A mum-of-one, who reunited with her cousin after 22 years, has revealed how they fell in love and are now married.
Cheryl and David Hickman, both 47, from Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, are first cousins and their fathers are brothers.
I married my cousin – we grew up together and people say we belong on Jeremy Kyle, but I love him
Growing up, they played together but after they turned 14, they lost touch when David’s family moved away. Years later, in 2009, Cheryl reunited with David and the pair fell in love. And they don’t care what society thinks of their unorthodox relationship.
Cheryl, a transport passenger assistant, says in an exclusive chat: “When I was younger I never thought my future husband would end up being my cousin. “But you can’t help who you fall in love with.”
Growing up, Cheryl and David’s families were close, visiting each other once a month in Wandsworth, London. Cheryl says: “While our parents nattered, David and I would play together.
“David loved to follow me around the house and yank my ponytail. “Even though we were the same age, I always referred to him as my annoying little cousin.”
In February 1986, David, a stay-at-home dad, and his mum moved 40 miles away to Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Cheryl says: “I was really upset when they left.
“Dad reassured me we’d stay in touch with them but not long after, he and my uncle stopped talking. “After that, David and I lost touch. During the next few years I always wondered what happened to him.”
In 1994 Cheryl, then 22, discovered she was infertile. In 2001, she and her partner adopted a newborn girl called Caitlin, who is now 18. They married a year later but divorced in 2007.
In 2009, Cheryl received a message from David on Facebook out of the blue. Cheryl says: “I hadn’t heard from him in 22 years.
“That night, David and I messaged back and forth, catching up on each other’s lives. “I discovered he was divorced and had step children. I told him all about Caitlin and my past marriage.”
After that, the pair spoke every day. Then the next month, Cheryl invited David to Caitlin’s eighth birthday party in London. She says: “As he walked in, I thought he looked really handsome. Suddenly, I realised I found my cousin attractive.
“I tried to shake it off, but I couldn’t help the way I felt. I told David he looked fantastic and he said it was so nice to see me. “After the party, David pulled me aside and told me he had feelings for me.
“I was so excited, I admitted I fancied him too. “We ended up kissing. I knew we were cousins, but my feelings took over. It didn’t feel wrong, it felt right.”
But the next day, Cheryl began to worry. She says: “David and I were related by blood, so I stressed that I’d get into trouble.
“I did some research online and discovered first-cousin marriages were legal in Britain. “It wasn’t classed as incest. I was so relieved. After that, David and I decided to give our relationship a go.”
Soon, David became a doting step-dad to Caitlin.
At first, afraid of their family’s reaction, Cheryl and David kept their relationship a secret. But two months later, they came clean.
Cheryl says: “As David no longer spoke to his family, he didn’t need to tell them. “So I confessed to mine. I told my parents that David and I had fallen in love.
“My mum told me to stop being ridiculous, while my dad was furious and said we needed to break up as it was against the law.
“I quickly showed him a website that confirmed first cousin relationships were legal. “After that, they still weren’t happy, but I understood they needed time to get used to the idea.”
Six months later, their family finally accepted their union. But soon, internet trolls began leaving cruel comments on Cheryl and David’s Facebook pages.
The law on marrying your cousin
In Britain, it is legal to marry your first cousin. There can be a lot of stigma around it – but it’s common practice in some communities. In Bradford, for example, around 60 per cent of British-Pakistani people are married to their first cousins.
According to a report for the BBC’s Newsnight, British Pakistanis are 13 times more likely to have children with genetic disorders than the general population – with cousin marriages thought to be a factor.
But Alan Bittles, from the Centre for Comparative Genomics in Australia, said the risk of birth defects rises from roughly 2% in the general population to 4% for first cousins and “it would be a mistake to ban it”.
Marriages between parents and children, siblings, grandparents and grandkids, uncles/aunties and nieces/nephews are all banned, as well as marriages between half-siblings or step-parents and step-children.
Cheryl says: “They called our relationship incestuous. “Others said that we belonged on the Jeremy Kyle show. I was furious.
“I asked David how could people say such gross things? We weren’t brother and sister. “Thankfully, when we told our friends about us, they were supportive.
“They were shocked at first, then it wasn’t mentioned again.”
Ignoring the haters, David proposed to Cheryl in December 2009 – and she and Caitlin eventually relocated to Welwyn Garden City.
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