GENERAL The business of romance: Men who hire proposal planners
Move over wedding planners - asking a woman to marry you is now big business, reports Anand Raj OK
He was waiting for exactly the right moment. Clasping the ring in one hand and his unsuspecting girlfriend, Amanda, in the other, Phil began swimming in the blue waters off the coast of Bahamas.
‘Let's dive,' he suggested, plunging under the waves. Then, as the luxury yacht they'd sailed to the exact spot in, bobbed overhead, he pulled Amanda closer. Fearing the ring would float away and unable to go down on bended knee, he finally popped the question to his girlfriend.
Completely overwhelmed, it was all she could do to mouth ‘yes', impressed that her husband-to-be had been able to plan such a lavish and romantic proposal without her suspecting a thing.
And it had been easy - because, behind the cool proposal, was a decidedly unromantic truth: the most magical moment in their relationship had been organised and executed by a company called The Heart Bandits, a US-based proposal and romantic event planning company. And Phil's not alone.
Make it hard for her to refuse
Move over wedding planners, if you want to make a lasting impression on your partner it should start with the first step - the proposal, says Tiffany Wright, a UK-based proposal planner. It may just be four words, but in today's stressed-out, consumer-driven society saying them isn't that easy.
"Will you marry me?" has become an industry in itself, with a new breed of proposal planners making their way to the forefront. Armed with unique ideas tailored to your relationship, a professional proposal planner will turn (or think up) your great idea for a marriage proposal - including fireworks or flash mobs - into reality.
As the wedding industry takes off - in 2011 it was worth $320 billion globally - proposal planners are the latest must-have accessory if you are going to make popping the question worthwhile.
Similar to wedding planners, they help arrange every detail of the proposal, from coming up with the idea, to calling vendors, sourcing rings, finding props, booking locations and, of course, ensuring he gets that all important ‘yes'.
"Log onto youtube and you will be swamped with the latest marriage-proposal-gone-viral-videos," says Tiffany. "Marriage proposals have become big - it's no longer about just getting down on one knee and asking for a woman's hand. Men have to up their game, and that's where we can help."
Tiffany and business partner Daisy Amodio set up proposal planning business The Proposers last year after witnessing a proposal that went wrong. "The man was trying to spell out ‘make me the happiest man alive' in candles but he had spelt happiest wrong," says Daisy.
"Thankfully we were there to point out the mistake and it led to us becoming full-time proposal planners. It was obvious the man in question was trying to emulate the famous Australian actress, singer, and model Holly Valance's proposal where her beau spelt out ‘marry me' in flames. This just goes to show that people are expecting proposals to be bigger and better than ever - if celebs are doing something extravagant, then everyone else wants to follow suit."
Proposal planners are already a hit in the United States, with The Heart Bandits and other companies such as The Yes Girls creating ‘marry me moments' all over the country.
Proposals involving time capsules buried on beaches, umbrellas with ‘marry me' written on them and a fake casting call where the ‘director' proposes to his girlfriend, are all down to the proposal planners hard work in America.
Setting the scene
But the UAE is already seeing its fair share of spectacular proposals, thanks to Daisy and Tiffany. The Proposers recently arranged a marriage proposal in Dubai that involved a picnic on Jumeriah beach followed by a meal at the Burj Al Arab Hotel.
"We filled the picnic area with photos of the couple and even had a sandcastle built with ‘marry me' written in shells on it," says Daisy. "The girlfriend has always wanted to eat at the fish restaurant in the Burj which overlooks the sea but had been unable to get a booking. Thankfully, with our contacts, we secured the best table in the house for the happy couple."
The bride and groom-to-be were delighted with their magical moment but theirs was small fry compared to the over-the-top proposals The Heart Bandits have dreamt up over the last two years.
They organised a proposal for Jake, an American army man, also with a marine theme. They teamed up with the Virginia Aquarium & Marine Science Center in southern California and on the appointed day as Jake and his girlfriend Cassidi were admiring the marine life in the aquarium they spotted a diver holding up a sign that said "There are many fish in the sea. You are the only one for me. Will you marry me, Cassidi? Love, Jake".
Pleasantly surprised, she turned to Jake to find him on one knee presenting an engagement ring. She, of course, said yes!
The lengths proposal planners go to in order to make the special moment memorable are truly amazing. In one instance, The Heart Bandits put a huge number of easels - all painted with the four special words on a background of a sun rise - on Long Island Beach, California. At the appointed time, the guy took his girlfriend for a walk on the beach and then pointed to the paintings before going down on his knee and proposing.
Then there was an instance when they got a huge banner with the words ‘Lindsey, will you marry me?' draped on a field. The man took his girlfriend in a helicopter up in the sky and then pointed out the banner to her.
No detail is overlooked
There are plenty of other ways to grab your loved one's heart. A Google search for proposal planners threw up 14,100,000 results.
One of them, Visions on Bended Knee, (www.visionsonbendedknee.com/) a US-based company, promises to craft the perfect proposal that will be more than memorable. It will be completely unforgettable, they say.
They have four packages: Pear, where they offer an On Bended Knee Brainstorming Session; the Cushion, which takes your idea a step further and also give you the tools to put together a perfect proposal; the Princess where it will coach you through the entire proposal, and the Round where it will assist you all through the way and see no detail is overlooked for your special day.
So why do men need proposal planners? "The proposal is a man's one chance to show how much she means to him." says Tiffany. "Handing a woman a ring in the middle of the kitchen just doesn't cut it any more - women want a proposal that they can tell their grandchildren about in years to come.
"One of the questions I always ask women who are sceptical about a proposal planner is: Would you cook a Michelin-starred worthy meal and then serve it on a plastic plate?
"Of course not, so why should men spend thousands on the ring and then not spend the time and effort getting the proposal just right - even if it does mean they need a helping hand?"
The Proposers has arranged numerous proposals across the UK. "Every day at work is different," Tiffany explains." We make sure that no two proposals are the same. One day we could be arranging a James Bond type proposal with speed boats on The Thames, and the next we are pinning photos and memories to trees in a park and laying out a simple picnic."
Putting on the Ritz
So what's it like using a proposal planner? Danny Amodi, 31, from the UK hired The Proposers to arrange something special for his girlfriend Annie and says it was the best thing he has ever done. "When I contacted The Proposers they sent me a questionnaire which asked all about Annie and our relationship - from our first date to the dreams we both share for the future. I filled it in and three days later they contacted me with two bespoke proposal ideas. Annie had always loved London and we have shared many special moments there so I went with the treasure hunt proposal in the capital.
"On the day of the proposal they stuck up photos and memories of Annie and I around London on iconic buildings and places such as Big Ben and The Ritz. I told Annie I had a surprise for her and handed her a map which directed her to all of the photos and clues.
"She spent the day in London following the clues and reading the memories and letters I had left for her, before being led to a restaurant overlooking The Thames where I was waiting on bended knee."
Whereas some people may think the romance is taken away by using a proposal planner, Annie couldn't disagree more. "When Danny told me about The Proposers I thought it was amazing that he had gone to so much effort in order to make it so memorable. Although someone had helped him plan it, I knew that he had played a big part as the memories and photos could have only come from him. The fact he used professionals, who made sure that every element of the day was perfect, didn't put me off at all. In fact, I would recommend using a proposal planner to any man who wants a help in getting a yes."
For just Dh600 The Proposers offer two proposal ideas completely tailored to your relationship, with the price going up if you would like them to arrange it all for you. "It's easy to think we only cater for men who have money, but that's not the case at all," says Daisy.
"Sure, we have arranged a proposal that cost over Dh55,000, where he whisked her to New York and we created a personalised boutique filled with her favourite brands of designer shoes and clothes. But we also pride ourselves on coming up with simple, romantic proposals that don't have to cost the earth."
So what's the best advice when it comes to proposing? "Make sure your proposal is tailored to your relationship," Daisy says. "Googling proposals and copying them isn't good enough - women want something unique that is relevant to you both."
Tiffany agrees. "No two proposals that we arrange will ever be the same. They will always reflect the couple. Proposals don't always have to be slushy or overly romantic - after all, if a couple's not like that in real life then why should their proposal be?"
One of the most unique proposals The Proposers arranged was for a London couple where the woman was obsessed with modern art. "We headed to East London and set up a pop-up shop, which looked completely derelict and empty," says Daisy. "Little did she know that when her boyfriend suggested they take a look inside, there was a simple ‘arty masterpiece' hanging from a piece of thread in the middle of the shop - her engagement ring."
And girls - if you want to send your man a hint about proposing then proposal planners can help with this too.
"We have a hint button on the website which enables us to send a subtle, ‘coincidental' email to your boyfriend about great ways to propose," says Daisy. "He'll never know it came from you and, fingers crossed, within a few months you'll have a ring on your finger."