Don't tell the bride… the rise of proposal planners
From secret picnics with private butlers, to hot air balloons and flashmobs, getting down on one knee has never been so exclusive. Our reporter talks to the proposal planners, whose services are becoming increasingly popular with Irish grooms-to-be
Once the congratulations have been extended and the ring ooh-ed and aah-ed over, the inevitable question following an engagement announcement is "How did he - or she - propose?" Everybody loves a good proposal story, the more romantic and thoughtful - or even outlandish - the better.
This naturally puts lot of pressure on the person who is popping the question - whatever about coming up with a unique way of doing it and one that speaks volumes about the depths of your eternal love, the actual planning of a proposal can take time, research, and a necessary degree of furtiveness.
Enter proposal planners, who can help you organise one of the most momentous occasions of your life. Common in the States and a growing trend in the UK, hiring a proposal planner is gaining momentum here, with several companies offering the service. The proposing partner might choose a specific package, for example, one where a musician approaches your partner with a bouquet of flowers while performing a special song, or he or she might choose something tailor-made. From horse and carriage proposals to flash mobs, there are no limitations as to how you do it, depending on how much you have to spend.
In the main, although not exclusively, it is men who are seeking assistance with their proposals. Event organiser Zoë Kelly of MBZ International says that there are typically two types of people who avail of her proposal planning skills: "One is the person who knows what he wants but has a very high-powered job and is very busy, and doesn't have the time to do it but wants something extravagant," she says. "Or you'd have the type who really is just unromantic and doesn't have a clue what he wants to do, but knows he wants something special and will come to us for ideas because he wouldn't know where to begin."
Kelly, who also plans weddings, launched her services in Ireland after eight years in the UK, and while she wasn't initially sure if proposal planning would take off here, she's pleased to see that it's proving popular.
"A lot of people thought it was just money, money, money, but when they found out you could tailor it, that was quite attractive," she says. "I do think money has a huge part to play because people are starting to spend more money on weddings as well, and a few perspective grooms love the idea of their proposal planner also being the wedding planner."
The proposal planning process at MBZ International starts with a consultation with the proposer where Kelly will try and learn as much about the client's other half as she can. "He might think putting it up on a billboard in Times Square on their trip to New York would be fantastic, but if we can actually delve down deeper and discover that she's actually very shy and mightn't like something like that, we try and work through it," says Kelly.
Some of the more low-key proposals she's helped put together include a pizza delivery with 'Will you marry me' written on top of the pizza, rings on a pet's collar, or doing up a house with candles and petals while the couple aren't there. More lavish ones involved hot air balloons, and a proposal through an enchanted forest with a trail of clues and memories, culminating in a secluded area with a picnic.
Prices start at a couple of hundred euro, but can run into the thousands, depending on how big you want to go. One thing that will increase the budget, Kelly says, is the addition of a photographer. "Even if you are doing something small scale, most people, if they're going to the hassle of using our services, would like it documented so we would usually have a photographer on hand to capture the moment," she says.
As to the suggestion that there's something unromantic about involving a stranger in such an intimate occasion, Arlene Malone of Propose2Me, which offers packages and custom-designed proposals, says the opposite is true.
"It's still really romantic, going to all this effort and finding a proposal planner, plus it has the wow factor so they [the person being proposed to] don't mind that somebody has been hired," she says.
"Each proposal is getting more unique and I feel that with social media, there's a lot of competition. Just sitting in front of the TV, eating a curry and asking the question isn't going to work anymore. It's all up on Facebook and everybody is asking 'how did he do it?'. They want to hear the story behind it."
And, according to Zoë, the more elaborate the proposal, the less secretive people are about the fact that they have hired a proposal planner. "It's usually quite open - they want to say to their friends, 'Look what I did for my fiancée'," she says.
It's not only Irish grooms and brides who are choosing to get professional help with their proposals. Some 40pc of Propose2Me's business comes from overseas. "People are travelling to Ireland for a short time, maybe three to four days, and haven't the time to do all this organising for themselves," says Arlene Malone. "What I do is find out where they're staying, look at a few nice areas around there, set up the marriage proposal, and they will have their itinerary emailed to them 48 hours before the proposal, with full details of where to go, what time, how to get there, and always working within the client's budget."
One of Propose2Me's most popular packages is the surprise picnic, where the couple is out for a walk and 'stumbles' upon a picnic with pictures of the couple, a favourite song playing in the background, with roses, and champagne on ice.
Of course the assistance of proposal planner still does not guarantee an affirmative response. "Even with our services, their nerves get the better of a lot of prospective proposers," says Zoë. "When you ask the person being proposed to if they knew if was going to happen, they say 'No, but they were being so weird all day'. Proposers get so nervous that they nearly change their personality in the weeks coming up to it, which nearly drives the other person mad."
However, wherever and whatever support you need to ask the question, according to Derry O'Donnell, whose company Will You Marry Me has been helping to plan proposals since 2008, the key to a joyous proposal is the element of surprise, and sincerity. "It doesn't have to be extravagant - you don't have to abseil off the top of Croke Park, once there's a genuineness and that you show you appreciate your girlfriend or boyfriend, what interests them, and what would mean a lot to them," he says.
Five of the best hotel proposal packages
1 The Shelbourne, Dublin
Champagne and strawberries on arrival herald the beginning of your one-night stay in a suite here. The Suite proposal package also includes dinner for two in the Saddle Room, breakfast the next morning, and a manicure for the bride-to-be in the hotel's salon so that she's ready to show off her new ring. Available from February 15 to December 2017. Costs are from €1,660 and booking can only be arranged by phone. Tel: 01 6634500
2 The Ice House, Mayo
Bespoke proposal packages here can be tailor-made to suit guests and include an overnight stay with rose petal turndown with a sweet treat plate, bubbles on ice, and an in-room bubble bath. The hotel can also arrange flowers and pre-placement of ring in the room before arrival. Afterwards, celebrate with a glass of something in the outdoor tub and enjoy a romantic dinner in the Pier restaurant. Prices start from €250 per room, with proposal package options starting at €49. See icehousehotel.ie
3 Ballynahinch Castle, Galway
A castle is a romantic enough start, but there's an ideal proposal location here in the form of the appropriately named Diamond Hill next door to Ballynahinch Castle. A picnic butler will be waiting at the summit of Diamond Hill with a basket full of treats and a bottle of chilled champagne, and the newly betrothed make their way back to Ballynahinch for a celebratory dinner in the Owenmore Restaurant. Two nights bed and breakfast including the picnic butler and dinner costs from €445 per person. Again, this can only be booked over the phone to ensure maximum secrecy. Tel: 095 31006
4 Hayfield Manor, Cork
The red carpet gets rolled out at this five-star hotel (literally, but weather permitting) and you'll also have private use of the garden glasshouse for two hours, fresh flowers, a candlelit setting, glass of champagne and strawberries and a member of staff to pour. The package is priced at €150 with optional add-one, such as homemade chocolates (€20) and dinner in Orchids restaurant here (€69 per person) also available. See hayfieldmanor.ie
5 Lough Erne Resort, Fermanagh
Head north to five-star luxury where a bottle of prosecco awaits upon arrival. As well as an overnight stay and dinner for two in the Catalina restaurant here, the proposal package also includes a rose petal turndown, breakfast and mini manicure for the new fiancée. It costs from €288 per person sharing. See lougherneresort.com