FOR most men the moment they drop to one knee and propose to their girlfriend is a slightly nerve-racking occasion which can end in future bliss or outright rejection.
But for William McDowell, a drummer with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, the scene was played out before an audience of more than 9,000 spectators on the Esplanade at the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo as he popped the question to his Highland dancer girlfriend Monica McElwee.
Cupid’s arrow hit its target during Thursday night’s performance and the audience, which had been holding its breath, burst into applause when 22-year-old Ms McElwee said “yes” against the backdrop of a floodlit Edinburgh Castle.
Trooper McDowell said: “I asked Monica to make me the happiest man in the world by marrying me. She could not get the words out because she was full of tears, but she was smiling and nodded. That’s when I put the ring on her finger.
“I picked her up and gave her big cuddle – the crowd cheered. Then we had to part and I marched off, because the show was about to start. It was hard to concentrate because my mind was wandering off about what had just happened.”
Yesterday, Ms McElwee, an accountancy graduate from Ayr, described how she felt as she was presented with a white-gold and diamond engagement ring.
She said: “I was in tears and couldn’t stop smiling. It came as a surprise and I was unable to talk at the time. I was so excited.
“When William asked me to marry him, I just nodded. It was a very special moment.
“I think it was a great idea because the Tattoo means something to both of us. It’s where we met and where we got engaged.”
Trooper McDowell, 24, from Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, first met his fiancée at a Royal Military Tattoo performance in Basel, Switzerland, then again at another show in Berlin two years ago.
When he found out both of them would be performing at this year’s Tattoo in Edinburgh, he was determined to propose. He said: “We met at a previous Tattoo and it was pretty much the same thing – I was playing drums and she was there with her dance school.
“We got talking. I told her that I picked her out from all the dancers because she was the most beautiful one. It was her eyes and her tanned legs that grabbed my attention.
“Monica means the world to me. She’s put up with me for this long, even when I was over in Afghanistan. I just knew she was the girl for me.
“Just after I got back from Afghanistan, I knew I was going to buy the ring. I knew we were both going to perform at the Edinburgh tattoo.
“I thought that if I would propose anywhere, it would be there. I then approached the pipe major to help me out. Monica had no idea.”
The pipe major passed the plan up the ranks and Tattoo narrator Alasdair Hutton was primed to “set the scene” when Trooper McDowell marched out on to the Esplanade.
Ms McElwee, who had been on the Esplanade with other dancers while the US ambassador, Matthew W Barzun, took the salute, was told by Mr Hutton to remain where she was.
Trooper McDowell admitted that despite having served in Afghanistan, the moments before he proposed were somewhat scary.
He said: “The organisers pulled me aside and I had to wait for about 10-15 minutes. It felt like forever.”