rogue

'At 17, I fell in love with a man 30 years older than me online. Then I went to prison.'

It started with an online chat room. 

She was 17. He was 46. She lived in New Zealand. He lived in the United Kingdom. 

But for comedian Angella Dravid, "It was love at first type".

A youth orchestra teacher from London, Gary stood out from everyone else online. He used proper grammar and punctuation, made everyone laugh, and even "had a different coloured font to everyone else in the room". 

"Thig guy was giving me attention. It just felt like I had the high school jock talking to me," Angella told Mamamia. 

Watch: The Mamamia team confess our relationship deal breakers. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia. 

After five months of exchanging messages and grainy pictures online, Angella decided to pack a bag and run away to the UK to be with him. 

"I thought this is it. I'm packing up and leaving. This is goodbye, New Zealand." 

She said goodbye to her mum and told her she was visiting her dad in Australia, before boarding a flight to London. 

"There was so much secrecy," she explained. 

"I've always been emotional saying goodbye to my parents... so to [my mum] it felt like a normal goodbye. But she didn't realise the gravity of it until I left."

On the plane, Angella was both "nervous and excited" to see Gary in person for the first time. But despite their nearly 30 year age gap, she didn't have a doubt in her mind. 

"I sat next to someone on the plane and I think that might have might have been the first time someone said to me 'that's a bit weird'. But I just thought love always has doubters, and that's what makes love a struggle and a triumph."

When the plane touched down in the UK, Gary came to pick her up from the airport. It was the first time she laid eyes on him outside of a computer screen. 

"When I saw him, he had these deep lines and wrinkles that I didn't realise existed. He looked older," she recalled. 

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"When he hugged me, I didn't know what to do. I just kind of stood there. And he gave me this hug and then all of a sudden... I felt a massive relief."

"It felt like 'oh hey, here's someone who actually accepts me and loves me'."

However, reflecting on the situation on the Audible original podcast Love, Rock Bottom & Other Triumphs, Angella now sees just how "messed up" everything was.

"Looking back now this is messed up, Gary picked up a 17-year-old girl from the airport. I’m not sure how he could have done that drive home thinking he made a good decision. Anyway, at the time being there felt better than being at home with mum," she explained on the podcast. 

With no friends or family in London, Angella moved into Gary's home. Speaking to Mamamia, she described those early days of their relationship as a lot of fun, filled with "sleeping, watching TV and getting to know each other". 

"He enjoyed that I wanted to watch movies all day. And I just had that kind of youthful spirit, and I guess he liked that. I found him fascinating. He found me fascinating." 

Then, one night Gary proposed while the pair were watching a film on the sofa. But for Angella, the excitement of marriage was quickly overshadowed by a feeling of shame. 

"I felt happy and sad when he proposed. I wasn’t expecting the sadness it was like the reality just hit me. I eloped, and that’s not a first choice kind of thing," Angella explained on the podcast. 

"I wanted to share the news with my mum but I was ashamed of myself. Ashamed of lying and running away. Ashamed of not even calling her and telling her I’d fallen in love. Mum still thought I was visiting my dad in Australia. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I was visiting a 50-year-old man in a different country. There was no way I was going to call her."

The marriage meant Angella could stay in the country on a visa. However, she wasn't allowed to work and Gary would act as her sponsor. 

By the time, the big day rolled around, Angella didn't get the 'big white wedding' she was always dreamed about. Instead, she tied the knot at a registry office aged 18 with no family and friends. Gary on the other hand, invited a friend. 

"I felt betrayed. I felt like I deserved this big grandiose feeling that it was going to be this fairytale love story. Because that would have made the sacrifice of my family and friends worth it," she told Mamamia. 

"And then when I got home and realised that he had all his security around him, he still had his friends and I didn't have anything. I lost the closest thing to me, which was my name... And suddenly, I didn't know who I was anymore." 

Upset, Angella called her mum that night after the wedding. But when her mum answered and she told her she was married, the phone went silent. She waited for her mum to say something but she was met with a dead dial tone. 

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"I felt a sense of shame. A massive sense of shame and loss," she explained.  

"I'm disappointed [because] for both sides of my family, my Indian and my Samoan side, culture is really important... And even though that I'd run away and that was my decision, mum hung up and that was her decision. You never expect your parents to walk away from you."

Before long, the couple's relationship started going downhill. Gary lost his job and Angella felt even more isolated as she settled into married life. The fairytale was unravelling.

"I didn't realise how much I'd sacrificed until the honeymoon period had worn off."

"I realised I didn't have any friends or family in the UK... And all of his friends were his age. I felt even more alienated if we went to his friend's place to do dinner or something. So I just kind of kept to myself and I used movies and I connected with TV. I just became more and more detached."

Things came to a head one night when the pair were fighting over a picture of Gary and his ex-wife which he refused to take down in their house.  

"I asked Gary if we could move the photo, he suggested our bedroom and I suggested the bin," she explained on the podcast. 

That night, Angella "pushed" the photo frame over his head as the pair were fighting. 

"I slapped him, he slapped me back. I was stunned. I said you, 'can't slap me' and he said, 'you can't slap me'.... Gary had refused to take the photo down. So I took it down, over his head... I wanted to hit him with it but I didn't have the guts, I didn't want to break the glass or hurt him."

The police were called, and before she knew it, she was being arrested and taken away.

"The police arrived almost immediately. They said I was being arrested for assaulting Gary, they said he was the victim. The whole thing sounded ridiculous, I couldn't understand it."

"Looking back, I know what I did was wrong, I'm not in denial of that. I just didn't know how to explain how f**ked up my situation was."

It wasn't the first time the police had been called around, but in the past Angella was simply cautioned

"When I was a kid, I had the police come over to see my mum... And they were satisfied with what my mum said and they left," she told Mamamia. 

"When the police came, I just thought it was like a routine thing. And then I got arrested, and that was when I was like 'hold on this isn't what's supposed to happen'." 

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She was placed in a holding cell for a few hours before being taken into an interview room. Without Gary by her side, Angella realised for the first time, "I actually have no one". 

She was later taken to prison, where she would stay for two months before being transferred to a bail hostel for the next three years. 

For Angella, being sent to prison at 19 in another country was undoubtedly a scary experience, but being behind bars actually helped her feel less alone. 

"I did have some fear in prison but I went into prison with this hope that I would make friends. So I went into it with an optimistic [outlook], like I can't believe I've got people my own age in this place."

Prison also helped Angella value herself and connect with other women who went through similar experiences. 

"When I went into prison, I realised that my experiences in my childhood weren't abnormal, that there are some people who are going through similar things as well, that they had unstable childhoods or that they were in unusual relationships. I think I felt more acceptance."

"It also helped that I was 19. And a lot of the women in prison saw me as maybe their daughter or their sister... I think that allowed them to be nurturing."

That said, Angella remembers one moment in prison when she felt genuinely scared. 

"I saw this girl who was pregnant. And I just the fact that she was pregnant in prison didn't make sense to me. So I kept staring at her while she ate... and this pregnant woman just slammed her tray on the on the table, peas splattered everywhere. And she's just like, 'If that girl keeps staring at me, I'm gonna kick her.' That was the only time I felt fear."

Looking back, Angella says her situation may have been different if she went through the justice system today. 

"I feel like [today] we would see someone who's young as someone who is vulnerable, rather than someone who could possibly be a gold digger. We just looked at young women very differently, like we called them sluts. And we used to shame a lot of young women." 

"We now look at why older men are with younger women. And we call them out for it. And I feel like that wasn't happening at the time. I think if this case happened now that probably look at the surrounding situations, like there's an age gap. This girl holds a New Zealand passport, so she's not from here. They would probably ask me if I have any friends... and if I said no, then they would have looked at the circumstances around the offences."

While in prison, things ended up falling apart between her and Gary. And at 22, Angella found herself divorced and about to be deported back to New Zealand. 

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On her flight back home, she was met by her mum at the airport. It was the first time she had seen her since she left at 17. 

"When I walked through the gate, mum was there excited and smiling. I did a double take, her hair had greyed, she had more wrinkles," she recalled on her podcast.

The pair later reconciled. 

Returning to her life in New Zealand was hard for Angella, but she later stumbled upon comedy as way to talk about what she went through.

"When you go through things that can't be explained then, you have to find some sort of outlet for it, whether it's art or writing or some form of self expression, and I somehow got into comedy. "

Discussing her story with others also helped her look at herself in a more forgiving light. 

"Being around other comedians helped me revisit these things that happen in the past, look at it in a comedic way, but also accept that these things happened and be proud of the person that I am." 

Love, Rock Bottom & Other Triumphs is launching as part of Audible’s new Plus Catalogue; a selection of thousands of listen-all-you-want titles now included in membership, at no additional cost. All members will have now have access to the Plus Catalogue, as well as their monthly credit and additional membership benefits. 

Feature Image: Facebook @Angella Dravid/Mamamia. 

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