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The greatest love story I know

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  • The Lady

    FEATURE

    17

    WIRE IM

    AGE; HARRIET BROCKET

    There is a saying about the Univer-sity of St Andrews: you graduate an alcoholic the coastal citys pubs are notoriously lively or married. And as the whole world must know by now, alumni Prince William and his future wife Catherine will soon be the latter.

    Indeed, at the couples graduation ceremony in 2005, Principal Dr Brian Lang gave a prophetic speech. I say this every year to all new graduates you may have met your future husband or wife. Our title as the top matchmaking university in Britain signifies so much that is good about St Andrews, so we therefore rely on you to go forth from St Andrews and multiply.

    Go forth they did, and it seems theyre not the only ones. About one in 10 graduates marries someone they met at St Andrews and the list, topped by William and Kate, includes Williams cousin James Ogilvy, who married Julia Rawlin-son in 1988 after studying there, and Fergus Boyd, who also once shared a flat with William and Kate, and met his wife Sandrine Janet in the history of art lecture hall.

    Fi and Stephen Bird are another St Andrews statistic. I met Stephens father first, says Fi. I was waitressing one summer and he told Stephen to look me up, so he did on my first day!

    They married soon after graduation, have six children, one of whom has recently graduated from St Andrews (but is yet to marry a fellow student), and live in a charming but rambling farmhouse in Angus thats in dire need of repair.

    I think the university is an excellent meeting place for a strong, growing-up relationship, Fi muses. We have grown up together and for me, marriage has been amazing. If youve found the right person, why procrastinate?

    And what of the alcoholic or married claim? Well, I heard that the definition of an alcoholic is someone who drinks more than their doctor. As Stephen is the doctor, he wins either way!

    Two years ago they celebrated their 25th anniversary. We went Scottish island-hopping. The Hebridean islands are really beautiful with gleaming white sands. Who needs the Caribbean? she says. In fact, we cant stay away from Scotland, and Stephen now even tutors St Andrews medics once a week.

    Gemma and Richard Sanderson also felt the pull of their alma mater, and have never left the Scottish town. There are so many romantic places in St Andrews. When we got together in our final year, we took lots of trips to Pittenweem for fish and chips, and we got engaged sitting along from St Andrews Castle, overlooking the sea.

    We wanted to get married in the St Andrews area and chose Craigsanquhar, a beautiful country house with a stunning staircase where we could have the ceremony. Fortunately Richard got a job in St Andrews as a web developer and I started teacher training at Dundee University.

    The couple only graduated in 2008 and were married one year later. With the national average

    age for a woman to marry recently reaching 30, this almost seems outdated, but both Gemma and Richard know of several St Andrews graduates who married at a young age. It seems to be a natural progression after graduation, Gemma says. So are children on the cards? Not yet, but we have a lovely little dog called Teabag!

    Lara Dunns husband was a fresher when they met. Robin offered to buy me a drink at a social event, in the second week of his first year. Id already had a year of fun there, says Lara, who, as a fellow St Andrews art history graduate, has more in common with the future princess than most. We got married in St Salvators Chapel in 2005, 10 years after graduation. I was secretly hoping that Kate would follow in my footsteps again and get married in the university chapel.

    So what is it about St Andrews that inspires marriage? Well, its a small town, pretty much cut off from everywhere, so people socialise quite closely. Even the course system and the way the faculties work is conducive to getting to know people well. Then there are the beach parties

    Geoff Saulnier knows only too well how effective St Andrews parties are when it comes to meeting girls. I met Alison at a party in the com-mon room of David Russell Hall, he begins. Like all long-term couples (they have been married for 10 years and have three little boys) they tell their how-we-met story with practised ease. It was week six of our first term at St Andrews, Alison continues. Geoff (with his scary university mullet hairdo) was returning from a meal out with his parents who were holidaying in town, and he was accosted on the stairs by my friend Sheila and me, in search of young men in possession of alcohol to join us at a party. Then he did the splits for me while dancing instant attraction!

    They became a couple for two years and then went their separate ways after graduation, before rekindling the romance at a chance university reunion. We did quite a bit for easyJets business, says Alison, who was living in Scotland while Geoff was in London. He finally lured me to the capital in 1998 and proposed three months later. You might say he wore me down Graduates from St Andrews attended their wedding as ush-ers, bridesmaids and revellers, including Sheila, Alisons joint-accoster, 11 years before.

    Our children now demand a trip to St Andrews every time we go to Scotland, says Geoff. There is something magical and magnetic about the place. Most of the people we know who went there feel the same fondness for it that we do although if relationships go wrong, it is harder to stay away from each other because its basically a three-street town.

    Any tips for Will and Kate? Wed tell them to stay true to themselves and to each other, and stay in touch with your university friends. They knew you before you became who you are now, and they saw you evolve. Love each other, but dont become insular and exclude friends. Every-one else can bugger off if they dont like it! u

    ROYAL CITYof LOvE

    There are so many romantic places in St Andrews. We got engaged sitting along from St Andrews castle, overlooking the sea

    Alison and Geoff Saulnier

    Fi and Stephen Bird (left)

    Gemma and Richard Sanderson

    Robin and Lara DunnRobin and Lara Dunn

    St andrews Brides.indd 21 07/04/2011 13:20

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