Golden gatecrasher stunned party guests

Best man John Oliver, left, surprised Doug and Senga Howlett at their golden wedding celebrations. John, who lives in Australia, had conspired with bridesmaid Pat Rutherford, right, to surprise the couple.
Best man John Oliver, left, surprised Doug and Senga Howlett at their golden wedding celebrations. John, who lives in Australia, had conspired with bridesmaid Pat Rutherford, right, to surprise the couple.

A golden wedding couple from Kelso were left stunned when their anniversary bash was gatecrashed by a familiar face from a land down under.

When Doug and Senga Howlett tied the knot at Wilton Church in Hawick on July 25, 1969, the best man on the day was John Oliver.

The Howlett wedding in 1969.

The Howlett wedding in 1969.

Just a year after the nuptials, John emigrated to New Zealand to start a new life with wife Edith.

But when he heard that Doug and Senga were planning a quiet family get-together at the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm, near Kelso, to mark 50 years of wedded bliss, he decided to spring a long-distance surprise.

He travelled more than 11,000 miles from his home in Auckland to pass on his congratulations in person.

It proved an emotional moment.

John, now 70, said: “I knew the wedding anniversary was coming up and I speak to Doug and Senga on the phone from time to time.

They said they were not having a big celebration and that they were just planning a family gathering, and that it was no big deal.

“I spoke to Pat Rutherford, who lives in Galashiels and was bridesmaid at the wedding, who said ‘wouldn’t it be good to get us all together again’.

“It was a bit of a throwaway remark, but I decided seven weeks ago, why not?

“I got in touch with Pat and her husband Kenny, who I stayed with when I arrived, and we agreed to keep it a complete surprise until the night, and that’s how it unfolded.”

When the golden couple arrived for their celebration, Doug was in a room next door enjoying a beer, before casually strolling up to his old mate Doug to give him the surprise of his life.

John said: “I came up behind and said ‘this wouldn’t be complete without the best man being here’.

“It was a tremendous surprise. We gave each other a big hug and I think there was a tear or two shed. The family was all open-mouthed and some of the kids I hadn’t met were asking who I was. It was quite emotional.”

John and Doug, also 70, met in the early 1960s when working as apprentices at George Woodcock’s, the textile machine engineers in Hawick.

Doug, father of two and grandfather of six, was a police officer in the Borders for 30 years.

He added: “We knew absolutely nothing about it. I was completely and utterly stunned and I said ‘where the hell did you come from?’ We just hugged each other and it was so emotional. To be honest I thought I’d never see him again. It was so unexpected, but wonderful.”

After moving to New Zealand, John, a father of two and grandfather of four, continued in knitwear manufacturing, going on to become the director of a company.

Today, he still works part-time as a civil celebrant at funeral services.

He added: “As you get older you become more aware of your own mortality, both Doug and I have both had serious health issues, and you get to thinking that life is for the living.

“I’m really glad I decided to make the trip. Doug and Senga have been blessed with a wonderful family.”