A woman who tasked a friend with setting her up with someone from a dating app has told how she fell in love with her childhood sweetheart after more than 30 years apart, when he was coincidentally picked out.
Sam Tomlin, 47, and Patrick Toplis, 50, who both grew up in Woodford, east London, attended the same primary school, calling each other girlfriend and boyfriend as well as often playing kiss chase, until they lost touch when he was taken into care aged 14.
In the years that followed, Sam, who now lives in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, married and had two sons, before getting divorced in 2012 .
After five years as a single mum, she decided to try online dating using an app called Wingman, which allows people’s friends to play Cupid and recruited her friend Nicole Gibson, 39, to find her a match.
Patrick Toplis, 50, and Sam Tomlin, 47, (pictured) who both grew up in Woodford, east London, have fallen in love after more than 30 years apart
Sam and Patrick would often play kiss chase and call each other girlfriend and boyfriend as kids, until Patrick was taken into care aged 14
In an incredible twist of fate, without realising they already knew each other, Nicole selected personal trainer Patrick as a potential partner for Sam who is mother to boys aged 17 and 15.
Now, three years on, the pair are madly in love and even talking about marriage.
Sam said: ‘I didn’t think I believed in fate until this – it’s just too much of a coincidence. When she matched us up, Nicole had no idea there was a connection.
‘Patrick and I always say to each other, ‘We’re so lucky.’ He has the biggest heart and will do anything for anybody. He just gets life – there’s no drama or neediness. He’s my best friend.
‘It might not have worked had we been younger – we weren’t as calm and collected as we are now. It feels like it was the perfect time to meet.’
Meeting at primary school, where he was three years above her, Sam said she and Patrick became close pals.
She continued: ‘I can remember Patrick from about the age of eight or nine. We were great friends and would call each other boyfriend and girlfriend, but we were just kids.
‘We’d hold hands and skip around the playground together. It was really cute. We were inseparable.
Sam said she and Patrick (pictured) were inseparable as children, holding hands and skipping around the playground together
Sam said no one knew where Patrick had gone and there was no way of finding him because there was no social media or mobile phones. Pictured: Sam as a schoolgirl
‘We lived on the same road, so would see each other out of school, too. He was always around on his bike.’
But when Sam turned 11, Patrick suddenly disappeared from her life.
She did not know at the time, that he had been taken into care and moved away from the area.
‘He just wasn’t there anymore. Nobody knew where he’d gone,’ she said.
‘There was no way of finding out because, back then, there was no social media or mobile phones.
‘Kids are adaptable, so I just carried on, started secondary school and made some new friends.
‘But, over the years, when I heard the name Patrick, I’d think about him and wonder if he was okay.’
Mother-of-two Sam said it would’ve been difficult to look for each other now on social media because they both look different and she changed her name after getting married. Pictured: Sam and Patrick
After finishing school, Sam went to college and forged a career as a skincare and fashion model working for brands including London Fashion Week, Vie Aesthetics and Toni and Guy.
Aged 19, she married her ex-husband and went on to have two children with him before the relationship ended eight years ago.
Meanwhile, Patrick never married or had children, but he became a successful personal trainer, working with high profile clients in Earls Court, west London.
Sam said: ‘If there had been social media back then, perhaps I would have searched for him, but even if I had, I don’t think I’d have recognised him.
‘He was this cute, cherub-like child and now he’s got big muscles, tattoos and a beard.
‘I changed my name when I got married, so he wouldn’t have found me either. Plus, I looked very different. My hair was dark brown when he first knew me, but now, it’s platinum blonde. He would’ve walked past me in the street.’
Sam admits she went on ‘every single app’ in the hopes of finding romance before she reconnected with Patrick (pictured)
Initially, following her divorce, Sam was not interested in romance and decided instead to concentrate on raising her sons.
After five years, she felt ready to rejoin the world of dating and downloaded some apps, but struggled to make any meaningful connections.
‘I went on every single app and you could not make up the kind of people I ended up going on dates with. There were a lot of psychopaths and most people looked nothing like their pictures,’ she laughed.
Eventually, worried she was making bad choices when it came to men, Sam’s friend Nicole took charge.
In summer 2017, she convinced her to try the app Wingman, which puts single people’s friends in charge of their profiles and of swiping through potential matches.
‘I always went for tall men, as I’m 5ft 11in myself. I liked very clean cut, city type guys, but Nicole said that was not working for me and that she’d pick the kind of guy I needed,’ Sam said.
Sam and Patrick (pictured) exchanged numbers the day they matched on Wingman and chatted for hours
‘To humour her, I agreed. She had written this lovely thing about me bringing joy into the room – something I would never have written myself – and had put so much effort into it.
‘Patrick’s friend had done the same thing for him. He had a beard, was an inch shorter than me and was covered in tattoos. His friend had written, ‘Don’t be fooled, he’s a gentle giant and will give you the biggest belly laughs.’
‘Nicole picked him out right away for me. Initially, I wasn’t sure, but she told me to give it a go, so we started chatting on the app.’
They quickly discovered they were from the same place and as soon as Patrick told Sam his surname, she realised exactly who he was.
She said: ‘We exchanged phone numbers and chatted for hours that same day. He told me he had been taken into care as things were not great at home and I told him about my life and getting married.’
The couple (pictured) who spent lockdown together at Sam’s house, are looking at living together in the future
After the initial phone call, it took a week for Patrick to pluck up the courage to ask Sam out for their first official date.
And when they met up for a casual coffee in central London, the spark between them was instant.
‘I was so nervous, but straight away, it felt right,’ Sam said. ‘We talked about what we had done over the years and reminisced about the old teachers we had.
‘I would never have recognised him – he looked completely different.’
The pair initially took things slowly and became reacquainted over a series of dates, then a few weeks later they became a proper couple.
For a while Patrick ‘s home remained in Earls Court, west London, but after spending lockdown at Sam’s house, the pair are looking at moving in together in the future.
Sam revealed Patrick asked her to marry him the other day, but she didn’t hear him because she was talking to someone else. Pictured: Sam and Patrick with a friend
‘I never thought I’d live with someone again, but when lockdown happened and his gym closed, he came to stay with me for seven weeks and we got on like a house on fire,’ she said.
‘We used to love going to dinner and shows in the West End, but during lockdown, we’ve got into gardening and we love long walks around Epping Forest.
‘We’re not big party animals – we just enjoy being together.’
Now even talking about marriage, the future looks bright for Patrick and Sam.
Sam added: ‘He actually said he asked me to marry him the other day, but I was chatting to someone else and didn’t hear him. I am sure it will happen at some point, though.
The couple (pictured) who enjoy going for dinner and watching West End productions, spent lockdown going on walks around Epping Forest and gardening
‘And of course, Nicole will be the maid of honour!’
Patrick is equally grateful to Nicole.
He said: ‘I was delighted to be reunited with Sam. I love her – she’s brave and very beautiful!’
Wingman was created by British woman, Tina Wilson, who mistrusted traditional dating apps.
A spokesman for the app said: ‘Wingman is the only dating app that lets you pass control of your dating life to your friends and family. Those that know you best, will navigate your journey making it a team effort.’
Patrick said he’s delighted to be reunited with Sam (pictured) who he describes as ‘brave and very beautiful’