How we met: 'I was donating a kidney to my sister'


When Brett Clibbery, a retired engineer, was visiting the UK from Canada in May 2015, he was confused by the sight of hundreds of people waving flags near Trafalgar Square. “I was standing at the No 87 bus stop, so I asked a stranger what was going on,” he says. He turned to Sarah Packwood, who had been in central London working for the Department for International Development on the Nepal earthquake response. “I told him they were celebrating the birth of Princess Charlotte,” she says.

His question kickstarted a conversation and the pair sat down next to each other on the bus ride towards Battersea, where Sarah lived and Brett was staying. “I thought Brett was so handsome – like Robert Redford. He was very interesting and chatty.” They talked about their shared passion for travel, before Brett told her why he was in London. “I was donating a kidney to my sister, Glory, who lived in the UK,” he says. “I had been visiting Guy’s hospital every day to have tests done.”

After the bus journey, Sarah gave Brett one of her business cards and he immediately emailed her. “As well as working in aid, she told me she was a healer and that she could do some reiki for me. I asked if we could meet for tea.”

For the next few weeks, they met every day, taking walks along the South Bank or having lunch together in a park near Sarah’s office. “She was so easy to talk to,” says Brett.

At the end of the month, Sarah moved to the Midlands to care for her sick mother. “Brett visited and stayed with me in the final week before her death. He even helped me to arrange the funeral.” In August, she returned to London and supported Brett through his kidney donation operation. “I went straight from the hospital to her house, where she took care of me,” he recalls.

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When they met, Brett had told Sarah about his boat, Theros, and his passion for sailing. She says: “It was something I had always wanted to do, but never had time for.” After the transplant operation, Brett went back to Canada, but they stayed in touch through emails and phone calls. In spring 2016, he invited Sarah to visit him in Salt Spring Island near Vancouver, where his boat was docked. “He took me on my first ever yacht trip and I loved it. Brett proposed to me in the main cabin of the boat.”

That summer, the couple married onboard Theros and spent the next few months living between the UK and Canada. In April 2017, they held a Celtic ceremony at Stonehenge known as handfasting. “It’s very traditional,” says Sarah. “They tied our hands together while we drank mead, and we were asked to jump over a broom, which symbolises going into married life.”

They returned to Canada to work on the boat for a few months, before heading on a sailing adventure around North America. “We went from Salt Spring Island down the west coast of Canada and the US, before crossing the Panama canal towards the Caribbean and coming all the way back up to Nova Scotia,” says Sarah.

When the couple came back in summer 2018, they bought some land in Salt Spring Island. In June 2019, they embarked on a sailing trip across the Atlantic that was curtailed by severe storms. “Instead, we decided to focus our time building our own home on the land we’d bought,” says Brett. “We have plans to build an eco-house.”

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Sarah still works as a freelance humanitarian aid worker, but no longer goes to trouble spots. “We love to spend our time walking, travelling and playing music together,” says Brett.

From the first day they met, he has been impressed by her resourcefulness. “She is an amazing lady who never lets anything get in her way. Not even months of sea sickness when we went sailing.”

Sarah loves Brett’s kindness and compassion. “He kept me going in the dark days after losing my mum and he always challenges me to be my best self. He’s my soulmate and has a heart of gold.”

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