‘Will you warry me?’ ‘Will you mkjoiuo?’ Just how badly can proposing go?
Popping the question goes pear-shaped more often than you might think, says a proposal professional
“Will you marry me?” These are four of the most terrifying words in the English language to utter, so getting them right could hardly have higher stakes.
Where once the average proposal meant taking your other half to a local restaurant and popping the question over pudding, today’s can be vastly more elaborate – all of which poses a far greater potential for things to go horribly wrong.
Pity poor John Drennan, who popped the question to his girlfriend of 10 years, Daniella Anthony, in New York last week, only for the engagement ring to fall down a grate. Fortunately, the NYPD were able to retrieve it, salvaging – at least partially – the bungled proposition.
Another engagement that suffered a similar fate was that of civil servant Rosie, whose other half’s proposal idea “was to buy a 60-year-old mechanical cipher machine and give this to me as a gift, along with an encrypted message” requesting her hand. “The problem with 60-year-old machines,” she says, “is that they don’t work very reliably. The first message decrypted as ‘will you mkjoiuo ... ’”
Fortunately, he had a back-up message; unfortunately, this didn’t work either, and nor did attempt number three. Finally, on the fourth try, the proposal was both shared and accepted.
As the founder of The Proposers, a company that curates personalised marriage proposals, I know just how common it is for disaster to strike. I have been involved with 1,200 since 2012, and while most pass off without incident (other than a big, happy “yes”) a sizeable number go far from planned. In fact, the idea for the business came after a friend of mine had aimed to pop the question in a pub. On arriving there with his girlfriend, he found it was full of rowdy revellers – but the show simply had to go on.
His family were assembled at home, waiting to congratulate the newly betrothed couple as they walked through the door. He had to make it happen somewhere, somehow. In the absence of a better idea, he pulled into a Tesco car park on the way back to the house. And there, in this most unromantic of settings, he asked if his girlfriend would marry him. She did say yes, I should add.
There hasn’t been a single “no” in my line of work yet. But even we, the professionals, cannot control everything. Take the case of the man who wanted to propose to his girlfriend via the medium of flash mob. The idea was to hire 10 dancers to perform a routine on London’s Millennium Bridge. Only five turned up, the other half being stuck on a delayed train. Determined to ensure the event was not derailed, I persuaded four members of our team to step in alongside me; we had to learn the routine in 20 minutes flat.
The result? Well, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life as I was when dancing to Marry You by Bruno Mars in one of London’s most public spaces. But I don’t think the woman suspected a thing had gone wrong. What she couldn’t help but notice, however, was that when her then-boyfriend went to open the ring box, it was empty inside. Cue much confusion and concern, until the bride-to-be’s father, who had been summoned to witness the proposal, remembered he had it in his pocket.
To top it all off, the heavens then opened and soaked every one of us, and the booked horse and carriage that would take them to dinner failed to show up on time. But then, controlling the weather, let alone the rail network, is beyond our level of expertise.
Brolly good show – not
In another proposal on a different Thames bridge, the couple rowed along in a boat below, accompanied by violinist and cocktails. The plan was that as they came close to the bridge we would put up umbrellas one by one, spelling out that wonderful four-word question. But it was a very windy day and we were left clutching them for dear life. As the woman looked up at the bridge, she was greeted by the sight of 15 brollies blown inside out, the gales denying her that perfect moment.
Still, umbrellas remain a popular choice, particularly during December, the busiest month for proposals. One cold winter’s day we planned a similar event for a couple on Trafalgar Square. When they turned up, and we opened the umbrellas one by one, our rehearsal proved fruitless: the “m” was displayed upside down by mistake. “Will you warry me?” it read. Luckily, the woman got the gist, at which moment a pigeon flying overhead decided to unleash a “lucky” splat on her head. To everyone’s relief, she did see the funny side.
We once organised a treasure hunt around the capital for a bride-to-be, the end point being the Tower Bridge walkway. We decorated the space with a canvas of the couple’s past, present and future, and the scene that we set looked amazing. Yet, almost unfathomably, when the woman in question came to the treasure hunt’s easy last clue, she just couldn’t locate Tower Bridge.
A lifelong Londoner, looking for one of the city’s major landmarks, she was utterly stumped on how to get there. By the time she finally arrived the bridge was starting to rise. It was too late, she’d missed it. We had to run to a nearby park and set everything up there instead – understandably, the poor man was fuming. He had spent about £2,000 on the proposal, only to be thwarted by his girlfriend’s poor navigation skills.
Love is the drug
But one blameless bride-to-be was the other half of a prank-loving chap, who asked us to carry out a fake drug arrest.
An American couple travelling in Europe, he wanted to give her a proposal to remember, so enlisted us with providing some “policemen” to “arrest” him on suspicion of carrying drugs as they left their hotel in Barcelona. When a search yielded a packet of “weed” (which was actually oregano), they bundled the couple straight into their van; the woman, of course, was freaking out, raging at him as to why he would be carrying such a thing. The van drove them to the top of a hill. There, overlooking the lights of the city, was a romantic, candlelit scene.
The man got down on one knee, and the woman very quickly forgave him.
Mishaps aside, this proposal, like most others, provided that much-sought happy ever after.
• As told to Rosa Silverman. Some identifying details have been changed.
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