He proposed. She said no … So he worked his ‘soft magic’

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Actor Heather Mitchell, 62, and cinematographer Martin McGrath, 65, met on a film set in Broken Hill in 1989. They started dating soon after, but the course of true love didn’t exactly run smooth: she said no the first time he proposed.

Martin McGrath and Heather Mitchell: “He said to me, ‘I want to be your guardian angel’.”

Martin McGrath and Heather Mitchell: “He said to me, ‘I want to be your guardian angel’.”Credit:Louise Kennerley

Heather: In early 1989, I saw a clairvoyant who told me I was about to meet my guardian angel and that I’d be surrounded by silver. Shortly after, I flew to Broken Hill [in far west NSW] to do a short film, The Water Trolley. Marty picked me up at the airport. I thought, “Your face is red. You should wear a hat.”

The next night, the cast and crew went out to dinner and then the pub. He and I ended up sitting together, talking. I noticed a sadness in him. We’d both lost a parent early – I’d been 17, he 26 – and it was a beautiful, connecting thing. He asked me if I’d like to come back to his room for a glass of Cointreau. I don’t like Cointreau, but I said yes. We ended up making love and afterwards he said to me, “I want to be your guardian angel.” He then gave me a silver ingot from Broken Hill, city of silver.

We started dating once we got back to Sydney. In October 1990, when I was doing Burn This at the Sydney Theatre Company, Marty flew up from Melbourne for my birthday and booked a hotel for the night. At 2am, he got down on his knee and proposed, presenting me with a ring. I said, “I have to think about this.” I was happy with how things were. He was very clever, and didn’t mention it again. After three months, I said, “Why aren’t you mentioning it? Your not mentioning it makes me want to marry you.” When we married in February 1992, it felt absolutely right.

Finn was born in 1999 and Seamus in 2001. When Seamus was five weeks old, he got meningitis. It was touch and go. He recovered, but we knew something was wrong when he wasn’t meeting milestones. Marty kept saying, “Everything’s going to be fine”, but that irritated me because we just didn’t know. In 2006, he was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. That has been challenging, but we’ve got through it together.

“We’ve always given each other the licence to say yes to anything. He’s so proud of me and my work; even if he doesn’t love a show, he’ll think that I’m fabulous in it.”

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When I was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in 2004, Marty was an enormous support. I had three surgeries, then chemo and radiation. We were both out of work, which was incredibly stressful, especially for him. At one point I felt he was distancing himself from me and I became critical of him. I wanted him to be more emotional, which I now realise wouldn’t have been helpful. Someone had to look after the kids.

The thing I love most about Marty is his gentleness: in his manner, in his physicality, in the way he listens. What annoys me? When he walks around the house with headphones on: I feel excluded.