When We Went Viral

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In case you missed the news, Phil and I got married at the beginning of July. I’m so very, very chuffed to be his wife and we’ve been having a great time as married couple. (And OMFG *I* have a husband?! Me?!) I’ll probably write about the wedding another time because I’m here to talk about what happened next, and what happened next MIGHT SHOCK YOU! Well, it shocked us.

We got back from our wedding on a Tuesday and set about attacking the post-wedding chores, including a very last-minute GP appointment because my eyebrow went mad. LOOK AT MY POOR FACE.

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We spent Wednesday packing for our honeymoon, ready for an early morning flight the next day. As we were heading off on our holidays, I manually backed up my phone photos because I’m secretly a little old lady who doesn’t trust “the cloud”. I was saving down photos when I found this, which I’d apparently taken back in April. 

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I showed Phil and we realised, aww that’s nice, the date on that tweet was nearly three years ago, so I found the original tweet and quote tweeted it. (Actually, I asked Phil if he wanted to tweet it, but he couldn’t be bothered.) The retweets and favourites started rolling in, more than my average tweet would receive. We were surprised, but ok? It was a nice story. Shrug. We can’t be totally sure of the chain of events, but evidently it was seen by J.K. Rowling, who hit retweet.

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As you can imagine, THE SHIT HIT THE FAN and things started happening. We appeared as a Twitter Moment and began getting contacted by media outlets wanting to know more about “our story”. All kinds of places got in touch, newspapers, radio stations, viral news sites and women’s magazines.

While this is all happening, we’re packing for honeymoon and preparing to be out of the country for a week. I actually forgot to pack my camera in all the furore… Well, I say furore, but it was really just us pacing the kitchen, wondering what kind of mess we’d got ourselves into this time.

The first couple of articles appeared that evening. We were both a little anxious by this point, our main concern was that someone might write something nasty, tainting our wedding and honeymoon. From what we saw, The Mirror article was one of the first to appear, and we were relieved to see it was positive.

The next morning, we got our early flight. When we landed at the other end, our phones went off like a plague of angry wasps, a stack of news articles had appeared while we’d been in the air. In the car to our hotel we drafted and posted this on Twitter, which helped to stem the flow of journalists contacting us.

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Early on, we decided not to speak to any media unless we were presented with a mind-blowingly incredible opportunity. Like what if MADONNA wanted to interview us or something!? Sadly, Madonna did not get in touch.

Besides, we were on our honeymoon for goodness’ sake. We thought about keeping quiet that we were abroad for a week (HI, BURGLARS!) but the fact we were on honeymoon was the ideal excuse not to speak to anyone. Perhaps we’re a bit jaded from having worked in radio, tv, social media and PR ourselves, but the thought of being interviewed just wasn’t very appealing anyway.

We didn’t feel bad for avoiding journalists because they didn’t really need anything from us; we’d already tweeted a photo of us on our wedding day and the story really spoke for itself. One journalist kept emailing me about his looming deadline, apparently trying to guilt-trip me into replying. Soz, not my fucking problem mate.

I also posted a (quite cringe) message on Facebook to ask our friends not to speak to journalists if they were contacted, more for our own peace of mind than anything else. We made a special point of telling our parents not to accept friend requests from strangers, or to speak to journalists. Perhaps it seems like overkill, but we were both receiving (and ignoring) quite a few messages from journalists at that point.

Weirdly, one thing that really helped our privacy was a decision made before our wedding even happened; we asked our wedding guests to leave off posting photos of us on social media. This was actually my call – it’s a pet peeve when the first photo of a happy couple to appear on Facebook is some crap, blurry, unposed snap taken by a guest. I see it happen to other couples all the time and I just don’t think it’s very fair. Obviously, we hadn’t planned to go viral, but this decision paid off; the photo that appeared on most of the articles was one we had chosen and posted ourselves the morning after the wedding.

A small number of outlets dug up older photos of us from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but it was all public content we’d posted ourselves so we couldn’t be too annoyed. However, I would have been really fucking peeved if a stack of wedding photos had been published all over the place. To me, this would have felt like a big invasion of privacy, so we were very glad that the photos weren’t out there to pillage.

We kept an eye on the coverage while we were away, but didn’t want it to take over our honeymoon. We couldn’t ignore it entirely though, that would be weird. Plus, the hotel had wi-fi and we had a very busy schedule of doing fuck-all.

While the stories appearing were generally positive and at worst tongue-in-cheek, naturally some commenters were assholes. I took the chance to reply to a couple – mainly to remind them that I was a real person who could read their words. I’ve done a LOT of social media work in my career which involves a lot of regurgitation of corporate messaging, so it felt good to be able to say what I damn well wanted. (In other words, politely telling people to fuck off, hurrah!)

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And inevitably, there were Angry Men commenting, because there’s no escaping Angry Men. Yawn.

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We appeared in over 100 articles in more than 23 languages. Our story appeared in Metro, The Independent, Daily Mail (bleurgh), The Mirror, Huffington Post, The Sun, Stylist, Refinery29, ThoughtCatalog, MSN, Daily Record, Cosmopolitan, Bored Panda, Mashable, A Plus, The New York Post, Men’s Health, Glamour, Woman Magazine and an absolute shitload more. We were mentioned on the news in the US, and were the punchline in a BBC radio comedy. The tweet that “went viral” has settled at 21,000 retweets and 64,000 likes, with impressions clocking in at a fairly ridiculous 5.6 million.

The buzz died down after a few days. “Going viral” was quite fun in the end, but it was certainly anxiety inducing. The last thing you want after the stress and the hassle of a wedding is to be ridiculed worldwide, so we were very lucky that majority of the articles were light-hearted, feel-good pieces. We also felt glad to have media experience through work, which helped to inform the decisions we made. 

So, what now? Well, 2017 has been INTENSE. I passed my driving test, got a car, had two hen parties, got married, had a honeymoon, a weekend narrowboating, two family holidays and OH YEAH went viral. Surely, SURELY, I’m allowed to sleep until Christmas now, right?

I Knew

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That Valentine’s Day, I saw your face for the first time and I knew.

I was tipsy, drinking with a single friend in an empty pub, we were hoping to distract ourselves from our singleness. Not that Valentine’s Day really matters one bit but it felt appropriate to mark it, an excuse for a drink with a good friend. Someone had abandoned a single cellophane-wrapped rose on another table.

You weren’t in that empty pub. I saw your face on my phone, someone had retweeted you into my Twitter timeline. Pouting and wearing a party hat, you were sarcastically marking Valentine’s Day as a solidly single man. I can’t explain what happened next, I felt something shift in my heart. (Perhaps it was the whiskey, but I wanted to know you.)

I followed you, how could I not? I sent more than a couple of ill-advised and ill-conceived flirty tweets, hoping to catch your attention. You were more popular than me, but after two months you eventually followed me back. I wish this didn’t sound so calculating, but I had a plan. Not a proper plan with maps and diagrams and instructions, but a plan nonetheless. (I needed to meet you, I wanted to know you.)

So our conversation moved from tweets, to direct messages, to long and rambling emails about our lives. You didn’t live too far away. We found we knew the same places and the same people. We’d been brought up in similar families and grew up 12 miles from each other as the crow flies. (Why didn’t the crow tell us?) Your brother lived on a neighbouring road to my London flat, it was possible you and I had even crossed paths before. (But I think I’d have noticed you.)

We arranged to go for a drink. I tried not to get too excited, not wanting to get my hopes up like a fool. I tried to be cool, but I might as well have had a Belisha beacon on my head. (Subtlety’s never been my strong point.)

It was July and it was hot, about 30 degrees. I found myself hurrying despite the heat; I knew you were waiting at the bar we’d chosen. I got the bus, I’d never been on such an agonisingly slow journey before, nor since. I tried to swat away the feeling that I was heading towards a moment that would change my life forever. (Don’t be so ridiculous, those things are not for the likes of me.)

I made it to the bar, sweating from the bus. I saw you properly for the first time and finally felt glad of the heat because I could feel myself blushing. You were more handsome than I’d thought, and sweeter. I took in the new details, the shape of your arms, the grey flecks in your hair, your shy smile, the way your t-shirt hung from your shoulders. (I wanted to learn everything.)

We spoke for hours, moving from bar, to pub, to pub. You lived in a village without a station, so you couldn’t stay too late or you couldn’t get home. I suggested you could stay at mine, offering the sofa. Honestly though, I never expected you to sleep there. (You didn’t.)

We went back to my flat, you complimented it. (I wanted to ask you to stay, forever.)

We watched tv with the windows open, it was festival coverage and we talked about music until it was dark. You pretended to yawn and put your arms around me. I felt every cliché becoming real, like a line of falling dominos. (Every wish that I’d dared to admit to myself was coming true.)

You moved in eight months later; we’d spent almost every weekend together so there was no trepidation. That’s the nice thing about you – you’ve always been sure of what you wanted, just as I had. (Every want of mine was mirrored by yours, whether I knew it or not.)

When you asked me to marry you, I was so excited that I forgot to say yes. (I assumed you already knew.)

Why I’ll Never Be Mrs G.

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Not that I’m counting, but I’m marrying Mr Phil Gibson in 90 days. (…I am totally counting.)

We’ve decided to have a small wedding; our close family will gather at the registry office for the ceremony, then we’ll go for a meal at a posh hotel and that’s your lot. While I’m somewhat excited for the big day, I’m very excited to be married to him because he’s a lovely person.

With a wedding of this size, we’ve left out things we saw as superfluous to our needs; no evening disco, no cake, no favours, no antique wedding car, no army of bridesmaids and groomsmen, no first dance. We’ve both attended amazing weddings in the past, but together agreed that we didn’t want the hassle and expense of a full-blown shindig for our day. Having cut out many of the traditional wedding features, conversely there’s one thing I’m definitely keeping – my surname.

Not long after Phil proposed we had a proper talk about names. I said that I’d like to keep my surname after we’re married, how would he feel about that? He considered it then replied, “I’d love it if you took my name, but I can’t think of a single good reason why you actually should, beyond tradition or patriarchy.” Excellent answer. I should marry him.

But why am I so adamant about wanting to stay an Apostolou?

Let’s start with the name itself. Llia is short for the longer and more Cypriot-flavoured ‘Vasillia.’ Add my surname ‘Apostolou’ and you have a multi-syllable pain-in-the-arse of a name. A confusing number of Ls and Is in my first name, and far too many Os in my surname. I have to spell it out all the time. However, the older I’ve got, the more I’ve realised how important my name is to me and how it helped to shape my personality.

Way back in the mists of time, my family moved to Surrey. Ok, it was in the 90s, which is actually quite a long time ago now that I do the maths, so perhaps I wasn’t exaggerating as much as I thought.

At the time it was a very white area. VERY WHITE. At my large secondary school, I was one of only a handful of students who looked ‘not-English’ and I was called ‘Paki’ several times. The factual inaccuracy stung more than the intended insult, but that this happened semi-regularly really shows how white it was – just being a person of Mediterranean descent was enough to be seen as different. Factor in a very ‘not-English’ name and it has a definite effect – you know full well that you’re not like everyone else, and you’re not allowed to forget it. You stand out without wanting to, or trying to.

Having a surname beginning with A, I was usually first on the class register. At the start of each school year, I’d see every teacher look down, see ‘Vasillia Apostolou’ and pause for a second. Fair enough. Some would attempt to say it, most would butcher it. Again, fair enough.

In later years, I’d interrupt as I saw them pause, “That’s me. I prefer to be called Llia.” It just made things easier. I found it embarrassing at first, but as I went through school I cared less. I probably sounded like a cocky little shit, didn’t I? Not that I’ve ever been a shy and retiring type, but when you’re an awkward teenager, speaking out of turn to a new teacher in front of a class of 30 students at the start of the year… well, it’s character forming. It’s something. I could just be reaching for excuses for being gobby. (Incidentally, I am gobby enough to have been asked to do readings at THREE weddings so far.)

There’s plenty of reasons to maintain the status quo and keep my surname. I’ve lived with this surname for over 30 years and have grown into it, not to mention that the idea of changing every official document, online account and my email address doesn’t exactly fill me with joy.

There’s one more crucial reason. I’m an extremely endangered species, the last Apostolou of an all-female generation. The others have all gone and got Englishy surnames, the traitors. (Special shoutout to my little sister, who can now type her whole name with only three letters on the keyboard.)

When my grandfather died last year, it strengthened my resolve to keep the surname going in my own small way. Interestingly, (or not) my family’s surname isn’t even meant to be Apostolou, but thanks to some immigration admin shambles several decades ago we got stuck with it… which makes me love it even more. It’s very symbolic of my ridiculous family.

Keeping your surname after marriage shouldn’t be a Big Deal, because it isn’t really. Plenty of people do it. However, it’s generally expected that you will be taking your partner’s name, which throws up some interesting etiquette issues. (Christ, what is it with weddings and etiquette? Yawn.) You feel like you should tell people of your choice ahead of the wedding, but there never seems to be a good time to bring it up. What if someone gifts a cheque made out to “Mr and Mrs Gibson”? What if someone makes a personalised gift featuring the wrong names? Is there a polite way to correct people, without making them feel uncomfortable or upset? Well, we’ll find out.

Of course, there are other solutions to the married surname issue, but they didn’t appeal. Double-barrelling went out the window when we realised it sounded like spitting out a mouthful of gravel, and a portmanteau would be ridiculous. (Apostoson? Gibpostolou? Gibapostolouson? Please…)

There’s only one other solution. I’ve STRONGLY HINTED that he could take my surname and sound like an exotic Greek prince. He doesn’t fancy it. Funny that.