A private question asked in public

IT’S the bravest and most romantic question: ‘will you marry me’?

For some, it’s a question too big to be kept quiet.

There are men, and women, who don’t want to hug this pivotal moment to themselves, in the seclusion of a mountain top or in a private corner of a hushed restaurant. They want the world to know. ! ‘Look at me — I’m popping the question of my life’.

A public marriage proposal is brave. It’s generous, it requires optimism and nerve — and it’s memorable.

“I wanted to do something different, something special we’d remember forever, something we could tell the kids, the grandkids,” one man told me, who, though he proposed publicly — and was accepted — now prefers to remain anonymous.

It’s not just men who go public. Martina Connolly ‘took her courage in her hands’ on leap year 2012 and proposed to her boyfriend, in the Aviva Stadium in front of tens of thousands of fans who’d been expecting only to see the Ireland and Czech Republic encounter.

For men, however, staging a public marriage proposal may be their only significant impact on the engagement-wedding event.

One man who proposed in public was reported in the news last year as saying: “Once you propose, you hand over control of the plans to your fiancee: ultimately, it’s her big day, so this was my chance to put my own stamp on our wedding plans”.

But if you want spectacle, if you want to make a splash, the flash mob’s the way to go. It’s a newish trend — organising a crowd of people to break, apparently off the cuff, into song and dance as a prelude to popping the question. ‘Ccjone01’ did it last summer when he proposed to his girlfriend in Bryant Park, New York, a flash mob proposal that has had 1.7m hits on YouTube. His bride-to-be guessed what was up, a minute into the flash mob’s performance of Michael Jackson’s song The Way You Make Me Feel, but it was the marching band that followed — Hey Baby, Will You Be My Girl — that got the tears flowing.

Then there’s ‘STREETSofGOLD007’, whose August 2011 proposal in a leading Johannesburg shopping centre got one million hits on YouTube. His girlfriend began filming the flash mob, having no idea the performance was for her, until the crowd pointed to the escalator and she spotted her beau coming down to the strains of Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.

But proclaiming your intentions from the rooftops, for all to hear, comes with a risk of public humiliation, as one man discovered when he proposed to his girlfriend, Caroline, in the shopping centre where they’d met a year earlier.

Despite being urged to ‘say yes’ by the patrons of a nearby eatery, she fled the scene after he’d asked her to ‘make me the happiest man in the world’. The failed proposal has scored four million views on YouTube.

Which just goes to show that the key to a successful public marriage proposal is to know your woman — or your man.

Hotel receptionist, Laura Sweeney, 28, from Cashel, proposed to boyfriend, PJ Colville, a 32-year-old carpenter, on live radio on Feb 29 last year. Laura had won a Beat 102-103 competition to propose live on air. The prize was a handmade diamond engagement ring.

“We’d been going out 12 years, since school. He was my first and only boyfriend. We had felt there was no rush — we’d bought a house and put a lot of money into doing it up. We just hadn’t got around to getting married.

“I heard about the competition on Valentine’s Day. It got me thinking. We’d said we’d marry eventually. I was confident he’d say yes. I mentioned it to a friend at work. She said, ‘Why not, you’ve been together so long, you’re ready’.

“My dad had passed away just before that, so I was a bit emotional because of that, too. And PJ had been diagnosed with an arachnoid cyst on his spine, the summer before, so things hadn’t been easy.

“PJ hadn’t a clue that I was going to do this. That morning, his friend brought him over to his brother’s house — PJ thought he was going to be babysitting his nephew. He was there having coffee when the Beat fleet met me and we just knocked on the back door. I walked up to him and said, ‘I love you and you’re my best friend. Will you marry me?’ And he said ‘of course I will’. He nearly choked on the brown bread he was eating.

“I’d never thought about publicly proposing, until I heard about the competition. I’d do it again, no bother. I’m an outgoing person, so it suited me. I’d been thinking it was about time we got married. Hearing about that competition put us on the right track. We’re getting married at Halloween this year.”

Neil Norton, an operations manager for a Dublin-based company, proposed to his girlfriend, Fidelma McDonnell, a value stream administrator for a multinational company, at Dublin Fashion Show five years ago. Their proposal — in front of an audience of about 400 women — featured on RTE’s Marry Me.

Neil, 39, and Fidelma, 33, married in March 2011.

“We were only together about 10 months. There had been a little bit of messing, a bit of joking that we might get engaged, maybe a year down the line. I’m not really such a public person. I didn’t ever think I’d propose on TV, even though I knew I’d do it with a difference.

“We’d been planning to go on holiday that summer to Italy. I was going to put an ad in Social & Personal, saying ‘will you marry me, Fidelma’. I planned to have the magazine on the table while we were holidaying in Italy.

“I knew she’d pick it up, because she’s a fan of that magazine. I’d emailed the guys in the magazine to get a price and one of them told me that RTÉ was doing a programme.

“I wanted to do something around fashion, because Fidelma loves fashion. Pamela Flood, who was presenting the show, had contacts in the fashion world and — as luck would have it — Dublin Fashion Show was coming up.

“The producers decided I would walk down the catwalk to propose, so they brought me to Milan to be taught how to walk down a catwalk. I told Fidelma I was going to visit a friend in London that weekend.

“I also wanted to do the proposal in sign language, because Fidelma is deaf, so I went to sign-language classes.

“Nerve-wise, I was fine up to the day of the proposal. Then, I got nervous of the whole thing — of the cameras and the catwalk. I was sure Fidelma was going to say yes. I wouldn’t have done it if I thought she was going to say no.

“I went down to the edge of the catwalk, where she was standing, and brought her up. I said, ‘Fidelma, I love you very much. Will you marry me?’ That was the extent of my sign language. She just said ‘yes’. She was shocked, totally shocked.

“We got a great reaction from the audience. Some people looked like they were crying. It was really good fun and I’d do it again.”

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