Oh baby, THAT’S love at first sight! Impatient duo who were prepped to wed as total strangers on Married at First Sight when Covid-19 hit and cancelled the show met up privately and look at the result…
- Ally Acklan and Paul Todd were due to tie the knot on Married At First Sight
- Their wedding was cancelled with just three days notice due to lockdown
- Determined to see if Ally was indeed the one, Paul contacted the show’s producers to get her details
- The pair met – on Skype – and moved in together when restrictions lifted
- They are now expecting a baby girl but have yet to make it down the aisle
When Ally Acklan and Paul Todd had to cancel their wedding at the 11th hour last March, both were bitterly disappointed.
All the plans had been in place for weeks, from the smart London hotel booked for the ceremony to the bride’s dress. They’d even had their hen and stag dos.
The only thing the bride and groom hadn’t done is actually meet — something that was due to happen at the altar in the most recent series of Channel 4’s Married At First Sight, the controversial show in which couples are selected by matchmakers and meet for the first time when exchanging vows.
But with Ally and Paul’s nuptials scuppered by a national lockdown, there was a very real chance that a couple deemed ‘a perfect match’ by the show’s experts might never meet at all.
They had not, though, reckoned with the determination of 33-year-old Paul, a train driver from Weston-super-Mare, who was resolved that Cupid’s arrow would not be set off course.
‘My view was that it wasn’t fair for them to expect us to wait out lockdown given we had no idea how long that might be,’ he says.
‘I was prepared to message every Ally on the internet if need be.’ The producers soon gave him what he wanted.
Fast-forward nearly a year, and here he is, snuggled up on the sofa at the Somerset home he now shares with 35-year-old medical insurance manager Ally.
Ally Acklan (left) and Paul Todd (right) were due to get Married At First Sight when their wedding was cancelled just three days before the ceremony due to lockdown. They met privately and are now expecting a baby together
And while they might not have made it down the aisle yet, they have an altogether bigger commitment to unite them: Ally is 21 weeks pregnant with the couple’s baby daughter. Both are blissfully happy.
‘Sometimes I do think about the fact that this time last year I was still going through the Married At First Sight process and now I’m here with my lovely match living together with a baby on the way,’ reflects Ally. ‘That’s a lot of change in less than a year but it’s been very easy and natural.’
After five controversial years on air, a baby is a first for the show — albeit one that comes courtesy of a couple who never actually made it to the televised altar.
Even the most hardened cynics would have to admit it’s a surprisingly happy outcome for a series that has been criticised for cheapening the institution of marriage — and one that has left former contestants, whose unions have almost all ended in divorce, struggling to shake off the stigma of searching for love on reality TV.
In fact, after a terrible track record, with not a single match lasting beyond six months among the 12 couples who have taken part to date, the latest and most recent series looks set to defy the odds. In December, the Mail brought readers the story of Owen Jenkins and Michelle Walder, who remain happily married nearly a year after their mid-March wedding.
Now, with Ally and Paul also happily together and a baby on the way, could it be the case that the series’s matchmakers, who now take charge of the matching process in place of the rather spurious ‘science-based’ claims of series past, actually know what they are doing?
‘As soon as we locked eyes on each other on Skype and started talking, we knew why we were matched. It was obvious,’ says Ally today, a sentiment echoed by Paul.
‘I had butterflies the moment I set eyes on her,’ he says. ‘We both just connected immediately.’
The softly spoken, rather shy Ally grew up in Lancing, West Sussex, the sixth of seven children born to stay-at-home mum Carol and milkman dad Richard. Her parents, now in their mid-60s, were teenage sweethearts and still together today, and many of her siblings are happily settled, so the commitment bar had always been set high.
Yet finding lasting love was no easy task. ‘I had one four-year relationship in my 20s but since then nothing long lasting,’ she says. ‘Dating seems a lot harder in your 30s, and I guess that I didn’t really like the ‘thank you, next’ culture of it all.’
Still, it’s a big leap to put your romantic CV in the hands of unknown matchmakers on a show Ally had never even heard of until last year.
‘I was watching Gogglebox with my dad and snippets came on,’ she says.
‘Then I went home and binge-watched it and I was intrigued, so I applied there and then. And honestly, I had this weird, knowing feeling from that first instant that this was going to work for me.’
Initially she kept that feeling to herself, only finally telling her parents when it became clear she might be matched.
‘They were both shocked at first,’ she admits. ‘Mum had never heard of the show, so she was asking me a million questions, but once they got their heads round it their attitude was, ‘Go for it, you only live once’.’
Paul also applied for the show on a whim, equally disenchanted with online dating.
All the plans for the wedding had been in place for weeks, from the smart London hotel booked for the ceremony to the bride’s dress (pictured) . They’d even had their hen and stag dos
‘It feels like you’re going in circles,’ he says. ‘You speak to someone, maybe meet up, it’s not great, you go back on to Tinder, and so on.
‘My job didn’t help either as I do shift work. I came home late one night, saw an advert for Married At First Sight and thought, ‘Why not?’ I didn’t really have any hope that I’d get as far as I did though.’
What did his parents make of it? His mum, Mary, a former dancer, and musician father David are amicably divorced and were supportive after Paul allayed their initial concerns.
‘Mum did ask about how I would feel if I got divorced, and my dad worried if I could lose my house. I was able to reassure him you sign a pre-nuptial agreement,’ he recalls.
Both underwent rigorous medical and criminal record checks, as well as a series of personality and psychology tests with matchmakers, who also talked to family members and ex-partners to build a fuller picture.
For his own part, Paul was fairly unfussy about his prospective life partner, on the looks front at least.
‘I’ve dated every type of girl: skinny, bigger, blonde, brunette, so it didn’t matter what features my match had, it was more about finding someone who could be a best friend and a lover at the same time,’ he says.
Ally confides she was a tad more specific — while she wanted ‘kind, positive, loving and romantic’ she also wanted someone ‘tall-ish, with light hair, and bluey-green eyes’.
‘Paul has all those, which is great,’ she says. ‘The only thing I didn’t get was stocky although I’m working on fattening him up.’
The couple were matched at the start of February last year. As is the format, neither was given any details about their intended, other than their first name. They weren’t even given a photograph.
They duly picked out their wedding outfits, and the big day was scheduled to take place in a Central London hotel on March 22. Then, three days before the wedding, they received a call to tell them it had to be cancelled.
‘I cried, not so much because of the wedding but because mentally I think we were both prepared to be husband and wife, and then we didn’t know if or when we would meet each other, so that’s personally what pulled at my heartstrings,’ says Ally.
‘But then I gave myself a pep talk and told myself to look at the bigger picture, which was about people keeping safe.’
Equally disappointed, her future groom took a rather more proactive approach. He wanted to meet this woman who’d been picked out as his perfect match. What if they were right?
So he issued an ultimatum to the producers: if they didn’t facilitate a meeting, he would go searching for Ally himself. He was prepared to private message every single ‘Ally’ on Facebook or Twitter.
‘Unless you put yourself in this position you’ll never understand,’ he explains. ‘Once you find out this person’s name, you instantly start having feelings for her.’
Luckily, the producers relented. There was certainly no argument from his intended soul mate, who was delighted to learn her groom-to-be had not given up on her.
Nonetheless both were a bag of nerves when the moment finally came for them to meet. Of course, being at the start of the first national lockdown, it had to be on screen, but nevertheless, it was still daunting for both of them.
‘I’ve travelled the world, done a skydive, and consider myself quite brave but on this occasion, I was really very nervous,’ says Ally.
‘When Paul’s face popped up it took a few seconds to register that this man was meant to be my husband.
‘But then within 20 seconds it felt normal and comfortable.’
It proved equally surreal for Paul. ‘It took me a full ten seconds to take in the fact that this was Ally — and then I was very, very happy at what I was looking at,’ he grins.
Given they only knew each other’s names, a lot of that first conversation was about establishing the basics, but with lockdown preventing any meeting in person it proved to be the first of many long-distance chats.
‘We were on the phone for hours every single day for weeks and weeks after that,’ says Ally.
Indeed, both say that looking back, theirs was an old-fashioned courtship, unfolding emotionally rather than physically and sealed by a romantic love letter that Paul wrote to Ally around a month after that first introduction.
Both Ally and Paul were a bag of nerves when the time came for them to finally meet on Pictured: Paul in his would-be wedding outfit
‘At the end of the letter he wrote, ‘I’m falling in love with you.’ And then I said it back to him,’ Ally recalls. ‘So, we actually said our ‘I love yous’ before we even met in the flesh.’
Many would argue the fact there were no television cameras intruding into every intimate moment, as there would have been if the show had gone ahead, definitely helped.
‘The television side was never part of the attraction for me or for Paul, so when they said we weren’t going to be on TV, it actually felt like a weight was lifted,’ Ally says.
Paul and Ally’s relationship had certainly flourished to the extent that when lockdown was lifted three months later in early summer, she didn’t hesitate when he suggested she move in with him in Somerset.
‘We didn’t want to do the long-distance thing and as Ally can work from home it made sense,’ says Paul.
‘I drove down to pick her up and we’ve never looked back.’ The couple shared their first kiss by the car but reveal that despite their immense physical attraction they still waited more than a week to fully consummate their relationship. ‘I know it sounds weird under the circumstances, but neither of us wanted to rush it,’ says Ally.
Both admit that they were taken aback when, just three months later at the end of October, Ally discovered she was pregnant. ‘It wasn’t planned, but once the shock wore off, we just thought how blessed and lucky we were,’ she says.
‘We had said from day one that we both wanted a family and while our daughter has come sooner than planned, I just think that that’s a blessing. We’re also more in love than ever.’ Paul squeezes her hand, the picture of pride — albeit he does have one rather important question yet to be asked.
With daughter Penelope Carol — her second name is in honour of Ally’s mum — due in June, will he make an honest woman of the mum-to-be beforehand?
‘I’ve got to propose yet,’ he jokes with a wink. ‘It will be nice though, because we can actually get married exactly how we want to rather than a TV show setting up a wedding.’
That is, of course, how it normally works — although if this couple hadn’t been willing to put themselves in the hands of television producers they would never have met in the first place.
If nothing else, it will be quite a story to tell their daughter.
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