You can only spend what you earn and you work for what you want

LIFE Wayne Barker works at the Hoilday Inn in Old Portsmouth
LIFE Wayne Barker works at the Hoilday Inn in Old Portsmouth
Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr Ken Ellcome with Jean and Allan Thompson. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

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Wayne Barker is a softly-spoken young man. By his own admission, he is shy.

So it is all the more remarkable when he tells the tale of how he proposed.

A DAY TO REMEMBER Wayne and Dawn Barker on their wedding day

A DAY TO REMEMBER Wayne and Dawn Barker on their wedding day

The 23-year-old had taken his girlfriend Dawn to La Tasca, the Spanish restaurant at Gunwharf Quays, Portsmouth.

‘When she went to the toilet I asked a waitress if she could turn down the music because I wanted to ask Dawn to marry me,’ he said.

‘When Dawn came back I told her there was something I had to ask her and asked the whole restaurant if I could have a bit of silence.

‘So I got down on one knee and proposed. She was wearing a red blouse and her face went the same colour. When she said “yes” everyone started clapping.

‘It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done because I’m shy and quite withdrawn, but I wanted to do something different.’

You can only admire his nerve.

This is a love story, a tale of a modern romance conducted largely over 5,600 miles.

It is also the unusual story these days of a man in his early 20s prepared to sacrifice his country of birth, his language and some of his most treasured possessions.

He has also compromised some of the most formative years of his life in order to win the woman he loves and build a new life in Portsmouth.

Wayne is South African, from an Afrikaans family living and working 40 minutes from Johannesburg.

His strict work ethic, he says, comes from his father who runs his own truck repair business.

‘He doesn’t believe in credit. He’s never had a credit card and won’t have a mobile phone with a contract. He tops up every day and is such a good customer he seems to be offered a free phone at the end of every month.

‘He brought me up the same way: you can only spend what you earn and you work for what you want.’

Wayne has two jobs. For most of the week you will find him front-of-house at the Holiday Inn, Pembroke Road, Old Portsmouth, serving behind the bar, waiting on tables in the restaurant or providing room service. At other times he helps with security at Debenhams in Southsea.

He is also a father and step-father. At home, in Languard Road, Eastney, is Dawn, 24, her two young children from a previous relationship – Jack, five, and four-year-old Isabelle and their four-month-old daughter Elana.

Wayne first arrived in Portsmouth in 2007. He had matriculated from high school and was travelling with a cousin and his then girlfriend. He came to Portsmouth because his twin brother Quinton (older by 30 seconds) was here and recommended it. He also had an aunt and uncle living in Southsea.

‘It was my first time out of South Africa. Until then I’d only been to Botswana. Before we came here we went to Switzerland because I’d never seen snow.’

He enjoyed life in the city, got a job in a factory at Hilsea and later moved on to work all hours in a 24/7 convenience store in Clarendon Road, Southsea.

But his brother returned home, as did his girlfriend, for her 21st birthday. She never returned to England. ‘I really thought she was the girl I would marry, but it wasn’t to be. But I was lonely,’ added Wayne.

‘I could have gone back too, but I decided to stay because I had made a commitment to travel and I wanted to see it out.’

He’d been in Portsmouth for about six months when he went out one night to Bar Bluu at Southsea.

‘I bumped into this girl and was talking to her about South Africa and she introduced me to her sister who turned out to be Dawn.

‘We couldn’t stop talking. She wanted to know everything about me. She told me all about her life and I managed to get her number.

‘I really liked her. There was something about her which made me want to start a proper relationship. I’m not the sort of guy who believes in one-night stands. I wouldn’t do that to a girl.

‘The next day I rang her and asked her if she wanted to go for an ice cream on the seafront and that was when she told me straight away she had two children.’

And then Wayne’s visa ran out and he had to return to South Africa. What followed was a topsy-turvy two-year courtship in which he got repeated five-month visas to return to Portsmouth, and Dawn flew to South Africa to meet his family.

‘I could have stayed and worked illegally, but I don’t understand people who do that. I like to do everything by the rules.

‘When I first went back to South Africa I had no intention of coming back but Dawn and I decided to stay in touch.

‘Dawn came out for about three weeks and met my family and we decided that the only way for us to carry on seeing each other was for me to come back to the UK.

‘So I sold my car and motorbike and spent the money I’d saved working in England and came back to Portsmouth for five months to get to know Dawn better and spend some proper time with her children. That’s when I accepted the fact that my life was going to be here.’

By now the couple had been together for almost two years. Dawn had taken her children to meet Wayne’s family and he had spent thousands of pounds renewing visas.

‘It was difficult. We said we couldn’t go on travelling backwards and forwards to see each other. I’d fallen in love with her and knew it was the right time to propose.

‘I’m the first person in my family to marry someone who’s not South African and they were all great about it. My mum is a good judge of character and she loves Dawn.

But when I told her we were getting married she made one condition – that we should have the ceremony in South Africa which Dawn was keen to do.

‘But my gran was not too sure at first. She said “are you sure this is what you want? Are you sure you want to marry an English girl, not a South African girl?” I took what she said on board, but I knew Dawn was right for me.’

The couple married on February 13 last year at a lodge in the bush in what turned out to be a double celebration. ‘Dawn discovered she was pregnant a couple of days before the wedding,’ said Wayne.

‘So now our family is complete. It’s everything I wanted and I couldn’t be happier.’


There are only two things Wayne Barker really misses from his homeland - space and his language.

He said: ‘I really would like to be able to speak Afrikaans to somebody.

‘When I’m at home we speak it in the family all the time and I do miss it quite badly.

‘I’m trying to teach Elana some words and hopefully one day she might want to learn it properly.’

He admits his accent was a problem when he first came to Portsmouth.

‘People couldn’t understand me so I had to change my accent to become more like Portsmouth people. When I go home now my friends and family say I’ve got an English accent.

‘What I love about Portsmouth is the different accents in the city. To me, people from Southsea sound different to people from North End.’

And he really would like his baby daughter and his step-children to be able to enjoy the space he had while growing up in South Africa.

‘There we had a back yard which was big enough to ride a bike around properly. Here the yards are so small.

‘Also, we were outdoors all the time playing rugby and cricket and getting into scrapes. There doesn’t seem to be that culture here, although I love being able to run along the seafront and look at the sea, something we don’t have back in South Africa.’