Joe Sutton knew girlfriend Rachael Lloyd made his heart go all a-flutter so when he decided to pop the question, he came up with a feather-brained and memorable proposal plan.
The romantic 25-year-old, who lives in Ashton, Preston, wanted to incorporate Rachael’s love of owls in the moment he asked her to become his wife, and spent months hatching the madcap idea.
Joe, who works for the national accounts team at Johnson’s Apparelmaster in Fulwood, Preston, explains: “Rachael and I met through mutual friends and we just clicked straight away.
“We were friends for a while before becoming a couple, and I realised very early on that she was the woman for me.
“I love her and she loves me. I have found the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.”
Laughing, he adds: “I never do things simply, so when I decided to propose to her, I knew I had to pull something pretty special out of the bag!”
Rachael, who has just finished a degree in linguistics and public relations at the University of Central Lancashire, loves owls, and one of the couple’s first dates was at the owl and bird of prey sanctuary Turbary Woods at Whitestake, near Preston.
Joe decided to take Rachael to the bird of prey show on the one year anniversary of when they first got together, and spring the proposal on her there. He spent months planning the big moment and together with the owl sanctuary bosses, he arranged for an unsuspecting Rachael to be called up during the show to have an owl flown to her hand and deliver an engagement ring, just as Joe went down on one knee to propose to her.
And as if that wasn’t enough pressure on Joe, he even arranged for around 25 of Rachael’s closest friends to be there to witness the momentous occasion.
Unable to keep a huge grin from spreading across his face, Joe explains: “Rachael absolutely loves owls – in fact she has a bit of an obsession with them!
“Our house has got several owl figures and paintings and one of our friends who is an artist even did us a canvas with owls on it.
“I knew I wanted to do something a bit different as a proposal and because Rachael loves owls so much, I thought it would be great to do it at Turbary Woods.
“The reason I decided to get all her friends together to watch the proposal was after a chance conversation we once had while watching Don’t Tell The Bride on television.
“Rachael jokingly told me that if I ever proposed to her, she would love all her friends to be there.
”I made a mental note of this for when I did the deed.”
Unknown to Rachael, Joe put all the arrangements in place and even craftily got her ring size so he could buy an engagement ring in advance.
He contacted all her friends to tell them about the plan, and swore them to secrecy.
Joe says: “All Rachael knew was that we were going out for the day for the anniversary of when our relationship began.
“I didn’t even tell her that we were going to the owl sanctuary – I just told her we were going for a surprise day out and I blindfolded her for the car journey, so she didn’t know where we were going.
“When we arrived, Rachael was delighted to see all her friends, but she didn’t suspect a thing.”
After looking around the owl sanctuary, Joe took Rachael and her friends to watch the flying show.
The bird handlers beckoned Rachael forward, asking if she wanted a turn.
Joe had earlier slipped a bag containing the ring to the man flying the birds, and an owl called Lilo flew to Rachael with the engagement ring.
A stunned Rachael then gasped with disbelief as Joe went down on one knee in front of the crowd, and asked her if she would do him the honour of being his wife.
There were tears of joy from the watching as an emotional Rachael accepted Joe’s proposal.
Speaking moments after the proposal, with her voice trembling with joy, Rachael tells us: “It was a complete shock and I had no idea what Joe had planned!
“While I was blindfolded on the car journey, I did suspect we were going to Turbary Wood as I recognised the way we turned into the car park.
“But I had no idea that all my friends would be here or that I would leave the sanctuary as an engaged woman!
“I cannot believe that Joe pulled it off, but I am not surprised as he is so amazing and thoughtful.
“Joe is definitely the man for me as he is so funny, caring, kind and gorgeous.
“The way he has proposed to me has proved even more how thoughtful he is, and it is a proposal to remember!
“I think it will be a while before we can afford a wedding, but when we do get married, I would love it to be during autumn time, and it would be great if owls could be involved somehow!”
Thrilled that Rachael accepted his marriage proposal, Joe admits that he was always quietly confident that she would say yes.
He explains: “My worry was not whether Rachael would say yes, but whether I would get attacked by an owl!
“But it all went smoothly, and I am delighted that Rachael has said yes.
“I want to say a huge thank you to Turbary Woods for helping me arrange my special proposal.”
Andrew Bilsborough, zoo director at Turbary Woods, says: “Turbary Woods often attend weddings to deliver the rings to the bride and groom via our owls, but this is the first time we have had an engagement at the sanctuary.
“I wish Joe and Rachael all the very best for the future and welcome any other lovers out there to get in touch if they would love to have their engagement at the sanctuary.”