I’m looking for a woman in tweeds, twinset and sensible shoes. A jolly, down-to-earth sort who looks like she knows how to bake a good scone.
This stunning slip of a girl, in skinny jeans and pixie boots, surely cannot be the vicar’s bride-to-be?
Reverend Andrew Allington at Stainforth St Mary’s must think all of his prayers have been answered at once.
His Hazel is surely heaven-sent; that’s the only logical conclusion I can reach.
Why else would a 34-year-old former model with a passion for motorbikes, roller-blading and rock-climbing, who isn’t even a baptised Christian, for God-sakes, want to marry a 53-year-old in a dog-collar?
As those churchy types say, though, God moves in mysterious ways.
And so does love.
I can tell, without a shadow of a doubt, that this gorgeous creature is head over heels with Reverend Allington, batchelor of his own parish, a man of the cloth who must surely have thought that an angel such as this would never walk into his life of dusty hymn books, polished parquet halls, Sunday sermons and old folks’ luncheon clubs and illuminate it so.
But she did. At Stainforth Water Festival, last summer. He spotted her, standing with her niece in the queue for the face-painter and he seized his moment.
Hazel, sensing someone had joined the queue behind her, turned to face him. And talk about smote by the Holy Ghost, “The first thing I noticed was his dog collar. Then I looked into his eyes and it was like I could see into infinity in them. It felt like I’d been hit by a thunderbolt,” she says, with such sincerity it actually doesn’t sound like a line from a Mills & Boon.
They fell into conversation about poetry - her passion - and religion (his); “I told him I thought God was too judgemental,” she giggles. When they parted company Hazel assumed if they met again, there would be no romance. She’d figured Andrew was either married, or too wedded to his flock after 11 years in charge of St Mary’s to want to round up a stray lamb. How wrong she was; within hours, he’d tracked her down on Facebook.
In a flurry of emails they traded everything from ideas on spirituality to religious theory to comic banter. A couple of weeks later, they had lunch - and Hazel realised the man behind the dog collar was falling for her.
Although it was mutual, she warned him she didn’t want to get married or have children - and didn’t think she was at all cut out to be a vicar’s wife.
“I had the stereotypical view - I thought it was someone in a brown corduroy skirt who baked apple pies for the church fete and was always sensible. And that was my idea of a nightmare,” she admits.
Hazel had come back to her family in Dunsville, hoping to get over ME, the puzzling debilitating illness which robs sufferers of their vitality and stamina had struck when she was 22.
“For much of the last 12 years I’ve either been bed-bound or confined to the house,” she sighs. “When I came home to Doncaster I was so frail my parents honestly thought I’d come back to die.”
Before the illness, she had travelled the world from the age of 19 and set down roots in Sidney. She lived there for seven years, crewing luxury yachts and working in wardrobe for The Australian Opera Company and the film Star Wars Episode Two: Attack of the Clones. On her days off she was action girl personified. “I bombed around in an ancient Land Rover that I fixed myself. I was always on the go; I’d rollerblade down Bondi Beach, go rock climbing. I even raced superbikes.”
That was the life she yearned to go back to. Dates at the W.I. and ironing cassocks every Saturday night didn’t feature on her wish-list.
Plus, there was another problem... “I wasn’t religious in a traditional sense,” she reveals. “I’d never been baptised and the last time I’d been to church I was 10.”
She worriedly told her mum: “I really like this guy but I’m worried he might make me a Christian...”
Hazel clung to her fear of becoming the woman in the corduroy skirt, but found herself ever more drawn to Andrew. One say she tipped up to 8am prayers to surprise him - and found herself spending the rest of the morning with him... at a funeral.
Pensioners’ luncheon clubs were the scenes of further dates - and before she knew it, Hazel was falling in love with the village vicar.
Family were initially surprised - it was so far removed from her dreams of travel and adventure - but they soon changed their minds on seeing them together. Even her sassy younger sister Amanda, a banker in New York, thought she was doing the right thing.
Parishioners, initially curious and possibly a little protective, were won over by their minister’s sweet-natured young girlfriend. And when Andrew announced they were a couple to the Bishop of Doncaster at the church garden party a few months later, Bishop Cyril Ashton’s words to his minister were: “Don’t hang about, Andrew.”
Hazel realised that the spiritual awareness and interest in alternative therapies and meditation her ME had awakened in her while in Australia (“It was either find a new meaning in life or give up entirely,” she says) were not that far removed from Andrew’s view of Christianity. He believes it’s about understanding yourself and looking within for guidance, then reaching out in friendship and to make a difference, she explains.
She started going to church - and allowing her feelings to grow for Andrew, a former Sheffield chartered accountant.
The doubts kept resurfacing, though.
“I had so many wobbles. Every time I saw him in his cassock in the pulpit it made it all seem so daunting.
“I was concerned about the expectations the church would have of me. And I was worried about losing my identity,” she admits. “I had to rethink all my goals and ambitions. But at the same time, I knew I wanted to be with Andrew. He is amazing; he’s so smart and his spirit is so pure. I’ve had some pretty serious ME lapses while we’ve been together and he has been so supportive. He really is my knight in shining armour.”
When Andrew proposed in January, she went with her heart and accepted.
The wedding on July 9 will be an unconventional affair - and not only because after conducting over 100 weddings, the vicar will be standing on the other side of the altar. After the ceremony the wedding party will retire to a marquee while workers swiftly rearrange the church interior and set up banqueting tables for 120.
“We think it’s the first time a church has been used for the reception,” says Hazel excitedly. “It’s going to make a spectacular setting.”
In the meantime, this thoroughly modern bride-to-be is writing her own blog. She’s recording - in rhyming verse - at www.thevicarswife.net - the details of her romance and her thoughts as the wedding approaches,
She’s determined to keep on blogging once she’s installed in the rectory.
“I won’t be changing or losing my identity- no way,” she vows.
“Though actually, I’m discovering I don’t have to. Being a vicar’s wife isn’t going to swallow me up and turn me into Mrs Corduroy - I’m doing it my way. and in the process, I’m finding out so much about myself and Andrew’s life that every day is an adventure.”
n Hazel and Andrew will unveil their plan for their church reception when St Mary’s stages a One-Stop Wedding Fayre this Saturday (February 12).
The couple will also be doing a spot of shopping for their big day - the 10am to 4pm event will feature a host of local wedding suppliers and services.