When Taran met Cleo during freshers’ week at the University of Exeter in 2016, little did he know that she would become his best friend. “I wasn’t sure I was going to like university,” he says. “I didn’t enjoy my first lecture, but then I met a few people from my history course and ended up going back to their halls.”
Cleo was one of the people who lived there. She says: “I had just started studying law and wasn’t sure about the flat. There were 12 rooms and a shared kitchen and I was just getting used to it.” At freshers’ week parties, she started getting to know people – and met Taran for the first time. “Everyone was calling her Renault Clio, after the car, so I went up and called her Cleopatra,” he says. “I’d had a few drinks, though, so I don’t remember much else about her from that night.”
Despite his best efforts, Taran didn’t make a good first impression on Cleo. “I thought he was a bit of a try-hard and sucking up to everyone,” she says. “Looking back, I was a bit harsh. He was a really nice, genuine person.”
For the rest of the first year they remained casual acquaintances, but at the start of the second year their friendship groups merged and the two students started hanging out more frequently. Taran says: “We both really like reading, so she got me a book by William Blake for my birthday.”
One drunken night out in the third year, they kissed, but laughed it off the next day. “It was a bit weird but, at that point, we weren’t close enough for it to be a major deal,” says Cleo. “We decided it was never happening again, though, because we definitely didn’t have that chemistry.”
A few months later, they discovered they had the same travel aspirations. “We were at this scuzzy local pub we used to go to and started chatting about how much we wanted to visit Cuba. We were really serious about it and started planning a trip,” says Cleo. Due to lack of funds, they didn’t go but the planning brought them closer.
“We had the same musical tastes and went to see Tame Impala together in summer 2019,” says Taran. “Then we graduated and the next few months were strange for both of us. We didn’t have jobs lined up, or any money. I think we felt quite unsettled.”
Taran was living with his family in London, while Cleo was with hers in Kent. “We started visiting each other. His family are traditional Sikhs, but very similar to mine. They made me feel incredibly welcome and made me lots of amazing food,” she says. Taran also stayed regularly with Cleo and her family, who were equally welcoming.
Over the next year, their lives went through a series of parallels. “We got our first jobs on the same day, did master’s degrees at the same time and went into, and came out of, relationships at the same time,” says Taran. “It was as if we were always on the same wavelength.”
In September 2020, Cleo moved to Finsbury Park in north London to work as a paralegal. Taran moved to Surrey Keys in south-east London a year later and now works for a tech company. He says: “A lot of the time we just wander around the city together, or go to galleries and the cinema. We also enjoy going to random gigs and watching the crowds.”
In 2022, they went to Madrid and still hope to go to Cuba. “We describe each other as brothers – I don’t have any siblings but Taran is as close as I’ll ever get,” says Cleo. “If we haven’t seen each other for a while, I start to feel uneasy. I feel grounded again after we set the world to rights.”
Cleo loves Taran’s generosity and how supportive he is towards his friends. “He’s far cleverer than me and always gives the best book recommendations. You can take him anywhere and he gets on so well with everyone. He’s a really inclusive person who puts people at ease.”
Taran appreciates Cleo’s curious nature. “She gets excited by everything and that’s why it’s so fun to hang out. She always stands up for what she believes in and has taught me to be more direct.”