Jane Bradley: An indecently public proposal?

Getting down on one knee in front of the world is a uniquely risky venture, writes the experienced Jane Bradley

Friday, 19th August 2016, 9:30 pm
Updated Friday, 19th August 2016, 10:18 pm
Silver medallist He Zi receives a marriage proposal from fellow diver Qin Kai during her podium ceremony at the Rio Olympics. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

When Chinese diver Qin Kai proposed to his teammate girlfriend just minutes after she clinched her silver medal win at Rio earlier this week, my heart was in my mouth.

We nervous viewers couldn’t hear what he was saying, but his long and heartfelt speech seemed to stun He Zi, his partner of six years, into silence. It was probably less than a minute, but it seemed like days by the time he eventually stopped talking and she answered with a nod of her head.

To be honest, I wasn’t convinced she was going to say yes. She looked more terrified than delighted, a feeling she seemed to focus on in the post-event interviews with Chinese media when she said she had “no idea” that he was going to propose, nor did she “expect that I would marry myself out so early”. She is just 25.

I would, if I had been him, have tested the water – he is a diver, after all – before springing such a surprise upon her in such a public way, watched not only by the Olympic diving crowd, but by millions of people around the world.

Thankfully, she said yes, but if she had said no, his good intentions could have forever ruined what should have been a memorable moment for her in her sporting career.

Indeed, some social media users accused Mr Qin of “stealing his girlfriend’s thunder” by choosing that moment to propose. You can’t win in love and sport, it seems.

Most of the crowd had left the stadium when Brazilian women’s rugby player Isadora Cerullo accepted a marriage proposal from girlfriend Marjorie Enya at the medals ceremony for the first Olympic rugby sevens competition last week. But those who did see it were relieved the answer was a yes.

But such public pledges of eternal love have not always gone according to plan. The incident almost ten years ago in the US, in which a man sought comfort in the arms of a sporting mascot after his girlfriend turned him down in a public proposal at a basketball match, still comes top of most internet lists of the “most embarrassing proposals ever”. Imagine the shame; the embarrassment. And I’m only talking about her, as she slopes off the court while a giant teddy puts his arms around her devastated not-husband-to-be.

Public marriage proposals have become a thing in recent years. Flash mobs; giant banners; “Will you marry me?” spelled out in flowers while a helicopter flies overhead carrying the unsuspecting woman.

People argue that they put too much pressure on the would-be bride-to-be, forcing her into saying yes when in a private situation, her answer may not have been the same. Others argue that it is a romantic gesture: what better way to show devout love than to broadcast it to the world?

I’m no stranger to the concept. Not for myself: my husband popped the question ten years ago, at home, in our living room, while I was berating him for not having taken a load of washing out of the tumble dryer.

No, my knowledge comes from a recent afternoon spent on Calton Hill, holding a banner while I waited for a complete stranger to go down on one knee in front of his girlfriend.

My old friend Tiffany Wright is one of Britain’s only proposal planners. Seriously. She has the best job in the world. People (usually men) come to her at her agency, The One Romance, with no idea how they want to propose to their partner – or an elaborate idea that they cannot execute alone – and she makes it happen.

One man wanted to bring his girlfriend to Edinburgh to spring a surprise proposal on her. He planned to bring her to the top of Calton Hill and ask her to pose for a photograph with the view of Edinburgh Castle behind her. I was drafted in as Scottish freelance staff.

Unbeknown to the fiancee-to-be, I, with the help of my glamorous assistant, would sneak up behind her and unfurl a banner emblazoned with the words “Will you marry me?” which the would-be groom would capture in his smarthone picture of the stunning vista.He would then show the picture to her under the guise of it being a pretty view – and she would spot the banner in the background. He would drop to one knee and I would pop out with a bottle of chilled champagne. Simple.

I was terrified. Terrified that we’d drop the banner, smash the champagne bottle or stand in the wrong place. Terrified that the gathering crowd on Calton Hill would give the game away, or block the photograph.

Indeed, I nearly threw up my lunch when I noticed the couple (we’d been sent photographs to help us recognise them) heading the wrong way across the hill. Thankfully Mr Wannabe Fiance spotted me – arms flailing subtly, wearing a bright yellow jacket that had all the fashion kudos of a nursery outing – and returned to the right spot. Phew.

But what I was most terrified about was that she could say no. What would we do then? Hand the proposer the bottle of champagne anyway, encouraging him to neck it and drown his sorrows? Act as relationship counsellors and try to help them get over this most public and elaborate of embarrassments?

But I needn’t have worried. She was delighted. He must have been pretty sure she would have been, having been coached by Tiffany, who makes sure the proposers are confident of the reaction they will get. She has never seen a “no”.

“I tell them to make sure they have talked about marriage and know it is something their girlfriend is keen to do with them,” advises my former flatmate romance planner.

Fairly straightforward advice. But something for anyone planning to put themselves out there and pop the question in front of baying hoardes should keep at the forefront of their minds.

A public “yes” followed by a private “no” is, quite possibly, preferable to a public “no”.

But a private romantic proposal would be the most risk-free of all.