A COUPLE who have maintained a long-distance relationship for 21 years and who have been kept apart by lockdown will meet again this week.

Ray Roberts, from Fareham and Shirley Lancaster, from Yorkshire, will finally reunite this Thursday.

Together for 21-years they first met aboard the QEII during a short cruise of the English Channel in 1999.

Ray had taken early retirement but carried out voluntary work on the world-famous cruise ship.

His job involved chaperoning women travelling independently, mostly as a dancing partner.

He was 63-years-old and on his tenth voyage as a ‘gentleman host’ when he met Shirley who was then 61.

She had lost her husband several years previously and had retired from a career in fashion

The pair met on the dance floor and “hit it off straight away”.

By the end of the cruise, they had become firm friends.

When the cruise ended, Shirley went home to Yorkshire and Ray back to his Hampshire home, and because each had family ties including children and grandchildren in their respective home town, a long-distance relation developed.

After many years of commuting by rail, the couple took to flying for a quicker, easier journey and have been flying to see each other to and from Southampton Airport, for many years.

The couple – now aged 83 and 84 – have been covering the miles to see each other for 21 years now, and on Thursday their love story will continue when Ray flies back to Yorkshire with his “beloved” Shirley, the first time since before the pandemic.

Steve Szalay, operations director for Southampton Airport, said: “After a difficult few months for aviation, this fantastic love story warms the heart of all of us. It shows just how important regional airports are to providing that vital connectivity and we are absolutely delighted to have been able to play just a little part in helping keep Ray and Shirley’s love alive.”