Dhaka, Bangladesh
How we met: 'Her note was either going to say you've got no chance - or be her phone number'

How we met: 'Her note was either going to say you've got no chance - or be her phone number'

By Lizzie Cernik

It's not the usual setting for a love story, but a chance meeting at HM Prison The Mount in Hertfordshire sparked romance for Helen and Steve. "It was 2006 and I was working as a teacher there," says Helen. Steve, who was a prison officer, had recently moved to the education department to expand his career. "Back then nobody wanted to work in that area but I was keen to spend more time doing one-on-one work with prisoners. I was ready for something new." They met for the first time while Helen was teaching a class in the prison's library. "And I always joke that he is long overdue to go back," says Helen. Although they both liked each other, Steve was reluctant to make the first move. "I was a prison officer and she was a civilian, so I was worried it would have looked inappropriate." In September that year, Helen left the prison to start a new teaching job. On her last day, she wrote a note to Steve and originally gave it to a colleague to pass on. In the end she plucked up the courage to give him the letter directly, to let him know she was interested. "I had an idea what it might be. It was either going to be her phone number or a note to say get lost, you've got no chance," he says. The pair began dating the following month, pursuing their shared interests of art, opera and musicals. When they met, they had a few concerns about the 13-year age gap, although Helen says it has become much less significant over time. "Steve was 29 when we started going out, and a few people raised eyebrows. It wasn't a big deal for us though. Age is just a number." While Steve admired Helen's intelligence and education, she was drawn in by his fun nature. "I thought he had such a serious look about him, but underneath there is a very silly side. He just couldn't show it at work." At the time Helen was working as a teacher and a singer. They married in July 2008 during a silent Quaker meeting. "The vows, or promises as we call them, are spoken but the rest of the meeting takes place in silence," explains Helen. "Rather than having an officiant, we marry ourselves in front of witnesses at the meeting. Some people can then stand up afterwards and speak with messages for you." After the meeting the couple celebrated with a reception for friends and family. Not long after they were married, Helen's father became unwell. "Between 2008 and 2016 we lost three of our parents which was really hard," she says. They battled through bereavement together - Helen's parents and Steve's dad died in that time frame - and it brought them closer. Since then they have developed a passion for travel and visited many countries. "We have been all over the world, to Africa, Nepal, India, China, Australia and Brazil. I love that Steve is always up for anything and always enthusiastic. We do crazy things and change our plans at the last minute just because we can," says Helen. That "can do" attitude is also something Steve loves about his wife. "I remember once we went white-water rafting after a difficult six-hour trek. Helen was absolutely terrified, but she still got in the boat and did it. She never gives up. It's one of the things I most admire about her," he says. The couple attribute the success of their relationship to a close friendship and a taste for new adventures. "I was an opera singer until I was 37, then a teacher and now I do some writing and composing. We are always reinventing ourselves and trying new things," says Helen. "It's so important to be able to do things together," says Steve. "I think chemistry is superficial. When you really love someone you choose to invest that time in them." While the pair admit they have taken an unconventional path compared with other couples, they believe it has helped them to build a stronger bond. "We are never stagnant and we never say still," says Helen. "We have shared dreams and goals and I think that is really important for keeping a relationship alive."

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