Names: Jayne Wild and Gary Latham
Years together: 30
Occupations: co-owners of hair salon
Gary Latham has discovered the secret to an enduring relationship: separate bathrooms. When he and his wife, Jayne Wild, moved into a new apartment a few years ago, they decided they would each have their own. No more arguing over wet towels. “You don’t want to have arguments over whether your bathroom is clean or dirty,” Gary says now. “And strangely enough, when it’s just my bathroom, I keep it a lot cleaner.”
The couple have been together for more than 30 years, 24 of them married. Together they run the highly successful Wild Life hair salons and are navigating not just one but two life-threatening illnesses, and yet they still describe the other as their best friend.
They met in 1989 on a charity cruise around Sydney Harbour. Although neither were particularly keen on going, they ended having fun, part of a big group of friends. Gary didn’t make a big impression on Jayne but he noticed the bubbly Brit. He got her number and tried calling a few times. She was avoiding the phone, until one sleepy Sunday morning he caught her out.
Their first date was a picnic in Lane Cove national park, where Gary pulled out all the stops: packing a picnic hamper filled with berries, cheeses and champagne. “That’s what won him over to me,” says Jayne. “A lovely old-fashioned picnic box case with the little salt and peppers and lovely little antique cutlery and china.”
Gary deadpans: “So that was my initial investment.” That very dry sense of humour was also part of the attraction for Jayne. “[He] just made you laugh all the time, he didn’t take things too seriously.”
For the first few years, they kept things light, seeing each other once a week and not getting too serious too soon. “It was probably the shallowness of the whole thing that kept us together,” says Gary, only half joking. “It wasn’t like we had an open relationship, we were still young and having a good time, and both working very hard.”
Things got more serious a few years later when they went to the UK to see Jayne’s family for a few weeks and ended up staying for 10 months. Eventually Gary decided it was time to go back to Australia – and Jayne agreed, provided they live together.
They also decided to open a business together. As a top hairdresser, Jayne was managing salons, while Gary was working in restaurants as a maitre d’, so they joined forces. They’ve gone from strength to strength, with Jayne on the floor cutting hair and managing the teams while Gary manages the business and runs the front of house. They now have three Sydney salons and have picked up numerous hair awards. But they declare it was mostly good fortune: “I can remember when we were five years old and people said to me, ‘You must’ve had an amazing business plan’ and I said, ‘Business plan? We didn’t have a business plan.’ We just said, ‘Open the doors and they will come,’” says Jayne. “It was just ignorance at the time but good ignorance, it turned out.”
Along the way, they got married – although that wasn’t without its hiccups. On an ill-fated trip to Europe, Gary pulled out a wedding ring one evening when they were in Harry’s Bar in Venice – but Jayne turned him down. “[I said] put that box away, I will marry you but not yet, I don’t need a ring or a piece of paper to be committed to somebody.”
About a year later, Jayne was trying to convince him to join her on a quick trip to the US to see her brother. “[He] said, ‘I’m not going over there for a week, it’s ridiculous’ and I said, ‘If you came, we could get married there’ and he went, ‘OK.’ [And he] booked the flight. So I sort of proposed to him.”
Despite the back and forth, there was no doubt they were committed to each other. “I think [he] just seemed to show that [he] got me, understood me somehow,” says Jayne.
They describe themselves as balanced opposites but with the same core values. Jayne lists those values: “Honesty, supportive, kind-hearted…” before Gary jumps in: “And don’t get too full of yourself.” He adds: “Jayne probably likes to do all the things I don’t want to do, and vice versa. Jayne can’t cook and I can’t clean, so that’s probably the basis of our relationship.”
They’re good at working together. “Gary does more of the business side,” says Jayne. “I’ll put my two cents in – doesn’t always go through. And then I do my side, so that’s why I think it works so well. It’s that yin and yang thing.”
But they’ve had some serious hurdles along the way. Twenty-three years ago, Jayne was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). Although it was a shock, initially she had few symptoms. Then she started having attacks. “The first couple of times when she had an attack, you’d think, ‘This is it, the rest of her life in bed,’” says Gary.
But they learnt to deal with it. “After probably three times, when the pattern of Jayne’s bounce back was developed, it worried us less and less.” Jayne says the chronic illness made her push herself in her career: “I didn’t know if I was going to wake up tomorrow and not be able to do what I love, so I would say yes to everything, because I wanted to do things.”
It meant they decided together not to have children. Says Jayne: “I knew a lot of girls that had had children, that’s what brought their MS on. You can have an absolutely major attack and be in a wheelchair and I thought that’s not fair to that child or to us.” Gary says that “our staff have been very much our children in a lot of ways”, before Jayne jokes: “We get the teenagers.”
Then, nine years ago, Gary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “It wasn’t that hard because it was like we had one flat tire, then we got two,” quips Gary. “And after 15 years of showing Jayne no sympathy, it was her turn to show me no sympathy.”
That trademark dark humour and stoicism has helped them through. “Some people feel uncomfortable when we start talking about our ailments and we laugh … I think they feel a little bit offended by us laughing,” says Jayne. “But what’s the point of being miserable about it? It is what it is. It’s chosen us and we’ve got to live with it, so you’ve got to live to your fullest.”
Their lives are almost completely intertwined now. “We’re not clingy but we’re rarely apart,” says Gary. That is apart from when Jayne goes back to the UK to see her family, the time of year that Gary has dubbed Gaz-tober. But the couple still speak almost every day. “Well not every day – I can tell when she’s having a good time because she doesn’t ring me,” he says.
Yet both agree it’s important they retain their own identity. “You can be connected but have your own wants and needs, your own lives almost,” says Jayne. “And combine it as much as you can but you still need to be you. I don’t think you should ever lose you as an individual.”
For them, trust, support and knowing when to walk away have been the secrets to their enduring partnership. “We’ve always been able to walk away from the things that shit us about the other person, without walking away from the other person,” says Gary.
And he explains that after all these years, they understand each other: “We know each other really well. Probably better than we know ourselves … If there’s a situation that happens, I’m more likely to know how Jayne will react to that situation, and vice versa. I will say, ‘I knew you would do that.’ Jayne goes, ‘How did you know?’ And I go, ‘You just do it all the time.’”
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