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I fell in love. Then I found out he was a celebrity

"Do you know who this man is?" one woman demanded of me.

When I first met my now-husband in 2019, I had no idea he was famous. He sure was handsome though, with an easy smile and nice teeth to match. I was fresh off the plane from New York when we sat next to each other at our University of Cambridge matriculation in England. Someone made a quip about rowing to him, which he laughed off. I asked him if he was an athlete. “Not really,” he replied in his British accent. I took him at face value, and we started talking about what we were studying.

We kept running into each other on campus, where we were both pursuing master’s degrees. I learned his name was James and that he was 46, compared to my 33, so we were considered mature students, though we were hardly out of place in Cambridge’s robust post-grad student body. I ended up tutoring him in stats after he asked me for help. It was during these study sessions that James told me he was known in the United Kingdom for winning two Olympic gold medals for rowing in 2000 and 2004. He mentioned that he had done an ad for a local eyeglasses store. Because I’m American and had just moved to the country, I didn’t realize the store was the U.K.’s largest eyeglasses chain. I assumed it was a mom-and-pop shop, given his nonchalance.

James Cracknell
James Cracknell celebrates winning gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.Clive Brunskill/Allsport / Getty Images

I also grew up in New York City, where everyone has a story, and everybody is somebody. I guess you could say I’m jaded, but I think this is also why I dismissed some of the clues of his celebrity for months. In our “Cambridge bubble,” we were always around the same group of people. When we started dating, it hardly caused a ripple in our circle. None of our friends ever asked him for a picture or an autograph. To me, he was nice, normal James Cracknell, who happened to have two gold medals. We loved spending time together going to the movies, out for drinks or going for walks to picturesque Grantchester. He was funny and wrote me the most beautiful letters.

In March 2019, James participated in the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, a rowing competition between the two prestigious British universities that dates back to 1829. He kept telling me it was a big thing, but it was in the weeks leading up to it that I realized just what he meant. Out one night at a cheesy bar, close to the day of the race, a bachelorette party came up to us. “Do you know who this man is?” one of the women demanded of me. “He is an asset to the United Kingdom.” I thought that was funny.

The week leading up to the Boat Race was nuts. The race is broadcast on the BBC and watched by millions. James was the oldest participant in the event’s history, which meant the media coverage was crazy. When Piers Morgan wanted to interview him, I finally put it together and realized I was dating a bonafide celebrity. I now had a deeper understanding of who James was, but it didn’t change what he meant to me. 

James Cracknell and Jordan Cracknell
The couple at a film screening in July 2022 in London. John Phillips / Getty Images

The day of the race featured hours of coverage on him, and the next day he made the front pages of the national newspapers here. It turned out the man I was in love with was basically the Eli Manning of the U.K.

Our relationship was still quiet, which I was grateful for. It wasn’t until July of that year that the papers ran articles about the two of us. I was on the train and my mom texted, saying that there were pictures of me online. Of course the train had no Wi-Fi, so I had to wait an entire hour before I could see what she was talking about. 

Initially, it was really weird and unnerving to see the press coverage. It is strange losing your privacy in such a public way, and having hundreds of people comment on your relationship, what you are wearing, or even your expression. James, who has had 20 years of experience with the British press, advised me to ignore it. That’s easier said than done, but it was a start. It helped that my family was highly supportive of our relationship. But having worked primarily in finance, where you’re judged on how long you can sit in front of multiple screens while speaking intelligently with investors and wearing a preponderance of navy blue suits, it was definitely a new world for me. 

Since then, James has been on the U.K.’s version of “Dancing With the Stars” and “Celebrity SAS,” and now he’s running for political office in Colchester (to the east of London). It took me some time to adjust to this new normal, especially the press interest in our relationship. Reporters managed to track down my family in the U.S. and called them for information, while here in the U.K. they went knocking on friends’ doors. My brother found it hilarious, and my friends shut the door in their face. But once the initial interest died down, it became a lot easier to deal with.

Then, we got engaged. Our wedding details were leaked to the press, but I was more upset at the person who leaked the information than at the press themselves. In addition to a paparazzo at the front gates of the church, two other reporters wearing ill-fitting brown suits tried to crash the afterparty. I kicked them out when I found them waiting in line at the open bar.

Jordan and James Cracknell on their wedding day.
Jordan and James Cracknell on their wedding day.Courtesy Marc Bates

Now the press and fame are just part of my new normal. Having settled into life in the U.K., I have a better understanding of why James is famous here. His Olympic wins meant a lot to people in the U.K. This summer we will be in Paris for the Olympics, as James will be commentating on rowing as I watch beach volleyball and soccer. 

Five years after we met, we live a happy life in London, and I’m now the stepmother to James’ three children. And at home, he’s not a celebrity — he’s just regular TV-watching, dog-walking, kind, funny James, and I love him for that.