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A marriage with the X-factor

As TV viewers watch celebrity couple Robbie Williams and Ayda Field Williams join the X Factor judges, Handel Everett gives Andrew Stone his advice for a long and happy marriage

We started out as friends, and then it blossomed into something more

IN recent years a new series of The X Factor has meant not only new contestants but also changes to the judging panel.

This year on ITV’s singing competition, Simon Cowell is joined by former One Direction singer Louis Tomlinson, who first found fame as a contestant on the show, as well as singer Robbie Williams and his actress wife Ayda Field Williams.

It is the first time the show’s judging panel has included a married couple, and X Factor fans are interested to see how the dynamic works out. In the arena audition rounds, the couple have shared jokes and chairs and danced to some of the numbers. But there has also been some tension when Robbie has taken a little too much notice of some of the female contestants.

After watching one particularly raunchy audition, Robbie asked his wife: ‘What am I allowed to think?’

That may work during the auditions, but once the live shows begin, the judges also become mentors, championing their own acts above those mentored by the other panel members.

How will Ayda feel if Robbie sends one of her acts home instead of one of his own? Could it lead to disagreements? Might they discover that working with a spouse can cause problems?

A nonagenarian couple from Bournemouth could give them some hints on having a long-lasting, happy marriage while working together – with one of them even having experience of the music industry with screaming fans and chart success.

Handel and Lilian Everett were married 70 years ago, and Handel has a practical piece of advice for all couples that has helped his marriage to last.

‘When you have a disagreement,’ he says, ‘always resolve it and end up having a kiss. The Bible says, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry”, and that’s a good principle to live by.’

The couple met in 1941 when Handel moved with his family to Weymouth and started attending the Salvation Army church there.

‘We both loved music,’ he recalls. ‘That first brought us together. We used to play duets.

‘We started out as friends, and then it blossomed into something more. One night, after practising the piano together, we were saying goodnight when, on impulse, I gave Lilian an affectionate embrace. I didn’t have to say anything – that was it!’

At the time, Handel was in the staff band of the Royal Tank Regiment. Being in the military during the Second World War, he had to spend time away from Weymouth and away from Lilian. The time apart certainly proved the adage about absence making the heart grow fonder.

‘The day I was due home, Lilian couldn’t wait for me to arrive,’ Handel explains. ‘She caught a train and met up with me on my way back. We travelled the last 20 miles together. I couldn’t believe it when she suddenly appeared in the carriage. It was very emotional.’

The couple were married at The Salvation Army in 1948 and the next year they both began training to become ministers in the Movement. Then followed 48 years of working together, including 10 after they had officially retired.

It was during the mid-1960s that Handel’s musical abilities led to his having a brief encounter with pop stardom.

In 1963 The Salvation Army formed the group the Joystrings. Handel and Lilian were working for the organisation in London and Handel was drafted into the band to play the double bass. The group’s first record ‘It’s an Open Secret’ spent seven weeks in the charts, and a uniform-wearing Salvation Army pop group made a huge impression on the general public.

When they arrived to perform on Radio Luxembourg’s Friday Spectacular they were greeted by 100 screaming teenagers.

‘It was an interesting experience,’ Handel laughs. ‘Another time, I had a message from my cousin in Canada to say that he’d seen me on the television over there.’

The purpose of the Joystrings was to communicate the Christian message through the music of the time. It brought some challenges to Handel and Lilian, as Handel had to fit in the group’s engagements with his and his wife’s work as well as finding time to spend with their children.

But, says Handel, it was the couple’s own Christian faith that helped them rise to the challenges.

‘Our faith was the answer to every circumstance. We could never have gone back on our wedding vows because they were made in a Christian service.

‘Lilian and I have been sustained in our 70 years of marriage by our mutual faith and trust in God and our mutual faith and trust in each other – and she’s still my sweetheart.’

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