Britain's greatest-ever female gymnast Beth Tweddle announced her engagement to her now-husband Andy Allen back in September 2016 in an exclusive interview and photoshoot with HELLO! magazine. The sports star told how the engagement was the perfect end to a traumatic year, which saw her break her neck in a skiing accident while training for Channel 4 TV show The Jump and a long recovery afterwards. The couple told us how Andy got down on one knee and presented his girlfriend of two years with a diamond solitaire in Brazil following Beth's stint as a BBC commentator for the Rio Olympics.
"I was totally shocked! I knew he was the one for me, but I had absolutely no inkling of what he was planning to do, or that he'd been brought a diamond ring with him to Rio. It was a moment I will never forget. I am so excited about the future," Beth told HELLO! "At first I wasn't sure it was something I should do. But it had been a really bad year and I thought it would be a lovely way to finish it off,' added Andy.
Beth and Andy got engaged at the Belmond Hotel das Cataratas in the Iguaçu National Park, which boasts the world’s largest waterfall system with 275 waterfalls. Beth told us: “We’d been to see the waterfalls during the day and Andy suggested we get out of our wet things, dress for dinner and go to the Devil’s Throat, where you can walk out and look down at the waterfalls. We were the only ones there. I turned to look at the amazing view. He tapped me on the back. I looked round and he was on one knee saying, ‘Will you marry me?’ Normally I’m a very indecisive person but I answered in the first second – which is really good for me – and said, ‘Of course I will.’
“About 20 minutes later, on our walk back to the hotel, it sunk in and I started to cry.” She called her parents and brother James, 34, who was thrilled by their news, as was Jessica, Andy’s 15-year-old daughter from a previous relationship.
The 31-year-old Olympic bronze medallist, who is now retired from gymnastics, also revealed she was dealing with mental, as well as physical scars from the accident in Austria in February.
The three-time world champion was airlifted from a ski slope in Austria after she crashed into a barrier while practising a jump, breaking her neck. There followed emergency surgery in which a piece of bone from her hip was taken and used to fuse together the two vertebrae that were fractured, along with pinning them together.
"It's something I still find hard to talk about," said Beth. "I am still seeing a psychologist to process what happened, and am working with my physiotherapist and surgeon at getting full range in the neck and getting everything to strength. It's still quite a long road."
She returned to work in June 2016 – to Total Gymnastics, the company she set up with Olympian Steve Parry – initially two days a week. Beth’s parents Ann and Jerry were in Austria with their daughter when the accident happened. “My mum phoned Andy to say I’d had a fall. At that stage no one realised how serious it was so he went to watch his team Liverpool play football,” she recalled.
“But when my dad phoned and said I had broken my neck and required surgery he jumped on the next flight. That first night in hospital I was really frightened. Having my parents there helped, but when they left me to sleep, I called Andy all through the night, so he was literally at the end of the phone. Sometimes I wasn’t even talking. I just needed to know he was there. By 4am the next day he was on his way to the airport.”
Andy was with her as she was taken down for surgery and said: “The early days were the most challenging, to see Beth in that condition – upset, frightened and in pain. I tried to remain calm, even if I was upset on the inside.”
As Andy helped her through some difficult days, the bond between them strengthened. “If anything, the accident has brought us closer together,” said Beth. “When I first went into a hotel in Austria, before I was able to fly home, I’d have to ask him to wash and dry my hair. “It’s not the sort of thing you normally ask your boyfriend, ‘Can you cook my tea? Can you dress me?’ But we can laugh about it now.”
“She has been very brave,” said Andy. “If I had been in her place, I’m not sure I would have handled it so well.”
Even when she was well enough to walk a few steps and fly home, Beth was unable to care for herself and moved back to live with her parents in Bunbury, Cheshire for a month. As her condition began to improve, she was able to travel to Liverpool to spend time with Andy before moving into his house in June.
During the first three months, she wore a neck brace. “I couldn’t live on my own when I first got home. I couldn’t shower or get dressed, wash or dry my hair, cook my tea or even lift a kettle,” told Beth, who lost around a stone and suffered severe fatigue.
“It was only when I got back to the UK that I started to realise the tough journey I’d already started.” Andy has been at her side the whole way and Beth couldn't praise him highly enough. “Andy nursed me back to health. There was a team of people, but he was the one who was having to put up with me getting really frustrated when things weren’t going right.”
As well as the physical pain and emotional toll, Beth suffered horrendous flashbacks. “During the night, the hardest part were the nightmares and terrors, which started in hospital. I was screaming and Andy was so calm and collected. It has continued since I’ve been back home. He is the one waking me up and seeing me sob my heart out. My parents and friends have been there for me, but Andy is the one who sees me at night when I am really struggling.”
Beth and Andy met at a charity event through mutual friend Christine Kearns in 2013. Their friendship grew at Christine’s wedding in Marbella, at which they sat next to each other, and continued when Andy watched Beth compete in the final series of ITV show Dancing on Ice in 2014.
“When I met her I thought how down to earth she was and easy to talk to,” said Andy. “Many in the public eye are hard to approach but it wasn’t long before we felt we’d known each other for years.” Their shared love of sport and adventure helped bring them together, but it was in Marbella that their friendship began to turn to love. “I wooed her with my forward roll by the swimming pool,” said Andy, who was dragged over to perform by their friends’ children. “He was quite good,” said Beth.
Beth reflected: “It’s been a tough year with still a lot to go through. But having my wedding to focus on is really helping. It’s a good time for us both.”