From the first date with her new boyfriend, Helen Bunton knew he was the man she would marry .
He was funny, charming and all she wanted was to spend the rest of her life with him.
There was only one problem. While her boyfriend David Mackay would tell her he wanted to get married, he was yet to actually ask her.
Helen had been convinced he was going to pop the question on her birthday, but instead of a ring he gave her a new phone.
She then thought he’d propose at Christmas, but the beautifully-wrapped box under the tree wasn’t a diamond, but a watch.
Finally came Valentine’s Day but all she got was a bunch of flowers.
Two weeks later, Helen realised it was February 29, a Leap Day and a time for women to propose. So, just like Elizabeth Taylor and Halle Berry, after just 11 months of dating, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
“We had spoken about marriage,” says shop assistant Helen, now 28. “I didn’t see the point in waiting.”
The couple, from Witham, Essex, met while Helen was working in her local Co-op and construction worker David, 38, was a regular customer.
Helen says: “David used to come in every Saturday night, I thought he was a bit of a loser. After a few months, he came in four times in one night and on the final visit, he gave me his number. I realised he’d been working up courage to ask me out!
“Our first date was dinner and bowling and I knew straightaway we’d get married – I told my mum. And David told a friend he knew as well. Neither of us wanted that first date to end. From then on, we saw each other every day.”
They moved in together after five months and Helen became convinced a proposal was on the cards. But then her birthday, Christmas and Valentine’s Day all passed.
“All my friends were talking about how he would do it, so each time I was disappointed,” she says.
Dejected, she was beginning to wonder where she stood. Then came February 29 – Leap Day.
Helen says: “I hadn’t thought before about proposing to him, but I was at work when I realised it was Leap Day and I thought I may as well ask David myself.”
With a full day at work ahead, there was no time for ring shopping.
She adds: “I grabbed a box of ring doughnuts from the bakery, thinking it would be fun to use one of them.
“But I was too nervous to ask him face-to-face, so I scrawled Will You Marry Me? across one. When I got home, I thrust it into David’s hands before running out of the room.”
Read more:1 in 30 women say they’ll PROPOSE on 29 February as leap year strikes
Helen waited anxiously as David read her message and breathed a huge sigh of relief as he called out to her and said: “Yeah OK then,” before adding: “I’d better go and buy a ring, then.”
“That was it,” smiles Helen. “Not very romantic but he was relieved I’d taken the plunge as it saved him having to go through the stress of doing it, especially as there’s pressure to do it perfectly.
“It took him long enough to work up the courage to ask for my number and he’d already missed ample opportunities for a proposal – I didn’t want to wait any longer when I knew he was The One.”
David admits it was a surprise.
He laughs: “It was definitely unexpected – I was pleasantly surprised! I wasn’t thinking about proposing at the time as we hadn’t even been together for a year, but we knew we’d end up getting married.
“A few friends joked about it but mostly everyone was supportive.”
After eating the proposal doughnuts, the happy couple set about planning their big day – and eight months later in October 2008, tied the knot at Braintree Registry Office, Essex.
Now eight years on, Helen and David are happier than ever and have three children – Harry, six, Alfie, four, and Grace, three months. And as Leap Day approaches, Helen wants to encourage other women to take the plunge.
She says: “Every girl dreams of a surprise proposal, but I’m so glad I did it as it’s unique. I could still be waiting for mine now if I hadn’t.”
Why do women propose on Leap Day?
It’s thought to date back to the 5th century when Irish nun St Bridget said to St Patrick that women had to wait too long for a proposal so he gave them permission to do it, but only on February 29.
Another theory is that Queen Margaret of Scotland made the law in 1288 and said a man who refused a proposal had to pay a fine.