Names: Brad Ngata and Glenn Chaplin
Years together: Almost 25
Occupations: Hair stylist and business director
It was a surprise to almost everyone gathered in the Blue Mountains garden, not least Glenn Chaplin when his partner, Brad Ngata, got down on one knee and proposed.
It was Australia Day 2015, more than two years before the marriage equality laws were passed, but for the couple celebrating 20 years together, it was time. â€œWe had all our friends there [and] it was a perfect beautiful day.â€ Marriage wasnâ€™t something Ngata had been interested in until he went to the â€œbeautiful, intimate, small weddingâ€ of a friend. â€œI thought, I want to do that. Why canâ€™t I do that? I should be able to do that.â€
The couple met at Sydneyâ€™s Taxi Club on Australia Day in 1995. Chaplin was on a date with someone else â€“ â€œIt wasnâ€™t really working, obviously,â€ he says drily â€“ and there was an instant attraction between the two. â€œWe looked across the dance floor and that was it,â€ says Ngata.
The next day Ngata told friends at the hair salon where he worked that heâ€™d met â€œthe oneâ€, although he also remembers them joking that he said that every week. The couple were soon inseparable, spending hours watching black and white films together. â€œIt just felt right,â€ Ngata says. â€œRight from the start.â€
For Chaplin, the defining moment came a few years later: â€œI knew Iâ€™d be with him forever when he gave up drinking,â€ he says. Ngata has been sober for 22 years, something Chaplin is very proud of him for: â€œHe was unreliable before that but when he gave up drinking, he got reliable and mature.â€
It had been a long time coming, Ngata says. â€œI was kind of failing at a lot of things in that time. So it was my rock bottom. It was time to make that decision and I did, and stuck with it.â€ His life improved dramatically. â€œI think, too, it was having someone who was on your side, [who] gave you the courage to push forward.â€
Not long after that, Ngata quit his job and the pair decided to open their own salon. â€œWe always knew that we wanted to work together,â€ Chaplin says. Although he kept his job at Amnesty International while they waited for the business to grow, it didnâ€™t take long.
â€œIt pretty much exploded, in a good way,â€ Ngata says. â€œWe [were] quite ambitious in that way, so there was a lot of building, and then we doubled the size of the salon, and then [we were] winning awards, we had a lot of PR. Everything was happening.â€
That was a heady time in the Australian fashion world, and the couple and their downtown Sydney salon were at the centre of the storm. They were connected to everyone â€“ designers including Ksubi, Sass & Bide and Fleur Wood â€“ and Ngata juggled runway looks with celebrity haircuts while Chaplin ran the business and produced the shows. They travelled the world together and, in 2012, opened a second salon in the city. The pair were together all day every day and there was rarely an escape from work pressures. â€œThereâ€™s been incredible highs and then incredibly challenging times, but I think we couldnâ€™t have gotten through it if we couldnâ€™t rely on each other,â€ Ngata says.
About 10 years ago, they visited a life coach â€“ a step they recommend to other couples. Ngata says: â€œ[Sometimes] you need that third person, who understands how to get the best result on all different kinds of levels, and to be that third person where youâ€™re in a safe place. You can have relationship hygiene, talk about [things], say it, get it out and then get really good advice and tools to try and fix it somehow.â€ The coach helped them to get insight into what makes the other tick. They went to her for four years: â€œThat was probably the best thing we did because we didnâ€™t realise how we both grew as individuals from doing that,â€ Chaplin says.
A few years later they decided to step out of the fashion whirl and downsize to a single, smaller salon in Darlinghurst, just as luxurious but much more relaxed. They also split their time between Sydney and a home in the Blue Mountains. â€œWe moved there to have a quieter life, and get Glenn into a garden because that helps to de-stress him.â€
Getting out of the city each week gives them time to reconnect to one another. â€œ[I realise] how important that is to us, to have that downtime, because you jump in the car, you go over the Anzac bridge, and thatâ€™s it. Everything, it can all wait until Wednesday. And thatâ€™s something that we afford ourselves the luxury of having, even though we work hard to keep it.â€
Being away from the hustle of the city has strengthened their bond and the house gives them space to do their own thing. â€œI always say the ideal for me is to know that Bradâ€™s there, but in the other room,â€ says Chaplin, with a laugh.
Next year theyâ€™ll celebrate 25 years together and they plan to finally tie the knot. The passing of the marriage equality bill in 2017 was significant for them and they want to make things official. â€œWe know how committed we are and, given 25 years, weâ€™re very committed,â€ Chaplin says, â€œbut I think that just signals it to everyone else.â€ Ngata jokes: â€œMy straight clients say to me, get married, be miserable!â€
So whatâ€™s their secret for staying together? â€œI think youâ€™ve got to get on with it,â€ says Ngata, â€œbecause if you donâ€™t, then thereâ€™s no point. [And] youâ€™ve got to communicate. That took a lot of therapy to get to that point: Open your heart was what Iâ€™ve been told to do. Face the fear and do it anyway. Just step over that line.â€
Through everything, their commitment to each other hasnâ€™t wavered. Theyâ€™re in it for the long haul, Ngata says. â€œThereâ€™s good times and thereâ€™s bad times, as much as a cliche as that sounds. But … Glenn was there when I was going through a pretty dark period. So Iâ€™m there for him when heâ€™s going through a period for him â€¦ Youâ€™ve got to look at the whole history of your relationship and not just be defined by one moment in it.â€
Chaplin agrees: â€œNever does it cross your mind in a serious way that youâ€™d leave each other. You just bear with whatever youâ€™re going through and you know that, ultimately, itâ€™s going to be fixed and itâ€™ll all come good again, and you trust that.â€
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