DROUGHT AN­GEL FINDS LOVE IN THE OUT­BACK

Nicki spreads good­will and cheer to strug­gling farm­ers, but she never ex­pected to land a part­ner on one of her mercy mis­sions

Woman’s Day (Australia) - - Front Page -

Love was ththe llastt thithing Ninicki ki Blackwell ex­pected to find in the drought-stricken out­back as she de­liv­ered Christ­mas cheer to bat­tling farm fam­i­lies.

But Santa had a big sur­prise in store for the tomboy char­ity worker when she broke her dusty 1000km round trip at a wel­com­ing pub in the back blocks of Queens­land.

Her surf’n’turf was ex­cel­lent, but even bet­ter was her chat with Paul Neilsen, land­lord of Win­ton’s land­mark Tat­ter­salls Ho­tel. Paul per­suaded her to linger in town and have din­ner with him the fol­low­ing night.

“It was al­mostlt llove att fi­firstt sight,iht we gott on that well,” says Nicki, 41, co-founder of the Chin­chilla-based Drought An­gels farm re­lief char­ity.

“We just clicked from the mo­ment we met. I don’t know what it was but we talked and talked, and the rest is his­tory.”

To his own as­ton­ish­ment, wid­ower Paul – who lost his wife to can­cer three years be­fore he and Nicki crossed paths – felt very much the same. On the spur of the mo­ment, the 64-year-old pub­li­can asked Nicki to spend Christ­mas with him in Bris­bane, and she agreed.

“I’d only known this man for eight hours,” laughs the di­vorced mum of two grown g up chil­dren, daugh­ter Kiara, 25, and a 19-year-old Jake. “And then I thought, t ‘What have I got to lose? I’m liv­ing l alone with my cat in Chin­chilla! I might as well go to Bris­bane.’” Re­turn­ing home from her three-day jour­ney j to Win­ton, Quilpie and Win­do­rah with an empty truck, Nicki re­ported that her Christ­mas farm run – dis­tribut­ing gifts, care packs, fruit and ve­g­ies to needy fam­i­lies – had been a big success, and tried to keep her ro­mance on the down-low. But once the new cou­ple’s first Christ­mas was be­hind them, they rapidly em­barked on a long-dis­tance re­la­tion­ship, see­ing each other once a month through early 2017 when Nicki passed through Win­ton on her reg­u­lar Drought An­gels de­liv­ery run.

“The pub kept me pretty busy and Nicki was with Drought An­gels, so we just got on with it,” ex­plains fa­ther-of-two Paul. “Then I got a phone call from Nicki in June last year, telling me she thought it was time she moved to Win­ton.

“She was com­ing to stay here with me or with­out me, so of course I said yes! Nicki is a beau­ti­ful per­son and I’m a very priv­i­leged man to have met her.”

‘What have I got to lose? I’m liv­ing alone with my cat!’

To­day, they live and work hap­pily to­gether at Tat­ter­salls Ho­tel, wel­com­ing guests and en­sur­ing it’s the best place to eat in town.

“We en­joy it,” says Nicki, who re­signed from the Drought An­gels board to fol­low her heart, but still lends a hand with the char­ity’s so­cial me­dia ac­counts.

“Some nights I’m not at the pub and Paul reck­ons it’s a bit quiet, be­cause I’m pretty out there,” she chuck­les. “He’s a funny man with a great sense of hu­mour and a big heart.”

But the changes didn’t end with the cou­ple’s liv­ing ar­range­ments – Nicki splashed out on a new wardrobe to be­come “the dress and high heels queen” of Win­ton.

“I never used to wear dresses but I do now,” a sheep­ish Nicki ad­mits, more than a lit­tle em­bar­rassed by her own trans­for­ma­tion.

Love­birds Paul and Nicki now work to­gether at Win­ton’s lo­cal pub.

Al­though she wasn’t look­ing for love, Nicki fell for Paul’s charm­ing ways.

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