Still crazy after all these years

Pictured at home in Park Ave,Dronfield are James & Louise Marshall,with their daughters Sophie(21),Zara(19),Izabella(15) and 2 years old Fraser

Pictured at home in Park Ave,Dronfield are James & Louise Marshall,with their daughters Sophie(21),Zara(19),Izabella(15) and 2 years old Fraser

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We call it puppy love - just because they’re in their teens.

We tell them their relationship is doomed to fail - that young lovers rarely stay together forever. But Jo Davison meets the couples who fell for each other as childhood sweethearts and have happily ever-after stories to tell...

Amanda and Brian Gooch from Crosspool in Sheffield who were childhood sweethearts with their children Richard and Hannah

Amanda and Brian Gooch from Crosspool in Sheffield who were childhood sweethearts with their children Richard and Hannah

James/Louise

It started the way that so many school romances do...

She told her friend she fancied the handsome, wavy-haired lad in sixth form - and the friend wasted no time in tipping off the unsuspecting Adonis.

Emboldened by knowledge and the surety that he wasn’t going to be turned down, 17-year-old James Marshall spied his opportunity when, a few weeks later, 15-year-old Louise King turned up at the same birthday party at Stars on Queen’s Road.

The Whitehead family, l to r Ruth, 16, dad Chris, mum Judi, Rachel, 26, and Harriet, 23, Picture by  John Anderson (johnandersonphoto.co.uk)

The Whitehead family, l to r Ruth, 16, dad Chris, mum Judi, Rachel, 26, and Harriet, 23, Picture by John Anderson (johnandersonphoto.co.uk)

The Dronfield Henry Fanshawe pupil chatted her up and their first date was the very un-romantic film American Werewolf in London.

Young love blossomed immediately. But a few weeks later, James got chicken pox. It was just before Christmas. There was only one thing for a girl to do... put the relationship on ice and have a good time with her mates. “Fortunately I was able to pick up with him once the spots had gone,” grins Louise, now 47.

They got engaged when she was 18, to the consternation of her mum. “She had married my dad when she was 19 and wanted something different for me, but James and I knew we were right for each other and in 1986 when I was 20 we got married.” They had their first child, Sophie, in 1991 followed by Zara, now 19, and Izabella, 15. The Marshalls have also weathered what would be a strain on many a middle-aged couple – the surprise arrival of a fourth child two years ago.

“I had Fraser when I was 45; it had been a huge shock to discover I was pregnant just as the girls were doing their own thing and there was more “us” time. But he has brought us a whole new joy.”

Louise gave up her mobile hairdressing “juggling work, a new baby and three teenagers was too much and fortunately James has a good job in insurance,” says Louise. “Friends say we are the only couple they know who could have coped with a new baby in later life.”

The Marshalls’ key to marital harmony? Having supportive parents, strong family values and deciding not to socialise without each other. “He doesn’t go on lads’ trips away and I don’t go on girls’ outings,” says Louise. “They can lead people into affairs.”

Brian/Amanda

He was a bit of a bright spark, that new boy in class.

Even at maths, he was better than her - a fact that made 15-year-old Amanda Starling none too keen on Brian Gooch.

But friendship blossomed when he joined her circle of school friends and started going to the same church youth group.

Like didn’t turn to love, though, until the first kiss. “It was on December 17 1988 as we walked home from a friend’s party.

“We got engaged two years to the day after and our first child, Richard, was born 11 years to the day,” says Louise.

Brian was nine months younger than her and Louise was his first girlfriend. They each applied to the same five universities but only Brian got in at Cambridge, so he asked Louise to marry him.

Sensible Louise, who came to study in Sheffield, turned him down: “I wanted to wait - in case being apart put a strain on the relationship,” she explains.

But a month later, she realised she had made a mistake, got on a train to Cambridge and asked if he still wanted to get married. She was 19, he was 18.

“No-one said we were too young, but I’m sure a lot of people thought it, especially university friends. My mum was pleased but shocked. She wanted me to see the world, not get married straight out of university to the boy I’d known since I was 15.

“I didn’t feel too young at all, though our daughter Hannah is 10 and if she announced her engagement in eight years’ time I might feel like my mum did. But what could I say? I know from experience that you can meet the right person at a young age and make it work.”

The couple live in Crosspool, where Amanda is deputy manager at the Community Pre-school. Brian, the boy who was better than her at maths, is now a chartered accountant.

The Goochs’ key to marital harmony?

“You do change as you age, but we changed together,” explains Amanda. “Our religious faith is our strong common bond. Another is our shared sense of humour.

“We learned how to put each other’s needs before our own, how to back down - and that you don’t have to have the last word.”

Chris/Judi

Their mums were best friends so it was only natural that Judi Quail and Christopher Whitehead were, too.

They played together every day in their neighbouring gardens in Eastwood, Rotherham. But fate stepped in when Judi was seven and parted her from 10-year-old Chris.

Their street was being demolished and the neighbourhood was torn apart.

Judi’s family moved to Brinsworth and Chris’s family moved to Herringthorpe.

Their lives took very different paths. On leaving Notre Dame High School, she went to work in a bank. Oakwood Comprehensive pupil Chris went off to Cambridge University.

But fate hadn’t finished with them. Ten years later they met again, purely by chance, during visiting time at Rotherham District General Hospital.

Recalls Judi, now 51: “It was a very sad time for me. My mum was dying of cancer and I was only 18. I got out of the hospital lift and spotted Chris’s mum Mary.

“With her was this good-looking lad.

“It was Chris and it was love at first sight for me. I rushed in to tell my mum who I’d just met.”

The pair started dating and when Judi’s mum Renee died four weeks later, Chris eased the devastated teen through the grief.

“Mum met Chris before she died and really liked him. I’m so glad she was able to meet my future husband. We married just a year later when I was 19,” reflects Judi.

“Our kids, who are aged 26, 23 and 16, are incredulous that we were so young. When I was the age of my middle child, I’d been married four years, had lived in the Middle East thanks to Chris’s job as a civil engineer and had a baby,” says Judi, of Crookes.

“As soon as we started dating it felt right, probably because we weren’t just from the same backgrounds, we were from the same street. And the added bonus was that though I lost my mum, I found Mary.

“She has been able to see my mum’s face and her little ways in our three daughters and is able to remind me of things about her.”

Judi advises young couples setting out on life together to ask themselves: Can I be myself with this person, do we have similar values and do I really want to spend my life with this person or am I looking for a way out of something else?

The Whiteheads’ key to marital harmony?

“We are best friends and completely trust one another. And we put each other first, even before the kids.

“They have never been jealous of that, in fact they encourage it. They think it’s important our relationship is strong.

“We have seen so many marriages bound together only by the children which seem destined to fall apart when the kids leave home. That won’t happen to us.”

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