Not long ago, Sarah Pease, who brands herself the Proposal Planner, found herself on the USS Intrepid, which houses a maritime museum by the Hudson River in New York. Pease stood belowdecks with a man named Marcial, who had contracted Pease to help plan a marriage proposal for his girlfriend, Brynn. Since the two had met through a connection in the merchant marines, Pease had devised an elaborate, nautically themed proposal.
The plan was this: one of Pease’s accomplices would contrive to get Brynn abovedecks on the Intrepid, while Marcial would linger below. A 100-person marching band would perform, and at just the right moment, the band would part in the middle, leaving Marcial to emerge with a flourish and propose to his beloved.
Pease and Marcial could hear the marching band overhead; it was almost time for his move. Pease radioed up to her colleague to confirm that everything was in place for the big moment... but there was no response.
"I’m on the radio, asking, ‘Are we a green light?’ and she’s not responding back," recalls Pease. Meanwhile, she and Marcial could hear the marching band winding down its song—the cue for his big move. Pease was gripped with panic: "When someone doesn’t respond in that scenario, you know something bad is happening."
A Burgeoning Business
These are stresses that Pease has brought upon herself, by inventing her unusual, demanding, and lucrative job (it’s one of a few services she offers through her company, Brilliant Event Planning). In 2008 Pease heard a story about a man who had proposed to his girlfriend by hiding a wedding ring in a bucket of fried chicken. Pease became convinced she could do better. She began to add a feature to her events planning website offering services as a proposal planner. "It started out just as an add-on service, almost as a novelty," she says. Today, half of her clients at any given time are proposal clients; she’s performed hundreds of such stunts.
Her services start at $500; for that, she and her team will help put together a "blueprint" for how to pull off a memorable proposal. For custom-designed proposals full of complicated logistics—like Marcial’s aboard the Intrepid—the very lowest price is $2,000, and can soar much higher, depending on the complexity. Some of her clients have budgeted as much as $50,000 towards designing and implementing the perfect proposal; Pease’s fee would be some fraction of that.
As the wedding industrial complex has ballooned to unprecedented sizes—wedding costs exceeds the median income in the U.S.—entrepreneurial spirits like Pease have discovered or created demand in unlikely niches. The idea of dropping 50 large on a proposal might seem outlandish to some, but Pease believes that services like hers will probably soon be the norm, not the exception—much as wedding planners, once a luxury, are increasingly viewed as a necessity. "I’m a believer that a marriage proposal, while it doesn’t have to be elaborate, should be personal, unique, and reflective of a love story," says Pease. "It should be so good your grandkids will tell the story."
Will You Marry Me?
Most of the time, it goes smoothly. There was the Welsh couple (pictured in the slideshow above) who were engaged in a Manhattan penthouse with a panoramic view of the city, while a choir and orchestra played her favorite song. There was the man who sent "Little Prince"-themed gifts to his beloved throughout the day, eventually guiding her to the New York Public Library, her favorite building, where he got down on one knee.
One client even hired Pease to help convince his girlfriend she was a contestant on a new reality TV show called "Fashion Scavenger Hunt" ("he wanted the whole day recorded," Pease explains). The "show" had its climax on a boat, where 25 people ashore held up a giant sign proposing marriage. "At that moment, he comes barreling towards the boat in a tuxedo on a jet ski," recalls Pease.
Was the fiancée disappointed not to be an actual reality TV star? "I don’t think so. The first words our of her mouth were, ‘It’s about effing time,’" says Pease.
Pease played the role of TV producer through the day; other stunts have called upon her to play a valet parker, a front-desk attendant, a delivery woman, a spa employee, a cocktail waitress, and a concierge.
On top of those fake jobs are all the real, high-stakes jobs that her line of work sometimes seems to imitate: "I’m a spy, an emergency responder, a crisis coordinator, you name it..." It’s not easy work: So much depends on so little, and if the moment’s ruined, you can’t get it back. "I like to joke that emergency room doctors have got nothing on me," she says.
Without a Hitch?
Crises do arise. One client checked in to a hotel with his girlfriend, but before his elaborate proposal at that night’s New Year’s Eve party went down, the hotel carelessly sent up a bottle of champagne, together with a note offering its congratulations. Luckily, the groom rushed to the door, pocketed the note, and claimed the champagne was penance for the delays in their check-in process.
There was the Christmas Eve she spent frantically negotiating with Fed Ex and French customs, who had detained a crucial package for a proposal that was to go down in mere hours in a French skiing village. There was the Grinch-like Central Park security guard who "hated love" and tried to break up a flash mob that had flocked to a roof for a proposal (Pease literally blocked the man’s entrance to the stairwell; "Thank God I have a big booty").
One time, a client wanted to clandestinely assemble an elaborate tree with orchids flown in from Thailand at the apartment he shared with his beloved. The problem was that she worked just a block from home, and often returned home midday for lunch. Pease posted phony notices of a "fumigation" meant to deter the woman from a daytime visit, and thought she was in the clear.
But then: "I’m in the lobby speaking to the florist, and out of the corner of my eye I see the girl. It was like my life was in slow motion. I saw her walking across the lobby towards the stairway to her apartment. I’m frozen, my heart’s beating, I’m sweating. What do I do? Do I tackle this girl?" It was all falling apart. How to explain away the half-constructed ten-foot tree?
Deus ex machina: Just as the woman was about to gain the stairs, Pease saw the building’s superintendent intercept her. She watched their conversation; the woman shook her head angrily and stomped her foot, but the super held strong. Finally, she turned and walked back out the building. "That super earned his Christmas bonus that year," she says.
On stressful days like that, Pease is glad she has a good colorist.
A Day to Remember
That day on the USS Intrepid, with her client Marcial at her side, was just such a day. The 100-piece marching band was winding down its song.
"Are we a green light?" she radioed again to her colleague up above. No response.
What was happening up above was this: a security guard had wandered over to Brynn, Marcial’s beloved, and told her she wasn’t allowed to stand where she was standing. But though Brynn didn’t know it, she had to stand where she was standing, for her to stand even a little to the left or a little to the right would spoil her vantage of Marcial’s grand entrance.
Thankfully, Pease’s colleague grabbed the security guard, drew him aside, and quickly explained what was about to go down in a manner of seconds. Just as the marching band ended its song, she radioed down to give Pease and Marcial the green light.
The marching band parted, Marcial emerged triumphant, and he and Brynn got a story for their grandkids to tell.
[Image credit: Sarah Pease headshot by Fotofia, all others images by Jeff Tisman Photography]