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How we met: ‘I was terrified my parents would find out I’d been intimate with another girl’

Lucy Campbell was 11 years old when her parents sent her to an independent Catholic school near their home in North Devon. It was during the entrance exam that Hen Staveley-Brown caught her eye for the first time. “She was one of the least girly girls,” remembers Lucy. “A tomboy, like me.” When the pair started school in September 1979, they soon became good friends. “Lucy lived three miles from me and we were always round at each other’s houses or going out together,” says Hen. “There was definitely a connection there that developed into something else later on.” Lucy says they were “unhappy teenagers” who were “a bit wild and often in trouble”.

In 1983, the girls went on a Duke of Edinburgh trip with their classmates. They spent the night together in a tent after getting drunk, and rumours spread quickly. “Everyone knew and I was terrified my parents would find out I’d been intimate with another girl,” says Lucy. At the time, same sex relationships were pretty much unheard of, especially at a Catholic school in rural Devon. In private, the pair continued to have a stormy relationship with frequent fallouts, until they left school in 1984. “Our school shut down because it was failing and we lost touch with each other,” says Lucy. “I went off to college for a while and then later went to London to work as a nurse. I wanted to forget about it all and just blend in.” Hen joined the police and moved to Bristol. “It was a shock for some, because I think the nuns always thought I’d end up in jail,” she says, laughing.

In 1988, Lucy briefly came out, but says she didn’t feel comfortable being gay. “It was during the Aids crisis and there was a lot of hostility. My family were homophobic and I was struggling with my mental health, so I went back in the closet.” Hen had a girlfriend and in 1996 she called to invite Lucy to an affirmation ceremony to celebrate their relationship. Lucy couldn’t face it. “She seemed so confident about her lifestyle and I didn’t want to be associated with what had happened at school,” she says.

It wasn’t until 2016 that they reconnected through a Facebook group. “I’d tried to contact Lucy before, but she hadn’t responded,” says Hen. “As soon as I saw she was part of a Facebook group for our old school, I joined.” For Lucy, it felt like the right time to talk. “I was getting my life together and seeing a counsellor. It gave me the confidence to contact people who had been in my life; I don’t think I would have felt ready a few years before that.”

A few months later, they agreed to meet for a drink with another friend. “Lucy asked if we could see each first beforehand. It felt like a date without her saying it,” says Hen. In October, they found themselves at a coffee shop in an M4 services, laughing and joking like no time had passed. “We talked for hours because there was such a connection,” says Lucy.

Hen was still in an unhappy relationship with her second long-term partner and Lucy was single. “I was wary because of Hen’s situation, plus I didn’t want to rush into anything that could be messy,” says Lucy. “Emotionally I was ready to be back in touch.” Shortly afterwards, the pair met in London and decided they couldn’t be apart any longer. Hen broke up with her partner and moved to London to be with Lucy. They agreed to retire early at 50, so they could enjoy their lives together. “We moved to Bath for a while and commuted to different cities before we could retire,” says Hen. In 2018, they got married in Barnstaple and now live in Devon with their six cats. “We’re such a cliche,” says Hen with a laugh.

Although the pair are opposites in many ways, they say that is what makes them a good fit. “I love Hen’s energy and optimism,” says Lucy. “She’s the extrovert and I’m the introvert. She gets me motivated and I think I have a calming influence on her.” Hen agrees. “We’re like yin and yang. We always loved each other. It’s like living with my best friend – we’re soul mates.”

www.theguardian.com

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