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Farmer Wants a Wife

EXCLUSIVE: Farmer Wants A Wife's Neil opens up about the former love of his life

''Little by little we let go of loss, but never of love.''

By Tiffany Dunk
If Neil Seaman had made a different decision at the age of 21, his life might have ended up in another place entirely.
He was reeling in unspeakable grief, completely broken by the loss of his girlfriend Francine – the girl he believed was "the one" – in a horrific road accident that had also claimed the life of her grandmother.
Neil had been behind the wheel; the accident was the fault of a drunk driver.
It was a Sliding Doors moment, and Neil knew he had a choice to make.
He could let the grief and remorse destroy him, putting paid to any idea of a romantic future.
Or he could mourn Francine and finally learn to move on, while never forgetting the love they'd once shared.
He took the second path, and today Neil is a father of three well-adjusted teenagers.
While his marriage of 15 years to their mother, Sally Ward, ended four years ago, it did so amicably, with the pair now the best of friends.
Sally has since gone on to find new love.
Happily ensconced in his dream job on the family farm in Crookwell, NSW, Neil is now ready to do the same.
Which is what led the 43-year-old to sign up for the new season of Farmer Wants a Wife, encouraged by his kids, his ex, his parents, his friends and his extended family.
"I've got a pretty good package," he explains of why he's ready for this new adventure.
"My kids are older and they're all fine, they've got their own lives now. I've got a career set up. All the things that were distractions aren't distractions anymore. I've never been more stable in many ways.
"But I was by myself. And I thought, 'I don't really want to be alone anymore. I just want to be with someone who has life experience and who's willing to roll with the punches with me.'"
Neil Seaman has three, well-adjusted teenagers. (Sara Fife)
Plus, he adds, "A relationship in your 40s is a lot different from what it is in your 30s. It's certainly very different from what it is in your 20s. It's only once you get to my age that you know it's there to really be enjoyed. You're able to pour so much energy into a relationship. There are so few restraints, so few distractions."
"I'd like him to find a lifelong partner," eldest daughter Molly, 18, chimes in.
"He's a good listener, he's easygoing, he's very neat and likes the finer things in life, like a glass of wine and candles. And he gives good cuddles!"
Her siblings James, 16, and Josie, 14, are on the same page, she adds.
Not only that, they're keen for their father to find a partner with children of her own – preferably little ones.
"A lot of my friends have really young siblings, so they got to see them from little babies and then grow up completely," she explains.
"I think it would be fun having a little step-sibling and doing the big sister thing."
Deciding to find love again is understandable. Choosing to do so on reality TV? Not so much for many people.
But Neil's decision to go in with a "What do I have to lose?" attitude is characteristic of a man who realised – when his life changed in that tragic instance more than two decades ago – that life is too short for regrets.
For that, he thanks Francine, or Frankie as he affectionately calls her.
The pair met back in 1997, when Neil had moved to Sydney to play rugby league with the Balmain Tigers, and they were both working at Macquarie Bank.
Neil met Frankie back in 1997. (Photo supplied)
A tall blonde with an ever-ready laugh and a cracking sense of humour, Frankie was just "fun on a stick", recalls Neil with a smile.
"She lit up a room. She was incredibly intelligent, but she didn't always let that on. The overwhelming side of her personality was that she was just fun to be around. She was an amazing person."
At first they were just good mates, but a few months later it became more. Soon the duo were inseparable, introducing each other to their respective family and friends, all of whom were as delighted with the match as the couple themselves.
"It was golden – it was as good as it can get," says Neil, his voice starting to break. "And then it just ended."
The pair had spent the weekend visiting Frankie's parents, who lived in Leura, a 90-minute drive from Sydney.
It was a family party, Neil recalls, with plenty of laughs had by all. Frankie was 24, he had just turned 21 a few months prior.
Heading home on the Sunday night, with Frankie's grandmother in the back seat, they were hit by a drunk driver.
Both women were killed. Neil sustained serious head injuries and a shattered shoulder, which put paid to his fledgling football career.
It also meant he missed the funeral, which he still finds hard to talk about.
And then there's the guilt that comes with being the lone survivor.
"It's tough," he admits, tears glistening.
"That was 28 July, 1998, and I still think about it today. When I think of her dying … it's hard. But when I think of the time we spent together and Frankie living, I can talk about her all day. She was an amazing person."
After three weeks in hospital Neil was finally released, and he headed back to the family farm in Crookwell.
It was there that he healed – and returning home, he says, "led me to the next bit, which is the good bit".
Neil has experienced indescribable loss - but his children keep him going. (Sara Fife)
The good bit came when Neil was 24 and met a girl called Sally, then 27, at the local pub. Sally too had grown up in Crookwell.
Her older brothers had attended the same school as Neil and they were, he laughs, "legends".
But that wasn't the only thing they had in common. The night they met, Sally told Neil a story that resonated.
In 1994 she had been involved in a traumatic bus accident. "Sally was really badly hurt and her partner Bradley was killed," Neil explains.
The next day Neil declared to a mutual friend that he had met the girl he wanted to marry.
Two weeks later, they attended a rugby ball together. Six months after that, they were engaged. They wed at the end of 2001 and started a family almost straight away.
"We were happily married," he says now. "We were married for 15 years."
But it wasn't always smooth sailing. They had a few trial separations along the way – one of which lasted for 18 months.
In the end, Neil says, it was a mutual decision.
"Nothing sinister happened, there was no animosity. It just kind of ended," he says.
Molly recalls that, from a young age, she'd known things weren't quite right between her parents – not, she stresses, that it affected their relationship as a family or her parents' ability to work together to raise their three children.
"I kind of knew for a long time that it wasn't going to work out," she tells us now.
"They were always doing the breaking up and getting back together thing. And I always thought that they were happier when they were apart."
Currently Molly lives full-time with Neil, while James and Josie are based with Sally. But all three travel freely between both homes, and when it was looking likely Neil would be cast on Farmer Wants a Wife, Sally was the first person he called to get the okay.
"She laughed," he recalls. "I said, 'Look, if you think this is a bad idea or you say no, I'm not going to go ahead with it because I need your support.' She said that, as long as
I wasn't going to go on national TV and bag her, she was happy to support me. She's been great throughout the whole thing."
Equally great, he says, have been the three kids.
When he told them he was going to be on TV, they were convinced he'd been cast on his favourite show, The Chase Australia.
"We all went, 'No way – you're going to be affectionate on TV?'" Molly grins of their stunned response.
"But if Dad is going to find someone who makes him happy, that's fine. And I'm sure he wouldn't pick someone who didn't like us, or didn't like kids."
While watching her dad woo a series of women on TV could prove a little uncomfortable, Molly insists that, for the most part, she's also looking forward to seeing his journey unfold.
"We are really buddies most of the time, so it's easy not to be embarrassed," she says of what is to come. "He's the coolest dad ever."
Farmer Wants A Wife premieres on Channel Seven, Sunday July 26.
WATCH: First look at Farmer Wants A Wife 2020:

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