Four Kent couples share their true love stories
PUBLISHED: 10:51 11 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:51 11 February 2020
Love doesn't always run smoothly, but here are four Kent couples at different stages of their lives and relationships who believe it really is worth fighting for - and celebrating
In Kent we are privileged to enjoy a rich heritage created from love. Kent has the highest percentage of love-inspired place names in the UK - look out for 'Marriage Wood', 'Love Lane' and 'Valentine Road' - and within the county we can walk in the footsteps of Dickens or marvel at the glory of Leeds Castle where the devoted couple King Edward I and Queen Eleanor of Castile forged their home. But are true love stories as prevalent in Kent today as when Dicken's wrote Oliver Twist or when Dame Vera Lyn first sang about the White Cliffs of Dover?
Emma and Steve Perfect
When we started to talk about love, endless stories emerged but one which caught our attention was the love story of Emma and Steve Perfect. Was their love story as good as their name suggests?
The moment Steve Perfect sat on a park bench waiting to meet his future stepson, was a pivotal moment in his life.
On seeing Steve, five-year-old Finley, dropped the bike he was riding and ran over to him, hugged him tightly and right there and then Steve knew they were going to be a family.
One moment can let love in and for Steve and Emma Perfect that instant solidified their future, a future that had taken over 25 years to become real.
Steve insists he has been in love with Emma since he was five years old, but life dealt their fledgling friendship a curveball. Having been friends all their short lives, in 1992 Emma and Steve found themselves suddenly separated when Steve and his family moved Buffalo, New York and Emma and Steve didn't see each other for the next 25 years.
"I never forgot her. When I thought of England I thought of Emma," Steve tells me as we chat in the couple's house near West Malling, "I wrote Steve a letter when I was in Year 2 but I never sent it; I didn't realise my Mum had his address," Emma adds.
As they grew, they heard about each other's lives through friends of friends and Steve always felt they would find a way to be together. Emma grew up to have a long-term relationship into which Finley was born, unaware of how Steve felt about her.
"When I found out that Emma had had Finley I thought I'd lost her. My heart was in my stomach. I should have spoken up sooner," Steve confesses. The news stopped Steve getting in touch with Emma directly but when, years later, they did connect on social media it was like a lightbulb moment for them both.
Emma was no longer in a relationship and for nine months they talked almost every night on the phone. Just before Steve's 30th birthday Emma flew to New York to meet him again - almost 25 years after they said goodbye to each other as five-year-olds.
From the moment they saw each other at the airport (although Steve arrived characteristically late) the couple knew they were right for each other. However, unless Finley liked Steve, Emma was prepared to call the whole relationship off.
That one moment when Finley opened his arms out to Steve meant Emma could relax into the relationship knowing Finley approved. "I thought 'this is going to be OK'. It sealed it for me, it made me fall in love with Steve even more," smiles Emma.
Emma and Steve married in 2019 and they feel the effort of making a long-distance relationship work gave them a great grounding for the future.
"It's all about communication. We are different people and we accept each other," says Steve.
Being able to talk openly to each other seems key in the success of these love stories. Another example of this is from Thomas (Bill) Miles. At 86 years old he still has the twinkle of a schoolboy about him and is very open about the love of his life - Joan - his wife of 64 years who sadly passed away in May 2018.
"Love is something between two people with confidence in what you decide together being best for your relationship," Bill tells me, "I confided in Joan, she understood how I felt and visa versa. We talked and laughed a lot and accepted the fact we could have disagreements but not expand them into arguments."
Bill and Joan show true love's longevity. Bill insists they were not just married for life but married and in love for life. Describing Joan as 'beautiful but practical', when Bill asked Joan to marry him, she replied by saying 'I'll think about it.'
It took two days for Joan to come back to Bill and say yes. They married in 1955 and Bill and Joan invested in a state-of-the-art caravan, living for three years in the grounds of Ruxley Manor, Sidcup, paying their rent - which consisted of one bottle of gin per month - to the manor house.
Originally from Wales, Bill now lives in Bromley and has enjoyed an eventful life. Bill entered the RAF where he provided security for his commander and chief out in the Middle East and was later chosen to walk in the Queen's coronation parade as one of four servicemen to be given the honour of representing the RAF.
Joan was watching the parade as part of the crowds in London that day and the coincidence struck them as fateful. Bill was also in the Metropolitan Police Force where his duties included protecting the Queen - one of two policemen selected to stand guard outside her door.
The couple raised two daughters, Gillian, a former teacher at Sevenoaks School and Jennifer, who runs her own beauty business in Whitstable. Bill says their happy marriage was based on mutual respect.
Richard Torble and Rhea Holley
For Richard Torble and Rhea Holley their love story has been much more of a whirlwind, which they believe spiralled from love at first sight. "We feel like soul mates," Rhea says. Their love at first sight took Richard by surprise too. "I believed that love grew over time, but with us it was just instant," he adds.
In 2019 Richard and Rhea met online through Tinder (which they joke is the modern equivalent of 18th-century love letters) and decided to meet at Whitstable train station.
"We saw each other and hugged. It was really odd, we had known each other for 90 seconds but as we walked Rhea looked at me and I thought 'she loves me', I looked at her and knew I loved her too." It was on their second date that Rhea admitted her feelings - only to find Richard felt the same. "Once we said, 'I love you' it all fell into place" Rhea explains.
"I've always wanted but never had a 'Christmas card' kind of love - I've never done Valentine's Day but now I want to. It's a love I've always dreamed of."
Neither Richard nor Rhea want to marry and have decided not to have children together, they agree about the big things in life but if they disagree, they agree to disagree.
Rhea explains: "I'm a real talker. We always talk things out, put the kettle on, take the emotion out of it and sort it out. Remember love is both a noun and a verb. Richard acts that love. You don't just say it, you show it."
Emmie and Kieran Duffy
At the other end of the marital spectrum, newlyweds Emmie and Kieran Duffy, living in Staplehurst, are an example of love as raw as it comes and have overcome many obstacles to walk down the aisle.
They married in August 2019 but for many people in their situation marriage may seem impossible. Both Kieran and Emmie have Down's syndrome and it is rare for Down's syndrome couples to marry (the first marriage of people with Downs Syndrome was in 1995).
Their wedding made the papers and hopefully made people understand that Down's syndrome is not the lonely existence some may think it is.
They love to host family dinners and Kieran adores being on stage, doing a great Elvis impression. Theatre and singing are a huge part of their lives, with Kieran working at Hop Shed Theatre Company in Maidstone.
Having met on a Chicken Shed Theatre course in London they had shared interests from the start, and both have a passion to learn and to help others.
In 2017 Kieran proposed to Emmie by singing the Wham hit song I'm your Man and ending on one knee in front of Emmie, asking her to marry him. She said yes straight away. They married at All Saint's Church Staplehurst in 2019 with a 'Hollywood meets country' theme. Kieran wore a blue suit with brocade and Emmie shone in a floor-length white dress and silver shoes.
Kieran's mum, Tessa Branch, says: "One of the loveliest things about their relationship is that they let each other be who they are."
Emmie and Kieran both agree they like talking to each other, to make their own routines, decisions and organise their life. They have a great support network around them, but their life is their own and communication is key.
"I just love him. Me and Kieran enjoy our love," beams Emmie. "And our love of Chinese food!" Kieran adds cheekily.
Love it seems, still thrives in Kent and although the couples featured have all experienced love in different circumstances, the result is the same. Happiness.
True love tips
1: Communication is key - all our couples said they talked openly to each other.
2: Confide in each other above all others to build trust and make informed decisions
3: Let each other be who they are without trying to change them