Inside the world of PROFESSIONAL marriage proposals… and the men willing to spend £5,000 to make sure they pop the question perfectly. But did their partners say yes?
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Their fingers tenderly entwined, Joshua Lewis leads his childhood sweetheart Heather towards the historic altar at the Grade II-listed Fitzrovia Chapel in Westminster, London.
Filled with hundreds of flickering candles and stems of fresh red roses, as well as thousands more rose petals, the scene is the epitome of romance as the couple pause to look at framed photographs of themselves placed carefully along the aisle; a walk down memory lane, if you will.
There are snaps of them in their school uniforms — they were in the same class at school from age 11 — on their travels and others from daily life.
As they walk, a violinist plays one of their favourite love songs, Best Part by Daniel Caesar.
You might imagine that Joshua, a doctor, and Heather, a teacher, both 28, are about to take their marriage vows.
Joshua Lewis, 28, had dreamt of proposing to his childhood sweetheart Heather, also 28, at the Grade II-listed Fitzrovia Chapel in Westminster, London. The perfectly curated proposal cost £3,500
Yet this beautiful spectacle is merely the appetiser; at the altar, Joshua drops to one knee and proposes to Heather.
They seal the moment with a kiss before champagne corks pop and a host of teary-eyed friends and family rush in to celebrate with them.
Welcome to the world of the professionally organised marriage proposal; Joshua’s big moment cost him £3,500.
Once the preserve of the rich, famous or more gregarious man wishing to wow the woman in his life — recently Love Island star and boxer Tommy Fury hired a professional to organise his proposal to his influencer girlfriend Molly-Mae Hague in Ibiza — the use of proposal planners has now cascaded down to the middle classes, with various companies such as The Yes Girls and The Proposers on hand to create fairy-tale moments.
For it seems that in the age where every big moment needs to be documented (and posted on social media), simply dropping to one knee is no longer enough.
If anyone can shed light on why, it’s Amanda Brown, who founded marriage proposal company The One Romance (theoneromance.com) with her sister Tiffany a decade ago.
Since then, she has organised thousands of proposals, with clients including Premier League footballers and royalty.
The average cost of a wedding in the UK in 2022 was £18,400, up 6 per cent on the previous year. But now many couples are splurging on proposals, too.
Amanda’s prices start from £1,000, average between £3,000 and £5,000, and occasionally nudge six figures.
‘The most expensive proposal I’ve organised cost more than £100,000 and included shutting the River Thames for an incredible firework display,’ she says.
‘We had a private boat covered in fairy lights, an exclusive wine-tasting using wine shipped from my client’s collection in America and a personal chef to cook a celebratory dinner.’
While her clients are mostly men, she says that women hire her services too, usually during leap years.
‘Women tend to have a clear vision of what they would like the proposal to look like, while male clients either know what they want but not how to arrange it, or have no idea where to start and want my help to create the perfect moment,’ she says.
‘Secrecy is key to keep the moment a surprise, of course. Some clients only want to meet face to face, so I will see them at my private members’ club or often at their office.
Luca Quagliani, 32, proposed to his fiancee Veli Garnenkova, 34, on a luxury private boat on the Thames with champagne and a romantic surprise thrown in, setting him back £5,000
‘Once we’ve had the initial meeting, we tend to do the rest over the phone before one final meeting in person.
‘With other clients, communication is via email only and they set up a fake email address.
‘Some of my younger clients prefer WhatsApp only, often giving me a fake male name to avoid suspicion if their partner spots a message flash up.
‘Bizarre requests include organising a proposal at a puppy yoga class, and another from a client who wanted to propose after he and his girlfriend finished a zombie horror escape room experience in London, meaning she went from terrified to elated in minutes.
‘We could hear the screams from the other side of the door as we quietly set up a beautiful candlelit proposal area in the exit room.
‘One client wished to propose mid‑air during a skydive. I persuaded him to propose in a hot air balloon instead.
‘He had told me how important it was for him to hold her hand, look into her eyes and tell her all the reasons he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her — rather difficult when you’re falling from 10,000 ft!
‘Another client hired me to gift-wrap an entire house that he’d bought for his girlfriend as an engagement surprise with ribbons, balloons and fresh flowers, costing thousands of pounds.’
But for every extravagant proposal, there are simple ones, too: couples out walking who ‘stumble’ across a strategically placed balloon, gift or love letter; or a stranger who hands the woman a red rose.
In ten years, nobody has said ‘no’ to a proposal on Amanda’s watch. Still, there are always challenges.
‘The British weather requires a back-up plan,’ Amanda says. ‘Sometimes clients end up enjoying a romantic picnic in a hotel room instead of in a park.
‘One client arrived at the hotel venue with his girlfriend 20 minutes early. Thankfully, everything was ready for them, but my stylist and I had to hide under a table while he proposed, then secretly crawl out through a fire escape unnoticed while they were celebrating.
‘Now, we ask clients to allow us to live-track them when they’re on their way.
‘With a team of six people, we average two proposals a week but sometimes it’s four, and there’s a waiting list that means we could easily do one a day if I wanted to. For me, it’s all about the romance.’
It was the romance factor that sold Amanda’s services to Joshua, who came across her company on social media.
‘When I found Fitzrovia Chapel I knew instantly that’s where I wanted to propose,’ says Joshua.
‘I wanted our closest friends and family to be involved as they’re important to us, and felt that incorporating them into the proposal would only add to the special feeling.’
He and Heather live in Romford, Essex, and are now newlyweds, having tied the knot with an ‘all-singing, all-dancing’ reception in Kent last month.
Joshua’s big proposal last August came after the couple had had afternoon tea at the upmarket Connaught Hotel in London.
Heather says: ‘We often go out on lovely dates so our day didn’t seem out of the ordinary when we dressed up to go to the Connaught.
‘But as we were leaving the hotel Joshua told me he had a surprise for me. I couldn’t believe it when we arrived at the chapel. It was all so beautiful and incredibly romantic. Josh always likes to make things perfect for me.’
Though their friends and family were waiting on the path outside the chapel to hand flowers to Heather as the couple arrived, the proposal itself was entirely private.
‘It was only Heather and me in the chapel for the actual proposal, then our guests came in to celebrate with us after we’d had a photoshoot to capture it,’ Josh says.
Many people would argue that it’s not worth splashing out huge amounts of money on your wedding, let alone on a proposal that will last mere minutes.
Yet Luca Quagliani, who proposed to his fiancee Veli Garnenkova last August, claims that a lavish proposal separates the men from the boys in the romance stakes.
When Feranmi Akinpelu, 29, decided to propose to his girlfriend Bowale Olagbaju, 28, he secured a planner’s services to ensure every detail of the romantic balcony scene was perfect, paying more than £1,000 for their services
‘We can all decide to propose in a restaurant or park without spending a penny, but where’s the romance in that?’ says Luca, 32, who works in banking.
‘I hired a proposal planner because I’m an old romantic and didn’t want the stress of ensuring that a once-in-a-lifetime moment would go as planned.’
Although the couple have lived in Northampton for the past two years, he chose London for his proposal, as it’s where they met in April 2019.
All that Veli, 34, a senior customer service adviser, knew was that Luca was whisking her to London for an overnight stay and that she should dress up.
She could never have envisaged that he would have secretly arranged for a luxury private boat to take them along the Thames with champagne and a romantic surprise thrown in.
Including the sapphire engagement ring, a night in a hotel and a professional video and photographer, the whole proposal cost Luca £5,000, a sum he admits is ‘a lot’ but worth every penny.
Even with the back-up of his professional proposal planners, Luca reflects that it was one of the most stressful moments of his life
‘Everything had to go according to the plan. I had to make the proposal speech just when we were at the designated spot beside Albert Bridge where a banner with the words “Will you marry me?” had been placed, and pretend that everything was very natural when in reality it was all decided beforehand.’
‘I was shocked,’ says Veli. ‘Luca’s outgoing and bubbly but he chose a very intimate atmosphere to propose to reflect my introverted personality.
‘He created an exceptional memory just for me and him, which I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
‘I don’t think any woman would dislike a proposal from the man they love, and the budget, the venue or the way Luca proposed to me wouldn’t have mattered. But the efforts he went to left me flabbergasted.’
Such is the pressure to craft the perfect proposal, professional help can be required even if you pop the question at home.
When financier Feranmi Akinpelu, 29, decided to propose to his girlfriend Bowale Olagbaju, 28, a compliance consultant, last month, he chose the wrap-around balcony of his two bedroom apartment on Canary Wharf as the venue to present Bowale with a dazzling three-carat, radiant-cut engagement ring.
‘I had five different venues in mind, including a restaurant and a hotel, but decided the balcony at home was more intimate and it’s got a terrific view of the London skyline,’ he says.
He secured a planner’s services to ensure every detail of the romantic balcony scene was perfect, paying more than £1,000 for their services.
Bowale thought they were going to a birthday celebration — but when she arrived at his apartment she could hear You & I, by John Legend, playing.
‘When I walked into his living room there were candles, rose petals and beautifully framed photos of us taken everywhere from holidays in New York to a Beyonce concert and our university days,’ she says.
‘He led me to the balcony where there were more roses, a red carpet, a banner saying “Will you marry me?” and a photographer to capture the moment.
Feranmi was even wearing the same jacket he put around my shoulders one cold night the week after we’d met seven years ago.’
They are hoping to plan their wedding for late 2024.
‘For me, the biggest thing was to be surprised and Feranmi achieved that. We have a video of me jumping up and down screaming when he gave me the ring.
‘I didn’t sleep for 36 hours after the proposal,’ says Bowale — a glowing testimony that suggests more men might want to think twice about how much effort they put into popping the question . . .
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