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Taking a leap: Women who popped the big question to their men

As the Wedding Journal show starts in Belfast tomorrow, Kerry McKittrick talks to four women who used Leap Year to pop the question to their beloveds.

Monica got down on one knee and asked Chandler Bing in Friends and in Sex And The City, it was Miranda who popped the question to Steve. And as February 29 draws close — it’s next Wednesday — some women may already be drawing up plans to take that once every four year opportunity and propose.

According to legend, Leap Day originated when St Brigid complained to St Patrick that women had to wait too long for their men to propose to them. St Patrick decreed that pining women could pop the question — but only on this one day every four years.

Depending on which folk tale you choose to believe, any bachelor who refused such a proposal would then have to provide the spurned lady with a silken gown or 12 pairs of gloves to allow her to keep her ringless hand hidden.

The Scots seemed to agree with this idea and in 1288 passed a law that any man who refused a proposal on a leap day must pay a fine – anything from a kiss to a silk dress would do.

Of course, in modern times, there is nothing to stop a girl from popping the question to her beloved on whatever day she likes.

More and more, women are now taking the bull by the horns as it were and statistics show that for 9% of married couples, women did the asking. Sadly, there’s no longer any law compelling the beau to provide recompense if he turns her down. The worm might not quite have turned yet, but that certainly isn't preventing sisters from doing it for themselves.

We speak to four local women, who popped the question.

‘All of a sudden Ali was live on air and I didn’t have a choice’

Claire McCollum (37) is a freelance broadcaster and journalist. She lives in Belfast with her husband Alastair Clarke and children Samuel (5) and Rosa (3). She says:

I met Alastair in The Fly nightclub in Belfast in 1999. We had mutual friends and they had been trying to set me up with him for about seven years — for one reason or another we just never met. I liked the look of him though so I was very happy when he asked me out on a date. We clicked immediately so our friends had been right in setting us up. From early on I knew what direction we were headed in.

I was working on the Downtown Radio breakfast show with Maurice Jay. I’d been going out with Ali for eight months and it was a leap year — everyone at work kept winding me up about it. I decided to take the opportunity to propose to Ali after all and stupidly told Maurice my plan.

I had just finished reading the news when Maurice caught me on the hop — he told me he had a surprise for me and then all of a sudden Ali was live on air. I didn't have much of a choice to do anything but ask Ali if he fancied making things a bit more permanent. He knew rightly what was going on so played it dumb and asked what I meant. I then just said will you marry me, and thankfully he said ‘yes’. It was a great laugh and even made it on to the UTV news that evening.

I did get a bit of a proposal from him though. The day before our wedding we had a family lunch at The Edge — he finally got down on one knee then.”

‘We hadn’t discussed marriage so I took the bull by the horns’

Lynda Bryans (49) is a TV presenter and actress. She lives in Belfast with husband Mike Nesbitt and sons PJ (16) and Christopher (14). She says:

“Mike and I first met when we worked in the BBC. We didn't pay much attention to each other — he worked in sport and I was a copy typist in the newsroom. We were also both in relationships with other people. As time went on though both of those relationships ended and we started working together on Good Morning Ulster. We became kindred spirits ... and the rest is history.

We had been ambling along for a couple of years and were both perfectly happy. Because we had been in serious relationships before we were wary of rushing into anything. I think we both knew we had found our soul mate — we talked a lot about the future but we hadn't discussed marriage yet.

It was a leap year so I decided to take the bull by the horns and ask him. He had never been to New York before so I booked a long weekend there that coincided with February 29. I don't know if Mike had an inkling but someone who worked with us told him my plans just before we left.

On leap day we’d booked a table for dinner in the Russian Tea Room. What I didn't know was that Mike had tipped a waiter to bring champagne at his signal — he knew what was coming. I made my little speech about the two of us travelling the same road together and asked him if he would marry me — thankfully he said yes! The champagne arrived and we had a lovely evening.

Because I organised the engagement, Mike organised the wedding. We got married in Hawaii in July of the same year.”

‘I just knew the moment we met I wanted to be with him’

Sera McDaid (27) is a housewife and blogger. She lives in Ballymoney with her husband Lee and their son Riley (18 months). She says:

In January 2006 I moved back to Newry from London after a relationship broke up. I had to move back with my parents because I didn't have a job and didn't have any friends left over here. At that point the last thing I was looking for was romance.

It was actually my mum and dad who suggested I start to make friends online so I signed up to a MySpace page. I saw Lee's profile and saw that he was a big music fan — I used to teach folk music and the violin in London. We started to chat — just online with no intentions of meeting or anything like that but it continued for a few weeks.

Eventually we swapped phone numbers and started talking on the phone. Lee was very shy and I wasn't even thinking of taking things further at that point so we just carried on.

On April 19, 2006, I took a notion to make a leap and make the journey to Ballymoney and the next day I finally met Lee on a corner in the middle of the town. It was all very innocent — I went back to his flat and we spent the rest of the day watching movies, chatting and drinking tea.

I just knew the moment I met him that I wanted to be with him.

That was a Saturday and I had to go home at the end of the day. On Monday I went up to Ballymoney again and we kept seeing each other as much as we could.

I used to wear a simple silver band as a thumb ring. Three weeks after we met I took a notion and proposed to Lee with that ring — I even got down on one knee.

It was a spur of the moment thing but we were both so happy about it.

Lee went to tell his mum — who I hadn't even met at that point — and he was so happy he was in tears.

Five weeks later I had chucked in my job in Newry and moved up to Ballymoney. We got married a year after we met.

Our friends were always so happy for us so no-one ever minded that I proposed to Lee.

My parents, however, were a little concerned that things were moving so fast. They did understand though as they became engaged only three months after they met and are still together 31 years later.”

‘I got down on bended knee with a rose in my mouth’

Katrina Doran (37) is the editor of and lives in Belfast with her husband Peter Forster. She says:

Peter and I met when we were both at Queen's — he was a friend of my friend's boyfriend. It didn't take very long after we got together for me to think that this was the person I was going to be with.

It was a leap year and me and my girlfriends were all joking about asking our boyfriends to marry us. I think I was the only one who actually went through with it though. We were in my bedroom and I just asked him — I didn't do anything special.

He said he would only say yes if I got down on bended knee with a rose in my mouth. Conveniently I still had the one he gave me for Valentine's Day, so I asked and he said yes.

It was all a bit of fun. Our friends gave us lots of chat about getting married and that sort of thing but we didn't do anything. Time went on and we bought a house together and that sort of thing but we never really talked about actually getting married.

Then on our seventh anniversary Peter turned to me and said he thought we should get married in New York in a couple of years time. He didn't ask, he just said that's when he thought we should get married. When I asked him if he was proposing he said no, I had already done it so why would he?

I wouldn't say that we really had an engagement. I didn't have an engagement ring because I like to wear very big cocktail rings and unless Peter was going to produce the Hope Diamond I didn't think a conventional engagement ring would go with the rest of my jewellery. In the end I opted for a wedding band set with diamonds instead when we did get married two years later in New York.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend proposing — Peter and I have never been a conventional couple so it's not really surprising that we didn't do the conventional proposal.”

The Wedding Journal Show, Northern Ireland biggest commercial wedding fair and incorporating the Belfast Telegraph Style Stage, runs at the Kings Hall, Belfast, from tomorrow until Sunday. For details and tickets go to:

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