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‘We got more viewers than some royal weddings!’ Five decades of reality TV marriages – all still together
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‘We got more viewers than some royal weddings!’ Five decades of reality TV marriages – all still together

1980s: ‘I was nicknamed The Ram of Cardiff’

Marc and Karen Adams-Jones’s wedding in 1984 was the subject of Desmond Wilcox’s groundbreaking fly-on-the-wall series The Marriage.

‘My friends still sing Sue Pollard’s theme song to me’ … Marc and Karen Adams-Jones at their home in Cardiff.View image in fullscreen

They have been called the first reality TV couple. “I suppose we were trailblazers,” laughs Marc today. “We probably peaked too soon. A few years later, we might have made loads of money.”

It all began when Marc jokingly answered a newspaper ad asking for “June brides to be part of a documentary series”. There were 3,000 applicants and Cardiff couple Marc and Karen weren’t Wilcox’s first choice. “He was a traditionalist who didn’t approve of us already living together,” says Marc. “But the director persuaded him to meet us.” Karen adds: “We had dinner with Desmond and Esther [Rantzen, his wife]. He said our chemistry changed his mind and, mid-meal, asked if we’d do it. It was only then that we realised the series wasn’t about several couples, it was about one. Us.”

Cameras followed their hen and stag nights, complete with Marc vomiting into a pint glass, then their Copenhagen honeymoon and first year of married life. “Our wedding carried on pretty much as planned,” says Karen, “but with a few extras. They repaired the church clock and bells, providing bellringers and a choir from Llandaff Cathedral. The best thing was getting a professional recording of the day. Some of our friends and family have passed away since, so it’s lovely to have them captured on film.”

As the series progressed, a storyline emerged. Marc explains: “To inject drama, Desmond had an agenda which was ‘nice girl meets scumbag’. He nicknamed me The Ram of Cardiff because I’d had a lot of girlfriends before settling down.” Karen adds: “I was only 20, so he wanted to portray me as this innocent child-bride. What viewers didn’t realise was that I’d had a fair few boyfriends, too.”

The show’s popularity took them by surprise. “It was on BBC One at 9.30pm, straight after the news, and 14 million viewers tuned in,” says Karen. “After the first episode aired, people who saw me in the supermarket were nudging each other. By episode three, strangers were coming up and chatting as if they knew us.”

‘We’ve no regrets’ … Marc and Karen on their wedding day in 1984.View image in fullscreen

The show’s theme song, Starting Together by Su Pollard, reached No 2 in the UK singles chart. The couple became so well-known, they appeared on Terry Wogan’s chatshow and even had their own Spitting Image puppets. “They didn’t make much effort with the resemblances,” laughs Marc. “I had an 80s moustache, so my puppet looked like Daley Thompson.”

“One sketch had us in bed together,” recalls Karen. “Marc said, ‘How was that for you, dear?’ while smoking a cigarette, then Desmond popped up between us and went, ‘Can we do it again?’”

Tabloids gave the marriage six months but the couple defied the critics. They have four grownup children and will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June. “Decades later,” says Marc, “some of my rugby mates still call me The Ram.”

“Mine sing Starting Together to me,” adds Karen. “But it was an experience and we’ve no regrets.”

“It’s a bit like marriage,” jokes Marc. “If I had my time over again, I’d still do it – just not necessarily with Karen!”

1990s: ‘We knocked the Gulf war off the front pages’

Alex and Sue Tatham met on ITV’s Saturday night matchmaking series Blind Date and, in 1991, became the show’s first couple to marry.

‘We could show our children the moment Mummy laid eyes on Daddy’ … Alex and Sue Tatham.View image in fullscreen

It’s not often that a couple in their late 50s go viral on TikTok. Yet it happened recently when an account called Meet Cutes NYC randomly stopped Sue and Alex Tatham on a London street to ask how they met. “On a TV gameshow,” Alex told the astonished content-maker. “It was called Blind Date. You can look us up on YouTube: 17 and a half million people watched our wedding.”

When they applied for Cilla Black’s matchmaking series in their early 20s, finding love was far from their minds. Sue’s friends wrote in on her behalf “for a bit of fun”. Alex cheerfully admits he was “a massive showoff”. (“No change there then,” says Sue.) He became the designated picker, choosing between Lynne from Middlesex, Sue from the West Midlands and Kate from Essex.

He plumped for “girl number two”, largely based on the recap from announcer Graham Skidmore, AKA Our Graham. “It was filmed in front of a noisy audience of 400 people and passed in a blur,” says Alex. “Graham’s quick reminder was crucial because I couldn’t remember what anyone said. It was eeny-meany-miney-moe. Sue was miney.” “At least I wasn’t meany,” she shrugs.

When the screen slid back and the pair saw each other for the first time, Sue was “relieved he wasn’t shorter than me”. Alex smiles and says: “Sue looked absolutely gorgeous. Years later, we could show our children the first moment that Mummy laid eyes on Daddy. Very few people have that on film.” They were flown to Shannon in Ireland for their date. “Our hotels were eight miles apart,” says Sue. “They were clearly petrified of something scandalous happening.”

After filming wrapped, the couple dated for three years before Alex proposed. “London Weekend Television got in touch periodically to ask if we were still together,” says Alex. “So after we told family and friends, I phoned them. They immediately called a press conference.” “It all went a bit mad,” says Sue. “We knocked the Gulf war off the front pages. The headline was, ‘Blind Date pair will wed!’” Alex adds: “Underneath it said, ‘A love story to make your heart glow.’ And it’s still glowing.”

Their wedding in Walsall was filmed for a special episode. “The cameramen wore morning suits,” says Alex. “Cilla turned up in her Winnebago and silly hat. Her husband, Bobby, was there. So was Our Graham.” “He could’ve given you a quick reminder of your vows,” laughs Sue.

Meanwhile, outside, about 5,000 well-wishers were waiting to cheer them on. When it aired the next night, the wedding pulled in 17.5 million viewers. “It was second in the TV ratings that year,” says Alex. “We always joke that we got more than certain royal weddings.”

The couple are still smitten, 36 years since that screen slid back. “We have a blessed life,” says Alex. “Our children are both getting married themselves this year. Our daughter’s Instagram handle is Blind Date Baby. It was her who phoned and said, ‘Oh my God, you’re trending on TikTok!’”

Cilla died in 2015 but for ever holds a place in the Tathams’ hearts. Alex says: “We call her our fairy godmother.” “Our children wouldn’t exist without her,” adds Sue. “So thank you, Cilla.”

2000s: ‘He wanted to send the invites in empty crisp packets’

Sheena Gokani relinquished all control to her fiance Ritesh “Ricky” Raval for their 2009 wedding on BBC Three reality series Don’t Tell the Bride.

‘I probably wouldn’t want our daughter marrying like that’ … Ritesh and Sheena Raval.View image in fullscreen

Looking back, Sheena Gokani is relieved she didn’t get married at Alton Towers with a python around her neck. “That was exactly what I was dreading because he’s a bit of a joker,” says the bride of her husband, Ritesh “Ricky” Raval. “I feared he’d play up to the cameras and make it a novelty event, rather than something we could look back on fondly. Thankfully, he did us proud.”

The Leicester couple were given £12,000 towards their wedding but there was a catch – every decision had to be made by the groom, and his bride could know nothing until the big day. “Ricky was working nights, bored, and applied for Don’t Tell the Bride,” says Sheena. “We’d been together two years and saw it as an opportunity to get our wedding paid for. It was just a laugh until the ball started rolling. That’s when I got worried.”

Her dream location was an elegant stately home. Cut to Ricky and his best men, brainstorming wacky ideas. “We inquired about flying to Alton Towers in a hot-air balloon,” says Ricky. “Remember when Britney Spears performed with an albino python around her neck? I asked if my wife could do that. I was keen to push boundaries. I wanted to send out the invitations in empty crisp packets but the stationery supplier couldn’t do it.”

Instead, he settled on an alfresco “Bollywood Glastonbury” theme. Sheena says: “He took a gamble with the weather and it could’ve been a washout, but it was lovely.” Ricky adds: “We were trendsetters. We went to five outdoor weddings after ours. Although it rained at one of them.”

As per the show’s format, the couple had no contact for three weeks. While Ricky ran around town, booking a ring-bearer owl and blagging free Nando’s, Sheena was stressing out at her mum’s. “The boys were having fun but it’s different for women,” she says. “I worried about whether he’d get my outfit, hair and makeup right.” Ricky considered a secondhand dress and was seen tentatively sniffing garments in Oxfam. “That was daft but he did well eventually,” says Sheena. “I loved my dress.”

‘We inquired about flying to Alton Towers in a hot-air balloon’ … Ritesh and Sheena on Don’t Tell the Bride.View image in fullscreen

They both hail from traditional Hindu families but everyone bought into it. “Indian weddings can be quite elaborate, expensive and stressful,” says Sheena, “so this was a fun way around that. It accelerated the process, it was paid for, and Ricky really enjoyed the whole experience. But I probably wouldn’t want my daughter marrying like that.”

The nuptials climaxed with the groom leading a Bollywood dance routine. “That was a massive shock,” laughs Sheena. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is he doing?’ The guests got competitive, busting out their own moves. It was amazing.” Ricky smiles. “It all came together beautifully,” he says. “The best day of my life.”

The couple now have three children, as well as a pomeranian called Zizou, and run their own recruitment firm. “We live together, work together and we’re still happy after 15 years,” says Sheena. “We must be doing something right.”

“It’s testament to a strong relationship,” concludes Ricky. “And no albino snake or crisp packets. If that had happened, she’d still be bringing it up now, trust me.”

2010s: ‘I was dressed in full-metal samurai warrior armour’

Dylan and Hannah Quinn’s children secretly planned their Japanese-themed 2016 wedding for the CBBC series Marrying Mum and Dad.

‘We put our clothes on blindfolded’ … Hannah and Dylan Quinn.View image in fullscreen

Ninjas, sumo wrestlers, a 50-tier cake and a sinking origami boat. That’s what you get if you let your kids organise your wedding day – but Dylan and Hannah Quinn wouldn’t have had it any other way. The County Fermanagh couple handed control to two of their four children, 11-year-old Taeya and her nine-year-old brother Sunee, after they applied to their favourite CBBC series. “We’d been together 20 years and just never got around to marriage,” says Dylan. “When the kids suggested going for Marrying Mum and Dad, it felt like a nice way for it to be a family thing. We helped them fill out the form, never thinking it would come to anything.”

When they were selected, the couple were happy to delegate responsibility. “I felt safe in their hands,” explains Hannah. “Taeya’s very creative and wanted to please us, so I trusted her to do something special. The Japanese concept was her idea because she was into anime. Sunee just wanted to be a ninja on TV!”

The process involved a fact-finding trip to London without their parents. “They went for three days,” says Dylan. “It was their first time on a plane and the first time away from us. That was probably the biggest deal of the whole experience.” “It helped build their confidence,” adds Hannah. “They enjoyed the secrecy and subterfuge, too.”

Everything was a surprise, from the venue to their outfits. “We got dressed while blindfolded to avoid spoilers,” recalls Dylan. “I could feel all this weight because I was putting on a samurai warrior costume.” “I was wrapped in a kimono,” says Hannah. “It was layers and layers, plus I heard someone speak Japanese as they fitted it, so I had an inkling.” “I’m not sure we’d do it nowadays due to cultural sensitivities,” adds Dylan. “Then again, we got off lightly. In the previous series, there was a Doctor Who wedding with a green alien bride.”

The nuptials took place on Lusty Beg Island in idyllic Lough Erne. The bride and groom were due to arrive in a white fibreglass boat, based on the children’s origami design. “We couldn’t set sail in the end, because the water was too choppy,” says Dylan. “I was in full metal armour and helmet. If the boat had tipped and I’d fallen in, I’d still be down there now.”

Proceedings included sumo wrestling (“great craic”), a stacked three-metre (10ft) pagoda-style cake (“it teetered but didn’t topple”) and 1,000 paper birds made by Tokyo schoolchildren (“very touching”). “The ceremony was lovely,” says Hannah. “They had decorated the room with cherry blossom and the camera crew faded into the background, so it felt genuine and intimate. It was a collective event instigated by the kids, not the boring old adults. We saw it as a gift from them to us.”

The couple remain happily married. “No need to apply to Divorcing Mum and Dad,” laughs Hannah. What about that origami boat? “It’s in our garden,” says Dylan. “We filled it with soil and grow flowers in it. It’s an unusual memento, shall we say.”

2020s: ‘When I turned round, I was blown away’

Jenna Robinson and Zoe Clifton met at the altar on Married at First Sight UK. Two years later, they’re the only couple from that series who are still together.

‘When I turned around at the altar, I was blown away’ … Zoe Clifton, left, and Jenna Robinson who met on Married at First Sight.View image in fullscreen

Jenna Robinson and Zoe Clifton had their minds blown on their first trip to the US. “Someone recognised us in Manhattan,” says an astonished Zoe. “Not even someone British – a native New Yorker. We were like, ‘What? How?’” Jenna adds: “People still stop us when we’re walking along arm-in-arm and ask if we’re still together. We’re like, ‘No, we’re just holding hands and kissing for no reason!’”

The pair were the first lesbian couple to take part in hit Channel 4 franchise Married at First Sight (Mafs). The “ultimate love experiment” sees couples matched up by psychologists and meeting for the very first time at the altar. “I’d drilled into them that I didn’t want anyone butch,” says Zoe. “I was standing there with my legs shaking, heard the clip-clop of heels walking up behind me and thought, ‘Perfect!’ Then I turned around and was blown away.” “How lucky are we that this worked out?” says Jenna. “We’re still planning our future but when we’ve got a family, we can show our kids the moment our eyes first met. It’s absolutely wild.”

On paper, the pair had plenty of differences. Jenna is a passionate vegan, which meat-loving Zoe initially couldn’t believe. “That was the biggest trauma,” she laughs. “‘Sorry?’ I thought. ‘You can’t even have eggs?’” Overcoming such obstacles was testament to their ability to compromise. “Obviously it’s a TV show, so they’re going to encourage certain storylines,” says Jenna. “Some people home in on their differences, rather than what they have in common. We focused on what’s important. Two years on, I love our contrasts. We’re always learning from each other. Besides, I wouldn’t want two of me. Nothing would get done around the house!”

Jenna has alopecia and wears a wig. When she opened up about this on air, Zoe’s reaction – “I don’t give a shit” – was widely praised. “She made me feel accepted,” says Jenna. “I hope viewers in similar positions felt encouraged by that. I just wish I’d worn a nicer wig for our wedding!”

‘We’ve only got happier since the show’ … Jenna and Zoe on Married at First Sight UK.View image in fullscreen

For the series finale, the couple said “I do” again in a vow renewal ceremony. They agree it was better second-time around. “We’d been together for three months, so it felt more meaningful,” says Jenna. “And I far preferred my dress.” Mafs ceremonies aren’t legally binding, so they plan to do it for real some day – hopefully, on their original TV wedding date. Zoe says: “It’d be nice to marry again, knowing who it was to!” “And maybe without 50 TV cameras,” adds Jenna.

Did their trailblazing status add pressure? “It definitely came with a weight of expectation,” says Zoe. “You feel an obligation to represent and I wasn’t sure how. Later, I realised that just showing a healthy, respectful lesbian relationship on TV is enough. We got so many messages from mums who gained an understanding of what their daughters were going through.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the feedback was supportive,” says Jenna. “It came with the odd bit of hate but the love far outweighed that.” “We’ve only got happier since the show,” adds Zoe. “Our relationship’s gone from strength to strength but what an amazing start.” Jenna says: “It’s a lesbian fairytale come true!”

Source: theguardian.com