Each year, the Virgin Group celebrates its best and brightest employees at the Virgin Stars Dinner. Hosted by Richard Branson, it’s an opportunity to recognise their achievements and reward each Virgin company’s Star of the Year.
For two Virgin employees, however, it holds even more significance. Meet Robin and Kristi…
Who are you, who do you work for and what do you do?
I’m Robin! I work for Virgin Care in Devon as a Participation Worker for the child and adolescent mental health service.
Hi! I’m Kristi! I work at Virgin Orbit on the Learning & Development team. I run our intern program, host new hire orientation and sprinkle Virgin cheer in the office wherever I can!
We hear you met at the Virgin Stars Dinner. For the benefit of our readers, what is that?
R: As far as I understand it, every year each Virgin organisation gives an employee the Star of the Year Award, and all of these ‘Stars’ are invited to an event, hosted by Richard Branson, to celebrate their achievements. Kristi and I won the award for our companies and found ourselves at this amazing party in Oxford. I had no idea it was such a big, international occasion until I got there…
K: I was under the impression that it was a match making event because that is where I fell in love with Robin. For reals though, it is an epic party thrown by Richard Branson to celebrate teammates from each of the Virgin companies from around the world.
Did you know each other before the Stars Dinner?
R: I wasn’t aware of Kristi before the dinner. I didn’t know anything about Virgin Orbit at all.
K: Sadly No… However we did discover that I worked with Robin’s cousin at Virgin Entertainment several years ago!
Did your eyes meet over a crowded room? Bump into each other at the bar? What happened? Who came over to who first?
R: I honestly don’t remember exactly how we came to be together that night - the champagne was free flowing so my memories aren’t always exactly vivid – I do remember suddenly thinking who is this beautiful woman that is chatting and laughing with me and who has the most amazing eyes? My 19 year old daughter, Daisy, was there as my guest and she insists that she saw Kristi and persuaded her to join us for tequila shots.
K: We’ve tried to remember this time and time again. I honestly don’t remember how we first connected. I do remember looking into Robin’s eyes thinking I wanted to spend the entire night with him; I also remember tequila shots, and lots of dancing!
Who spoke first? What did they say?
R: Again, I don’t remember who spoke first; I do know that it felt so easy to chat to Kristi. During the evening we talked about everything from work to friends to family to dogs, but mostly I remember we talked about music. We learned that we are both obsessed with music and like a lot of the same bands and artists. I remember asking her if she liked The Wonder Stuff (probably my favourite band ever) and to my absolute joy she said yes! And she knew loads about them. I felt so comfortable being with Kristi and chatting away, it was lovely
K: It remains a mystery on who said something first. But when we did start talking, everything just clicked.
What were your first thoughts/impressions of the other?
R: It still seems unreal, a bit like a fairy tale, but, like I said before, I thought Kristi was beautiful and I loved looking into her eyes when we were talking. She was interesting and really funny – she made me smile and laugh a lot, which she still does every day. I just thought she was the loveliest person.
K: I remember his eyes; they are so kind, he has the nicest eyes and smile. I felt really drawn to him; I just knew that I wanted to spend time with him. I can’t explain it, our chemistry was electric. He was so easy to talk to, I wanted to chat with him and learn everything about him.
Was it love at first sight? What was it that first drew you to each other?
R: To me, it really did feel like we were meant to meet. I definitely fell for Kristi that night. The way she looked, her eyes, her smile. She has the loveliest warm and positive approach to life; she was interesting and witty and made me laugh a lot. And she was willing to spend the evening chatting, drinking and dancing with me. I felt, and still feel, like the luckiest man ever.
K: I was definitely smitten. I remember feeling an instant connection with him when he looked at me. He has the kindest eyes; he gave me butterflies (this still happens!). He is so kind, warm and genuine.
Did you dance the night away or did you both play it cool?
R: I definitely did not play it cool! If I had any ounce of coolness at all, the champagne (and tequila) had seen it off. We danced the night away and I just smiled the biggest smile all night. I’m smiling now just thinking about it. Kristi has the most lovely smile in the world and when she is smiling and dancing I can’t help but be filled with joy! She may well have been smiling because my dancing was pretty ridiculous, but I was having the best time so I wasn’t worrying about that. Kristi has this wonderful ability to make me forget any inhibitions I have and just have fun.
K: I think it is safe to say that neither one of us were very “cool” that night. We danced for ages, it was so much fun. I love dancing with Robin; he brings me so much happiness. You know that saying ‘dance like no one is watching’? That was totally us, it was the best time.
What happened on the night then? We want all the details (well nearly all!)
R: We sat together on the coach back to the hotel and decided it would be nice to have a nightcap in the bar before we turned in. First I had to help my daughter to bed – she was very much the worse for wear. I remember when I headed back to the bar thinking, I really, really hope Kristi is still there and hasn’t decided to call it a day and go to bed. I just wanted to spend as much time as I possibly could with her.
Thankfully she was there so we got a drink and sat in the hotel courtyard with our wine, talking and talking and talking. It felt so easy, so lovely to talk to Kristi. We decided to go for a walk together around Woodstock, the village where the hotel was. We just walked out into the night; neither of us knew where we were going. We ended up walking through a housing estate but it felt lovely and at some point on the way we stopped and kissed… and kissed… and it was blissful. Somehow, we found our way back to the hotel and carried on talking and kissing until about 4.00am
K: We took the last coach back to the hotel, I remember sitting next to him, and we held hands. I couldn’t stop smiling. He asked if I wanted to get another drink before going to bed (OF COURSE I DID) he took his daughter to their room and I went to my room to get a jacket and change shoes. I kept wondering if he was actually going to come back to the hotel bar.
We sat at a table in the courtyard and talked for ages and went for a wander around the small village and yes, there was lots kissing! I got back to my room very late, my cousin (who was my date for the evening) asked me where the hell I was and I told her that I was making friends with Virgin colleagues.
How did you leave it on the night of the Stars when you said your goodbyes?
R: I knew that Kristi had to leave the hotel early in the morning and that I probably wouldn’t get to see her before she flew back to LA. Luckily for me, I had managed to get her to give me her business card so when I eventually surfaced I emailed her in the hope that she would check her work emails… and she did! And she replied! I couldn’t bear the thought of losing touch after spending such an amazing evening together. I found out later that Kristi had forgotten my name and decided I was called Patrick. I think she tried to find me in the ‘Stars’ biographies but there were no Patricks in there. We managed to arrange a phone call while she was waiting to board her flight at Heathrow – we spoke for ages and, again, it just felt so natural. I could have chatted to Kristi for hours.
K: I totally gave Robin my business card when we were sitting in the courtyard! I remember trying to be all cool about it, like, “Hey-we should connect again sometime-since we both work for Virgin!” But really, I desperately wanted him to reach out so we could continue getting to know each other.
It is true, I thought his name was Patrick (which is a joke between us now) when I saw an email from Robin Tay at Virgin Care the next day, I was over the moon.
We talked on the phone as I waited to board my flight back to Los Angeles. All I could think about was how I desperately wished it was in person.
Kristi, your based in the US aren’t you? And you Robin in the UK. How did that work out for staying in touch?
R: I remember Kristi sending me a message saying ‘can we have an evening when we talk for hours?’ and I remember how my heart skipped a beat when I read it so we started video chatting whenever we could. It’s tricky because of the eight hour time difference but we always find time at the weekends – and we do talk for hours when we can. And we send millions of messages in the meantime.
K: We had a “virtual date” shortly after I got back to the US…I remember feeling so nervous the first time we chatted but that quickly subsided. It takes a little bit of work, but we manage to connect several times a day. He “tucks” me in every night before I go to bed, as he is waking up for the day.
So when did you both realise that it was serious and that you were officially a couple?
R: We started messaging and video chatting as soon as Kristi was back in the USA and we seemed to get closer and closer with every chat. Then at the end of October, Kristi sent me a message saying ‘I’m going to a conference in Florida in a few weeks… you should come over and meet me.’ I couldn’t believe it, I was so excited, I’d never done anything so adventurous and spontaneous but I just couldn’t miss the chance to see Kristi again.
When we chatted about planning my trip, I remember Kristi saying ‘I looked on the map and it looks like Florida is about half way between LA and Teignmouth!’ So I flew to Orlando where Kristi met me at the airport and it was the most incredible meeting. We had the loveliest, most amazing airport hugs ever. We had the best time together and I knew on that trip that I wanted to be with Kristi forever.
K: On a whim, I asked Robin if he wanted to meet up in Florida while I was out there for work. I knew it was a long shot but I really wanted to see him again and it is *kinda* the halfway point between us. I remember when I first saw him at the airport, he was carrying a winter coat I couldn’t stop giggling. Our first hug was epic. It was a really wonderful time, when we said goodbye, I just knew.
Who proposed and when?
K: I went to the UK in July to go to Robin’s stepson’s wedding, it also happened to be my birthday. On our way back to Robin’s place, we took a scenic route and he drove us to the top of a hill that overlooked the city, and of course had a castle at the top of it. He gave me birthday presents, each were very sentimental and very special. At the bottom of the box there was a bag of Love Hearts, the ones they give out at the end of Virgin Atlantic flights (we always save them for each other when we fly). I looked closely at the packaging and saw that they said ‘Marry Me’ on them.
At first I thought they were misprinted. I really thought they were supposed to say ‘Happy Birthday’ on them and there was a mistake. I sat in silence for what probably seemed like 10 minutes and kept looking at Robin confused. It finally dawned on me that it was not a mistake and he WAS actually asking me to marry him. I asked him if he was serious, when I realised he was, I said YES! Of course! We laughed and cried and hugged. It was one of the absolute best days of my life.
R: That was such an amazing day. It was Kristi’s birthday, the day after my step son’s wedding and we were heading back to Teignmouth where I live. It was a beautiful sunny day. I took us on a very rural route and stopped at a place called Haldon Belvedere – like a little white castle that is high up and overlooks Exeter and the surrounding countryside. We sat on a bench by the castle looking at the stunning view and I gave Kristi a box of presents. I was so nervous as she opened them one by one, getting closer to the Love Heart sweets at the bottom. When she saw the ‘Marry me’ messages on the little packs of sweets I think she said ‘Are you serious?!’ And I tried to say something like ‘I would love it if you would be the actual Mrs Tayvala’ (which is the shared name we’d invented for ourselves) but I think I’d already started to cry so I’m not sure any words actually came out. I can’t describe in words how happy I was when Kristi said yes. Words just don’t get near that feeling of overwhelming joy and I feel that happiness every day. I am a ridiculously lucky man.
Are you already planning the wedding? Where will it be held?
K: We are currently looking for an amazing officiant – I hear that Richard Branson is one! Our plan is to get married in the States and have a celebration on both sides of the pond with loved ones.
R: I don’t think that there is anything I can add to that! We’ll probably get married in the US and as Kristi said, have celebrations there and here in the UK – and if Sir Richard should find himself available…