A Home Counties model has told how she fell in love with her childhood sweetheart after more than 30 years apart when a friend coincidentally picked him out for her on a dating app.
Both growing up in Woodford, east London, and attending the same primary school, Sam Tomlin, 47, and Patrick Toplis, 50, called each other girlfriend and boyfriend and often played kiss chase but after he was taken into care aged 14, they lost touch.
In the years that followed, Sam, who now lives in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, became a successful model, married and had two sons, before getting divorced in 2012 .
After five years as a single mum, she decided to try online dating using an app called Wingman, which allows peoples friends to play Cupid and recruited her pal Nicole Gibson, 39, to find her a match.
In an incredible twist of fate, without realising they already knew each other, Nicole selected personal trainer Patrick as a potential beau for Sam.
Now, three years on, the pair are madly in love and even talking about marriage.
Mum to boys aged 17 and 15, who she does not want to name, Sam said: I didnt think I believed in fate until this its just too much of a coincidence. When she matched us up, Nicole had no idea there was a connection.
Patrick and I always say to each other, Were so lucky. He has the biggest heart and will do anything for anybody. He just gets life theres no drama or neediness. Hes my best friend.
It might not have worked had we been younger we werent as calm and collected as we are now. It feels like it was the perfect time to meet.
Meeting at primary school, where he was three years above her, Sam says she and Patrick became close pals.
She continued: I can remember Patrick from about the age of eight or nine. We were great friends and would call each other boyfriend and girlfriend, but we were just kids.
Wed hold hands and skip around the playground together. It was really cute. We were inseparable.
Sam continued: We lived on the same road, so would see each other out of school, too. He was always around on his bike.
But when Sam turned 11, Patrick suddenly disappeared from her life.
She did not know at the time, that he had been taken into care and moved away from the area.
He just wasnt there anymore. Nobody knew where hed gone, she said.
There was no way of finding out because, back then, there was no social media or mobile phones.
Kids are adaptable, so I just carried on, started secondary school and made some new friends.
Sam explained: But, over the years, when I heard the name Patrick, Id think about him and wonder if he was okay.
After finishing school, Sam went to college, before forging a career as a skincare and fashion model.
Aged 19, she married her ex-husband and went on to have two children with him before the relationship ended eight years ago.
Meanwhile, Patrick never married or had children, but he became a successful personal trainer, working with high profile clients in Earls Court, west London.
Sam said: If there had been social media back then, perhaps I would have searched for him, but even if I had, I dont think Id have recognised him.
He was this cute, cherub-like child and now hes got big muscles, tattoos and a beard.
She continued: I changed my name when I got married, so he wouldnt have found me either. Plus, I looked very different. My hair was dark brown when he first knew me, but now, its platinum blonde. He wouldve walked past me in the street.
Initially, following her divorce, Sam was not interested in romance concentrating instead on raising her sons.
After five years, she felt ready to rejoin the world of dating and downloaded some apps, but struggled to make any meaningful connections.
I went on every single app and you could not make up the kind of people I ended up going on dates with. There were a lot of psychopaths and most people looked nothing like their pictures, she laughed.
Eventually, worried she was making bad choices when it came to men, Sams friend Nicole took charge.
In summer 2017, she convinced her to try the app Wingman, which puts single peoples friends in charge of their profiles and of swiping through potential matches.
I always went for tall men, as Im 5ft 11in myself. I liked very clean cut, city type guys, but Nicole said that was not working for me and that shed pick the kind of guy I needed, Sam said.
To humour her, I agreed. She had written this lovely thing about me bringing joy into the room something I would never have written myself and had put so much effort into it.
Patricks friend had done the same thing for him. He had a beard, was an inch shorter than me and was covered in tattoos. His friend had written, Dont be fooled, hes a gentle giant and will give you the biggest belly laughs.
Nicole picked him out right away for me. Initially, I wasnt sure, but she told me to give it a go, so we started chatting on the app, Sam said.
Quickly discovering they were from the same place, as soon as Patrick told Sam his surname, she realised exactly who he was.
She said: We exchanged phone numbers and chatted for hours that same day. He told me he had been taken into care as things were not great at home and I told him about my life and getting married.
After the initial phone call, it took a week for Patrick to pluck up the courage to ask Sam out for their first official date.
And when they met up for a casual coffee in central London, the spark between them was instant.
I was so nervous, but straight away, it felt right, Sam said. We talked about what we had done over the years and reminisced about the old teachers we had.
She added: I would never have recognised him he looked completely different.
Initially, taking things slowly, they became reacquainted over a series of dates until, a few weeks later, they became a proper couple.
For a while Patrick s home remained in Earls Court, west London but after spending lockdown at Sams house, the pair are looking at moving in together in the future.
I never thought Id live with someone again, but when lockdown happened and his gym closed, he came to stay with me for seven weeks and we got on like a house on fire, she said.
We used to love going to dinner and shows in the West End, but during lockdown, weve got into gardening and we love long walks around Epping Forest.
Were not big party animals we just enjoy being together.
Now even talking about marriage, the future looks bright for Patrick and Sam.
She concluded: He actually said he asked me to marry him the other day, but I was chatting to someone else and didnt hear him. I am sure it will happen at some point, though.
And of course, Nicole will be the maid of honour!
Patrick is equally grateful to Nicole.
He said: I was delighted to be reunited with Sam. I love her shes brave and very beautiful!
Wingman was created by British woman, Tina Wilson, who mistrusted traditional dating apps.
A spokesman for the app said: Wingman is the only dating app that lets you pass control of your dating life to your friends and family.
Those that know you best, will navigate your journey making it a team effort.
For more information visit wingmanapp.com
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