Sheffield man who wed stranger on TV's Married At First Sight gives Christmas update - and reveals how pandemic has affected relationship

Owen Jenkins and Michelle Walder married as complete strangers in front of television cameras having only just met at the altar – and now, nine months on from their wedding day, the couple are settled at home in Sheffield looking forward to their first Christmas together.

By Richard Blackledge
Wednesday, 16th December 2020, 3:00 pm

The pair are the success story of Channel 4’s British version of Married At First Sight, the reality series that involves potential romantic partners being matched following intensive tests and assessments, then legally tying the knot having never set eyes on one other before.

A key element of the show is that, following the honeymoon and a trial period of living in the same house, each couple decides whether to remain wed – Owen and Michelle said yes, and their union has since lasted longer than any of the programme’s previous marriages.

“Nine months makes us the longest-reigning couple so far,” says Owen, who thinks the pandemic has strengthened rather than hindered their chances.

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Owen and Michelle are looking forward to their first Christmas together. Picture: Submitted.

“Compared to the other series, our experience was different. We had lockdown and it was just me and Michelle 24 hours a day – also there was less pressure from the cameras, they couldn't get them in as often because of Covid restrictions. But the main thing for us is communication. It seems Michelle and I are quite good at talking, but also listening. That communication has maybe been lacking with some of the other couples throughout the years.”

The prospect of Christmas is ‘exciting’, he says.

"It is a bit weird that it's our first Christmas and we're married, but it feels really normal more than anything. It feels like we've been in a relationship for the last 10 years, it's great.”

Before applying for the show, Owen, aged 32, already lived in Sheffield where he works as an IT manager. Teacher Michelle, 26, moved to the city from Sussex in August, and has found a new job at a primary school in Woodseats.

Michelle and Owen's wedding day was filmed for Married at First Sight in March 2020. Picture: Channel 4.

“I like Christmas, but Michelle is all about Christmas, there are lights and decorations all over the house,” says Owen, who reveals the couple’s festive plans. “We're taking advantage of the rules and we're going to form a three-house bubble with Michelle's parents and her sister, so we're heading down south to Horsham which will be really nice. On the Sunday we're hosting a virtual Christmas party for our friends.”

The celebrations will be a taste of life when the Covid-19 crisis has faded, a time Owen and Michelle are keenly anticipating.

“We've never been able to have a night out – we've been out for food and had to be home by 10 o'clock,” says Owen. “We've never been abroad together, or been out with any of each other's friends, though we've met them and spent time with them. Our wedding day is the only time I've seen Michelle dance. We're both really looking forward to the pandemic being over and the vaccine being effective and us all being able to get out and do stuff, mainly so we can have a dance-off in a club.”

Owen previously said he applied for the programme to find someone to ‘spend the rest of his life with’, and wasn’t interested in being filmed for TV – Michelle, meanwhile, admitted she found dating ‘quite tricky’ and had been single for three years.

Michelle and Owen's wedding day was filmed for Married at First Sight in March 2020. Picture: Channel 4.

"The dating world at the moment doesn't give you the opportunity to really get to know someone,” says Owen. “If there's one thing wrong about a person it's a case of 'swipe left'.”

Married At First Sight, he says, is ‘much more detailed’.

"Nearly anyone can apply – you've got to be single and can't have dependent kids – but the process where they whittle you down from thousands to a handful of people is really interesting. You find an awful lot out about yourself. They don't just talk to you, they will go and talk to your friends and family – they spoke to my ex-girlfriend. They try and find out if you are the person you say you are. There's no hiding at all.”

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And the proof Michelle and Owen are well-matched keeps coming.

“About a month or so ago we did an online ‘Mr and Mrs’ style quiz and we knew pretty much every answer that the other person would get, which is pretty impressive after a few months,” says Owen. “Michelle is very kind and considerate. She's really sweet and funny. I don't think there's anything I don't love about her.”

The UK format of Married At First Sight is changing for 2021. Mirroring the Australian edition, partners will make a ‘lifelong commitment’ rather than marrying legally, and the couples will move in together under the same roof.

Owen says those taking part can expect to be recognised in public afterwards.

“When the show came out we had it quite a bit. If people met us now, and they hadn't seen it, we'd have to go out of our way to tell them. There's probably going to be a bit more curiosity if they screen the show in Australia or the US.”

Michelle and Owen have set up a joint Instagram page for viewers still intrigued about their relationship. "There's about 6,500 people who follow us,” says Owen. “The comments and messages are just lovely."

Another challenge the television couples must face is having ‘big conversations early on’, given marriage comes first. This means Owen and Michelle have already discussed the question of whether to start a family.

“We've said around about the time Michelle is 30, that's when we'll probably start looking to have kids,” says Owen.

In the meantime there is plenty to reflect on.

“I'm so proud of Michelle, it's such a massive change to move in with a bloke she only met a couple of months beforehand, all the way up north, and get a new job all at the same time.”

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.