How we met: ‘He bought me a toothbrush to keep at his flat – and I panicked’

Helen landed her dream job at the end of the 1990s, working as a writer for Total Guitar magazine. She was living in Bath, travelling across the country for gigs whenever she got the chance. In May 1999, she went to Reading to interview the band Witness, who were supporting Hurricane #1, and met the lead guitarist, Ray. “The band were so friendly and down to earth,” she remembers. “I met a lot of musicians who were egotistical, but Ray wasn’t like that.”

Witness had been working on their first album in Bristol, where Ray was based at the time. “We’d done a few interviews, but that one felt like a big deal,” he says. “We were worried about what to say and I thought she might ask lots of technical guitar questions that I didn’t know how to answer.” But the interview went “really well” and he was taken with Helen. “She caught my eye and I thought: ‘She’s nice.’”

Five months later, they met again, this time in Leicester, where Helen was interviewing the lead guitarist of the Charlatans, whom Witness were supporting. “I asked her if she wanted to get a coffee and was really pleased she said yes,” says Ray. But Helen soon got swept up in work and they never got round to the drink. “I thought I’d lost my chance,” he says.

In September 2001, they met at an Elbow gig and got chatting. Ray had a new album due to be released, so they exchanged numbers for professional reasons. “He was there with another girl and I was a bit gutted because I thought it was his girlfriend,” says Helen. Ray also presumed Helen was dating one of the men she’d gone to the gig with. A month later, she interviewed Ray again and, despite crossed wires at the previous event, they established that they were both single. Before the end of the night they had shared their first kiss, and Ray helped her get home. “She had no money so I paid for a cab. I also had to put my very drunk friend in a cab. It cost me £60 in taxis and I didn’t go anywhere,” he laughs.

They started dating and regularly went to see bands together. “Music was my life then. I’d end up going to around four gigs a week,” says Helen. Not long after they got together, Ray bought her a toothbrush to keep at his flat. “It was a bit fast for me so I panicked,” she says. Although they briefly split up, they soon ironed out the problem. “She thought I was being full-on, but I just can’t share my toothbrush,” he says. “It was just a hygiene thing.”

In October 2002, Helen went on sabbatical for three months and travelled to California, where Ray joined her for part of the trip. “We were really in love. It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever been on,” she says. When she returned, the couple moved in together in Bristol. “After I came back, I had itchy feet,” she says. “We trained to teach English as a foreign language and decided to move to Hong Kong in 2005.” They married there in 2009, returning for a celebration in the UK that all their friends and family could attend. The couple’s two sons were born in 2014 and 2016, 18 months apart.

When the family returned to the UK in 2017, they settled in Staffordshire, where Helen is from originally. Ray stayed at home to bring up the children, while Helen now works as a freelance journalist. She describes her partner as kind and thoughtful. “He treats everyone the same. He’s very down to earth and makes people feel relaxed. It made him an excellent teacher and he’s brilliant with the boys.” Ray loves his wife’s sense of adventure. “I’m quite anxious and she’s less uptight so we complement each other well.

“She’s not changed since the day I met her. After all that saga getting together, it was meant to be.”