Heartbroken John McAreavey: ‘I've yet to see anyone prettier than Michaela’
WHEN John McAreavey first met the girl who would become his wife he was certain he had never set eyes on anyone more beautiful.
Seven years on and he still has not.
"I've yet to see anyone prettier than Michaela," he said with absolute confidence when testifying to the Supreme Court.
They were students living in Belfast back then in 2005 - John studying accounting at Queen's University and Michaela training to be a teacher at St Mary's College.
Mutual friends introduced them on a night out and they never looked back.
But the Co Down man was by no means the first to notice her beauty.
The year before she was selected to represent Ulster in the world famous Rose of Tralee contest.
Her long dark hair and radiant smile may have first attracted the talented gaelic footballer from Lawrencetown near Banbridge, but he soon came to realise they were not the half of it.
"Michaela was a wonderful, wonderful person, a really special human," he recalled with fondness at the trial.
"She completed my whole life.
"She was loved by her parents - she was their only daughter. She was cherished by her brothers - their only sister.
"She had so many special qualities that it would be impossible for me to fully explain how good a person she was."
Raised by parents Mickey and Marion in the family home near Ballygawley, Co Tyrone, Michaela was sister to her brothers Mark, Michael and Mattie.
She attended St Malachy's Primary School on the main A5 road to Omagh.
Pupils lined that same stretch of carriageway as the tragic newlywed's funeral cortege passed by on its way to requiem mass at Ballymacilroy parish church last January.
After her early education she went on to Loretto Convent Grammar School in Omagh before heading to college up in Belfast.
By that stage her passion for the Irish language was already strong. Combined with a deep Catholic faith - she was a member of the devout, non-drinking Pioneer tradition - a religion and Irish teacher was a job made for her.
But before taking on her post at St Patrick's Academy in Dungannon in 2007 there were student days to be enjoyed.
She may not have indulged in alcohol, but that did not stop her going out and having fun.
While others were downing pints in lively Belfast night spots, John and Michaela would have often been seen having a cup of tea.
In fact she was well known for, and often ribbed about, her love of tea. Friends visiting her house in the city would do well to escape without having at least one mug full.
If her and John shared a liking for a good brew, their mutual interest in Gaelic football was a greater bond.
As the daughter of the famous Mickey Harte - the manager of three All Ireland winning Tyrone GAA teams - the game was in Michaela's blood.
Undoubtedly a daddy's girl, she seldom missed a training session, never mind a match.
Whether huddled in the wind swept stands at the Errigal Kieran club Harte managed before landing the Tyrone job, or on the touchline at Croke Park as her father hoisted aloft the Sam Maguire trophy once again, she was an ever present.
If her and John shared a lot of things in common, county loyalties was not one.
A gifted footballer, who captained his local club Tullylish, he was on the panel of Down for three years.
Only two months before her death, Michaela was again in the stands, this time in Newry, cheering on her husband-to-be as he lifted the Down Intermediate Championship for Tullylish.
The couple got engaged in December 2008 and soon bought a house together.
But they did not move in.
John shared his fiancee's strong faith and neither wanted to live together until they were married.
"We felt by waiting it would make the experience more new and magical and something to look forward to after we returned from honeymoon," he explained to the court.
So the new build in Lawrencetown was rented out for the next 24 months as they turned their attention to wedding planning.
Their selected venue was that same quaint church at Ballymacilroy.
John's uncle of the same name, the bishop of Dromore, married them on the December 30 2010.
They had tried to get the wedding on the following day - Michaela's 27th birthday.
But the date did not work, so instead they shared another celebratory moment at midnight during their reception in a hotel just across the Irish border.
It was the perfect end to their dream wedding.
Within two weeks those dreams were shattered forever in a hotel room in Mauritius.
In the wake of his wife's death, John has tried his best to keep her memory alive.
He has set up the Michaela Foundation - a charity to promote healthy living and create opportunities for children to reach their potential.
Its motto is "life without limits".
It neatly sums up the attitude of his late wife, someone he said was "full of life and full of happiness".
"Anyone who had the pleasure of knowing her or meeting Michaela would give testament to that," he said in court.
"I do not have the words to fully explain how much she means to me and how much she still means to me and her family."
He added: "She was the most beautiful person I have seen."