This flight attendant swore she'd never get married - but a surprise meeting on a trip to London changed her mind

Here are Dave and Angela photographed at Harrods department store during a 2023 visit to London.
Here are Dave and Angela photographed at Harrods department store during a 2023 visit to London. Photo credit: Angela Burtenshaw

By Francesca Street of CNN

Angela Renda always said she had no interest in getting married.

As a reservations agent at Pan American World Airways in the early 1980s, Angela had the world at her fingertips. She told friends she "didn't want to be tied down."

"I was able to see the world, go all over – do what I wanted to do," Angela tells CNN Travel today. 

Most of her close friends were married with kids. And while Angela, who was 30, loved spending time with her friends' families, she wasn't convinced marriage and children was her path.

"I was a godmother to a few of the children," she says. "But basically, I was carefree. I could travel when I wanted to."

While Pan Am in the year 1983 didn't quite have the reputation for glamour it had held in previous decades, the airline still represented aspiration and adventure. And not only did Pan Am employees get to enjoy heavily discounted air travel, they were also given "buddy passes," allowing them to take a friend or family member on board with them for next to nothing.

Angela and her best friend had talked for years about taking advantage of this scheme and heading to Japan together. But when 1983 rolled around, and the two women still hadn't managed to make the trip happen, they started reconsidering their destination. Angela's friend had two young children, including a baby, and she was hesitant about travelling so far. 

So, the two friends went back to the drawing board and eventually settled on London as their destination of choice, boarding the Pan American flight in October 1983.

Angela loved visiting the UK capital and had explored the city several times before. For Angela's best friend, London was all brand new. She wanted to hit all the tourist spots, including luxury department store Harrods – with its imposing exterior, swanky reputation and vast miles of shopping floor.

When Angela's friend made the suggestion, Angela rolled her eyes. It was their final day in London, Harrods' interior is something of a maze, and Angela thought they could easily lose a whole day of the vacation to navigating the many floors and staircases.

"It's going to be so crowded in there," said Angela to her friend. "I'll make a deal with you. We're only going to the first floor." 

Her friend agreed. The first floor (what Londoners would call the ground floor) had plenty to offer. There was the opulent food hall, filled with fine delicacies and foodie treats, and there were children's toys, which was appealing given Angela's friend had two young kids.

Angela and her friend entered the store via a large wooden door adorned in gold leaf. They wandered around and found themselves at another doorway, number eight, where a Harrods employee was standing holding a stack of magic drawing boards.

These boards, he explained, were the children's toy du jour. They allowed users to draw whatever they liked, and then erase over their drawing and start over.

Angela and her friend watched the man demonstrate the boards in action. At first, they were just being polite. Before long, Angela's friend was won over by the concept of the toy. Meanwhile, Angela found herself focusing more on the man holding the board than the board itself. 

"My girlfriend bought a board for her older child. When she went to pay, I just stood there and waited," recalls Angela.

With one sale successfully completed, the magic eraser man turned to Angela and asked if she wanted to buy one too.

"No, I don't want one," said Angela firmly in her New York accent.

"Oh, you're an American," he said. 

"That was his opening line," recalls Angela today. "So me, being the American, I'm like, 'How could you tell?'"

The two strangers started talking, and the magic eraser board man introduced himself as Dave Burtenshaw.

One night in London

Dave didn't usually work in Harrods; he headed up the warehouse for the company who made the boards, which were sold at department stores across London. 

But the night before, Dave's boss had phoned him to ask if he could work the next day's Harrods shift to replace someone who couldn't make it. So, unexpectedly, Dave found himself at Harrods doorway number eight, magic eraser boards in hand.

"And that's how I ended up meeting Angela," Dave tells CNN Travel.

That day in 1983, Dave was caught between an awareness that time spent with Angela – who'd made it clear she wasn't going to buy a magic eraser board – was detracting from other potential sales, and an overwhelming desire to continue chatting with this intriguing American woman.

"She was just so – I don't know – different in the sense that she was so over the top, and you felt like you could talk to her," Dave says. "She's just got that face where people say, 'Oh, I can tell her all my troubles.' And I wasn't kind of used to that. I thought she might be somebody nice to know. That was my first impression." 

Dave asked Angela what her plans were later that evening.

"Maybe I could show you around London tonight?" he ventured.

"If we're going to do anything, my girlfriend's coming with me, because we're travelling together," Angela replied firmly. She found Dave easy and interesting to speak to, but she was also wary of going off alone with a strange man.

Dave said Angela's friend was more than welcome. He suggested the group meet at what was then called the Russell Hotel and is now called the Kimpton Fitzroy. 

That evening, Angela and her friend arrived first. The 19th century hotel was ritzy, sumptuous and a London institution. When Dave arrived, Angela peered at him, curiously.

"As he was walking in, it was funny, because I said to my girlfriend, 'I think that's him. But I only saw him for a minute earlier, I don't even really know what he looks like.'"

Identities reconfirmed, Angela and Dave recommenced their easy conversation from earlier that day. Angela's friend liked Dave too. The group spent the evening drinking and chatting.

Later, they said their goodbyes and Dave suggested they could meet again, but Angela explained it was her last day in London. 

"I'd drive you to the airport, but I'm taking my nephew to watch the Arsenal match tomorrow," Dave said, adding that Arsenal was his favourite soccer team.

"I'm thinking this is a little six, seven-year-old nephew. Turns out, he's like, eight years younger than Dave is. So Dave was 31. And the guy was 23," says Angela, laughing. "I'm like, 'That's who you're dumping me for?'"

This was the first time Angela realized that when Dave said he was a soccer fan, he really meant it. Dave's entire social life revolved around Arsenal games. Plus, his parents had both passed away, so he valued time spent with the family members he had left.

Undeterred by the soccer blow off, Angela told Dave she'd look him up on her next trip to the UK. They exchanged contact details. 

Long distance courtship

A few months later, in January 1984, Angela returned to London, this time with a different friend in tow. Once she landed in the city, she rang Dave's landline.

"We agreed to go out to dinner and the three of us went out and had a wonderful time," Angela recalls. "I went back again, a month later, and again, saw him. I soon became a London commuter, since I could travel for $12 round trip."

Over these subsequent visits, Angela and Dave grew closer. Angela suspected she was falling for Dave, but she also remained wary. 

"For the first, I'd say six or eight dates, I always brought somebody from New York with me, one of the people that I worked with, so I didn't have to be alone with him – in case he was like Jack the Ripper or something and I was falling into a trap," says Angela, only half joking.

"It was an expensive time for me. Because I wasn't only dating Angie, I was dating the friends as well, the chaperones," says Dave. "But that was fine because she had the sense of humour that I liked. The typical New York cut and thrust of banter which has remained to this day. So, I enjoyed that part, the back and forth, a lot."

A pivotal moment in the relationship occurred when, during one of her visits, Angela fell sick. The friend she'd been travelling with had to return to work at Pan Am. But Dave was there to take Angela to the emergency room.

Not only was Angela feeling terrible, she was also clueless about how English hospitals worked and felt a rising anxiety as soon as she stepped inside the Accident & Emergency department. But Dave stayed with her the whole time, translating the UK terms when necessary, and comforting her throughout. 

"From there, I had to go back to the hotel, and I was on bed rest. He took me back to the hotel. He stayed the entire night sitting in a chair," recalls Angela. "That was when I thought, 'This guy is a real keeper.'"

In between Angela's London visits, Dave and Angela sent each other letters across the Atlantic.

"As soon as I got on the airplane to go home, I would write to him on the plane," recalls Angela. "And then I would mail that when I got home, and then when I got home in between I wrote another letter. And we'd call once a week."

Turning point 

Then, sometime in 1984, Angela and Dave went on their first solo date, to the Five Bells pub in Finchley, the north London neighbourhood Dave called home.

They'd enjoyed hanging out with Angela's friends in tow. But spending time just the two of them made it even clearer there was something real between them. After that, Dave and Angela gradually stopped spending Angela's London visits exploring central London, and instead spent more time pub-hopping in Finchley, hand-in-hand, or sitting on the coach chatting. Angela also got to know and love Dave's sister.

"Before, it was, 'I'm going over, it's a lark, I'm having a good time, going to see things.' But then after a while, it was, 'I can just go there and just do nothing. And I'll still be happy. But I'd rather be there instead of here.'" says Angela. "I just felt like I was missing him a lot."

This was a gradual realization, cemented when Angela opted to travel to Paris with friends one weekend, rather than heading to the UK. 

"I was like, 'This just isn't the same. I want to be back in London,'" she says, calling this feeling "the missing factor."

Dave missed Angela too. He says it was the "talking factor" that, for him, confirmed he wanted to make things with Angela work long term.

"We would chat and chat about everything," he says. "And once she'd gone…I was like, 'Oh, I mean, I've got my friends and everything, but I've got nobody to really chat to.'"

Dave had been married several years earlier, but the marriage hadn't worked out. He'd also gone through the loss of his parents. 

"I was on my own at the time," he says. "You know, just working and going to watch Arsenal basically."

On her next visit to London, Angela took her parents with her to meet Dave. The visit was a great success.

"I got on well with her parents straightaway," says Dave.

A spontaneous decision 

In December 1984, Dave made his first visit to the US and was introduced to the rest of Angela's large, welcoming Italian American family.

Sometimes Angela's family failed to understand Dave's London accent, while he occasionally struggled to decipher their American English. But despite the odd cultural difference, Dave felt instantly at home among Angela's loved ones.

By this stage, many of Angela's work friends had met Dave on visits to London. But several other people in her life hadn't met him at all. Angela suspected some of her friends doubted Dave's existence altogether.

"Some of them even said: 'We thought you were making him up just because we're always bugging you to get married,'" recalls Angela. 

While Angela was still proud of – and committed to – her independence, she'd started to change her mind about marriage. She felt strongly that she wanted to be with Dave forever and hoped they might have children one day.

"What are we waiting for? Why don't we just get married?" she said to Dave one day during the December visit.

The couple hadn't researched visas or marriage licenses. Instead, they spontaneously got married at Angela's cousin's house on January 1, 1985. Angela took Dave's name, becoming Angela Burtenshaw.

"There were only 20 people there," says Angela. "Of course, Dave knew no one here – except he went with me to the dentist one day, and he liked my dentist – so I'm the only person I know that had my dentist as one of the guests because he invited the dentist as one of his guests. Everybody else was there for me." 

US immigration didn't take kindly to the spontaneous wedding and Dave wasn't able to travel back to the UK. He had to – rather awkwardly – call his sister back in London and explain what had happened. But several months later, he was granted the right to remain. And Dave and Angela enjoyed another wedding celebration that summer, inviting more friends and family to celebrate with them.

By then, Dave and Angela had decided they'd settle in the US long term.

"I considered living in the UK," says Angela. "It didn't matter to me because I knew I could get back and forth all the time. But Dave decided that it would be better to live here, because he had lost his parents."

Plus, by the time the second wedding celebration rolled around, Angela was pregnant – and the couple liked the idea of having her family close by as a support system. 

"The grandchild would be able to grow up with grandparents – that's basically what made our decision for us. He was willing to go, I was willing to go," says Angela.

Still, conscious that Dave was the one giving up his home country, Angela told her new husband that he could live wherever he wanted within the US. Her job allowed her the flexibility to work from any of the Pan Am hubs – she didn't need to be in the New Jersey/New York area where she'd grown up.

"I said, 'You can pick California, you can pick Florida, whatever you want. I'll move to that area,' because I didn't think it was fair," says Angela.

"But he chose New Jersey. And every winter we blame him, my daughter and I, when it's snowing. We go, 'This is your fault that we're in the snow. We could have been in Florida.'" 

Dave says he didn't want to make Angela leave her support system – especially given that was the impetus for staying in the US to begin with.

"I didn't think it was right for me to take her away from that family environment. For me, I can survive anywhere. It doesn't matter what and I've done pretty well surviving in New Jersey," he says. "The only thing I ever missed about London was getting with my mates, going to Highbury (soccer stadium) and watching the Arsenal game."

When he first relocated to the US, Dave couldn't watch soccer on the TV – there were limited channels back then. So instead, he'd have to listen – at odd times of day – to game updates via a shortwave radio. But occasionally Dave would take advantage of Angela's Pan Am travel benefits and fly to London for the weekend to catch the soccer game and catch up with his sister and his friends.

Four decades later 

Today, almost 40 years after they met, Angela and Dave, now in their 70s, are retired and live happily in New Jersey. Their now-adult daughter lives nearby, with her young granddaughter and her husband who – by pure coincidence – is a big soccer fan and also supports Arsenal.

As for Angela and Dave, they still enjoy long conversations, making one another laugh – and still have their own, independent hobbies. Angela thinks their unusual, cross-continental courtship paved the way for an enduring marriage.

"We learned independence, but togetherness at the same time, which I think is better," she says.  "Part of it is not being on top of each other all the time, letting each other be themselves. I wouldn't want to be sitting there watching soccer with him all the time – and he wouldn't want me there because of my commentary."

While their differences can cause difficulties at times, Dave and Angela enjoy each other's company just as much as they did when they first met. 

"Some days, he's irritating," says Angela, laughing. "But there are no days that I wish I didn't meet him."

"He's seen me through a lot. In 1999, I had cancer. And he was there for me every time with the chemo, holding my hand, always telling me it would be alright," she says.

This past summer, Angela – who is 24 years cancer-free – and Dave returned to London for the first time in several years, with their daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter in tow. The family headed straight to Harrods, and Angela and Dave posed for photos in doorway eight, reliving their 1983 meeting and reminiscing.

"The funny thing about meeting in Harrods – at that time, Harrods had a slogan, 'If you can't find it in Harrods, you can't find it anywhere,'" says Angela. "And I found him in Harrods." 

Walking around London together, Angela and Dave also thought about their wedding day, when they'd danced to the Nat King Cole rendition of the 1956 song 'Around the World'. Nat King Cole was Dave's mother's favourite music artist. As she'd passed away before Dave met Angela, it felt like a lovely tribute. The song also felt significant in other ways too.

"Around the world I've searched for you, I travelled on when hope was gone, to keep a rendezvous," it begins.

Nat King Cole then sings he could have found his love "in County Down, or in New York, in gay Paris or even London Town," concluding "no more will I go all around the world, for I have found my world in you."

Angela and Dave believe the lyrics fit their story perfectly. 

"The song ends in London – in the same way I searched around, and there he was in London," says Angela.

"I really think we were meant to be. The way it all worked out, with changing our plans from going to Japan, to coming to London. And then the way everything fell into place with Harrods and all that. I think the fates were there with us."