Devoted couple celebrate silver wedding, 25 years after winning Sunderland Echo Bride of the Year competition

A couple who had their wedding paid for by the Echo 25 years ago have been celebrating their silver wedding anniversary.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 4:55 am

In 1996, Julie Wilkinson (then Gray) married William Wilkinson in South Hylton before enjoying an all expenses paid reception at Sunderland’s Business Enterprise Centre after Julie won the Echo’s Bride of the Year competition.

Unbeknown to Julie, she’d been entered for the competition by sister, Jacqui Marshall.

Jacqui, 60, said: “I was living away but when I was back in Sunderland I saw the advert for the competition and entered Julie.

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William and Julie Wilkinson.are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary.

“I remember my mother phoning a few days later saying she’d received a phone call and asking me if I’d entered Julie for the competition. She then said Julie had only gone and won.”

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The anniversary party took place at Alexandra View Care Centre where Julie is currently living after a deterioration in her health meant “Billy”, as he is affectionately known, was struggling to meet her care needs.

Julie, 55, is blind and suffers from Pfeiffer syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterised by premature fusion of skull bones.

William and Julie Wilkinson with family members (from left) Stuart Gray (Julie's brother) Jacqui Marshall (Julie's sister) and brother-in-law John Healey.

Following the party which saw friends and family travel the length and breadth of the country, Julie said: “It was a great party and good to see so many people I hadn’t seen for a while. We won the competition 25 years ago and it was good to see the Echo back again today.”

Julie met William, who also uses a wheelchair and recently had a leg amputated, through mutual friends at South Hylton Club.

She added: “We both knew singers on the club circuit - Shirley Mack and Don Richards - and we met when we went to see them perform.”

Friends and family alongside William and Julie Wilkinson as they celebrate 25 years of marriage.

The celebratory event was organised by sister Jacqui who said the party was the first time the family had been able to get together since the onset of the Covid pandemic.

Jacqui said: “They really enjoyed the occasion and had a fantastic day. It was also great to be able to see everyone together again.”

When asked about the secret to a long happy marriage Julie said: “As well as being married we are also really good friends. I’m hoping to be able to get my own place soon and we got a nice present of a duvet set to use.”

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