent, the couple are already planning their next move – “a trip to Europe”!

Both committed Married At First Sight viewers – “Paula has it in the diary and I end up watching by default,” confides Zane – they believe today’s dating shows are more about the entertainment value than creating a long-lasting love.

“We all like watching the spicy relationships when there’s conflict,” confides Zane, “and while I’m sure the experts are doing their job to the best of their abilities, it’s the clashes that sell the show.”

In terms of their own disputes, Zane says he’s learnt to listen rather than talk.

“We’re pretty level-headed and know the direction we want to head as a couple. But you do have those conversations that you get emotional about, where you might struggle to get your point across. I know sometimes, when I get a bit heated, I’m worried more about making my points than stepping back and thinking, ‘Hang on, what is she actually trying to say?'”

“Also, I’m always right,” laughs Paula.

Paula’s still the girl of Zane’s dreams. “She’s a delight!” he declares.

With the chicks flying the nest and more time on their hands, Paula and Zane say they’d love to travel. “It’s a bit greedy, but we’re quite looking forward to having time to be available to do anything we want without having to worry about anyone else,” Paula tells.

“Freeing up more money would be lovely,” adds Zane. “Maybe a townhouse with no lawn to mow and a trip to Europe.”

Both agree that during their quarter-century together, their love has thrived. In fact, they’re just as excited to greet each other in the morning as they were when they first moved in together.

“She’s a delight,” smiles Zane. “Let’s just say that I open my eyes, see Paula and I roll over quickly!”

Chuckling, Paula adds, “He really is my perfect match. We’re probably more in love now than we were all those years ago. We’ve got the loving family and the loving marriage.”

Nodding, Zane concludes, “Lots of people don’t have what we have.”

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