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EASTENDERS star Richard Elis married girlfriend Tonya Smith yesterday after nursing her back to health following a crippling illness.

Richard, who plays Welsh Huw in the top soap, walked the 24-year-old up the aisle - just months after Tonya was confined to a wheelchair.

Last year the actress was suddenly struck down by a rare virus which made her joints seize up and caused searing pains in her spine.

She was left helpless in a wheelchair as she battled to cope and finally conquer reactive arthritis.

The illness struck at the same time as Richard landed his big break, playing squatter Huw in the series.

Tonya, who married Richard in the Clynne Valley Church, Swansea, said she could never have coped without his support.

She said: "He was so good to me. Even in my darkest moments, when I thought I was never going to walk again, I knew that Richard would always be with me.

"It was terrible relying on someone else to help you live your life. But Richard would phone me from London every day and give me counselling sessions. He was fantastic."

The pair fell in love three years ago after appearing together on stage in an amateur drama-school production in Cardiff.

Two years later Richard bought Tonya a pounds 500 gold-and-diamond engagement ring.

At first the couple lived together in Cardiff but Tonya, who works for the Theatre Clywd drama company, recently moved to London to join Richard.

Tonya says she has no problems dealing with those female fans attracted to Richard since he landed his role in EastEnders.

"He is not for sale," she said. "He is a man worth hanging on to and I am not giving him up.

"So hands off anyone who thinks they might have a go!"
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sutton, Caroline
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 19, 1998
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