It wasn’t until the third time Julian Lloyd Webber and Jiaxin Cheng met that the idea of a romantic relationship seemed a possibility. The first time, in 2000, Julian, the celebrated cellist, was on tour in New Zealand, and Jiaxin was one of a number of music students invited to hear him rehearse. Born in China, Jiaxin had graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and was doing a master’s degree at Auckland University. “Our teacher took us backstage to say hello,” she says.

Julian got her email address, and contacted her two years later when he was on tour in the country again to ask if she was still in New Zealand, adding that he might need her technical help with a concert that was going to be broadcast. By then, Jiaxin had graduated and was playing in the Auckland Philharmonia and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. “At rehearsal, the sound wasn’t good and I asked Jiaxin if she could come and listen,” says Julian. “Being a cellist herself, she was very helpful, and I was able to get a good recording.”

The next time they met, in 2006, on Julian’s last tour of New Zealand, was “when something really started to click,” he says. It had been, he says, “a very difficult time for me” (his third marriage was breaking up). Again, Jiaxin met him after his rehearsal, and he invited her to the concert. He had given her his new CD, Unexpected Songs, which she had been listening to in the car on the way. “There was a track I thought was really lovely and I looked down at the CD cover to see what it was. Unfortunately, the car in front braked suddenly and I ran straight into the back of it.” She arrived late, and met Julian as he was leaving the stage door. He invited her to his concert the next day instead, in a city more than an hour away, and she offered to drive them there in a hire car. “We had time for some long conversations that day and everything felt really comfortable,” recalls Jiaxin.

When Julian went back to the UK, they kept in touch by phone and email, although the time difference made it difficult. “I said: ‘Would you consider coming over to see what you think of life in England?’” he remembers. It was a big leap for Jiaxin, who had an established career as a musician in New Zealand. “And my parents were there,” she adds. She barely knew Julian and had never been to Europe before, but she decided she would go, thinking that if it didn’t work out, she could just return to New Zealand within a few weeks. “She really took a chance, so I’m very grateful for that,” says Julian.

‘Those are the only times we argue – about the interpretation of work and working together.’ Photograph: Simon Fowler

When Jiaxin arrived, Julian’s life was mostly taken up with touring. “Immediately, I started travelling with him all over the country, helping out with lighting and sound decisions, and that was fun because I saw a lot of different cities,” she says. Julian says: “When you are on the road together, it is actually a real test.” It was the first time he had been in a relationship with another musician, let alone another cellist. “I think one of the reasons it worked was because you know what it’s like going out on that stage.”

Most of Jiaxin’s ex-boyfriends had been cellists, she says with a laugh. “Julian is a brilliant cellist, but I look at him more as a person, I like to listen to his stories, he’s got that sense of humour I really like.” They married in 2009 and didn’t play together much at first, even at home, but in 2011, the year their daughter was born, they started playing and recording music. Their first full album together, A Tale of Two Cellos, came out in 2013. “We worked very hard together,” says Julian. “I suppose you could say, lightheartedly, that those are the only times we argue – about the interpretation of work and working together. Because you’re married, probably you’re ruder to each other than you would be if it was another colleague.”

The testing time came in 2014, when a neck injury forced Julian to stop playing. “It was horrible for me, but I felt even worse for Jiaxin because she had given up a lot of opportunities in New Zealand, and we were working together a lot and everything was going really well. Suddenly all that had to stop.”

However, Jiaxin had started to make a name for herself. “When I came here, at almost 30, it was very difficult to restart your career in another country,” she says. Julian always encouraged her to keep practising, she says. “Gradually, people started to know me and book me for concerts.” Now it’s her husband who takes on the technical side, while Jiaxin plays. “It’s gone full circle,” says Julian. “It’s great for me because I’m back out on the road. I enjoy listening to her play.”

Julian Lloyd Webber is the founder of the 30 Under 30 Rising Stars Project, in collaboration with Classic FM. Bach Revealed – Julian and Jiaxin Lloyd Webber’s exploration of Bach’s cello suites – tours festivals across the UK next summer.

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