The first time Philip and Helen Farrugia Randon met was 49 years ago at a place which remains a bustling hotspot to this day – Caffe Cordina. “It was our sort of place – all of my friends used to be there,” Helen recalls. “It was a Saturday morning, and I had met up with a few friends, when Philip walked in. He knew one of my friends, so he introduced himself to the table.”
Philip remembers it well, too. “When I went in and I saw Helen, she immediately caught my eye,” he says, “She was very elegant, dressed in the latest fashion, before it had even arrived in Malta. I spoke to her and it turned out that I knew nearly all of her seven brothers and sisters.” Philip then heard Helen telling her friend that she was going to Pizzeria Bologna for lunch and decided to seize his chance. “I used to go there quite frequently anyway, so I thought to myself, if she’s going, why shouldn’t I?”
Philip showed up at Pizzeria Bologna where Helen had already settled down with a book, and asked if he could join her. Helen said yes, and the pair started chatting. Lunch flew by, and was followed by a film at the Savoy Arcades. “We went to see this terrible film called The Bliss of Mrs Blossom,” Helen says. “Then he took me to a party at his house the next day – it was at eight, but he asked if we could meet at four! We met at Cordina again, and he made me laugh so much – he’s a real joker. He didn’t drive – I wasn’t used to that – so we took the bus together, and that was that!”
“I still don’t drive,” Philip adds. “The only time I drove was for 20 seconds during our going away, before Helen took the wheel because she thought I was going to kill us!”
Philip and Helen dated for five years before they got married, since they met when Philip was still studying law. “I had to finish University and start earning a decent income before I could start a family,” Philip says. His days were full – besides studying to become a lawyer, he was also a frequent face on the national broadcaster, both television and radio. “But we still made it a point to meet every day, even if it was just for half an hour,” Philip insists. “We’d buy a dozen pastizzi and share them. Well, Helen would take two, and I’d take the rest.”
While Philip and Helen always knew that they wanted to be united in marriage, there was never an official proposal. “When we were about to be engaged, I asked her father – former President Censu Tabone – nixtieq subghajha, and then, when it came to marriage, I told him, you know what they say – mis-seba’ tiehu l-id!”
And since he had never done the traditional proposal, Philip decided, during this very interview, to ask Helen to marry him on bended knee. “You’re only supposed to get down on one knee, not both!” shrieks Helen, delighted. They embrace as if it were the real thing – the emotions behind it certainly are.
Philip and Helen married at St Julian’s Parish Church on 9th February 1975, and held their reception in the ballroom of the Phoenicia Hotel. Since Helen’s father was a politician, and both he and Philip’s father were prolific doctors, the guest list numbered over 1,500, with prominent guests including Mabel Strickland, Herbert Ganado and Eddie Fenech Adami. “I still have a tennis elbow to this day from shaking so many hands,” Philip quips. Helen’s mother made the bride’s dress as well as the wedding cake, as she had done for Helen’s elder sister Patricia, who had got married just two months before.
“I still remember her coming into the church,” Philip says in a reverent tone. “The rest of the day went by in a blur, but the image of her coming in in that dress is still so clear to me.” The mass was at 11am and the wedding ended at around five in the afternoon. After grabbing a bite to eat at home, the newlyweds headed off on their honeymoon – two weeks in London. “We’d count our pennies every single morning, because back then, you could hardly take any money at all abroad!” Helen says.
Even after 44 years, during which they became parents to Philipa and grandparents to Luke, the chemistry between the pair is still explosive. They credit their parents, both sets of them, for having set an incredibly positive example of married life for them, growing up. But most importantly, Philip and Helen are each other’s best friend. They share many passions, including fundraising and charity work, but most importantly, they support each other in all their endeavours.
“Helen has the gift of allowing the other person to grow and be themselves. I read, write and paint, but these things take time, and she always gave me my space. I look around and I consider myself very lucky – not everyone has this luxury granted to them. But I think it’s an important way to show how you love that person just as they are, without trying to change them. I always say she’s my wings, and I have dedicated all my books to her – all 23 of them!” Philip says, adding that he’s written her “a lot of poems.”
“Whenever we go out to dinner parties, couples are usually split up, but I’d always choose to sit next to him if I could. Why would I choose to sit next to someone boring when I could be beside him?” Helen says. The strength of their marriage begs the question – what’s their secret? But there is no secret, she says. “It’s just a question of working at it.”
“I’d marry you again,” Philip winks. “So would I!” Helen laughs.