Alex and Ayan
Updated: Oct 3
Alex and Ayan met while studying at Leicester Polytechnic in Autumn 1988. They shared some poignant discoveries about being in a mixed race relationship, the importance of kindness and laughter.
Alex told us about his path to finding love with Ayan.
My wife Ayan and I met in Harrow Road, just off Narborough Road in Leicester in the Autumn of 1988. We were both aged 20 and neighbours. I had gone over to borrow a book from a dance student called Babs who lived with her and her other housemates. I was studying Drama at Leicester Poly and she was studying Law. We had been told to look out for each other by a mutual friend and it was only after talking to her for a while that I realised that THIS was the woman I had been told to meet up with.
Ayan was very shy (unlike me). She was brought up in Somalia for the first five years of her life and had to escape her father after her parents' marriage broke down. She had been told by her mum never to reveal where she came from but the melting pot of Leicester was for her quite a comfort that gave her a lot more confidence.
We were friends, acquaintances really, but I fancied her. I went over to her house very often but she would be on the phone to her mum in Watford and I really wasn't sure that she particularly wanted me there. But I think it was shyness. She seemed so gentle and kind and obviously beautiful.
She left a year earlier than me and went to Chester to study her Law finals. Some years later, in 1993 I was doing a new play festival at Watford Palace theatre and our mutual friend bumped into me in the street and asked if I fancied going to meet Ayan who happened to be with her mum in a coffee shop. Of course I was mad keen to. The friend, Sue was ultimately reluctant for Ayan and me to get together as she had split up with my friend Steve.
It was only when I went on a lads holiday to Ibiza later that year that I realised I was desperate to be with her. I hated the Ibiza experience - it was tacky and horrible and I was too old.
I felt that Ayan was the person I needed to be with. I knew the odds were stacked against us getting together, and though her friend Sue tried to discourage me, I persisted gently and we had our first date at the premier of the film Much Ado About Nothing in Leicester Square, which I was in. It was thrilling for both of us.
What is the secret of staying in a long term relationship?
We both hate any kind of confrontation but luckily we are very much in love. I put this down to Ayan's genuine kindness and real decency. Kindness that has no other motive. She has genuine compassion for others and is often an unsung hero who gets on with things without needing plaudits. She is kind without needing anyone to notice it. She has kindness for the sake of decency and I admire her hugely for that.
Being married to Ayan gave me a valuable insight into everyday racism that Ayan experienced and I witnessed. Racism is not always obvious, because it's often those tiny moments of casual disinterest which I might not have noticed if I wasn't married to someone from a Somalian heritage. It bothers us a great deal when we see inequality being played out in front of us and we always try to challenge people who behave badly toward others.
Our most memorable moments are when we had our children. We have two children - a girl of 21 and a boy of 17 and we are very happy. The first birth was momentarily quite distressing at one point when it had been plain sailing and with the second child, we decided to have him at UCH in London despite living in Watford. We got stuck in a traffic jam on the M1 in the rush hour with Ayan in labour. It was pretty terrifying but all worked out in the end. I often think we must have been braver or more reckless to not have the baby at the nearest hospital. I'm not sure we'd do that again now.
We have so many great memories, too many to put down here.
Our favourite song from the 1980s is Sweet Love by Anita Baker.