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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Lizzie Cernik

How we met: ‘I was almost scared to see him again, because I knew he would change my life’

Poul and Niall at home in Brittany in 2019.
‘We love to enjoy great food and wine together’ … Poul (left) and Niall at home in Brittany in 2019. Photograph: Handout

After Niall lost his long-term partner to Aids in the early 90s, he had no plans for a new relationship. By 2001, he was living in London and happily settled into his single life. “I’d moved to the city from County Cavan, Ireland, in my 20s, and was working at the National Theatre,” he says. “I definitely wasn’t looking to meet anyone.”

One night, when his twin brother was visiting London, they went to a gay bar in Kensington. “He’s not gay, but a lot of the other pubs were closed,” says Niall. That’s where he caught the eye of Poul, a Danish restaurateur who was drinking in the bar. “I thought they were a couple at first,” says Poul, “but I was immediately attracted to Niall. He had lovely eyes and was really witty.” At the time, Poul was working at a restaurant in Mayfair. “I had been due to go to Chile a few months later for a job, but I was enjoying London too much to leave.”

His plans to move on were immediately forgotten the night he met Niall. “From the moment we started talking, it felt like I had always known him,” says Poul. Niall agrees that it was like bumping into an old friend. “It was quite bizarre. I always felt we must have met in a previous life.” They went home together that night, then met again for lunch the day after.

“I was almost scared to see him that day because I knew my life was about to change,” says Niall. “Without a question, we knew straight away that we were right for each other.” Poul felt exactly the same and had moved into Niall’s London flat by the end of the week. The couple spent their time visiting the theatre and regularly travelling at the weekend. “We’re both really interested in arts and culture and love historic gardens and palaces,” says Poul.

Niall and Poul in Vence, France in this year.
‘I wasn’t looking to meet anyone’ … Niall with Poul in Vence, France in this year. Photograph: Handout

In 2003, they bought a house together in Forest Hill, south London, and Poul found a job at a members’ club in the City. In 2007, they moved to Brittany, France, to set up an international cookery school. “I’d bought an old 16th-century house there in 2001, so we spent some time converting it into the school,” says Niall.

Despite seeing each other every day and night, the couple never tire of each other’s company. “We enjoy having students visiting us from all over the world. No matter how busy we are, we still always get on,” says Niall. “The house is big enough for us to have our own space. Poul once told me there’s three people in the relationship: Niall, Poul and Niall and Poul together. We always make room for all three.”

The couple have also made many new friends in the area. “We love it here and we’ve experienced no homophobia in the local community – everyone has been very welcoming,” says Poul. “In a few years, our plan is to retire to the south of France, where it’s warmer.”

Since they met, they have celebrated their relationship with three weddings. “The first was in 2005 under the London Partnership Register, which was set up in 2001 to recognise same-sex partnerships. Then we had a civil partnership in 2006, which granted us more rights, and we married in Ireland in 2018, when full marriage equality came in,” says Niall. “It means that Poul can be buried with me, in our family grave in Ireland, which is important to me.”

Niall loves that he can rely on his husband. “My parents have passed away and he was a great support while they were ill,” he says. “I love his honesty, his integrity and his sensitivity. He will always surprise me with flowers and remembers the details of all the things I find important.”

Poul appreciates his partner’s caring nature. “He loves to read and he’s a brilliant poet. He’s very family-oriented and we love to enjoy great food and wine together,” he says. “We are very fortunate to have each other. It’s been like winning the lottery.”


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