ANDREW Mullen had just one wish for his wedding day.
He wanted to stand eye-to-eye with his beautiful bride and take his vows before a devastating condition confined him to a wheelchair forever.
Last night, the 39-year-old’s dream moved massively closer to reality as he and his fiancee Deborah Langley won the £12,000 Bride of the Year competition in emotional style.
Deborah was reduced to floods of tears when her name was read out and she realised what was going to happen – her marriage to her “Prince Charming” was coming true.
Minutes later, she was still struggling to compose herself as the three other lovely couples hugged and congratulated her.
Time and again, she said: “I can’t believe this. I can’t stop shaking.”
And then the night of high drama got even better.
Husband-to-be Andrew pulled a surprise new engagement ring out of his pocket and said: “I want to thank you for being there for me all the time.
“We have got the wedding of our dreams and I want to give you the ring you always wanted.”
And so the tears flowed again. Eventually, Deborah composed herself enough to tell the Mail: “I know I have won. I’ve got the flowers and I heard the result.
“But to be honest, it isn’t sinking in. I am in complete shock. I never expected that at all.”
She now collects the ultimate in prizes in the competition run by the Hartlepool Mail in conjunction with Robert Usher Photography.
It’s a package with more than 20 sponsors who have come together to offer a wedding with all the trimmings on Friday, September 7, on board the historic ship HMS Trincomalee.
Twelve years ago, Andrew was a healthy man running his own security firm.
Now he can barely stand because of a string of conditions which include degenerative spinal disease, facet joint arthritis, mechanical back pain and nerve damage.
But he is determined to get out of his wheelchair on September 7 for the biggest day in his life.
He told the Mail: “I am absolutely chuffed with this. I can’t put it into words what it means to me. When the result was announced I just kept thinking ‘Yes! Yes!”
He said the result would also be a huge boost for his 64-year-old mum Georgie Mullen who badly broke her arm yesterday.
Deborah hails originally from the East End of London and moved to Hartlepool with Andrew so they could be nearer his family when his health deteriorated.
She is now the full-time carer for Andrew. And after the competition result was declared, she rang her daughter Ell, 22, to break the news.
She said: “Ell, we’ve won it.”
Her daughter replied: “Oh my god, are you serious. Shut up!”
Deborah replied: “Yes I am. We’ve done it!” as the tears threatened to well up once more.
Her immediate reaction was: “I just hope I don’t wake up in the morning and it has all been a dream.”
When asked why she deserved to win, Deborah replied: “I am not better than any of the other girls here tonight. Every one of them deserves the wedding of their dreams.”
In an enormously closely fought final, every couple spoke with emotion and eloquence, leaving one of the judges Robert Usher to say afterwards: “It has been an amazing contest.”
Fellow judge Gavin Foster, deputy editor of the Hartlepool Mail, told the couples: “It was a really hard decision. You were all great.”
The rest of the panel was made up of Joan Lilley, events team leader for the wedding venue HMS Trincomalee, and Steve Connolly representing Cleveland Caterers who will be providing the sumptuous catering for the couple’s wedding.
The three other finalist couples were Dawn Braham, 41 and fiance Geof Patterson, 39, from Greatham; Amy Lees, 27 and her fiance Shaun McEvoy, 29, from the Central Estate, in Hartlepool; and Zoe Edmenson, 31 and Mark Westmoreland, 33, from the Rift House area of Hartlepool.
But the last word goes to Deborah who can now look forward to five months of planning for the biggest day of her life.
“I might get a good night’s sleep now. But then again, I might not. It’s unbelievable.”