Relationships: Our diamond years
Along with her six decades on the throne, the Queen has notched up 64 years of happy marriage. As we bring out the Jubilee bunting, we also raise our hats to remarkable couples whose marriages are equally enduring. Here they share their stories with Joanna Moorhead
It's 60 years since the Queen’s accession, and across Britain communities are gearing up to celebrate. But extraordinary as the anniversary is, in many ways the most fascinating thing about Queen Elizabeth, who is 86, isn’t her long reign – it’s her marriage to 90-year-old Prince Philip, which dates back to 1947.
Even a grey day in gloomy postwar London couldn’t dent the glowing smiles on their faces in their wedding photographs. Like all newlyweds, they were madly in love and proud to show it. But, like all marriages, the years that followed brought downs as well as ups.
The births of their four children were times of pleasure, as were their moments of personal success, such as when Princess Anne represented Britain in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.
But the failed marriages of three of their four offspring were a huge blow to the couple, as the Queen herself admitted when she made her famous comment about 1992 being an ‘annus horribilis’ (that year saw the separation of the Duke and Duchess of York, the divorce of Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips, and the publication of a book making it clear that the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana was on the rocks).
But in Diamond Jubilee year, it’s clear that the tough times have receded and that – with Prince Charles happily married, several grandchildren (Prince William among them) settled down, and a couple of great-grandchildren to enjoy – the royal couple have never seemed more contented or closer to one another, a fact acknowledged recently by their grandson Prince Harry, when he said he thought the Queen wouldn’t be able to do what she does without Prince Philip by her side.
So how does it feel to weather the storms and emerge more committed to each other than ever Here other couples who have stayed the course reveal how their marriage survived – and what it feels like to be still in love with one another after all these years.
Married in 1944
Miriam and Norman today
‘If we don’t see eye to eye over something, we talk it out’
Miriam Pollock, 90, met Norman, 91, on a blind date in 1941. They’re still together after 67 years of marriage and have two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
MIRIAM The earliest years were the hardest. We were living with Norman’s mother and his grandmother in a three-bedroomed terraced house. His mother was a difficult person and living with her was almost impossible for me. Norman was her only child and she didn’t want to let him out of her sight.Things went from bad to worse when our eldest child Jennifer arrived. My mother-in-law was forever interfering. I’d say, ‘If I want any advice, I’ll ask my own mother – she had seven babies!’ Luckily we were able to get our own house and that was wonderful. There’s never been any door-slamming in our marriage: if we don’t see eye to eye over something, we talk it out. I didn’t work through our marriage, apart from part time in a florist’s in my 50s. My side of the deal was looking after the children and the home and Norman’s was bringing in the money as a chartered accountant.
Another difficult time was when our daughter’s marriage broke up. As parents, all you want is to pour oil on troubled waters. If our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are happy, then we’re happy too.
NORMAN It was a social evening and a friend had set me up with Miriam. I liked her straight away – I remember walking her home that night, two miles across London in the blackout and the smog. I don’t know whether you’d call it love at first sight, but I knew I wanted to see her again.
I was 20, she was 19, and we were both still living at home. In those days courting couples didn’t sleep together – I’m not saying it didn’t ever happen, but it wasn’t usual. We didn’t get a lot of time together because I was called up and we didn’t see each other much until 1943, when I was billeted in London. For a while we went out every evening but then I was told I was being posted overseas, so we decided to get married straight away by special licence.
Couples getting married today expect to have everything when they set out, but back then you started with nothing and built things up gradually. It wasn’t all about the do in our day – we had a handful of friends, and no honeymoon. We’ve never had big battles or major fallouts.
Some people might think that sounds boring, but it hasn’t felt like that to us. One of the main things that matters in a marriage is not thinking you’re right all the time: you’ve got to compromise. Once you’re married you’re partners, and you have to act like a partnership. And you’ve both got to be prepared to sit down and talk. The hardest thing now is thinking about what would happen if one of us was left without the other. Our children and grandchildren would be there for the one left, and that’s a big comfort.
Married in 1951
Audrey and Bill today
‘A good marriage is the sum of many small, happy parts’
Audrey, 83, and Bill Kelley, 82, have been married for 61 years. They met in 1950 and married the following year. They have two daughters, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
AUDREY Just like the Queen and Prince Philip, Bill and I have had a joint project that’s been part and parcel of who we are as a couple. In our case, it was Bill’s career in the RAF. It was a lot more than his job; it was our life. I’d had a spell as a Wren before I met Bill, but it was when we married that I sank myself into service life. It gave us friends, opportunities – we travelled the world – and it’s given our lives structure.
The hardest time in our marriage was when Bill took early retirement from the RAF at 46. He’d had enough of the job but I loved life as a forces wife and I felt I was losing a part of myself. In recent years I’ve had a lot of ill health – I’ve got diabetes and emphysema. Bill is a very caring person but it’s tough coping with a partner’s ill health, and we both recognise that. I can see that there are many things Bill still enjoys doing, and why shouldn’t he do them just because I can’t So I encourage him to get out on his own.
Looking back, there were times when we had to grit our teeth and just get on with it. If I had to say what’s worked, we’ve trusted one another – and when things were tough, we carried on talking.
BILL It’s got to be a mystery how and why people stay together for so long. I don’t think
there’s a secret – it’s more a case of sticking with it through the tough times and enjoying the good times. A good marriage is the sum of many small, happy moments. The sensible thing to do is forget the bad times and concentrate on what’s good. We’ve been apart a lot in our marriage, but that was never a particular strain. We trusted one another, simple as that. I think not being together the whole time was a plus.
Learning to function independently is good in a long-term partnership – it gives you a strong sense of yourself. I think it helps you become a marriage of equals.It was hard for Audrey when I left the RAF. We went off to run a pub but that didn’t work out, so a few years later we found work together running an RAF Benevolent Fund social club.
That was a turning point for us – we loved being with other service couples, we had a wonderful social life again and our relationship flourished. So we stuck out the tough times and the good times returned – I wonder whether some couples now are too quick to think it’s all over and to rush for a divorce. I think you learn in a marriage when to say something and when to say nothing. Being open and honest matters, but there are times when the best thing to do is keep quiet. We’re not a couple who don’t have rows but our rows never last more than a day. Life’s too short for that.
Married in 1952
Joan and Jack today
‘Over time you have to be flexible and understanding’
Joan and Jack Ames, who are 85 and 82 respectively, have been married
for 60 years. They have four daughters, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
JOAN My father thought that because Jack had been to grammar school and had a better education than me, our relationship wouldn’t last. But we always believed in it – and when things were tough, we battled on together.We got married two years after we met, in February 1952, and we were on our honeymoon in London when King George VI died. We went to Buckingham Palace to see the notice posted on the gates – it was a very solemn day.
Like many couples in those days, we lived with my parents at first – and we were still there when Valerie, our eldest daughter, was born. Soon after we moved to a semi, and two years later we had our second daughter Denise. When I became pregnant again I wanted a boy, so when Linda arrived I was very upset. It must have been tough for Jack.
When I was 43, we decided to try one more time – the result was Louise.Having a late child kept us young. Being at the centre of family life is very much who we are as a couple. It’s not been plain sailing, but if we’re not getting on I tend to walk away. What’s the point of saying things you’ll regret Jack and I have almost stopped being two people and become one. I can’t imagine life without him.
JACK We’ve had a good marriage, but it hasn’t been 60 years of wedded bliss. If anyone in our position tells you it has, it’s not the whole truth. We met in 1948, just after I’d left the Army.
I was with a couple of friends at a boating pond and Joan was there with her sister and a friend. Joan seemed to think I was interested in her sister, but later we paired off quite naturally. We got married, bought a house, and I started working in a bank (I became a bank manager). Being financially secure helped our marriage I’m sure.
Over the years we’ve had our rows – Joan can sulk for Britain! But if she knows things aren’t quite right, she keeps out of my way. And we always saw eye to eye over the children. Retirement can be a tricky time in a marriage, but we’ve got a passion for modern sequence dancing. We go three or four times a week and have had dancing holidays all over the world. I think the things that are important at the start of a marriage, love and sex, remain important. But a lot changes over time, and you have to be flexible and understanding.
You can’t begin to understand, when you set out, what it will mean to be together for such a long time. But somehow you are – though it seems hard to believe – and somehow you go on knowing it was the best thing you ever did.
Secrets of lasting love…
The Queen, 86, and Prince Philip, 90, were married in Westminster Abbey on 20 November 1947.
They have been married for 64 years and have four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The Prince, when asked about the success of their marriage, said: ‘The Queen has the quality of tolerance in abundance.’ The Queen, in her golden wedding speech in 1997, said of Philip, ‘He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years, and I, and his whole family, and this and many other countries, owe him a debt greater than he would ever claim or we shall ever know.’
Actor and Oscar-winning director Richard Attenborough, 88, and actress Sheila Sim, 89, recently celebrated 67 years of marriage'
They met at Rada when they were both in the play The Lady With the Lamp. Richard says, ‘I had the lead male role opposite three Florence Nightingales. One of them was a girl called Sheila Sim — she was stunningly attractive, without any airs or graces. Over rehearsals we got to know each other and embarked on an old-fashioned courtship.’
Britain’s oldest married couple, Lionel and Ellen Buxton married almost 76 years ago.
Ellen says, ‘We have been married happily because we have been good friends as well as husband and wife.’ The couple, from Dover, Kent, have one daughter and four grandchildren.
Former US president George H W Bush, 87, married Barbara, 86, in 1945.
When asked about the success of their marriage, she once said, ‘When you have a child die and you survive, and you’ve been through a war and you survive, and you build a business and you survive, you grow apart or together. We turned to each other.‘
Matt Scott-Joynt/M&Y Media, Getty Images, Dave M Bennett/Getty Images, MCT via Getty Images, photoshot/hulton archive