Everyone's wedding day is memorable and mine was no exception -- an idyllic island setting, sunshine sparkling on an azure, Caribbean sea, exotic blooms scenting the air, the man I adore by my side and (somewhat astonishingly!) Sir Richard Branson generously acting as our witness on Necker Island, his breathtakingly beautiful home. Whilst this all sounds like a bizarre dream, I promise it did really happen -- although I have to pinch myself sometimes when I look at our wedding photos.
But what made the event even more special is that it happened on my 50th birthday and -- don't laugh -- was funded by my Virgin airlines frequent flyer miles which I'd amassed through a country-hopping career that had convinced me I'd be spending the rest of my life single.
To explain: I am one of very few women working full-time as a wildlife and travel photographer. It's a job which has taken me to all seven continents, many dozens of different countries and introduced me to extraordinary people, places, species and spectacles. I absolutely love my job and look forward to sharing some of my adventures, from the Arctic to the South Pole, and in between, here on Huff/Post50 with you in the coming months.
Whenever new acquaintances discover what I do, the reaction is nearly always the same: "Wow." "That must be fabulous." "I so envy you." "Can I carry your bags?." And they are right. It is a thrill and a privilege to earn my living amid the wildlife and locations I have dreamed of visiting ever since childhood and I never take it for granted.
But it isn't always an easy life, even though I realize how fortunate I am to make a living doing what I love. I've been adrift on an ice floe; walloped by a whale; been pursued by a polar bear; endured fierce heat and ferocious cold. I've been tested numerous times on whether I can keep up with the 'men', both by others in my chosen profession and by indigenous peoples with traditions to uphold, who are sometimes surprised to see a woman doing this job. But it all comes with the territory. And when people tell me how lucky I am, I usually tell them that the harder I work, the luckier I get!
It's hard on social connections too, when one's absences from home, family and friends can sometimes amount to seven months out of 12 and you are rarely in the same country for more than a few weeks at a time.
However, photography also has the power to unite -- a way to share memories, hopes, experiences and interests. So I was delighted when my online post about my friend, the gloriously-voiced Welsh singer-songwriter, Judith Owen, who had chosen my portrait of her for the cover of her last album, "Ebb and Flow," prompted a message from a fellow fan. I'd last seen Chris almost 40 years ago at our village primary school in north Wales when we were both 10, although he went to high school over the hedge at the bottom of my parents' garden!
One email led to another, then a meet-up at the Cheltenham Jazz Festival (to hear Judith, of course), followed by a deepening friendship. This developed against the backdrop of my mother's terminal cancer diagnosis, when frankly a relationship was the last thing on my mind. Chris was a huge support to me during a very difficult time, and our friendship led to love, and was followed by a proposal of marriage (on his 50th birthday), shortly before my mother passed away. A year of extremes, for sure.
It's ironic that someone who has spent 30 years traveling the world from the poles to the tropics, convinced she'd always be unlucky in love, ended up falling in love with (almost literally) the boy next door, and when she least expected it. We decided to mark the occasion of hitting 50, after a challenging 12 months, by getting hitched on Necker Island. And, like our witness Richard, I can never resist an adventure or a challenge, so I zip-wired down to the beach in my wedding dress! Just the two of us with our witnesses -- it was perfect.
My work still takes me away more than most spouses but Chris is heart-warmingly proud and supportive of what I do. I find myself in the wonderful position of being happier now at 50 than I've ever been. My career is in a great place; I've got a loving partner on my team; we'll be taking some trips together and we share the same refreshing outlook on life and its challenges.
The date of 13 August 2015, both my 50th birthday AND our wedding day (I've told Chris he has no excuse for forgetting my birthday or our anniversary!) and the phrase "One in a Million" is engraved on the inside of our wedding rings, handmade in Wales, and decorated with the Welsh dragon to reflect our proud heritage and where we met. "One in a Million" is also the title to one of Judith's songs, which she dedicated to us at her gig when we got engaged. And, whilst it may sound mawkish, it's truly how I feel about my luck in finding myself in this extraordinarily fortunate position.
I guess life DOES begin at 50!