John Walsh: 'Suddenly it happened. An actual British chap was proposing in public'

Tales of the City

Related Topics

Last weekend, I went to a jolly party at the moneyed end of Dulwich, where the houses are all double-fronted, the rooms double-glazed, the gentlemen double-breasted and the children double-barrelled. There was champagne, a tagine buffet, much talk of schools, adultery, MasterChef and Obama's Nobel peace prize. It couldn't have been more haut-bourgeois if Coldplay had been there. Our host made a charming speech, his comely wife said some gracious thank-yous, their daughter's boyfriend called for silence – and then it happened.

He told the assembled gathering how long he and his beloved had been courting (murmurs of "Ahhh..."), explained how he loved her above all women (murmurs of "Mmmm"), then said, "At the risk of embarrassing you, darling..." and sank to one knee. The collective gasp from the floor could have been heard in Watford. The guy was proposing! In public!! Mother of God. An actual British chap was going down on one knee in front of a throng of family 'n' friends in London, proffering a ring, in its Asprey's box, and popping the question.

There was pandemonium. People who'd hardly been introduced started hugging. Tears sprang to the eyes of the woman beside me. Some of us (the hardened cynics) fixed our gaze on the girlfriend's face, in case it might be set in a rictus of mortification; but all was well and she mouthed the word "Yes!" It was like a perfect cabaret turn. "So lovely," gasped the woman beside me. "So lovely and traditional."

Lovely, yes, I gruffly concede. But traditional? Only if your life had been lived through a filter of American (and later British) romantic comedies, in which declarations of love take place in public, either in front of cheering friends or, ideally, total strangers. Remember Cher receiving two proposals in crowded restaurants in Moonstruck, Paul Hogan confiding his feelings to Linda Kozlowski before a crush of subway travellers in Crocodile Dundee, Adam Sandler's emetic song-proposal to Drew Barrymore in front of 200 passengers at 30,000 feet in The Wedding Singer, Colin Firth's proposal in faltering Portuguese in Love Actually, or (since we're in Richard Curtis land) Hugh Grant's suggestion, at a press conference, that Julia Roberts might, er, like to, you know, in Notting Hill?

These, and a few score other such scenes, have inspired hundreds of copycat public proposals from romantic Americans, from Seattle to Syracuse; connoisseurs of extreme tackiness can check out the way they organise these things in Main Street, Disneyland, all tumbling dancers and jazz-hands. But has the phenomenon penetrated British behaviour? Have we evolved from a race of sheepish non-romantics, terrified of public speaking, to a genus of grand-standing extroverts who want the world to witness the most vital Q&A session of our lives?

So much is against it. 1) You're having to reassure a large gathering of people that you're really keen on your beloved, as if your devotion might otherwise be thought specious or improbable. 2) The awful abasement of that kneeling gesture – one thinks of Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest, catching Jack Worthing in the act of proposing to her daughter: "Rise, sir, from this semi-recumbent posture. It is most indecorous." And of course 3) The strong likelihood that your girlfriend objects to being put on the spot/ is experiencing PMT/ absolutely loathes the cheap ring you bought in F. Hinds the Family Jeweller/ has just had a row with your mother/ is contemplating having a crack at your brother/ has been secretly giving you until Christmas to become less of a cheapskate, or else. YouTube is full of dreadful moments, caught on camcorders, when a public question-popping was followed by the sight of the hapless non-fiancée fleeing the room.

How can men take the chance? But I'm wasting my breath. You just know more will do it in the future, shushing the crowd, fingering the ring, remembering their lines...

I'm a romantic. For love-struck men of action (such as the hero of Saturday night) who mimic the movies' let's-tell-the-whole-world strategies when asking for their girl's hand, I'm full of admiration. But I dread the time when no social gathering, from church service to pub supper, will be complete without a chap, like a busker entering a Tube, dropping to one knee and loudly demanding that the blushing hoyden by his side makes him the happiest chap alive.

To read more columns by John Walsh, go to

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Neo-Nazis march in London  

I'm taking my Jewish kids to a vile neo-Nazi rally in London this weekend because I want them to learn about free speech

Richard Ferrer
A police officer carries a casualty to safety  

Tunisia attack proves that we cannot stop terrorists carrying out operations against Britons in Muslim countries

Robert Verkaik
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map