By Michael Christie
MOST St Andrews graduates will have really enjoyed Will and Kate’s big day and all the fuss that was made of the town where they met. All sorts of stats were bandied about to cement the position as the UK’s University Of Love. The usual one is that one in 10 students ends up married to a fellow graduate. I’d say that’s an underestimate.
Those who didn’t get hitched know plenty of others who did. The university chapel is forever filled with those making a pilgrimage back to the crucible of their romance. And you need to watch out while walking past the Cathedral to the pier in case you trip over a proposal in progress.
I can’t scoff, I’m one of them. I got together with my wife Gillian in my third year and her second. We’ve been together ever since and got married in 2005. Two boys – Daniel, now four, and Calum, 18 months, followed. We share our beginnings with the royal newlyweds, at least. I proposed in Westminster Abbey, right about where the Queen and top royals were sat on April 29. Spooky? No, just a nice coincidence.
Of course, I’m not the only one. There were countless romances flagged up in the media during the week before the royal wedding. Some from decades ago, others more modern. I lived in the Rockview Coach House on The Scores for two years. Al and Bob, two of the lads I shared a house with in 1998-1999, are married to St Andrews graduates too. Both have two kids now. Al proposed to Judith in St Andrews, nearly bumping into a former flatmate who was in town for exactly the same reason.
There must have been something in the water, although the wooden seat overlooking the sea and beach at the end of our garden – known as the “love bench” – may have helped.
But what is the mysterious X factor? It must have something to do with the beauty of the town, its historic buildings, the power of the sea and the beaches. Or perhaps it’s the special atmosphere of the town itself, heightened by feeling a little cut off from the rest of Scotland, from the outside world.
Students thrown into hall together only have each other from day one. It’s sink or swim. And those early months lead to some frantic swimming. Deep friendships develop that set the standard for the rest of university life. They change and develop and strengthen, meeting others as you go. Many of those friendships last a lifetime.
Being a bit indecisive, I had three best men at my wedding. Two of them – Jamie and Gav – I met in my first weeks at St Salvator’s Hall (another royal coincidence there). The other, Bob, I got to know in my second year. They are probably still my closest friends even though I hear from them rarely these days and see them even less often. But the bond is strong and will remain so. We went back to St Andrews last summer for The Open and it was like old times.
Back in our student days, trips home were rare and most weekends were spent in and around St Andrews. You got to know people better without even realising it in classes, clubs and societies. The dinner party circuit sounds a bit pompous but we did have meals at friends’ houses and they would come to eat with us too. The girls we knew fed us spectacularly. The efforts of us Coach House boys were more limited, admittedly, but we knew how to heat up a mean Tesco chicken Kiev and smartened the house up by taking Jamie’s Y-fronts off the radiators. As for pudding, who could beat Value swiss roll and ice cream?
St Andrews graduates are blessed with so many wonderful memories of their time there. Work hard, play hard is the ethos and most of us look back knowing we did a lot of both. I feel so sorry for the coming generations who won’t get the chance to create their own memories because of tuition fees but that argument is for another day.
All I can say is that when I switched on the TV and read the newspapers the next day, the looks Will and Kate were giving each other showed me they shared the same experiences I did. Like all of us St Andrews graduates who married each other, they met, became friends, fell in love, went for walks on the West Sands, laughed a lot and had fun. They got to know each other inside out, at their best and worst. Their relationship grew and was strengthened in a town where they could be themselves and can draw on those times if things get tough.
The town itself had a major role in why Will and Kate married. It had a major role in why I got married. A few months ago, I brought my boys to the place where our family really began. St Andrews is a special place, a town of love. And I love St Andrews.