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‘We wanted to ring changes with our special proposals’

'Tis the season to pop the question, with Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the most popular times of the year to get down on bended knee. Kerry McKittrick talks to three couples who, like Prince Harry, got engaged in a slightly less usual fashion

Love is in the air, with preparations already under way for a royal wedding next May. And Christmas is one of the most popular times of the year to get down on one knee, with 16% of marriage proposals taking place in December.

But asking your lady for her hand in marriage is an important moment which can require some thought.

After Harry surprised Meghan while they were having a roast chicken dinner at home, we meet some local couples who had an unforgettable engagement.

'Our choir director welcomed Laurence on stage'

Joyce McCullough (53), from Belfast, is a customer service representative and is engaged to Laurence Edgar. She has one grown-up daughter, Lindsey. She says:

Laurence and I met in church and over a period of time got to know each other. We've been together for about five years now.

During that time, of course we have talked about the possibility of one day getting married.

We both have our own families so we're quite cautious about commitments, but we did know that we were going to be together. I had no idea he was planning to propose, though.

I'm a member of the Belfast Community Gospel Choir, and we had our big Christmas bash on Sunday, December 10, at the Waterfront Hall.

Tickets for the event sell very quickly - I actually said to Laurence that if he wanted one, he needed to get it fast.

He eventually ended up with a single seat and had just decided to come on his own. That was fine.

So, the concert was in full swing and we were halfway through the first part when our director, Marie Lacey, announced that there was a very special surprise for someone, and then she welcomed Laurence on to the stage.

You could have knocked me down with a feather. Then it started to click and Laurence made a speech about our first date and then got down on one knee.

He said he had fallen in love with me and wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

He had the ring and everything - platinum with three stones in a row and smaller diamonds down the sides.

Since we've just got engaged we haven't made any plans yet - we're just enjoying the moment.

Other people do things very quickly - Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got engaged much faster than us - but both of us are a bit longer in the tooth and have our families to think about. We have a good, full, happy life and we're able to enjoy it together."

Laurence Edgar (54) has two grown-up children, Claire and Simon. He says:

The Belfast Community Gospel Choir is like a big family for Joyce, so I always knew that when I proposed it would be at one of their concerts. I contacted Marie to talk about it and she said the next concert was going to be at the Waterfront - I was delighted and slightly awe-struck because that's a lot of people.

I had a few people round at Marie's house to discuss the strategy - not many people in the choir knew what was happening.

I didn't hear the first half of the concert at all because I was so nervous. At a particular song I knew it was my cue to leave my seat and go to the stage.

People in the auditorium were shouting out to me but I was trying to concentrate on Joyce. They kept telling me to get on my knee, but I knew the part of my speech where I wanted to kneel down.

Afterwards I couldn't believe the compliments, handshakes and hugs that people gave me."

'I had kept everything to do with us like receipts and cinema tickets ...'

Mark Maginty (29), an electronic engineering lecturer, lives with his wife, Amanda, in Toome. He says:

Amanda and I met at a place called The Washbasin - a Christian outreach centre - when we were about 16. I proposed in June 2010. It took quite a bit of planning. I collected everything to do with Amanda - everything she ever gave me, all of our dinner receipts, all of our cinema tickets and more.

I collected everything together in a book, along with photos that marked the major occasions like birthdays and Valentine's Day. Amanda always loved flowers but, of course, they die quickly, so I got a real rose dipped in gold and then organised balloons - hundreds of them. They took hours to blow up with my friends.

We're part of the same church team and I got the leader to email Amanda for a meeting at the Washbasin - the place where we first met. Amanda actually thought it was a party for someone else and we shouldn't go in. She was totally taken aback when I pulled out the ring and went down on one knee.

It took a lot of planning. For a few months a mate and I would get together once or twice a week to plan the proposal. I got the ring a year earlier - Amanda had come with my family on a trip to Florida and had pointed out a diamond ring, so my dad and I got up early the next day to go and buy it.

Every time we hear of friends getting engaged, my story gets told again. We got married in 2011 at the Templeton Hotel."

University lecturer Amanda (28) says:

We had discussed getting married a year before the proposal and had looked at rings that I thought were pretty, but I put it to the back of my mind. I was still at university at the time. It was quite a surprise when Mark asked me because I wasn't expecting it at all.

I really thought that we were gatecrashing someone else's function when we first arrived at the hall.

It was really thoughtful, and it's lovely to have those memories now, eight years on. I know the lady who runs the centre still talks about how romantic Mark's proposal was.

I was 20 when we got engaged and we were together for four years before that. At that point we had had a lot of experiences together - it's lovely to know that we grew up together too."

'Hotel staff used 200 photos of us to spell out my proposal'

Singer-songwriter Conor McGinty (23) lives in Londonderry with his fiancee, Aisling Deane, and their  five-week-old son, Daire. He says:

I was in London in 2015 for the producer auditions of X Factor. I came home that night and went to a regular gig I do in a pub in Derry. I was tired that night and initially wasn't going to do it, but I went in the end.

Aisling was sitting in front of me and I started chatting to her. Two nights later I was playing at another bar and she was there too. Neither of us were looking for anything as we had both come out of relationships, but it was my dad who really got us together. He used my phone to text her and invite her to gigs.

We met about two years ago now but it only took a couple of months before I realised she was the one for me.

It was January this year when we got engaged. I had gotten through X Factor to the six-chair challenge, but I was eliminated, so I was back in Derry afterwards gigging around. The Lough Erne Hotel in Co Fermanagh seemed to be a good spot, so I got in touch with the hotel and told them what I wanted them to do.

I got over 200 photographs of us together printed out and enlisted the help of her friend to help me pick an engagement ring. When we got to Lough Erne I passed the photos over to the staff and we went for dinner.

While we were eating, the staff went up to our suite and left a trail of rose petals through to the bedroom, where they used the photos to spell out 'Will you marry me?'.

I was so nervous the whole way through dinner - I was worried that Aisling would want to go up to the room to get something. The starters came out really quickly and then the main course, but the dessert took ages because the staff were still sorting out the room and trying to delay us. The whole time my phone was going mad with texts from friends and family. I had to take Aisling off my Facebook page because I was scared someone would give the game away.

But it all worked out great. We walked into the room and saw the photos. Then she turned around to find me on one knee with the ring. Thankfully she said yes.

We're not planning to get married until Daire is about four so he can take part in the wedding, but we have started planning it.

People tend to go out for a long time before they get engaged these days, but when you know, you know. I knew that I wanted to marry Aisling really early on, so it didn't make much sense for me to wait to propose."

Stay-at-home mum Aisling (25) says:

I had the shock of my life when Conor proposed - I didn't have a clue. The whole thing was brilliant, though, and it looked fantastic. It took me a couple of minutes to be able to say yes because I was crying so hard.

It was great that he got my friend to help choose the ring, and I was really pleased with the result.

I don't think it matters how long people are together before they get engaged - when you want to be together that's all that counts."

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