Real life: my hubbie, the prince of Africa
When Sue Hadley fell in love during a trip to The Gambia, she had a surprise when her lover revealed his true identity. . .
Stood, embracing her new husband on an African beach thousands of miles from home – Sue Hadley cuts the figure of Shirley Valentine.
But this 42-year-old’s story is arguably more interesting than Willy Russell’s famous character, given Sue was later to find out her new partner – a Rastafarian musician called Bunny Eagle – was an actual prince.
Her new life in The Gambia couldn’t be further away from the one she left behind, where she worked as a commercial manager at Stoke College. It was also the perfect getaway from a failed relationship in Much Wenlock, in Shropshire.
“I met my husband on the beach and we got chatting – it was love at first sight for us both,” she says.
“I thought he looked so handsome with his long dreadlocks and dark skin.
“We walked and dated many times and were inseparable, then after 10 days he proposed to me on the beach.
“I thought I was marrying an out-of-work musician, but he was a tribal king-to-be.”
followed, 10 weeks later, was a 24-hour journey to Lagos in Nigeria, then a long taxi ride to Agbor in the Delta State, where she met Bunny’s father, the Tribal King of the tiny region of Illah.
The pair married at a surreal ceremony in front of the King and his 15 chiefs, plus dozens of friends and family members.
Everyone wore striking tribal outfits. Sue, meanwhile, had a Marks & Spencer blue dress on.
In traditional fashion, the wedding was followed by speeches – which Sue needed translating by an interpreter – drinking, eating and dancing.
An official ceremony was subsequently held at the registry office in the nearby town of Akukwu Igbo, recognising the marriage as a legally binding contract.
The year was 1997, and life for Sue had changed forever.
Having previously worked at the Express & Star in Wolverhampton as sales trainer, Sue was living a normal life before, residing with her partner in Much Wenlock, Shropshire.
Having been on a ‘girly holiday’ to The Gambia in 1995, she came home to find her relationship failing, and was left with much to think about having made several close friends in the small African former British colony.
“I found a copy of The Gambia Daily and read an article about a school in Worcester donating a football to the Gambian children through a donation to Schools For Progress in Banjul.
“I rang the charity up and offered my services for free to send some charitable goods and perhaps organise a conferences to give training to the Gambian teachers.
“To my surprise they said yes to a three-month placement but that I must sleep in the office and pay for my own flight.”
She flew out in April 1996 and after a successful stint at the charity moved on to work for The Gambia Daily and a radio station called Capital selling advertising.
Then she met Bunny, real name Bunny Ugochukwu Anikwe, aged 32 at the time.
He was a reggae singer who would soon take chiefdom from his father, aged 97, when the pair married.
But for Sue, she had to return to the UK. Two years after their marriage, she fell ill with malaria and while Bunny came to see her, he had his chiefdom duties in Nigeria.
She went on to live in Oxfordshire, not wanting to give up on her teaching career. However, Bunny and Sue continued to see each other every year and share a home in the African country.
She returned recently for a month while completing a book on her story.
And they stay in touch ‘most days’ through text messages, phone calls and emails.
“It’s a mixed marriage and there is an eleven-year age gap between us, but when you meet a twin soul, one should not ignore it,” she says.
“It’s not easy to sustain a marriage like ours, you have to give and take and accept the cultural differences of which there are many. We have accepted that he must live a tribal life and that maybe one day I will return home to Africa and live alongside the African wife and children he so desires.
Under tribal tradition, Bunny can take up to five wives however, Sue says she’d rather not know any further details.
She adds: “We have no children together so I expect him to have other wives to fullfill this side of his life and produce his own children.”
For now, Sue, who went on to study English and writing at Ruskin College in Oxford, gives counselling and life coaching at Abingdon-Witney College.
She says: “I hope to inspire more people to travel and find their purpose in life too. I continue to visit the Midlands to see my family and friends especially the two who started this story on our ‘girly holiday’.”
Sue has published a book called Tribal King & I on her experience which is available, priced at £20, from www.amazon.co.uk. She is also working on a second book called Tribal Cures, which will tell the struggle of keeping her marriage alive against the challenges of the distance and different customs.