Names: Celia and Richard Craig
Years together: 30
When Celia Craig travelled to Australia in 1989, her plan was to call things off with Richard, the clarinetist she’d met while they were studying music at the University of York two years earlier. She was English, he was Australian and they’d been exchanging letters in the time they’d been apart – ostensibly just as friends but with “a lot of flirting going on”.
She didn’t think they’d have a future together, but she was curious about Sydney: “He was writing me stories about baby magpies and how nice it was to be back and how nice it smelled and I was thinking, ‘I wonder what that’s like?’”
She was certain he’d welcome her with open arms. That laissez faire attitude lasted until the moment she touched down in Sydney. “I’d saved up all the money, I was all excited, and then the second [he] turned up at the airport, I was like, ‘Oh my God. What if this doesn’t work?’”, she remembers. “But within about 20 minutes, I knew it would be fine.”
And it was fine. In fact it was such a good trip that they were married the following year back in England. In 2006, they migrated to Australia and in June the couple will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
A love of music drew them together. Celia was 19 and a talented oboist in her first year of university, while Richard was 25 and doing a post grad degree. Aside from his obvious musical abilities, she thought he was “really cool and influential”, admiring the way he organised groups to play chamber music. He’d heard she was good and so he invited her to join one. “I’ve always had a bit of a weakness for talented women,” he says. “So we organised this Brahms sextet. Celia was playing oboe and I thought, ‘Wow. That’s how an oboe is supposed to sound.’ Plus she had these very sexy dimples, so I was immediately attracted to her.”
He adds: “The thing is, she was right up there with me intellectually and musically, and on the same wavelength in so many ways. So even though there was a fair age difference and she was only in her first year out of high school, I always saw her as an equal.”
They enjoyed playing together and the conversation was easy and relaxed, but they kept it casual. “When we first started seeing each other, we weren’t taking it seriously, it was just a bit of fun. I wasn’t looking for lifelong love or anything like that,” he says.
Although they share a passion for music, there are differences too. “[He’s] always been more of a scientific side of music and I’m more of the touchy-feely, instinctive side of it,” says Celia. “So I think I saw a bit of a jigsaw puzzle that fitted quite nicely there. He complemented what I was doing.” He still does: “That’s why Richard’s my producer when I’m making records because I trust what he’s saying.”
After a year of study, Richard returned to Australia. When Celia came to visit, it was clear there was something special between them. But she had a place at the Royal Academy of Music for her postgraduate studies, so she returned to England. Richard wanted to follow but there was a complication. He could no longer apply for a working holiday visa; the only option was a marriage visa. And while they wanted to live together in the UK for a year first, he had to apply from Australia. So they decided to get married – he proposed on Valentine’s Day and they had a country wedding in June.
Although their decision was rushed, both knew it was something they intended to do. “I’m hopeless at making decisions like that. I would dilly-dally forever except for the practicalities that we couldn’t be together unless we were married.” says Richard. “But I knew that I enjoyed being with Celia and that we always had fun together, and so why not? I remember having that conversation with my parents: ‘How can I ever make this decision?’. My dad, he was a man of few words, looked at me with a wry little smile and said, ‘Celia looks all right to me.’ So I said, ‘Oh, right. That’s good enough for me then!’”
Celia felt the same way “There were lots of people buzzing around me saying, ‘Are you sure?’ I was 21 when we got engaged … I just always go with an instinct. I do everything like that, really. If it feels right then it’s right, and it felt right, so I did it.”
The pair come from similar backgrounds and have similar values too. “When there’s been a choice to make, every time I’m impressed with the choices that have been made,” Celia says. “I think it is the tough times that actually make you strong.”
One of the tough times came when the family were living in Wales and had two very young children. Celia was offered a prestigious job in London, and Richard supported her, but it took months to sell their home. So Celia commuted, staying in London for a few nights and then returning to the family in Wales each week. Eventually they moved to London but it continued to be a stressful juggling act, with Celia often touring around Europe leaving Richard at home with the children. “Essentially I was a stay-at-home dad, and I was happy to do that,” he says. “We’d been together 10 years before [their first child] and I was ready for kids long before Celia was.” His wife was younger and ambitious and he was happy to support her. “I really enjoyed being the father and supporting Celia as the breadwinner. I think you just have to be flexible and accept those changing roles as your circumstances change.”
Roles were reversed when they moved to Australia in 2006. It was a big decision, as Celia was in her dream job at the time, working as the chairman of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, playing the Last Night of the Proms and working with the London Symphony Orchestra. Still, when Richard said he wanted to go because his father was ill, she agreed. “I suddenly thought, ‘Actually, I have done everything that I wanted to do.’”
Neither had jobs or a home to go to. Fortunately the couple share an adventurous spirit. “We’ve been quite heavy risk-takers in some ways because we didn’t know how we were going to actually make a crust if we came to Australia. We just played it as it came,” says Richard. Celia agrees: “I like the risk-taking. I think it’s an incredible adventure and it’s the way to keep everything alive.” They settled in the Blue Mountains and Richard set up his own business repairing musical instruments, while Celia looked after their children.
Raising children together has been a challenge as they haven’t always had the same approach, especially during the teenage years. “The kids have the potential to drive a wedge because they’re always asking the other one for an opinion on that one, all the time: ‘Oh, but Dad just said this.’ All the time. So that’s dangerous, but we got through it as well.” Celia is a disciplinarian while Richard is gentler. That’s been the cause of some of their few arguments, but they managed to navigate it.
They’ve learned a few things over the years. “[Always] assume, when things get tough, that the other person is doing their best,” says Celia. “Not blaming each other for stuff … I think we’re quite good at seeing things from each other’s point of view.” She adds: “There’s no point [getting into] dialogue that says, ‘You always do this.’ That kind of thing is completely pointless.”
Richard agrees: “We’re always willing to step up to support each other in difficult times. I went through a terrible time when my dad died a couple of years ago. I knew that Celia was always there for that emotional support that I needed. Similarly, when she’s gone through bad patches of being unhappy at work or whatever, you just make the commitment to be there for each other.”
There’s something else too, says Richard: “We still fancy each other. It may not be the most important thing but it is a crucial element to a long-term relationship.” They are both very affectionate, cuddling and kissing often. “If you’ve had a shit day at work, then it’s nice to have a cuddle,” Celia says. “I think that’s just really important. It’s like a physical need, that everyone needs affection,” Richard says.
For Celia, their relationship success comes down to their shared sense of adventure and purpose. “We’ve never gone, ‘Right, that’s it, we’re finished now. We’re here. We’re just going to do the same thing for 30 years.’ We’ve never done that and I’m sure we’re still not now.”
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