Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story

Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House

The stars aligned when two people met at our outdoor retreat last summer. Now they’re engaged

Wednesday 7 September By Sumiko Wilson Photography by Neil Anthony Watson

Neil Watson and Abby Albino connected quickly, but not instantly. ‘I hated him immediately,’ Abby admits. Their first encounter was at a dinner at Soho House Toronto that Abby had curated to be a ‘celebration of Filipino culture’ with DaiLo chef Dennis Tay. Abby’s friend Mike Roc was DJing and Neil, a fine art photographer whose portfolio includes National Geographic, Brunello Cucinelli, Cartier and Bentley, was taking photos.

‘I thought he was so annoying,’ she says.

‘No, she thought I was intense,’ Neil rebuts.

After working in communications and community with brands like the Toronto Raptors and Nike, Abby – director of brand partnerships at Canada Basketball and co-owner of sneaker shop, Makeway – had grown wary of first impressions where people were a bit too friendly. ‘Normally when people are really nice to me when we first meet, it’s because they want something from me or they’re trying to get plugged into something,’ she explains. ‘He was really nice and I automatically put my guard up and thought: Oh, he wants something.’ 

‘She thought I wanted something from her but I didn’t know who she was,’ Neil says. During their first exchange at that dinner, Neil mentioned that he thought they had met before – they hadn’t. ‘In hindsight, I honestly recognised her from a different lifetime,’ he says, when we speak via Zoom.  

Immediately after the event, they only briefly discussed when Neil would be sending Abby the photos from the evening. But just two weeks later, they were reunited when they both attended a Soho Weekender, supported by Bacardi, on an island in Algonquin Provincial Park at Camp Tamakwa, three hours outside Toronto. Neil was on assignment as a photographer and Abby drove down with a friend, excited to get a few days to relax. ‘I go pretty hard in the paint all the time and I needed a little bit of a break – I had zero expectations,’ Abby recalls. 

One day into the trip, they connected twice: during a bracelet-making workshop and in line for readings with Rose Aura—both were ‘aha’ moments that brought them from apprehensive acquaintances to friends to potential partners. When they made bracelets, Abby made one for Neil, which he wore for the entire weekend. And when they had their aura photos taken, their auras were identical, which Neil says, ‘corroborates the story I’m telling about me knowing her in a different lifetime’.

Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House
Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House

Before driving back to the city, Neil accidentally knocked over a plate of cookies that Abby was holding. ‘I went to get her more cookies and when I brought them to her, I sat next to her and asked her out,’ he recalls. ‘I just let my gut lead me. I thought: This is someone I want to spend more time with. I didn’t know in what capacity, but it just felt right and I went with that.’

Once they sailed away from Tamakwa, they texted nonstop. ‘I had never been on my phone that much in my life, where I couldn’t get enough of whatever conversation we were having,’ Neil recalls. At one point, Abby wondered if their text dynamic would translate IRL, and when they met up at 416 Snack Bar back home in Toronto, they learned that it did. 

During their first date, they both felt like being together was instinctive and natural. ‘That’s when our relationship started,’ Neil says. ‘We went from first date to forever.’ For their second date, Neil made Abby dinner. As she was driving to his place, she felt a sense of déja vu. ‘I remember driving here and thinking: I’ve done this so many times before. It felt very familiar to me.’

While the couple are not religious, they’re both very spiritual. During our Zoom, Neil and Abby explained the concept of future memories, where they feel a deep sense of familiarity or remembrance for something that they’re technically doing for the first time. Abby felt this when she was driving to Neil’s apartment for the first time and Neil felt it when they first met.

‘It isn’t linear. Our relationship lives in this circle. We’re feeling things that we’ll feel years from now that we’re still experiencing in 2022,’ Abby explains. As they got ready to return to Camp Tamakwa over Labor Day weekend this summer, she said that that their trippy loop is coming full circle. ‘It feels really weird to me that we’re going back to a place where we internally never left,’ she admits.

This year, when they went back to Camp Tamakwa, their auras were identical yet again but they looked slightly different. Just a few days before driving to Algonquin Park (and a few hours after our Zoom interview), Neil had asked Abby to marry him.

Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House
Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House

Their love story abounds with cosmic co-signs. On top of their back-to-back identical auras, a psychic once told Abby that her future partner would have very specific lettering in his name. ‘She said that N would be a really prevalent letter,’ Abby says. ‘It’s either going to start with an N, end with an N or both. His name is Neil Watson – how wild is that?’

The psychic also predicted that Abby wouldn’t immediately take a liking to this prospective partner and that they would cross paths after she turns 38. ‘I hadn’t given up, but I surrendered to the universe’s timing. I was already 38, so if I waited another year, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. I was at peace with it.’

When they met, Neil was in a similar spot. ‘I was like: I’m never going to meet the person I’m supposed to be with but I’m willing and able to accept whatever the universe gives me. Then boom, she was there,’ Neil says, motioning to Abby. ‘It felt like the sort of magnetism that you only find when two people are meant to be with each other. It felt like it was coming from our core that we had to be with each other all the time.’

A few months into dating, they camped out in Neil’s apartment between Christmas and New Years to quarantine from a Covid exposure. Potential sickness aside, they agree their five days in isolation is among their favourite memories together – still camping, in essence, but miles away from Tamakwa. 

In another instance of future memory, Abby describes how early on in their relationship they once missed an exit on the highway and started driving towards Mississauga, jolting her into feeling somewhere between precognition and nostalgia. ‘We were sitting in his car but it felt like it was taking place years from now and there was a kid in the back,’ she recalls. ‘Now, a year later, me driving to his house is very familiar and we have a dog, who is often in the back seat.’

On their second day at Soho Camp, they realised that they were wearing the same outfits that they wore when they took their first photo together by the docks at Camp Tamakwa last year. The two photos are almost identical but this year, Abby was accessorising with her engagement ring. ‘Not to be extra corny,’ she says, ‘but he’s literally perfect for me.’

Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House
Love in the wild: how Soho Camp sparked a real-life love story | Soho House
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