How we met: ‘I asked if we could be friends, and she said: I hope we’ll be more than that’

When Tim, 68, landed a role in The Real Long John Silver at the Battersea Arts Theatre in spring 1989, he wasn’t expecting it to change his life. “It was a play about a dysfunctional married couple who get into a fight about a fancy dress party,” he says. Viv, who was the musical director and choreographer, had also been cast as his wife. The day she walked into the rehearsal theatre was “love at first sight” for him, he says. “She was wearing a powder blue skirt with matching blue socks and had the brightest red hair I’d ever seen. My jaw hit the floor.”

Viv, who is in her 50s, was dating someone else and didn’t feel the same instant attraction. “My first impression was that he was a crazy-looking guy with rainbow braces, a bit like a clown,” she laughs. Tim was convinced she was out of his league, but decided to build a friendship. They worked on four plays, including the one where they played husband and wife. Over the course of the three-week rehearsal period, followed by a three-week run of performances, they grew steadily closer.

“Tim had grown up in South Africa in a family that fought apartheid,” says Viv. “His upbringing was so different to mine and it was really interesting. I found him to be a mix of serious and hilarious.” Viv’s relationship didn’t work out, and she soon realised she’d developed feelings for Tim. She asked him to go for a meal at the end of the run of plays, so they could spend more time together. “I said I hoped we’d stay friends and she said ‘I hope we’ll be more than friends’,” says Tim. They began dating, taking regular trips on his motorbike. “He bought me this fantastic leather jacket with fringes,” remembers Viv. “That definitely won me over. He didn’t want to take me out without protective clothes.”

As well as riding around on the bike, they loved going to the theatre and working on shared projects. “We decided when we met that we wanted to pursue our creative work,” says Viv. “It’s not always the easiest choice but we have each other for support. When you meet someone who shares your outlook on life you just know it feels right.”

In January 1990, Viv went to Italy to work for a few months, while Tim went on tour in the north of England. They would call each other as often as they could. He found a flat in north London, and invited her to live with him when she came back. “I wasn’t sure as I thought it might be too soon. Then I saw the flat and it was lovely so I said yes,” she jokes. They moved in together and got engaged in the autumn.

Due to the nature of their work they spent a lot of time apart, and wanted to cement the relationship. In 1991 they held a fancy dress wedding in a circus tent. “It broke the ice for our guests. I was the sheriff of Nottingham and Viv was a harlequin,” says Tim. Three years later they moved to New Barnet, where their children were born in 1994 and 1999. Although most acting auditions happen in London, they made the decision to move to Devon in 2006. “It turns out the creative community is really supportive and inclusive down here,” says Tim. He now does CBT therapy for the NHS alongside his creative work and Viv has moved her career further into music. “I was always a musician, but I’ve spent lockdown recording a new album. It’s been challenging but I’ve had plenty of time to compose,” she says.

She describes her husband as “very authentic” with a big heart. “I admire his honesty and his integrity. And he always makes me laugh.” Tim says Viv is the most compassionate person he’s ever known. “When I was younger I was always so angry at injustice. She’s taught me so much. I’m more likely to listen than react now. She’s my best friend.”