Katy Guest: Darling, will you marry me (or maybe not)?

Teaching Robbie Williams a proposal trick or two

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If a man's proposal can be assumed to presage the style of the wedding and augur the type of marriage that the happy couple will go on to have, then Ayda Williams, née Field, must know what to expect from her new husband, Robbie.

The formerly private former Take That member, who has done everything short of jumping up and down on Oprah's sofa to broadcast to the world that he finally got a girlfriend to stick, has been telling fans how he proposed to his bride: by writing "will", "you", "marry" and "me" on the backs of the four queens from a pack of cards.

"When we first started going out," he explained, "this weird thing would happen. "When I had a deck of cards, I would split the pack and always come up with a queen of hearts. Because I'm into mysticism, it filled my heart and made me stop worrying about whether I was with the right person."

It's a good job Ayda, an actress, was there, then, or he might easily have ended up marrying Derren Brown.

Just as Robbie's proposal was inspired by his mysticism, so the wedding, too, had spiritual overtones. A white marquee was placed on the spot where Robbie claims a UFO once bathed him in golden light while he was lying on his sun lounger at night. The bride and groom were joined by their eight dogs, who filled in for bridesmaids.

"They really are the perfect match," reported a friend of Ayda's, "because Robbie's finally found a girl who not only loves him, but shares his interest in UFOs and aliens."

Robbie and Ayda have been together for three years, and he had evidently been planning his pro-posal for a while. As early as last year, he told ITV's Loose Women that a marriage proposal "could be on the cards" (with the presenter, Carol McGiffin, here apparently playing the role more traditionally reserved for the future bride's dad). But declaring your hand this soon is a risky manoeuvre that can easily go wrong.

The moment a man proposes is the point at which he must be most confident that he knows his intended and their relationship inside out. The tried and tested one-knee classic is the safest method before a certain age, at which one or both knees begin to seize up.

The speech should be kept to a minimum for fear that she will miss her cue. The occasion should be lavish, or nostalgically shabby in a way reminiscent of early days. He should provide a ring – unless he suspects his girlfriend to have a mind of her own, in which case she may prefer to choose it herself.

An unusual or extravagant proposal could have the catastrophic effect of driving the proposee away. To propose live on TV, for instance, involves such a kind of bullying pressure that a certain sort of person could only refuse. Roses, balloons, teddies and pinkness are not necessarily what one looks for in a lifetime partner. Candles might be the wrong choice if your betrothed is safety conscious, or a firefighter. And never spend a month's salary on a ring for a girl who is prone to losing things.

Whatever the proposal faux pas, however, it would be hard to do worse than Robbie's first attempt, after which it is amazing that he continued to have a fiancée at all. It happened last November, live on Australian radio, in front of complete strangers and apparently out of the blue. But that's not what was bad about it.

The problem was that Robbie later announced through his manager that the whole thing was only a joke. "He did say it, but he did it in a jocular manner. They are not engaged." The first rule of proposing is never, ever to take it back. You will be needing your knee caps if you ever have to propose again.

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