THE only thing Anna Liu wanted was to marry the love of her life and bring up a family. She had accepted Daniel Bannerman’s proposal and was all set for the big day – even if she knew the darkest of clouds would be hovering.
But as Daniel waited for his bride-to-be at St Columba’s Hospice, struggling to hold off the sad inevitability of terminal cancer, his Chinese fiancée was desperately trying to cut her way through red tape to secure entry to the UK.
Tragically, they both lost their fights before they could be man and wife.
The couple had been due to marry on August 26 at the registrar’s office on George IV Bridge. But Daniel, 34, passed away on August 9 – four months earlier than doctors predicted – with his fiancée stranded helplessly 5000 miles away in her home country.
Devastated Anna, who also missed Daniel’s funeral, today told how the Home Office’s refusal to let her into the country had left her “heartbroken”.
She said: “I’ve been missing him dreadfully every day. I feel so sad, helplessly sad – deep sadness that I don’t even dare to mention. This is so hard, so hard for me, for all of us.
“I know I should be strong, but the shame, the pain, the chance that I could have got to be there with my love, to fulfil our dream to be a married couple, hurt me so much.”
After university Daniel left Edinburgh and spent time teaching English and travelling around Asia, Korea and Vietnam. But it was when he moved to Shenzhen in Southern China that he met 23-year-old Anna – a student at the language training school where he was stationed.
The two bonded over karaoke at a party and soon fell in love. Now, devastated Anna has spoken of her “deep sadness” at not being by Daniel’s side as he lay dying.
It is believed the Home Office rejected her short-term visa application as officials were not satisfied it was her intention to leave the UK after getting married.
Anna said: “I want to say, when you meet the right person – age, race, nationality and distance are never problems. We’ve proved that.
“True love is so rare, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Daniel’s funeral was due to be held on August 19 at Warriston Crematorium Cloister – but the ceremony had to be moved to the site’s larger chapel after more than 100 mourners turned up.
The humanist service featured warm tributes from friends to “a true gentleman and an all-round lovely guy” and finished with the Star Wars theme in an ode to his favourite film.
And in a moving statement written for his funeral, Anna said of Daniel: “My love for you will never be extinguished and will grow along with time.
“We both know we are the right ones for each other and even death can’t separate us.
“You are just perfect, charming, mature, good sense of humour. You are the best gift I have ever had and I will always cherish you, my man with the golden heart.”
Daniel’s mother, Patricia Gilhooly, 62, described her son as “gentle and kind”.
She said: “All his friends sent messages. They could not speak highly enough of him.”
Speaking of his last few months, she added: “It was just a horrible time for everybody. It was awful. It was really difficult for him. We were just at the hospital the whole time.”
Patricia offered to pay for Anna’s travel and had signed documents saying she would stay with her and her husband Allen – Daniel’s step-dad – at their home in Pilton Avenue.
But after the disappointing Home Office decision, Daniel’s rapidly deteriorating condition meant there wasn’t enough time to appeal.
“It would have just been too late,” Patricia said.
Visa applicants wishing to be married in the UK during a short-term visit must pass a stringent vetting system that involves proving they have close ties to their homeland and so cannot stay in Britain after their visa has ended.
It is believed the fact Anna had no permanent job worked against her in the process.
Daniel, who attended Broughton High School before gaining a Masters in politics from Edinburgh University, made the decision to move to China after developing itchy feet following a series of admin jobs. Despite being shy and quiet, he had overcome a childhood struggle with dyspraxia – a developmental coordination disorder that meant he had difficulty writing and expressing himself – and seemed determined to carve his own path.
Mum Patricia said: “He wasn’t outgoing – that’s the weird thing. He was quite shy and kept himself to himself, and didn’t really go out much. And then all of a sudden he came and said he was off to China. I was like, ‘what?’.
“But he liked the pace of life in China and he liked the culture – he found the people really nice. He found his niche.”
Daniel first became aware something was wrong after a friend in Shenzhen noticed a lump on his neck in May last year. It turned out to be cancer of the throat, and after flying back to the UK for treatment he underwent a gruelling course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
When he was given the all-clear in December, he immediately flew back to China to be with Anna.
Once there, he proposed in a restaurant while they were enjoying a meal with friends – with one of their pals capturing the moment on camera.
“I felt so happy and nearly fainted,” Anna said. “I was the happiest woman in the world.”
But after experiencing pain in his left cheek in April, Daniel was forced to return to hospital for tests.
The cancer had returned, spreading to his left lung, and he came back to Edinburgh on June 9. Here, he had to face up to what doctors called the worst-case scenario – that he could have as little as six months left.
“I was so shocked,” said Anna. “We had planned to spend our whole life together. I wanted to have a happy family with him.”
But just two months later, Daniel passed away. For Anna and his family, Daniel’s memory will live on forever.
“He’s the one who lightened my world,” Anna said.
“When I met Daniel, my heart told me that’s it, that’s the one.”