When Lucy Ella, 25, decided that her boyfriend Sam Brodbeck, 26, was The One, she didn't just sit around and wait for him to pop the question - she did it herself.
"A conversation I once had with Sam at university has always stuck in my mind. We were just friends at the time, chatting on the phone from opposite ends of our campus, when the topic of marriage came up. We absolutely 100% agreed on one thing: marriage was an outdated, patriarchal tradition - and certainly not something either of us would ever do.
Later on, when our friendship had developed into a relationship, Sam and I were on holiday in Zanzibar when we spotted a beautiful church overlooking the beach. "Imagine how shocked everyone back home would be if we just rocked up and got married!" I joked. Sam laughed and shook his head. After all, we knew it would never happen. So I'm not sure how I found myself proposing to him as the sun set over Brighton beach seven years later. With our earlier, anti-marriage chats firmly etched into my mind, it was a big risk.
When Sam and I first met as English students at the University of Sussex, the thing that attracted me to him was how impulsive he was. He once booked us onto a spur-of-the-moment trip to Africa - and we weren't even a couple at the time! He's even been known to pick me up suddenly as we're walking along the beach and wade into the sea, fully clothed. I've always loved that about him. He's always ready for the next adventure.
As I fell deeper in love with Sam, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him. The idea of making a grand gesture to celebrate our commitment to one another was suddenly appealing in a way it had never been before. But I still couldn't shake our mutual aversion to tradition and wondered if there might be a more unique way of showing Sam - and our friends and family - what he meant to me.
It was 2010 and I'd been working in an art gallery in Brighton. During my lunch break, I would often look in the window of the jewellers opposite, and one day a two-tone platinum men's ring caught my eye. I decided to save up to buy it as a present for Sam. Then it struck me: I could make it an engagement ring - I'd propose to him. The idea certainly went against tradition, and that appealed to my own spontaneous side. I just had no idea how Sam would react.
I've never been the kind of person to sit around and wait for
things to happen - if I decide I want something, I'll just go out
and get it. Being a feminist, it never occurred to
me that I couldn't make the proposal; it was almost instinctive. For Sam, though, it turned out to be the biggest shock of his life.
On the day that I'd chosen to ask him, I suggested we took a walk along Brighton beach. Even though it was only April, the sun was shining and the beach was absolutely packed, so it felt more like mid-summer. I hadn't told anyone what I was planning, not even my mum, because I wanted Sam to be the first to know. Containing my growing excitement was the hardest part - the ring had been burning a hole in my handbag for weeks and I couldn't wait any longer.
My initial plan was to spell out "Marry me" in white stones, but the beach was so busy it just didn't feel right. I was getting increasingly nervous, worried that the moment might never come. But as we walked towards the Victorian bandstand on the promenade and the sun started to set, I knew that I had to seize my chance. I had my arms around Sam's neck and the box with the ring in my hand. He said something about what a brilliant spot it was. I looked up at Sam and said, "The kind of spot for me to ask you to marry me?" and showed him the ring.
At first, he thought I was only joking. He said, "That's not
real - it's just a ring from
a cracker!" But when he realised I was serious, the adrenaline kicked in. We
both started shaking, and Sam said, "Yes, of course!" We hugged in the middle
of the bandstand for ages, feeling giddy and elated.
A lot of my friends couldn't get their head around the fact that I'd proposed to Sam and not the other way around. Most said they would never dream of doing the same, because they wouldn't ever want to miss out on the experience of being proposed to. But I wasn't bothered - Sam going down on one knee isn't his style, or mine. In any case, he's pretty laid-back and he doesn't value tradition, so I don't think that he would ever have asked me. None of that matters, though. I love that our story is unique, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
We married in a barn in East Sussex on Friday 13 September 2013 and called the event "Wedfest". The wedding wasn't about tradition, or religion, or complying with other people's expectations - for starters, I walked up the aisle on my own. Also, I didn't take Sam's surname, and we asked the registrar to change the final part of the ceremony to, "You may now kiss your husband".
We partied till the early hours with our families and our closest friends, then everyone camped out in an adjacent field. Sam and I spent our wedding night in the bridal tent, which came complete with chandeliers, bedside tables and a king-sized inflatable bed.
The whole thing was a celebration of Sam and me. Yes, that might not work for everyone, but the day wasn't about anyone else, just the two of us. And it was absolutely perfect."
"Lucy has always had a lot of front. When we first met in a bar at university, I was struck by her confidence. She was clearly a girl who never did anything by the book, and I immediately loved how she would fight convention and question everything. So I suppose the proposal was a very Lucy thing to do.
A lot of my female friends have said they'd never have the courage to do it - they'd rather the man took the lead. But most women aren't like Lucy, and her forthrightness is one of my favourite things about her.
When people ask me what it feels like to be proposed to, I always say it's the greatest compliment anyone can pay you. And not only was Lucy brave enough to go against tradition by popping the question; she also passed up the chance of receiving the compliment herself. She gave it to me instead, and I think that's the most wonderful part of all.
When Lucy proposed, I was totally off-guard - I didn't have the slightest clue what she had been planning. At first, I honestly thought she was messing around, but when I realised it was the real deal, I didn't hesitate for a second. I genuinely never expected to get married, but the minute Lucy asked me, it suddenly seemed like the best idea in the world.
We were the first in our group of friends to marry, and I still think the way it all came about was the most original. Until it happened to us, marriage wasn't something I'd ever believed in. But it has brought us closer together as a couple in the way that any big life event does.
People say your wedding should be the greatest day of your life, and, of course, it's one unlike any other. But I don't like to think that we've peaked just yet - there are many more happy days to come."
Lucy and Sam tied the knot on Friday 13 September 2013.
Words: Tracy Ramsden. Photography by www.mattjamesphotography.co.uk
Feeling inpired by Lucy Ella's story? Propose to your man this leap year at our mass proposal party in February 2016. For more information, click here.