Love in a time of tear gas
Who says Tories can't be romantic? That's what Conservative peer Michael Bates said to me after we spoke about his Olympic romance than blossomed amid the tear gas of Athens.
Lord Bates found love during a Herculean peace walk across Europe to promote the Olympic Truce, which encourages warning nations to still their weapons during the Games.
Love blossomed between him and fiancée Xuelin Li amid the tear gas of crisis-hit Athens, said the former MP for Langbaurgh, after they first meet in interesting circumstances just before he left the UK for his epic marathon.
He began his Olympic Truce walk in Greece last April and arrived back in the UK earlier this year after taking more than six million steps for peace - ready for this year's Games in London.
Lord Bates, 51, is now getting married to Xuelin, 48, an architect and property developer, on 20th July because that is the day that the Olympic Truce traditionally begins. She is originally from China, but has lived in the UK for more than 20 years and is a big charity supporter.
The ceremony is being held in Parliament's own chapel and Olympic heroine Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Cabinet Minister Eric Pickles and friends from the North East are amongst the guests. Prime Minister David Cameron also sent the happy couple a congratulatory note.
Lord Bates recounted how and his soon-to-be wife had a "very interesting" first meeting.
Friend and fellow peer David Alton invited him to a dinner for the Speaker of the North Korean Parliament and his delegation being held by Xuelin at her home.
Lord Bates, who has a long-standing interest in North Korea, added: "David said: "why don't you come along? And the lady who is hosting it is very supportive of a lot of charitable causes".
"She might be a good person to tell about your walk in case you need help along the way.
"We had a very nice dinner with the speaker of the North Korean Parliament and his associated delegation.
"I talked about the Olympic Truce and my walk - and Xuelin immediately latched on it.
"She thought it was absolutely fantastic and offered to support me on the walk in any way that she could."
And she came to his rescue soon after he began his walk. "About 10 days into the walk, I had a major crisis in that in my haste of packing I packed half the wrong things and left at home half the right things - typical bloke," said Lord Bates.
"So someone was going to have to come out to pick this stuff up that I didn't need that was very heavy to carry. And also to bring out some other things that I really did need.
"And Xuelin volunteered. And in the midst of the tear gas of Athens, because there was a general strike going on at the time, love blossomed."
He added: "From then on she became my main supporter and she came out again several times, and would always be on hand to try and find accommodation.
"When I was lost, I would send text messages saying this is where I am, can you find anything on the web."
Last Christmas, the peer reached Paris and took a few days off with Xuelin in the French capital.
"On New Year's Eve beneath the Eiffel Tower, I proposed to her and she said yes. Who said Tories can't be romantic?
"It is one of those things that love pops up when you least expect it."
To mark their wedding, the couple are launching a charitable foundation inspired by his walk to provide humanitarian aid into conflict zones and work for truce - with guests invited to make donations rather than give gifts.
"As we met through the Olympic Truce, we are very keen to make that as it were our joint life's calling," said Lord Bates, who has two adult sons to Xuelin's one.
The peer said his fiancée loved the North East and that they will have a home in the region. "Even now she is getting fluent in the performance and team members of Newcastle United football club," said Lord Bates.
More information is available at www.walkfortruce.org.
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