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Michael and Deborah: A timeless love story

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Michael Cleave, a British national ran into Deborah Nantongo, also known by her alias Mami Deb two years ago in a parking lot in Surrey, South East England.

When Michael Cleave, a British national ran into Deborah Nantongo, also known by her alias Mami Deb, two years ago in a parking lot in Surrey, South East England, he did not even think that this chance encounter would lead to a beautiful love story that would see him permanently relocate to Uganda.

Despite concerns about their 20-year age gap and societal perceptions, Michael did not hesitate to make his intentions clear. Two years later, the couple celebrated their Kwanjula in a colourful ceremony in Masulita, Wakiso District, and are now planning their dream wedding later this year.

We caught up with them to discuss, among others, how they keep their relationship strong despite being in the public eye and the significance of supporting each other.

How did you meet?

Michael: We met in London, United Kingdom. Debby worked there, and I would often travel to the city since I had retired. We bumped into each other in a car park and when I saw her, I thought, “That is a beautiful woman.” I still remember what she was wearing.

What was your first impression of each other?

Deborah: It seemed too good to be true since it is usually hard to find all those qualities in one person. He was charming, funny and good-looking. We could talk non-stop; he was generally good company.

Michael: As Debby mentioned, we kept talking and got on well, which was surprising given our different races and age differences. We did not date for long. Debby worked non-stop and lived four hours from my home. So, even though I had time, we could not meet up often. Our first date, a month later, was in a castle. I went all out to impress her.

Who planned this date?

Deborah: Michael did. It was dreamy, and on his birthday, no less. I could not believe he had chosen to spend his birthday with me.

Michael: The date went well, and it felt almost too good to be true. After our second date, I sat Debby down and told her, “Now we need to think about all the changes we will face as a couple if we are going to be together.” We discussed all the potential challenges. It was a tough conversation, and I remember Debby cried.

Deborah: I cried because I had fallen in love with him but he was listing all the reasons we could not be together. It was on my birthday, and I was heartbroken.

How do you handle conflicts as a couple?

Deborah: We have our strengths and weaknesses. Our strength is our strong bond. I am a sucker for love, so no matter how ugly things get, I still love him. I also know we can survive anything. My weakness is my bad temper. I thank God for a man who loves and understands me.

Michael: We have different approaches to arguments. What Debby calls an argument; I call a discussion. We do not have to agree on everything. Our age difference helps me handle conflicts appropriately. I get past them quickly and never bring up past issues.

Deborah: He is also my best friend, so we always do things together unless he decides to play golf. I also made a choice never to speak to others about our relationship, so even when angry, I go back to him.

What do you believe is the key to a successful relationship?

Deborah: Intimacy. Being friends with him is one thing, but intimacy brings us closer. Even on bad days, it feels like pressing reset. We are also transparent with each other, avoiding surprises. Michael knows everything about me, good and bad, which made us comfortable being part of Kampala Crème. His honesty is attractive. For example, he once told me about a promise he made to another girl before we were together, and I appreciated his honesty.

Michael: Enjoying each other’s company and being relaxed. Patience is crucial. There are many demands on Debby, and I support her, understanding her needs.

Do you have any rituals or traditions you do together?

Deborah: Family Day on Sundays is a must in our household. We could spend it at home with the children, nephews and nieces, or go to a resort with our staff. We used to have scheduled date nights, but now that we are busier, we prefer quiet nights in with wine and a great movie.

What has been the biggest challenge you faced as a couple and how did you overcome it?

Michael: The kwanjula was stressful, especially watching how stressed Debby was.  We also had to manage the escalating costs and other abrupt necessities that kept arising during this planning process. 

Deborah: We sat down with my team and informed Michael of the total amount to avoid surprises. Two days before the event, we needed more money. It kept getting more expensive. But I am glad it all worked out, and our day went on smoothly. It was a memorable day.

How have you grown as an individuals and as a couple?

Deborah: In two years, I transitioned from working non-stop at a hospital to focusing on family and our ventures, thanks to Michael’s support. He has made life comfortable and meaningful for me.

Michael: I went from living alone to becoming a father again. My life has changed for the better. For someone who thought I was retired and probably now going to rest, I now have to become a father again and do it all over again. But I would not trade this experience for anything.

What is your most memorable moment together?

Deborah: Our first date at the castle in Surrey. Another memorable moment was my birthday spa surprise.

The worst one was when we argued while at Dinner in Dubai for Valentine’s Day. Michael had gone out of his way to organise the dinner but we argued, and I ended up eating alone.

What is the most thoughtful gift you have ever given each other?

Deborah: My diamond ring. Michael sent me an email about it without proposing, saying to choose a design for when he is ready to propose. I was confused but touched.

Michael: I wanted her to design her ring that I would use to propose when the time came because Debby is very specific. She tried it on blindfolded to ensure it fit. I later proposed in the Maldives.

How do you envision your life in the next five years?

Michael: The farm is our family security, so we are putting a lot of our efforts into that. The next few years will be focused on making the farm work and we have already started the process.

Deborah: I see us officially married, with two children, a thriving farm, a successful Boujee (my fashion store), and our talk show “Let’s Talk with Mami Deb” up and running.

Do you have any advice for couples in interracial or wide age-gap relationships?

Deborah: Ignore the noise, do not compare your relationship with anyone else’s, and focus on what brought you together. Some people will never accept you, but if you focus on love, you will be fine.

Michael: In Uganda, age difference is not a big deal, unlike in the UK where it is. Friends in the UK were more concerned about our age gap than our racial differences. However, I believe that if you love each other, and are both committed to the relationship, everything else should be background noise.


How do you handle living your relationship in the public eye?

Deborah: Michael’s integrity and respect for our relationship make it easy. Despite initial worries, he is proven to be trustworthy. We work as a team, even when it comes to handling public scrutiny.