How we stay married …Peter & Bridget Helliar
The Australian Women's Weekly|May 2021
The comedian may have written a show about maintaining a long-lasting relationship, but it’s his wife Bridget whom he credits with teaching him how to keep the marital magic alive.
TIFFANY DUNK

Kismet is a powerful word. The belief that fate can lead us to something that is “meant to be” is an idea that is both tantalising and terrifying all at once.

Certainly it’s not a word Peter Helliar thought would play a role in shaping his own future. But all that changed in 1999 as he was waiting to board a flight from Sydney to Melbourne. Then 24 and taking the early steps in his comedy career, he spotted a beautiful blonde across the boarding gate lounge – and suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to introduce himself.

“For better or worse, you’re not the guy who approaches strange women,” he told himself sternly. And so he let the moment pass, hoping he’d magically sit next to her on the flight.

“But that didn’t happen,” he says. “And I remember feeling relieved. I thought, imagine how embarrassing it will be when her boyfriend picks her up at the airport and she’s like, ‘This is the guy who tried to hit on me’.”

He spotted the potential girl of his dreams once more being met by her parents and grandmother. ‘Missed opportunity,’ he thought, ‘but that’s okay.’ And off he went home, putting the encounter out of his mind.

And then … kismet. Just three days later, Peter was preparing to do a stand-up routine at Collingwood’s Prince Patrick Hotel when he spotted a friend in the audience. And next to that friend was the 22-year-old woman from the plane – Bridget, who would become his wife of close to 18 years and the mother of their three children – Liam, 18, Aidan, 16, and Oscar, 12.

“I had no recollection of him,” she laughs now, as the couple share their Sliding Doors love story over lunch with The Weekly. “He went up on stage and did this weird routine, which I’ve never seen him do since. But then he invited us to his birthday party the following weekend and that’s when I thought, ‘This guy is pretty cool.’”

Almost instantly the pair were inseparable, bonding over their sense of humour as well as shared family values. But there was a problem – Bridget, or Brij as she’s known to friends, is an absolute travel junkie. And within a year of that fateful meeting, she was heading off on a European trip with no definite return date. Peter, who had just landed his career-making spot on prime-time variety show Rove, was definitely not going to be able to go with her.

They decided to adopt a “let’s cool it and see what happens” approach. When Bridget returned several months later, the duo reunited as friends. But Peter knew in his heart that the spark was still definitely there. And so he made a grand romantic gesture.

Enlisting a musician friend – Steven Gates from comedy troupe Tripod – he wrote a song for Bridget in which he declared his love. As they sat in the car together one night, he played it, saying, “Whatever happens in the future happens, but this is how I feel.”

“I started crying and said, ‘I have to tell you something’,” Bridget recalls of what should have been a magical moment. “‘I’m going to Egypt!’”

That was in September 2001. And as many of us will remember, the 11th day of that month saw a terror attack play out that would change the world.

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