Nick and Diane Marson's Come From Away Love Story

They didn’t expect to fall in love in Newfoundland, but sometimes life is stranger than fiction.

Stop the world
Take a picture
Try to capture
To ensure this moment lasts
We’re still in it, but
In a minute —
That’s the limit —
And this present will be past

“A volunteer took us to Dover Fault,” Diane Marson remembers.

“It’s a very beautiful place,” her husband, Nick Marson, says.

“Nick was going to take some pictures, and I went to step out so I wasn’t in it, and he said, ‘No, no.'”

And here we are
Where the world has come together
And she will be
In this picture, forever

“I wasn’t interested in the photograph of the place,” Nick continues. “I wanted a picture of Diane for my memory.”

“We had known each other for two days, but that’s how I knew he was interested in me.”

— Nick & Diane Marson (@RealNickanDiane) June 13, 2017

Those who have seen Come From Away, the Tony-nominated Broadway musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein, will recognize this moment during a song called “Stop the World.” The romantic and sad tune takes place at Dover Fault, a scenic outlook in Newfoundland, and follows two strangers, also named Nick and Diane, who have been brought together under extraordinary circumstances and have managed to fall in love within the span of a few days.

With a few minor dramatic embellishments, the unexpected, late-in-life romance of Nick and Diane Marson, who met at a shelter in Gambo, Newfoundland, in the days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, is depicted onstage by Sankoff and Hein as it really happened.

“We had some concerns,” says Nick, a British expat, of having his real-life romance turned into the centerpiece of a Broadway musical. “We told them our story, but it’s a play and not a documentary. So we were very, very pleased to see they kept it truthful.”

Diane and Nick Marson at the opening of Come From Away on Broadway.
Diane and Nick Marson at the opening of Come From Away on Broadway.
(© David Gordon)

On 9/11, Diane and Nick were on the same flight (though not the one piloted by Beverley Bass — that was a theatrical embellishment), Continental 05, flying from London’s Gatwick Airport to Houston. Diane was on her way home after visiting family in England; Nick, an oil industry engineer, was on a business trip.

“Diane was at the front of the plane, and I was at the back of the plane,” says Nick. They were informed of a detour to Newfoundland, but didn’t know why. “We were blissfully ignorant of what happened until we landed.” They didn’t get to see footage of the actual attacks until a day later, when they were at their shelter in the town of Gambo (about 20 minutes from Gander, where the show is set).

It wasn’t love at first sight, but it happened over the course of a few days. “We met in line waiting for a blanket,” Diane says, “and we started a conversation about how the blankets smelled.” Nick, sensing a new friend, bunked next to her. That first day, the pair went for a walk with another couple. “Diane bought me trail mix,” Nick says. “I thought if I bought him something, he’d feel obligated to carry on talking,” Diane adds. “When something bad happens and you’re not with your family or friends, you feel very isolated. Each one of us wanted to have a human connection, someone to talk to.”

That evening after their walk, Nick and Diane became honorary Newfoundlanders during a “Screech” — a local custom where visitors take a shot of rum (the taste of which is likely to make you screech) and kiss a codfish.

“What you see in the Screech really happened,” Nick says of the scene in the musical. “The master of ceremonies was a justice of the peace who thought we were married, and when he found out we weren’t, he said, ‘I can marry you,’ and Diane went ‘Sure!’ That was the first moment in my head when I said, ‘Oh, this could be romantic.'”

Unlike their characters in the show, however, Diane and Nick didn’t kiss until the last day, when they were on the bus to the airport. As Nick says, “She was upset that we were leaving and started to tear up. I went to kiss her on the forehead, but she seized the moment and gave me a proper kiss. That was another turning point, of course.”

Sharon Wheatley and Lee MacDougall (center) as Diane and Nick in Broadway's Come From Away.
Sharon Wheatley and Lee MacDougall (center) as Diane and Nick in Broadway’s Come From Away.
(© Matthew Murphy)

While Come From Away ends when the planes leave Gander, that was just the beginning of the story for the real Diane and Nick.

Nick proposed to Diane over the phone in November 2001. At the end of the month, Diane bought a house in Houston, where she was based, and Nick managed to get transferred from the UK to Houston, where his business’s parent company happened to be based. He alternated time between America and Great Britain in order to obtain a legal visa. “In the show it’s all lovey-dovey, but there was a lot of heartbreak,” he says. “Because of the separation,” she starts. “My heart had been torn out,” he finishes.

On September 7, 2002, almost a full year since their first meeting, they got married. The Marsons honeymooned in Newfoundland, and the mayor of Gambo even wrote a song to commemorate the occasion.

In 2011, in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11, a film crew brought the couple to Newfoundland, where they met Sankoff and Hein and told them their story. Later, they Skyped with the writers for hours to tell the complete story.

The Marsons quickly embraced the product of their conversations and were front and center during the Broadway opening of Come From Away last March. At the time of this interview, the couple has seen the show 58 times in six cities and two different countries. They both cried upon their first viewing.

“After the show, a lot of people come up to us and tell us how they met their partner,” Diane says. “It’s really heartening, because it shows you that the show is taking them back to that special time in their lives when they met their significant other,” Nick adds.

Their story also inspires on another level: Nick and Diane weren’t expecting to fall in love when they did. When the pair met in 2001, Diane has just celebrated her 60th birthday. “I was pretty much set with my life, my job, my kids, my grandkids, at my little apartment,” she says. “I never expected to find any sort of romantic connection, much less a marriage, at that point.” Nick concurs. “I didn’t get on that airplane looking for romance.”

But they found it, and each other, in Newfoundland.

Lee MacDougall, Sharon Wheatley, Diane Marson, and Nick Marson pose at the Dover Fault.
Lee MacDougall, Sharon Wheatley, Diane Marson, and Nick Marson pose at the Dover Fault.
(photo provided by Come From Away)

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Closed: October 2, 2022