After more than four decades of marriage, Lucienne and Robert Dingli share their love story with Bliss Magazine, reminiscing about their wedding day back in 1977. The couple actually celebrated their 43rd wedding anniversary “in lockdown” they say, with a giggle, offering a glimpse into this couple’s shared sense of humour, even in the face of adversity.
Their ability to laugh, joke and find a funny side to almost anything has been consistently present throughout their marriage and the early years of their relationship, which all began when they were young teens, with mutual friends and meeting places.
“Back then, there weren’t many places to go and meet friends, so we spent most of our time at Ghar Id-Dud. It was typical for people who lived around there to all meet at the same place, and we would walk up and down Ghar Id-Dud in the hope of meeting someone,” Lucienne laughs. “We’d buy ice-cream and karawett minn ghand Kalanc, who was a permanent fixture there,” Robert adds. “On Sundays, we’d go to the cinema to watch the 4pm show. We were part of a group of friends who spent a lot of time together.”
Lucienne says she knew of Robert through his sisters, who she went to school with, and one of the few social activities they enjoyed at the time were school dances. “My school organised these dances and Robert and I would attend together, always with nuns lurking somewhere in the background to make sure we weren’t getting too close!”
One evening, after a dance at St Aloysius College, Lucienne and Robert found themselves waiting at the same bus stop in Msida to get back home. “At the time, we would say ‘do you want to go steady?’ and that was that.” The couple got engaged when Lucienne was 19 years old and Robert 21, and got married two years later. “We got married young, but at the time it wasn’t unusual. We knew each other for many years before we got engaged, so our relationship evolved as we grew up. In fact, friends who know us in our teens would say we’ve been together forever.”
Once Lucienne and Robert agreed to that next step in their relationship, there was one last move to make it official. “The biggest ordeal was asking my father for permission – he was very strict,” says Lucienne. “Every time we would go to their house, she would tell me to ask him, and I kept saying ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, until one day after lunch I remember getting a few kicks under the table, so I asked him,” says Robert. “It went well – I mean he was very happy with me, and he was lucky he was gaining me as his son-in-law!” he grins.
The couple set the date for 8th May 1977, with a mass at St Gregory’s parish church in Sliema followed by a reception at Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar. “The church was a natural choice because we lived just down the road, it was our local parish,” says Lucienne. “As for venues, compared to today, we were very limited for choice. We knew that we wanted a morning wedding and ideally a garden, so that narrowed it down even further and we opted for Palazzo Parisio.”
The couple explain that the wedding was largely planned by Lucienne’s father, who, having another three daughters, had some experience hosting weddings. The catering was supplied by Elia Caterers, who was “the best at the time, especially his ice-creams” and many of the 500 guests who attended were friends and acquaintances of the bride’s father.
Her wedding dress, however, was all Lucienne’s choice. “I was lucky to have a friend who was travelling to London, and I asked her to buy me some fabrics. I had seen a picture of a wedding dress in a magazine, and I found a good seamstress locally who created one just like it for me. It had a high neck and fitted bodice with long flowing sleeves, and the skirt was layered with plisse fabric and lace,” Lucienne explains. “The style was in fashion at the time, and there wasn’t the option to shop around and try on wedding dresses like there is today.”
Closer to their wedding day, the couple had to deal with an unexpected turn of events. “The Prime Minister at the time decided to move carnival from February to May that year, so without much warning, our wedding day happened to be on the same day as carnival. We tried to reflect it in our wedding with some fun elements – I remember we had streamers instead of confetti and a prinjolata at the venue.”
On the day of the wedding, Lucienne and Robert both felt the nervous, but while the bride was getting stressed by her father telling her they needed to leave while she was getting ready, Robert was busy with some last-minute preparations. “I had to pick up the flowers from my aunt but I didn’t have my car because we had taken it to the venue the evening before,” says Robert. “My best man, who is still my best friend to this day, took me to collect them and drove me around to drop them off at different places. Our mass was at 10.30am, so we had to get a very early start.”
Lucienne recalls getting a little nervous as she and her father were leaving the house. “As we were walking out of the door, someone came with a gift, and my father felt obliged to invite them in, so then it was my turn to get stressed for needing to leave!” Meanwhile, Robert and his best man were calming their nerves with a quick smoke in the sacristy – “we weren’t allowed but waiting for Lucienne to arrive made me nervous!”
The wedding mass was celebrated by Robert’s uncle, who years later also christened the couple’s three children. “I remember feeling quite emotional during the mass, especially during the blessing of the rings and the vows,” says Lucienne. “For us, especially in that day and age, the most important part of the wedding day was the ceremony – the reception wasn’t that fun as it was all quite formal, unlike today where a lot of effort is put into planning a massive party and after-party. And it was over quite quickly too – in fact, we left for our honeymoon that same afternoon.”
At the reception, Lucienne recalls seeing her grandmother when she walked through the doors of Palazzo Parisio as one of the highlights, as well as the moment they cut the cake. Robert adds that the couple’s going-away was also hard to forget.
“We both had new outfits for the going-away, and Robert had a new pair of shoes, but he just couldn’t get them on. He should have stayed with his other shoes!” Robert chimes in, “but they were my new shoes! They probably cost around a month’s salary back then. I really struggled to get them on but, after a lot of effort and perspiration, I managed.” The struggle wasn’t over – the couple boarded their honeymoon flight soon after and, on the plane, Robert took off his shoes, “and once again he couldn’t put them on!”
With Robert being an avid football fan, the couple tried to time their week-long honeymoon in London with the FA Cup final, which is one of the reasons why they chose to get married in May. “As it turned out, we didn’t make it for the FA Cup final, we were there the week before,” says Robert, “so instead, we went to Manchester and watched Manchester United at Old Trafford against Arsenal.”
Over the years, the couple welcomed three children, eldest son and well-known actor, Chris Dingli, a daughter, Justine, and their youngest son, Edward. The couple are now proud grandparents to three grandchildren – Imogen, Adam and Emma.
Asked to share any pearls of wisdom after 43 years of marriage, Lucienne and Robert agree that two factors that kept them together for so many years are respect and humour. “We laugh a lot, there’s always something to laugh about, and we’ve always shared everything – it isn’t about me or I, but about us or we,” they explain. “Supporting one another is very important too, and giving each other space to pursue things we wanted. But it still comes down to laughter – that’s the main ingredient.”