In 1983, Christine Harris and Robert Frati were both working for a technology company. “I was based in the UK and he was in France,” she explains. To prepare for a corporate takeover, they were put in the same classroom for a two-week training session. “I took an instant dislike to him,” says Christine. “He was a sales manager and I think he was trying to get his staff excited, but I thought he was an idiot.” While her first impressions were bad, his were non-existent. “I don’t remember her being there at all,” he admits.
The following year, Christine was staying at a colleague’s house in London after a flat purchase she was attempting fell through. A few weeks later, several people from the company were invited to stay, ahead of a big trade conference. “I came down one morning and was horrified to find Robert there in his underwear. I had no idea what to do so I had to be polite,” she says.
“They were very nice underpants,” he points out. The pair spent the next few days getting to know each other, as they travelled back and forth from the trade show. “We both liked to be on time, so we were the only ones up early,” says Robert.
It wasn’t long before she realised she had been wrong about him. “He was funny and made me laugh. He was more intelligent than I had thought and had a serious side, too.” Robert says he found his partner vivacious and clever. “Love is a funny feeling. You either get it or you don’t and we just got it.”
On the last night of the trade show they went for dinner with friends, where Christine told the group she would never date a smoker. “I knew he was serious about me when he threw his cigarettes and lighter over his shoulder,” she says. Despite being a heavy smoker at the time, he has never picked up a cigarette since.
For the next two years, they had a long-distance relationship between London and Paris. “It was in the days where it cost about £600 for a return trip to France. Sometimes we’d use the ferry to save costs,” says Christine. Over time, they realised the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable and she made the decision to leave her job and move to rural France. “It was in the days where men made more money, so it made more financial sense.”
The couple got married in their remote village in 1987. ”It was the first foreign wedding they had ever had and the mayor who was meant to marry us was terrified,” says Robert. “We had people from all over the world as our witnesses and I think he was afraid of saying the names wrong. On the day he pulled a sickie and sent his deputy.”
After the wedding, the couple endured a disastrous honeymoon to Crete. “I was really ill and we had terrible storms,” says Christine. “I had a raging fever and couldn’t leave the bed because the floor flooded.” But they have laughed about it ever since, they say.
While Robert worked full-time, Christine spent her time learning French. “We left the little village in 1988 and went to Lille before we settled in Lyon,” says Christine. The couple remained in the city until 10 years ago, when Robert retired. They now live in the south of France, where their daughter plans to have her wedding.
Robert has had cancer twice since they married, and is now going through chemotherapy. “I just want to get rid of this bloody cancer and get back to doing the things we enjoy again,” he says.
Christine says her husband “never gets angry” and they don’t argue. “I love that he’s able to differentiate between what’s really important and what isn’t.” Robert agrees: “Although we’ve faced health challenges, we’re also very lucky in many ways.”
France is currently in lockdown. “We usually love going out for meals, so we are missing that,” says Christine. “But we are making the best of things right now by lighting candles and enjoying cosy nights in. We just love each other’s company.”