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Valentine's Day is a time of love and reflection for millions of couples across the country. But it has special meaning for beautiful model Debee Ashby and her new husband Dave. He is going blind and could lose his sight any time now. Yet their story is one of the most heart-warming you will ever read. CLARE MORRISROE reports...

HE is a blonde model whose flawless looks and stunning figure could have won her any man she desired. He is a quietly- spoken brewery at any time, could awake to find he is blind - and unable to see her beauty.

The incredible love story of former Page 3 girl Debee Ashby and Dave Wookey will touch the heart of the nation.

Debee, 32, holds her husband's hand, and says: "I've spent my life being judged by my looks. But Dave is the first man who saw beyond a pretty face, or a `trophy girlfriend'.

"He loved me for who I really am - not what I look like.

"I've spent my life in a business where looks are all that count. But at last I've found something far deeper than that - a love that will last for ever."

Far from feeling sorry for themselves, Debee and Dave will spend this Valentine's Day celebrating the fact that he still has some sight left. In reality, they know the card she gives him is probably the last he'll ever read.

Debee says: "It was like a hammer blow when we found out Dave was going blind, one of the worst things any active, successful man could hear.

"But I knew that, together, we would get through it."

After one failed marriage, Debee had sworn she would never wed again. Even when she found love with Dave, she was determined to keep her independence.

Then Dave was diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder which doctors said would leave him blind and in a wheelchair.

Debee's response was instant. SHE proposed to Dave, and last July held his hand as they walked down the aisle to the tune of You'll Never Walk Alone.

Debee says: "More than anything in the world I wanted to show Dave I'd always be there for him - and I wanted him to see me in my wedding dress.

"He had already lost the sight in his left eye and doctors told us he could go blind in the other eye any day so it was a race against time. It took three months to sort out the wedding and every day I prayed he could hold on. It was so important for us to be able to look into each other's eyes as we made our vows. And it meant so much to me that Dave could see the devotion in my eyes and know just how much I loved him."

Debee is even sacrificing her dream of having children to be with Dave, 36.

She says: "I always wanted kids, and when I fell in love with Dave I really looked forward to starting a family together. But when doctors diagnosed Dave's condition, they also warned there was a strong chance any child of his could inherit the condition. It was a risk we couldn't bear to take. I can't bring a baby into this world knowing it may have a ticking time bomb about to explode.

"I guess that was the hardest part for me, accepting that a part of my future was wiped out and the rest of my future - with Dave - was so uncertain.

"Something as devastating as this might have broken up many couples. But it has brought us even closer together."

Debee met Dave, an area pub boss, eight years ago when she did a personal appearance at one of his bars on the Isle of Man.

As the years passed they helped each other through failed marriages and broken relationships, and their friendship grew stronger.

Debee, who had a string of disastrous flings with rock stars and actors including Rick Parfitt of Status Quo and film star Tony Curtis, recalls: "When Dave's marriage broke down I was there for him to talk to.

"When my own marriage ended I went to pieces and hit the bottle. But Dave helped me. We gave each other strength - though we never thought about a relationship. We were more like brother and sister."

But their friendship changed forever four years ago when they went for a walk on the beach in Douglas, Isle of Man.

Debee says: "Dave suddenly kissed me - out of the blue. It was like a bolt of lightning and I didn't know what hit me.

"I didn't sleep that night because I couldn't stop thinking about him. The next day he invited me out for dinner.

"We held hands all night and realised for the first time that we had an incredible bond.

"From that night on, we were inseparable. But we didn't actually make love for another month. I was frightened of taking the next step and spoiling the magic which had grown between us.

"Of course, I needn't have worried. I realised that, far from undermining it, making love only sealed our relationship and made it stronger.

"We knew from then on that we had everything going for us - friendship, compatibility and great sexual chemistry."

Two months later Debee moved into Dave's home and took a job managing one of the pubs he runs.

She says: "He was so different from other blokes I'd known. He treated me like an equal and with total respect. I could tell he cared for me.

"I've been out with so many guys in the music and film business and all they've wanted is a good-looking trophy on their arm.

"They always wanted me to look sexy and wear the shortest skirts, the tightest tops and full make-up. But they were only interested in Debee the model, not Debee the person.

"Dave didn't care what I wore or what I looked like. He gave me such confidence in myself that for the first time I didn't worry how I looked because he loved me for what I was."

But after her failed two-year marriage to a session musician, Debee was adamant she didn't want to remarry.

She says: "I believed men changed after marriage and was scared to go through that again.

"I told Dave I loved him, that I'd live with him - but that I'd never marry him.

"As he'd been married too and felt the same way it never became an issue."

Then, two years ago, father-of-one Dave started getting blurred vision in his left eye.

Doctors thought it was connected to a football injury 20 years ago and tried to correct it with surgery.

After the operation failed tests finally revealed he had PXE - a genetic calcifying disorder affecting the eyes, skin and joints. Dave, whose brother has

just discovered he has the same condition, says: "It was such a rare disorder that no- one seemed to know much about it.

"I was worried sick but Debee was fantastic. She contacted a support group, got information from the Internet and became an expert on the subject.

"She was totally positive about the whole thing and wouldn't give up until she had some answers."

She discovered that as well as blindness, the disorder can also affect the joints and cause premature ageing of the skin.

Dave recalls: "A doctor told us there was no way of telling how I would be affected but that we had to prepare ourselves for the worst.

"That meant that at any time of the day or night I could go blind - it happens that fast. If it affects my joints I could also end up in a wheelchair.

"I was knocked for six but Debee took control. She insisted we went to specialist shops to check out the latest gadgets for blind people.

"She changed my diet to slow the process down and even redecorated the house - painting it in bright, basic colours so that as I go gradually blind I will still be able to distinguish between the rooms.

"But most importantly she kept telling me that she still loved me. She is a fantastic woman."

Debee recalls: "When Dave lost the central vision in his left eye I was devastated and when he wasn't around I cried my eyes out.

"Every morning I'd wake up, watch him lying next to me and pray that when he opened his eyes he would be able to see.

"It was then I realised I wanted to prove just how much I loved him.

"My dad, who was dying of cancer, wanted me to marry Dave and my dream was to have the two men I loved most in life by my side at my wedding before it was too late.

"So one day, while we were out walking the dogs, I asked Dave to marry me.

"At first he was concerned I was doing it for all the wrong reasons. He wondered why I'd want to marry him when the future looked so bleak.

"But I told him that I couldn't spend my life with anyone else. He simply is my life."

Dave accepted Debee's proposal, but his main concern was about depriving her of having children.

Debee says: "The doctors said our children would have a 50 per cent chance of contracting the condition but Dave didn't want to take that chance.

"He was already worried about his eight-year-old daughter Jade - though thankfully tests show she is clear.

"I assured Dave that as long as we were together, I wouldn't mind not having kids. With him, I had enough love to last me a lifetime." The couple married last July. Debee recalls: "Dad died just two weeks before the wedding.

"But before he passed away he told me Dave and I were made for each other and I felt that in some way, he was still with me for my big day.

"Walking down the aisle with Dave really was the happiest day of my life."

The couple now enjoy life a world away from the showbiz glitz of Debee's past.

Debee says: "We take one day at a time and just enjoy being together.

"We set targets to enjoy. This Valentine's Day will be our first as man and wife. And of course, there's our first anniversary coming up."

Debee adds: "We know the future won't be easy. But we're learning to adapt our lives.

"Dave will have to give up work, but he's learning new skills on a special typewriter for the blind and hopefully he'll be able to find another job.

"We're sure we can work it out. We're there for each other. We're strong and incredibly positive about the future.

"And, looking on the bright side," she jokes, squeezing Dave's hand, "At least when I'm old and grey he'll only remember me looking young, fresh and blonde!"
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Morrisroe, Clare
Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Feb 13, 2000
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