Published: 06:00, 18 August 2019
| Updated: 11:21, 19 August 2019
Kieran Duffy and Emmie Houckham have overcome all sorts of barriers to reach their big day.
Both were born with Down’s Syndrome and have spent their lives being told what they can’t do. And then proving them wrong.
Now, with a little help from loved ones, the Bearsted couple have planned and arranged their wedding - one Kieran’s mum Tessa Branch says will rival any in Hello! magazine - from start to finish.
Kieran, 25, is no stranger to the spotlight, having stolen headlines in 2012 when he celebrated picking up nine and a half GCSE passes at a mainstream school - believed to be the first achievement of its kind in Kent for someone with his condition.
The former New Line Learning Academy pupil has gone on to study performing arts, which has culminated in displays at the House of Commons and the Royal Albert Hall.
After graduating last year, he now works as a tutor for the Hop Shed theatre company, based at the Hazlitt in Maidstone, aiming to inspire the next generation of performers.
His biggest show yet, however, is rapidly approaching on August 23, when he’ll walk down the aisle at All Saints Church in Staplehurst, and marry 21-year-old Emmie, the woman he proudly describes as the love of his life.
The pair first met six years ago at a camp for people requiring additional needs, and quickly became close.
On Boxing Day, 2016, Kieran proposed to his partner in typically theatrical fashion, by singing the Wham! classic I’m Your Man, before getting down on one knee to give Emmie a diamond and pink sapphire ring.
She said ‘yes’, and the couple almost instantly began to make preparations for their wedding.
Loved ones suggested they try living together for a few months first before jumping head-first into a lifetime of commitment, and so they moved into a house in Bearsted last year.
As Kieran’s mum, Tessa Branch jokes, “they didn’t end up killing each other” and so the wedding plans were put firmly on track.
Mrs Branch, who runs her own support service called Symbol, said: “They’ve looked at everything themselves, from the table decorations to the songs that are going to be played.
“Instead of lots of hymns, they’re going to have songs that mean something to them, so it’ll be The Wonder of You by Elvis Presley and Make You Feel My Love by Adele.
“I am so excited, I can’t wait for the wedding - my lovely Emmie will be my bride after a long wait” - Kieran Duffy
"They’ve also made sure the reading will be something the young children in the family will understand because with their disabilities they know what it’s like to not understand what’s being read out, so they’ve chosen a love story about dinosaurs by Edward Monkton.”
Daily life comes with huge challenges for both Kieran and Emmie, particularly when it comes to things like assessing the value of money or dealing with unfamiliar situations, but that’s where the couple really become a perfect match.
“They really complement each other well,” Mrs Branch added. “Say if they go out to a restaurant they’ve not been to before, Kieran might struggle to read the menu, whereas Emmie would be able to do so fluently.
“But if they needed to ask for help, for example, Kieran has more confidence, so he wouldn’t be afraid to do that.”
His cheeky boyish charm will be for all to see on the big day, when he and his two best men will be performing a Greased Lightning-style dance to the wedding’s 170 guests.
His mum added: “They’ve got a really lovely relationship - it’s not a game for them, it’s real.
“It’s not like they haven’t had their trials and tribulations - he adores Emmie but likes his own space at the same time, whereas she likes to be with him all the time.
“Sometimes he’ll ring me up and say ‘how do I get her to just go up to bed?’ or ‘how can I just get five minutes on my own?’ But you could argue that’s the case for an awful lot of couples.
“The biggest barrier for them is often other people telling them what they can’t do, but why can’t he have a stag do with a stripper all over him like everyone else?
“It’s fantastic because I think it really changes people’s attitude towards them.
“We’re all so proud and so happy.”
Kieran said: “I am so excited, I can’t wait for the wedding - my lovely Emmie will be my bride after a long wait.”
Emmie says she too is very happy, but admits she’s a bit nervous.
The first wedding in the UK between two people with Down’s Syndrome took place in 1995, between Maryanne and Tommy Pilling.
Now, 24 years on, the happy couple have proven wrong a number of people who had told Mrs Pilling’s mother it was wrong to let them wed.
Mrs Pilling’s sister Lindi said: “Their marriage is like a fairytale and they are a blissfully happy couple. I think most of us could learn a thing or two from them."