“Vanni and I have always done everything together. He’s my husband and my best friend, and I like spending time with him. Assisting him in his performances came naturally, and it was never regarded as a chore. Today, so many years later, I still love his company,” says Mary Anne.
Photo by Alan Carville
Her husband, a former English lecturer and renowned entertainer says that throughout his career, his wife has been a pillar of strength and an ideal partner. “MaryAnne has always been very supportive. There was something special about her from the start. She was unlike any other girl I had known,” Vanni smiles.
The couple met in 1970 through the Teens & Twenties Talent Trust – a national group for young people, encouraging social, artistic, civic and environmental interests, however, Mary Anne had admired Vanni since she was 11. “I remember seeing him on television and thinking he was talented, and then one day I was watching him perform live, and he called me out to assist him on stage.”
At the time, Vanni was studying Divinity at the seminary and was very shy around girls. “A friend of mine had begged me to join the Talent Trust, and once again MaryAnne was there,” he says. The couple recall how Vanni had sent his wife a letter asking her out. “Landlines were rare in those days, and this was the only way we could make contact.”
MaryAnne and Vanni soon discovered they had lots in common and seemed to click. “We came from similar backgrounds and held the same principles. Luckily, we also loved show business – I think having common interests has been beneficial to our relationship,” they say. MaryAnne was barely 16 when she began assisting Vanni in his performances. And it wasn’t just magic. The couple often sang together on stage as a dazzling duo.
Vanni recalls how things progressed when the couple began to search for a future home. “MaryAnne found a home in St Julian’s and asked me to go see it. It was a charming house and I fell in love with it right away. We got engaged then, and started planning our wedding soon after.”
Weddings in 1976 differed greatly from the present, the couple reveal. “We planned everything in a short time span. There were no wedding planners back then. We discussed and booked as we went along.” The evening of 25th July was a balmy one. MaryAnne wore a kaftan over a fitted dress, and a headdress made out of silk. She had her hair done by a hairdresser, but applied her own make-up. “Through television work I had learnt a lot about professional makeup and I knew exactly how I wanted to look,” she says.
Cars for the bridal party were provided by Alpine Travel, where MaryAnne worked as Winston Zahra’s assistant. “I remember the drive to San Gwann Parish and Vanni’s face as he stood waiting at the door. The priest had suggested we walk down the aisle together! These days I wish my father had walked me down the aisle, as I love traditions,” she reveals.
Vanni and MaryAnne were the first couple to celebrate their wedding at Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar. “The gardens were even larger then, and the place looked spectacular that evening. Most of our friends were also from the industry. Many of them had formed bands and they all took turns playing until the crack of dawn. It was an unforgettable night.”
Before embarking on the honeymoon, the couple spent their first night in their new home. “The house was barely furnished when we moved in. I remember Vanni having to dash out to buy a plug for our new kettle . It was all part of the fun and early day excitement,” MaryAnne smiles, adding that life changed when their children arrived. “I quit my day job when we started planning our first child. After that, I assisted Vanni until the fifth month of both my pregnancies.”
Their children – Konrad, 41, and Davinia, 38 – grew up watching their parents prepare for shows. “When Vanni brought new equipment, the kids would peep through the staircase while we rehearsed.” Back in the day, the couple also sang together at the Preluna Cabaret. “The feeling of camaraderie with the other entertainers and hotel staff was wonderful. Sometimes, the children came along. They too loved all the excitement,” they beam.
The couple agree that supporting one another is vital. In 2012, Vanni was appointed President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. “MaryAnne’s presence has been instrumental throughout my career. Oftentimes she accompanies me to overseas conferences and I love having her around. There were a few occasions when she couldn’t make a trip due to family obligations and it just wasn’t the same without her.”
Despite their compatibility however, the couple still have their differences. MaryAnne says she likes to resolve any issues quickly whilst Vanni likes to let the dust settle before moving on. “It gets easier as the years roll by. I have learnt to accept both his strengths and his weaknesses, and this helps keep conflict at bay,” she says.
Now that retirement is here, the couple plan to travel and continue enjoying each other’s company. Time with their four grandchildren is also on the agenda. Vanni says that watching the children grow has been an astounding experience. “When I see our children with their own kids I realise how swiftly time goes by. Sometimes, we look back and wonder where the time went, but we are thankful for the beautiful life that we have shared, both professionally and personally. We have been truly blessed.”