When HELLO! teamed up with The West Mill wedding venue in Derbyshire and a host of suppliers to offer one heroic key worker and their partner a big day worth more than £50,000, we promised them the celebration of their dreams as a thank-you for the kindness and courage they’ve shown during the pandemic.
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And we are delighted to announce our winners: Dominick Palmer and Charlene Abid, whose inspirational love story spans more than a decade.
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"I've loved fairytale movies all my life and now it's happening to me. We're stunned and so thankful," says bride-to-be Charlene as she, her NHS worker fiancé Dominick, and their 13-year-old daughter Jaya invite HELLO! to their Bedfordshire home for this exclusive interview and photoshoot to announce the happy news.
"You see people winning the lottery on the news, but you never think you're going to be the one to win something like this," smiles Dominick, 34, a rota co-ordinator and discharge officer at Luton and Dunstable University Hospital.
The couple's love story spans more than a decade
Chosen from hundreds of entrants, the couple are worthy winners of our prize. On top of his busy job managing the schedules of more than 30 NHS staff and taking care of patients’ needs as they leave hospital, at the height of the pandemic Dominick also volunteered to deliver food and care packages to health workers on the hospital’s Covid-19 wards.
And Charlene, 32, who has just returned to her sales role at Hilton Garden Inn Luton North after being furloughed, had to take on home-schooling duties while Dominick isolated away from the family to keep them safe. Charlene has also been a carer for several family members who were shielding, including her grandmother, who sadly passed away from Covid last November.
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"Winning our wedding is what Dominick's nan would call a 'destined appointment'. It's the right time after a tough year," Charlene says.
Dominick manages more than 30 NHS staff as part of his busy job
Dominick and Charlene met as teenagers while working at a department store. Shortly after they got together, they welcomed daughter Jaya in 2007, but soon decided to part ways amicably while continuing to co-parent. "We both had to find ourselves. We grew up a lot during that time," says Dominick.
The pair reunited in 2018 and realised their deep love for each other. "We started talking and Dominick helped me through a tough patch in my life. Now, we're stronger together and we have the right foundations to build our future," smiles Charlene.
Dominick adds: "When we were apart, everyone I dated I compared to Charlene because deep down I was always in love with her."
The pair met as teenagers and reunited in 2018
The following year they bought their house, and at Christmas 2020 Dominick proposed, with the help of Jaya. "I take Jaya and Almaz [Charlene's 17-year-old sister] Christmas shopping with me every year, asking them: 'What shall I get Char?' This time they helped me pick out the ring.
"I hid the ring in a cracker and on Christmas Day morning, while everyone was still in bed, I got Charlene to pull the cracker with me."
Five months later, the couple are ready to plan their big day on 11 July 2022, with HELLO!'s experts, including wedding photographer Rosie May Kelly, videographer Jason Lynch, Ruby Lou’s Cake Co., Brown Box Flowers and The West Mill’s award-winning caterers.
The couple are now ready to plan their big day with HELLO!'s experts
"We're so blessed to have these amazing suppliers," says Charlene. "I just can't wait to see what they suggest."
The West Mill, set on the banks of the River Derwent, will be the perfect setting. "We love the venue, with the outside feel and the water going past it – that’s something we really wanted," says Charlene, who hopes to visit the venue in the next few months.
Of course, the wedding guest of honour will be the bride and groom's daughter Jaya, who will serve as bridesmaid along with five of Charlene's nearest and dearest.
The wedding venue is set on the banks of the River Derwent
"She is very excited. I've always thought she'd be a cute flower girl when I get married one day, but now she's as tall as me – we can't call her a flower girl any more," laughs the proud mum.
And talking of her fiancé, she says: "I love how Dominick's a fantastic father to our daughter, and how humble and genuine he is."
For Dominick, theirs is a perfect match. "I love that Char always knows what I'm thinking," he says. "That's when you know you're in sync with someone."
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