Come From Away: Nick and Diane
Come From Away has FINALLY been brought to Australia, and with this amazing story came the people who inspired it: those that were on the planes that were diverted to Newfoundland during the 9/11 attacks in New York. Carly and Rosie sat down with Nick and Diane, who met in Newfoundland and whose transatlantic love has reminded people that out of that incredibly awful day, came some beautiful things. Read below for the full interview and stay tuned for our interviews with more of these incredible and inspiring people!
So you’ve seen Come From Away over 100 times! 100 was in New Orleans, but what number is this one?
Diane: Well, we saw it one more time in New Orleans, that made it 101, and then the Sydney production makes it 102.
Is it your first time in Australia?
Nick: I’ve been here once before, in 1979 for a short time, for business. It was 50 years ago though, so I can’t remember much about it!
Diane: Yes, this is my first time!
I’m sure you’ve been asked this question a million and one times, but I have to ask: what is it like to see yourselves on stage, and to be the representatives of the transatlantic love story in this? To see such a strong love, that in your words, ‘came from a bad day but is a beautiful thing’? What does that sentence mean to you?
Diane: I was returning from vacation because my son and his family were in the US Air Force, and that’s why I was on that plane. Usually I travel after September 15th because the fares were cheaper, but my 4 year old grandson was starting school over there in mid September so I went on August the 30th, and was returning home on September 11th.
Nick: So Diane was returning from vacation, and I was actually going to go and do some work in Houston, it says in the show that I was going to a conference but I was actually going to go drill holes in concrete. I was a Chief Product Engineer in the Oil Industry.
Diane: They were developing a steerable drill bit that you could direct where you wanted it to go - a steerable snake.
So they took a little artistic liberty there!
Nick: A little bit, but I think it would have been hard to easily explain exactly what I was doing over there. So Diane sat at the front of the plane, and I was down the back getting drunk actually -
Diane: We didn’t actually meet on the plane. The play has us meeting on the plane, but we actually met a while later.
Nick, the play has you looking quite sober and reserved-
Nick: Oh no, I was the one staggering around at the back! Flashing the people at the airport… I’ll tell you what, you wouldn’t have gone to see that play if that’s how it had been written.
Diane: It’s a coincidence how we wound up at the same place. Neither of us had medication, because it was in our checked luggage. All you could take was your carry-on - so I had a bag of makeup, and he had his laptop computer. We both needed medicine, so you got separated from the people on your flight to go through this medical triage - then got taken to the shelter, 25 miles away. A lot of the plane was taken somewhere else, but that shelter was full and couldn’t take anyone else. So we actually shouldn’t have met at all. But we ended up at this other shelter together, and met while we were getting a blanket. They were army blankets that had been in storage, and they smelled like mothballs.
Nick: I’ve got a photograph somewhere actually of the shelter. Diane sat on a stretcher on her own and a group of people were huddled together so I just went over to this lonely lady and asked, ‘Do you mind if I bed down here?’ and she said, ‘Why not?’
And the rest was…. History?
Diane: Well, sort of, yes. The next morning, we were going for a walk, and this was just after the first time we had seen on TV just what had happened in New York. It was overwhelming to see. Because we were on the plane for over a day, with no information, and then we finally saw.
Nick: So we went for a walk with another couple, and one of them had sandals on and it was a gravel road so they ended up turning back, but we kept going, and we got to a little convenience store, and I went to buy the trail mix -
Diane: And I jumped in and bought it, because I thought, if I buy the snacks, then he has to stay with me and go eat it somewhere, so we could stay together and talk!
Nick: And then that evening, there was the screeching ceremony -
And have you actually done the screech in?
Nick: Oh yes-
Diane: I have, and I kissed the fish!
Nick: So the master of ceremonies thought were married, and when he found out that we weren’t, it’s exactly like how you see it in the show, he offered to marry us, and Diane did say ‘Why not?’
Diane: Absolutely. When you were there, nobody knew you. You weren’t somebody’s mum, or the lady at the store or the neighbour down the hall, everybody was having a good time and they were trying to take our minds off what was going on.
Nick: So the next day, it was rumoured that the locals were going to take some of us on another trip, so we made sure we were on the same trip.
So after you met, you did spend the next few days together?
Nick: Oh absolutely. So it wasn’t love at first sight, I mean the attraction grew in a controlled way really. So when we were on that trip, I wanted to get a picture of Diane because I really didn’t think I was going to see her again, once we went back into the normal world. I wanted to make sure that our meeting really happened and that it wasn’t a dream. So it’s one of the first electric cameras, one without a zoom, and I’m trying to get as close as I can to her to take the picture, without feeling like I’m stalking her. And then she realises and says, ‘Oh, let me get out of the way,’ and I said ‘No, no, it’s perfect.’
Diane: That’s when I knew that he was interested in me. The next picture he took, everybody’s look out over some inlet or something, and I’m looking back at him taking that picture.
How long was it after that you ended up together? How long did you keep up the long distance?
Nick: Well, on the plane, that kiss really happened. The one where the flight attendant walks past us and offer us a cold towel.
Diane: 18 years later, we met the flight attendant who was on our flight!
Nick: And she remembers that moment - we’re now Facebook friends! We had a screech in ceremony a couple of nights ago and we were introduced to her and told she was on our flight and we thought, you’ve got to be kidding! Then the penny drops, because she’s just seen the show, and she goes ‘Ohhh, you’re the amorous couple.’
Diane: Ok ok get back on track!
Nick: Ok, so in October , I needed to come back and make sure that she really existed, that this lady who was doing whatever the hell she wanted really was the same person, so I convinced my boss in England that I needed to come back and check on my project in Houston, and so I got to come over - it was a 30 minute job, but I stayed a week. Then in November, back in England, I proposed over the phone -
You proposed over the phone after two months?
Nick: Well yeah, I needed to make sure this was real - so I proposed and said come to England it’ll be fine, and she countered that bought a house in Houston and said ‘come here instead.’
Diane: Well the weather is nicer in Houston.
Nick: So I told my office, I’m moving to Houston no matter what, and fortunately the Head Office was in Houston, and they wanted to keep me, so I transferred. Then for the next 6 months I did two weeks Houston, two weeks England. By May I had moved over to the States full time, by September we got married, and we went back to Gander to honeymoon.
Diane: And spend time with our friends in that little town, 25 miles away. They also gave us the honeymoon suite at Hotel Gander!
And dare I ask, what exactly is the honeymoon suite at the Hotel Gander?
Nick: Well, there’s a jacuzzi so… Anyway moving on! So they gave us a wedding reception, but they wouldn’t accept any money, they got donations from everywhere and everyone.
Diane: The mayor of the little town where we’d stayed and where they’d given us our reception, wrote a song for us, and our friend sang it and he played his guitar! Fast forward to 2009, where NBC was going to make a documentary as a tribute to the people of Newfoundland for taking in almost 7000 people, so reporters went around town and asked questions and the mayor told reporters about us and our reception and how he’d written a song and he sang that song for the reporters. Then the NBC contacted us in Houston, came to our house, interviewed us and asked us to come up for the filming in 2009. That was the first time we’d talked to any media about what had happened - the only people we’d spoken to were our family and friends.
Nick: So the next year we’re taken back again by an Austrian film crew who want to make a documentary for the European market, and that’s when we first met David and Irene [the writers of the show]. They approached us and said ‘We’re writing a musical about 9/11 and we just thought… Oh gosh’
Diane: A little footnote about David and Irene - they were going together as graduate students in New York and they lost someone that they knew during 9/11… They decided that they wanted to be together after all these people were gone, so they eloped in October, got married at the City Hall in New York, but they didn’t tell their families until the next year because of religious differences. They ended up having a proper ceremony the next year, but because of 9/11 they wanted to do it then and there. Now we look back and say ‘well at least nothing else happened’, but it could have been the Pearl Harbour of this generation. No one knew what was going to happen, it was a scary time. After we left Gander, some people couldn’t even go home - they had to go back to where their flight came from. Some Americans had to go back to Paris for a week! They didn’t know if they were going to get back to the United States at all, because the borders were closing.
As ambitious as it would have sounded to everyone then about making a musical about 9/11, it puts a human story behind the most horrendous event of modern times, and I think that’s important.