Paris? Venice? Wahwahwah! Who needs scrappy scaffolding calling itself an "Eiffel Tower" or an open sewer masquerading as a "Grand Canal" when love is to be found in London's polluted air?
I had to dig deep, but let it be known that London was voted the number one "Popular European Romantic Destination" in a survey conducted by a dating site. And yeah, I think some of us suspect the "voters" in this survey were employees of the PR agency tasked with promoting the site to the UK market BUT WHO ARE WE TO ARGUE? We won! We beat PARIS in the romance stakes!
And so, having established London's status as the most romantic city in Europe, it should be no surprise that proposals are a gogo. It's certainly no shock to Sophie Cooper, a professional proposal planner. That's like a wedding planner, but for when you propose. Says Cooper, "the most popular locations are Tower Bridge, the London Eye, and The Shard. There's a lot of work involved in setting it all up — especially for somewhere like the London Eye, when you're getting guitars and videographers past security!"
Calling in the professionals
Sophie works for The Proposers who sprinkle their fairy dust wherever the client wants to pop the question. Sophie says, "the strangest request was for Paddington Station car park. That was a bit mental. But it was a meaningful place for both of them, so we created a beautiful proposal spot in this dingy car park!”
Sophie has also organised proposals inside a life size bird cage at 5 star boutique hotel Blakes in South Kensington. "We decorate the bird cage with things that are personal to the couple, like photos, or objects that are meaningful in their relationship. It's the little things that matter because then your partner thinks, 'oh my gosh, they did that for me!'"
In most cases, the couple has afternoon tea inside the cage, but one client had bigger plans. Sophie says, "he wanted to sing to her, and they also had a blessing, and gave each other rings. That was quite unusual, especially the singing part."
The Proposers even recreated a John Legend music video on a rooftop at the Tobacco Docks in Wapping. "We transformed it with thousands of hanging light bulbs and a grand piano," says Sophie, "We arranged a singer and a violinist, and a Michelin starred private chef, then they ate dinner on the roof terrace overlooking The Gherkin and The Shard.
"They'd flown in from Brazil and the girlfriend had no idea – her reaction was beautiful!”
But of course, not everyone hires a proposal planner (I mean, mate, some of us don't even have a cleaner) so here's what happened when some Londoners went lone wolf in a variety of locations, including the traffic lights outside Charing Cross station…
Stealth and champagne on the South Bank
My boyfriend Marcus suggested lunch at the pizza place on South Bank, but as we were walking by the Oxo Tower, he got down on one knee! We'd been together almost four years and we'd discussed marriage, but not in any depth, so it was a complete surprise. And it turned out the pizza place was a red herring — he'd booked lunch at the Oxo Tower, and when we got to the restaurant, there was champagne waiting for us! This was followed by more champagne at a pub with our two best friends. Then he took me to Nice for the weekend!
South Bank was the perfect place to propose because we had our first date there — it's our favourite place and it has amazing memories for us. The proposal even got a round of applause from the police, because Marcus had roped in a friend to secretly follow us and take photos. He looked so shady, taking pictures from behind a tree, in sunglasses and a baseball cap, the police pulled him aside and asked what he was doing. Of course, he explained, and when Marcus went down on one knee, they all cheered!
Bringing it home by the Third Lion in Trafalgar Square
When my ex and I were impoverished students, we'd use our travel cards to ride the DLR, pretending we were driving, then we'd wander down Oxford Street and walk through the parks — doing anything we could that didn't cost money. So I didn't think anything of it when he suggested taking a look at the fountains in Trafalgar Square.
It was a sunny, Saturday afternoon, and there were tourists clambering over the lions, taking photos of each other — but one of the lions was free. It was the third one along, and my ex led me over to it. I was just commenting on the detailing on the lion’s paws, when he got down on one knee and said, "Fiona, will you marry me?" We'd been together for a few years, but I felt like, "what the fuck?!" because we'd both been engaged before, to other people — and we'd both been burned. But what I actually said was: "Wow — yes!"
Then we forgot where we were and had a pretty full on PDA until some tourists awkwardly said, "excuse me..." because they wanted to get a picture of themselves on the lion! We came down to earth with a bump, and moved awkwardly away, but for the rest of our relationship, we only had to look at each other and say, "third lion!" and we’d have that happy feeling!
The one where it didn't all come up roses
I was 19 when I proposed to my girlfriend in the rose garden by St. Paul's Cathedral. We'd met at university, and we'd been together 18 months. It sounds so young, but we lived together, and I'd planned out the rest of our lives as a married couple.
I'd intended to propose on the Millennium Bridge, because it's pretty and I thought we could visit it sometimes, to remember the day I proposed. Unfortunately it was busier than I imagined it would be — looking back, I'm not sure why I thought it would be quiet on a Saturday afternoon in June!
I didn't have a back-up plan, but the rose garden sprang to mind. It's hidden away in the Cathedral grounds, so there were only a few people there — and to me, they were just a blur. I went down on one knee and I got out the ring. Only, she said she wasn't ready to get married. It turned out she didn't even believe in marriage — I didn’t know, because we'd never discussed it.
I was upset, and we split up three months later. She said she didn't love me enough. I'm glad now that I didn't propose on the Millennium Bridge — it's so visible, it would have conjured up bad memories whenever I saw it. I don't regret proposing though. You've got to do want you want to do in life. All you can do is what feels right at the time.
The afternoon tea, the trek, and the pigeon floating in the fountain
I was on holiday in London, with my boyfriend Scott, who's originally from England. At the time, we’d been together just over two years, and we'd discussed marriage — but I never imagined he'd propose on this trip!
I'd always had this idea that I'd have a huge proposal with drones, photographers, and everyone we love involved. I was also going through a rough patch career-wise, so I couldn't imagine getting engaged at that time, because I didn't know how I'd afford the wedding.
But Scott decided to surprise me over afternoon tea at Le Meridien hotel on Piccadilly. He was nervous and quiet, and spent most of the time on his phone. I thought he was following a soccer game and I assumed his team was losing — but I later found out that his co-workers, parents and friends all knew he was planning to propose, and everyone was messaging to ask if he'd done it yet!
The service at the hotel wasn't great, and Scott later told me that he didn't feel it was romantic enough to propose — that's when he suggested checking out Kensington Gardens. The weather did not suit my Californian blood, and I was wearing heels that gave me back ache, but we trekked around this park for over an hour while — unbeknown to me — Scott looked for the perfect place to propose.
Finally we reached the Italian Water Gardens. I was cold, achy, and sad at the sight of a dead pigeon floating in the fountain — but Scott had found his ideal spot for the proposal! He tricked me into setting up my video camera so we'd get it all on film — and then he proposed to me in front of the Tazza Fountain. At first I thought he was joking — I'd packed his luggage myself, so I didn't even think he had a ring — but he'd managed to hide it until this moment!
I'm glad Scott proposed the way he did. It was intimate, romantic, and a moment just for us — and I love that he did it in a city that means a lot to him.
The stiff upper lip (and similarly stiff knee joints…)
The first time I popped the question, I was outside Charing Cross station, waiting to cross the road. It was a Friday afternoon, and I'd been for a boozy lunch with my girlfriend of eight months. I said, "do you fancy getting married?" And she said, "yes, why not!" She was off to her family villa in Tuscany the next day, so we didn't even think about rings until she got back.
I'm not sure if she was shocked. We didn't really do emotional — stiff upper lip and all that. We just headed back to the office where we worked together, and sat in a drunken daze.
It was completely spontaneous and I think a combination of factors prompted it — she was about to go away, we were getting on, it was a sunny day, and we'd had a good lunch! And of course, there’s the expectation that you go to school, then university, then get a job, and get married. I was 24, so it came with the territory.
We were engaged for two years, and married for four. Although I hadn't planned to propose, I never had doubts. It was only on a weekend away, after our fourth anniversary, that I looked back and wondered what I'd been thinking...
The second time round, I was determined to avoid the errors of the past, so I was prepared with an engagement ring, and a dinner booking for Galvin at Windows, the 28th floor restaurant overlooking Park Lane. We'd never eaten there before, but I'd heard good things and I wanted to try somewhere new. I'd dated quite a bit after my first marriage, and had the view that as a chap it's great. You get to choose the restaurant, and even if the date's a disaster, at least you have a good meal!
I got down on one knee by the table, between the main course and the dessert. I wasn't nervous – I've been known to wear red trousers, so I don't have any shame. My only concern was that too many mogul runs skiing meant there was a risk I might not make it back up again...
We'd discussed serious commitment, and we were moving in together the following week, so I don’t think she was entirely surprised — but she seemed happy, and she said yes. I'm not sure if the staff noticed. I hadn't told them I'd be proposing — that would have taken way more organisational skills than I possess! The reaction of the other guests was disappointingly subdued. I guess that because I didn't make a big song and dance about it, they didn't either.
We were already drinking champagne — I've never needed an excuse. And afterwards we went home to do what thirty-something Londoners do after they've got engaged!
We never went back to the restaurant. We got married after a six month engagement, moved out of London, and divorced four years later. It turned out we were even more ill-suited than I was to the first one! At the time though, I was incorrigibly attached to matrimony. My proposals were like hailing a taxi — I'd flag whatever was passing.
How to plan the perfect proposal in London (AKA what we've learnt from people who've been there and done that):
- If you've asked your mate to follow you about taking photos, suggest a discreet dress code that doesn't trigger the Met into cordoning off the area and calling in their firearms officers.
- Plan ahead: visit the place where you want to pop the question, on the day of the week — and at the time of day — that you plan to propose. If it's incredibly busy then re-think the timing — or possibly the location. And check for any special events happening there on the date you have in mind.
- Talk about this stuff: does your other half believe in marriage? And if they do, can they see themselves married to you?
- Have a well thought out back-up plan: if Option A turns your stomachs instead of making your hearts flutter, make sure you've got an alternative in mind that's (a) nearby and (b) warrants similar attire. In other words, if your partner is dressed to sit on a sofa in a swanky hotel, don't ask her to trek cross-country in her stiletto heels!
- If you're planning to propose in a fancy restaurant, tell the staff and let them make a fuss of you — there's at least an outside chance of free bubbly!
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here.