Adam Bird

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Friday, 18 April 2008

A Fairytale Engagement

Walt Disney had a vision, a place for people to spend with their children, a land of make believe, a place where dreams came true. On Wednesday 16th April 2008, I asked Stephanie to marry me at Disneyland Paris, not quite the conclusion of a new Disney production, but a highlight in the road of our own personal story. A highlight in which Stephanie had her own dreams come true.

Like all good stories, this one contains a beginning, a middle and an end. Although we are still only really at the beginning, there have been plenty of plot twists and sub plots which would make Walt Disney himself proud.

Back in December of 2007, I realised that with the sale of the house and debts paid off now would be as good a time as any to finally get engaged. I decided that I would need to get permission from Steph's Dad in order to proceed, but straight from the off Steph made my task more difficult than it should have been.

Very rarely have Colin and I been around The Boat for a beer on a Sunday afternoon and I was aware that the very occurrence may raise Stephanie's eyebrows a notch or two. It may well be that my paranoia of being 'discovered' fuelled my sense of unease somewhat. But never the less, when I rang Colin and asked him if he wanted to meet up and have a drink on Sunday I had hoped to sneak off out of the house in the afternoon pretending to meet the boys somewhere instead.

What I hadn't banked on was Stephanie's plans to visit her parents at the same scheduled time as my disappearing act. Quickly thinking up, what I thought was a rather lame excuse, I suggested to Steph that I might invite her Dad around the pub as "everyone else has beers on Sunday with their father in laws". Rather than a flurry of questions, she simply admitted that it was a good idea and off we went. One final moment of fear just as Colin and I were about to set off was Colin's question to me in front of Stephanie saying "so what was it you wanted to go around the pub for?" Another squeaky bottom moment!

Asking the father in law for permission to marry his daughter is always portrayed as a moment from hell, as is the actual proposal itself, but all throughout this experience the traditionally hellish moments have actually been my easiest bits, the nerves and anxiety for me have always come from the fear of Steph working out my plans and thus spoiling the surprise.

After an ever so slightly emotional Colin accepted my request to marry his baby daughter all was left for me to do was too select a ring. Having a friend who is a jewellery maker was a godsend as he was able to advise me on whats hot and whats not and provide me with a final product that was far better than anything else Bluewater had to offer.

At only my second step was I nearly rumbled again. My poor nerves were at breaking point, but I called Steph to inform her that I was going to be late from work. On a normal day this would be fine and I wouldn't hear from her until I walked through the front door. However, on the day that I met Benj and took a walk around Bluewater to do some window shopping, her radar beeped which prompted her call me and enquire as to my whereabouts.

She probably called for something completely different, but when I picked up I was totally aware that the background noise was not that of the office nor the train. Again quickly thinking, again rather lamely, I informed her that I was at Bluewater, window shopping to see if I had enough money to buy her what I wanted to for Christmas!

She accepted that with goodwill and said that she would meet me to pick me up! Grateful as I was at the time, I was also cursing her for making my job slightly more difficult! Benj and I then had to rush around, find what we wanted and force Benj upon his way leaving me to wait innocently outside Marks and Spencers waiting for Stephanie to arrive.

At the same time I knew that I needed to formulate the "proposal plan", a wickedly romantic gesture that would leave her trembling with emotion and more importantly impossible for her to say no!

There were, I admit some rather exuberant ideas. The one that saw us flying to New York, taxi to the Empire States Building, popping the question, having a snog, taxi back to the airport and flying home again seemed quite good at the time, but the price ruled it out as a no-no.

Just as things were coming together and a proposal plan formulated, I decided that I would have a house party, celebrate the start of life in the new house and give a toast to good luck, concluding in a surprise proposal in front of our nearest and dearest. But, as appears as a common them throughout this story, lady luck intervened!

Firstly it looked like Benj had a new job lined up meaning he was unable to make the ring and secondly Carly and Reaso announced whilst in South Africa, Reaso had popped his own question and they were to be wed!

Coincidental Carly and Reaso's engagement was, and we wish them all the luck in the world! On a purely personal and rather selfish basis the timing wasn't great as I was worried Stephanie would think that I was being a copy cat and that Reaso had forced my hand! Adding further fuel to my fire was Stephanie suggesting that if I was to ask her right now she would say no, as it was "Carly and Reaso's time!"

Game over I thought, the house purchase had been brought forward, lady luck was swinging her wand over me and telling me with all the signs she could muster that I shouldn't be wasting my money on gold and diamonds but to focus instead on bricks and mortar!

As quickly and coincidentally had my plans bombed they were surprisingly reignited in the same way. I had by this point put the whole idea too bed for another day, resigned to the fact that Stephanie and I would forever be living in sin, forever would I be hiding behind the excuse that Gillingham would need to win the FA Cup for us to have any chance of getting married.

Firstly, a call from Benj, he hadn't quite got the job he was after, there was a delay of some sort - he was now able to make my ring after all. His cloud provided me with a silver lining as project "Mrs Bird" was back on! A few days later, whilst reading the Sun newspaper on the way to work I came across an advert which read (along the lines of) "Looking to propose to your girlfriend? Ant and Dec are looking for brave souls to propose live in a forthcoming episode of Saturday Night Takeaway".

So there I was, on Valentines night, the most romantic night of the year, in the company of two very attractive young ladies explaining to them in great detail why I wanted to marry Stephanie, what she was like, how I would expect her to react, ideas I had for proposing etc, in a bid to appear live on television in front of the nation the following Saturday.

I had to provide the ITV production company with details of some friends who they could contact to find out yet more information on Stephanie and I, further research as to our television potential. As I was to later discover, they were actually after a little more than information!

They wanted our nearest and dearest to appear alongside us both to create a "Mr and Mrs" style game featurette which would involve a little hypnotism and a LOT of secrecy!

When I found out that I wasn't to be chosen, I took it quite badly! I thought that I was a dead cert when I left the interview as it had gone so well! But when they phoned and said that it wasn't to be I took it quite personally, and looked at it as a sense of personal failure, that I had let Stephanie down. It wasn't until later in one of the various stages of information gathering that it was because of lack of participants from my side of the family that it wasn't possible.

Feeling slightly better on discovering that I did everything possible, I filed that disappointment away and looked ahead. We had our ten year anniversary coming up and a perfect window of opportunity!

Spending any spare time I could trying to hatch the perfect proposal plan, I came across the Orient Express website. "Wow, that would be perfect" I thought, "a nice trip somewhere on the worlds most romantic train... ooh... hang on... doesn't Kelly Bailey work for them?" Indeed she did and so a set of email correspondence resulted in a preliminary booking for two to Bath on April 16th 2008. Champagne breakfast on a steam train, a tour around Victorian Bath and all it's beauty before heading back to London Victoria whilst dining on a sumptuous 5 course banquet!

Due to the nature of the Orient Express friends and family discount scheme the Orient Express prefer to sell the maximum full price tickets prior to any discounts, which is perfectly understandable, all that was needed from me was to keep my fingers, toes and anything else crossed until the Friday 11th April when our booking could be confirmed.

As the event was scheduled for after our anniversary I needed to present Stephanie with a gift on March 24th, our ten year anniversary, so I though the best idea would be a clue as to what she could expect on the 16th. Thinking of Bath, I immediately thought of ducks, so brought three rubber ducks from Mothercare, some luggage labels from WH Smith and wrapped them in a giftbox for her to open on our anniversary.

What fun I had! Her face when she opened the box, goodness knows what was going through her head, but her face was a picture! She really didn't have a clue what the ducks represented, but the clues on the luggage labels gave her the date and begged her not to keep asking me questions as I wouldn't want to lie to her!

As we heading into April, I was constantly bombarding Kelly with emails as to the current booking figures which had always remained quite healthy. However, in fitting with this story, a one off group booking of 76 people left the available seats to a minimum! We would still be able to have a seat, but me being battle scarred and battered from bumping into all the obstacles coming my way I decided to bite the bullet and come up with a plan b (or was it plan h, i or j?).

I went through my whole thought process all over again, looking at the things I had long discarded, trying to work out what I could do at all the budget airline destinations, but all the while the lure of Disneyland Paris kept chewing at my mind.

I had thought of it previously, but thought that the Eurostar was too expensive and that flights were not in keeping with a one day schedule. I looked to see how long it took to drive seeing as I had already been there once by coach, but had been asleep most of the way. From internet searches it was roughly three to four hours by car, and the Euro Shuttle schedule was more than adequate for a day trip there and back. I was slightly nervous about driving, but the thought of going to Disneyland Paris with Oliver was more than enough incentive!

I hadn't really thought about the romantic possibilities or the amount of possible analogies that could be drawn by a proposal at Disneyland! I had in my mind that Stephanie, and Oliver, both of which would love it to bits and it would be a great day out for the family.

It wasn't until I started thinking about where to pop the question, and more importantly how I converted Stephs three duck clues into a clue for Disneyland that romantic notions were concieved! Armed with a pot of Fairy Liquid and a book called Tales by Edgar Allen Poe (Fairytales) I sadly informed Steph on my return home that her ducks had been hit by bird flu, they were to be culled and new clues were to be placed!

If Steph had trouble with the first clue she certainly had a problem with the second! It wasn't until the delivery of the second set of clues that we had a chat about what would be involved in the day. With Steph's Slimming World career kicking off the night before we were due to go to Disneyland she was required to perform a set of tasks on the following day. Being out of the country meant that she wouldn't be able to do them and so I needed her to make contingency plans. Rather than a two week battle of cat and mouse as I tried to keep a secret whilst asking her to make alternative arrangements I decided it would be easier to let her know where we were going so that she knew what she was up against.

After her initial excitement subsided the realisation that she still didn't understand what the clue stood for was evident. As I explained she laughed at me, "I thought you were going to take me to an expensive restaurant and not pay the bill! Then you would have to do the washing up whilst I stayed in the restaurant reading the book!" Amazing how some peoples brains work!

I have spent the last two weeks with a bubbling sense of excitement inside me, particularly for Oliver as we haven't yet taken him to a theme park of any real description. He has been on a few different things on his daily adventures with my Mum, but nothing whilst with us, so I was keen to make amends for our shortcomings.

Ultimately the day was about Stephanie and making it as memorable for her as possible. Luckily the bad luck that had plagued me seemingly the whole way through left as at customs in Folkestone as we enjoyed a carefree day.

I was concerned about the journey as I was told two days before we left by Dad and Gareth that my three - three and a half hour journey was a myth of biblical proportions and that I was looking at more like five and seven hours instead! Panic hit like a steam train and I spent the two days worrying incessantly that I had ruined the day before it began by being too optimistic. I decided that I had no choice and prepared for the scenario of driving all the way there, going to the castle, popping the questions, having a snog and driving all the way back again!

As it was, we made good timing, we arrived at the park gates at 10.30 and by eleven we was walking up Main Street USA with the dazzling Cinderella castle up ahead of us.

I had formulated a plan in my mind at how I wanted the day to unfold, but still playing the anniversary present card I suggested to Stephanie that she was in sole control, the day was for her, so she needed to lead us the way.

Not quite convincing in her final decision as to where we were headed we ambled towards Discoveryland and she decided that we would "go this way", towards Space Mountain and our first ride of the day "Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast".

With it seemingly being French national holiday or something, the whole park was totally packed! I had never been to a Theme Park anywhere in the world where there was so many people! Most of the smaller rides had queue times of an hour, so it soon became apparent that our ride count for the day wasn't going to be very high!

We still managed to ride Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast, Honey I Shrunk the Audience, and taking advantage of the Fastpass combined with the Babyswap scheme we managed a quick ride on Space Mountain, which being the best ride in the park was an added bonus!

All throughout the buildup to our trip Steph and I talked about our mutual excitement of seeing Oliver enthused by the rides and parades. We couldn't have been further from the truth!!! All in all, I don't think he took much notice! Whilst on 'Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast' we had to keep looking at him in wonder as he was looking around with a look of boredom on his face!

If Oliver's reaction to the days events wasn't in keeping with my expectations, Stephanie's went far and beyond anything that I could ever have dreamt of.

As lunchtime had passed and we were still walking around, Oliver began to get hungry and restless. We decided, with Stephanie's prompting to take a walk and get some lunch. I was at this point boiling hot having spent the whole day with my jacket done up tight in fear of losing the ring which was cocooned within. Time for action stations, and so I suggested that we head towards the Cinderella castle, pass through into Fantasyland and find somewhere to stop.

As we approached the castle I began to look around for the perfect spot, as we were walking up Stephanie said to me that she didn't realise we were going to our wedding scene already!

If that comment wasn't going to throw me the next one certainly did! I spotted a little arched balcony which jutted out over the moat just under the castle itself. I suggested that we stopped over and sat there to take a look up at the castle. Steph said "Great, I can change Oliver's bum!" Not quite the romantic gesture I had in mind, so I moved her swiftly on to the next balcony, a few steps closer to the castle entrance. Just as I was about to park the buggy and get Oliver out someone beat me to it and started rearranging his baggage, again forcing my hand!

I was going to have to stop right at the castle entrance, which was fine because it worked in with my plan! Just as we were about to step over the threshold into the castle I told Stephanie that we needed to stop and that she wasn't allowed any further as she needed to be a princess to enter. "Shut up" she said, "No seriously, you need to be a princess!" I replied.

She attempted to take another step forward so I grabbed her by the arm. "Steph, you need to be a princess, but don't worry, I may have something that will make you a princess. First of all you need to answer a question". The look on Stephs face was that of bewilderment! What on earth are you on about was written all over her!

I went for the ring which was inside my pocket and brought out the box "You haven't! Oh my God", as I got down on my knee and asked her to marry me she had already changed several shades of red and was clearly rather embarrassed. "You don't know my ring size" she claimed as I fiddled around opening the box, removing the ring and trying to place it upon her finger as she attempted to wrestle me back to my feet! "Of course I will marry you, I cannot believe it, you haven't! Oh my God" she screamed, quite clearly in some state of shock!

We had moved over to one side of the walkway into the castle, although I cannot quite remember if it was through force or nature. We had an obligatory kiss and cuddle and a couple of tears were shed. Her surprise, for me, made the occasion, made the previous five months all the sweeter as it was a truly romantic moment. Elements of comedy were involved, but that's me and Steph, we seem to have these moments occasionally which are undefinable in terms of defining their meaning.

It had happened so quickly, we didn't really spend much time embracing the moment, I proposed, Steph accepted and we were back on our way walking through the castle, Steph in a sense of shock and me in a sense of relief!

We sat down and reflected more on the other side of the castle walls, a pretty little raised walled flowerbed where we sat down to regain our composure. I briefly told Steph that this was it, the moment I had spent so long in trying to put together. She laughed and told me of her suprise, and I laughed back and told her how worse it could have been, on live TV in front of the nation, in front of Ant and Dec. This fuelled Stephs suprise even more as the realisation of the lengths that I had gone to, especially as not once did she register any suggestion of what I was planning.

Having written so much about how we got to the Cinderella castle and finally telling the story of how I proposed to Stephanie, I feel that the rest of the days details are too normal for the conclusion of this post. What I will say though, it was a day that was spent together in harmony, I felt that something had changed between us, some light really that began to shine over us suggesting a clearer future. There had been the question hanging over us for sometime as to when we were going to get engaged. Now that we were it seemed to help lift a weight from our shoulders.

Ultimately, all secret acts of suprise have worrying elements of revelation amongst them, the duration and my occasional over the top plans of action causing more cause for concern than many, but they will soon be forgotten. What will be remembered at the end is what is important.

The important part was and always will be the events of Stephanie's day. It was the day in which she got engaged to the man she loves, a day which for every girl should be special. It was also her first Disney experience, one that will be always be extra memorable. It doesn't matter if you are three, thirteen or thirty to experience the magic, just as Walt Disney always imagined it. If you have a dream, one day they will come true.

Finally, I feel that I need to say a huge thank you to everyone who has been part of this whole journey with me! Mum and Dad for putting up with my frustrations, Stephs parents for being patient and listening with bewilderment about my plan after plan! To Kelly Bailey for her hard work and efforts in attempting to get us on the Orient Express. Benj for his vision in turning a ring in which I liked into one that Stephanie loves. Also thank you to everyone who helped out the ITV people with their research, something in which I don't think I will ever understand the full story of!

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