The golden tones of the room seemed to evaporate the cold air clinging to the coat of each guest as dozens of them blew in, their cheeks pink with anticipation as much as the chill of winter. It was just few days before the New Year, a time already filled with a seasonal glow. Nowhere was that sense warmer than the little paneled room where family and friends gathered, eager to support a man very much in love. It was a carefully-planned proposal, the scheme for which had begun not just months, but years earlier.
As guests gathered to hug a nervous but overjoyed James, a confused Richard was on a wild journey across Richmond. Several years before, when they were first dating, James had created a scavenger hunt for Richard’s birthday that sent Richard searching all over town, leading him to a romantic greeting in the Jefferson Hotel. Cleverly, when James first approached us to plan his proposal, that memory inspired his plan to surprise Richard. A new birthday scavenger hunt should – and did – keep him from figuring out that James was actually about to propose. Rhyming clues developed by EQ (when we say we’re full-service, we are not kidding) sent Richard hustling to iconic Richmond locations, from dinner at the VMFA, to surprise cocktails with friends who just happened to be at Quirk, to a private drag performance at the Broadberry by the inimitable Michelle Devereaux Livigne (a friend of James’s). Each stop had to be perfectly timed, to ensure that James’s glowing guests would be standing on the grand staircase at the right moment, when Richard walked in.
Meanwhile, family and friends excitedly sipped their cocktails, and we kept a careful eye on Richard’s real-time geolocation, as the candles melted and the moment of arrival came near. The room took on a brighter quality, punctuated by the thud of emptying glasses and the tittering of people who will shortly be relieved of a secret. When we could delay no longer, we led the parading crowd through the hall to Richmond’s grandest staircase, where they were easily guided into place. James took his place, and so did we. Hushed, and curiously watched by a lobby full of people, we waited.
With guests partly obscured by the still-shimmering Christmas tree, James concealed behind one of the many massive pillars, photographer Shawnee Custalow hidden by an antique screen, and EQ planners crouching by a sofa, it was a mass effort to keep James’s secret until the very last possible moment. Several hotel guests asked what was happening, and joined in our excitement, even colluding with the plan by looking nonchalant in the extreme. It was like a scene from a play in which an unsuspecting audience member is pulled onstage to play the title role.
When Richard entered the room, watching the realization wash over him was a delight not meant for words. As he passed, EQ gave the signal for guests to raise the signs that spelled out the question James wished to ask. Richard’s eyes slid over the words, over the grinning faces of those he loves most in all this world, and he gripped the arms of his friends, who had escorted him. Snap, snap! sounded the camera, and Richard struggled not to cry.
Swiftly and gracefully, James appeared.
The crowd gasped their delight as the newly-engaged couple embraced, their family and friends cheering with genuine relief and a sense that they had witnessed something transformative – for the couple personally, but also for the Richmond community and society as a whole. Every proposal is an act of bravery, but there was some special magic in what Richard inspired and James designed that starry evening.
Returning upstairs, the clinking of glasses resumed once more, this time punctuated by enveloping hugs, easy laughter, and Richard’s still-shocked smile melting into a cozy familiarity with his family, friends, and grinning fiancé. All of the time, creative energy, and careful planning James invested was transformed into a perfect memory – and a very happy groom-to-be. The majority of work – from James’s concept to the clues to the execution – behind us, even we had a moment to gather and appreciate the elegance of the evening. Romance has a will and character of its own, that grows differently in each couple. In the case of James & Richard, it is elaborate, communal, expressive, and stylish.
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Real Proposal: James & Richard
Planning and execution by EQ Events
Photography: Shawnee Custalow
Venue: The Jefferson Hotel
Special thanks to:
Frazier Millner Armstrong
Perry Payne Millner