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Excuse me waiter, don’t I know you from somewhere?


Guest Richard Peach proposed to his childhood sweetheart Jo on Ventura last year. The funny thing was, she hadn’t even realised he was on board…

Guests Richard Peach and Joanna Hicks

Guest Richard Peach surprised his partner Joanna Hicks with a romantic proposal last year on board Ventura. Photo by: Harry Goldenfield (Britannia photographer)

Picture the scene: September 2016, the Bay Tree restaurant on Ventura. When Joanna Hicks sat down to a Black Tie dinner with her parents, Terry and Barbara, and son Danny, 24, the last person she expected to see was her partner Richard. After all, just hours before he’d phoned from his office in Winchester, where he works as a principal engineer for Hampshire County Council, to see how the holiday was going.


The truth was, he’d not been at work at all. He’d been secretly spirited on board the ship with the assistance of events manager Patricia Timoteo at Bilbao, the penultimate port of call before Ventura headed home to Southampton after her seven-day cruise of Spain, France and Guernsey, and was hiding out just a couple of decks below waiting for the chance for his surprise proposal.


Jo’s dad Terry had been in on the daring scheme from the start. Once he’d confirmed the coast was clear, Richard and his best friend and ‘wingman’, Nigel, who’d come along for the ride, were spirited along the corridors to their cabin, where a waiter’s uniform, complete with name badge, lay waiting. The plan was to approach the family party concealed by a large ice bucket holding Champagne – and pop the question. 


Jo was completely shocked,’ remembers Richard. ‘She couldn’t believe it was me at first and she kept saying, “Are you serious?” Not just that I was there in the first place, but the fact that I was in a full P&O Cruises waiter’s uniform as well!’


Jo adds: ‘Initially I just thought this waiter was a little too close for comfort… Then as I looked up from the menu I had to do a double take – which I have never, ever done before – and there was Rich dressed as a waiter!’


Luckily Jo’s shock turned to delight when she realised what was going on, and she accepted his proposal, with the blessing of Danny, who had also been kept in the dark.

Guests Richard Peach and Joanna Hicks drinking Champagne

Richard was disguised as a P&O Cruises waiter for the surprise… even down to having a name badge! Photo by: Harry Goldenfield (Britannia photographer)

‘I’d had the idea back in June,’ explains Richard. ‘Jo had booked the cruise in February and I’d said I couldn’t go due to financial constraints and work commitments. But the more I thought about it I decided no, I’ve got to be part of this – this is a golden opportunity to do something amazing! So I emailed P&O Cruises and they couldn’t have been more receptive to the idea. They were unbelievable, the effort they put into it to make it happen.’


The pair met way back in 1987, when Richard was just 17 and Jo was 18, staying at her family caravan, in Pagham, West Sussex, where Richard lived at the time.


‘We had a summer romance,’ Richard recalls. ‘Our paths crossed a couple of times over the years and Jo moved down this way about 20 years ago, but we had our own relationships then [Richard has two children, Ben, 15, and Emma, 19, from a previous marriage]. Then we met by chance a couple of years ago and we were both in a similar situation. We started going out with each other again. We were reunited!’


Richard admits, ‘I am a bit of a joker, I can’t deny that, but if I see an opportunity for something special then I’ll go for it, I’ll try and make it happen. I wasn’t nervous about asking her to marry me, but I was nervous about getting onto the ship without being seen. Luckily, it all went to plan…’


Richard was aided in his ruse by Livi Southern, from the P&O Cruises Guest Experience Support Team based in Southampton. ‘Without Patricia on board and Livi shoreside, it wouldn’t have happened,’ he stresses. ‘Livi in particular was an absolute star.’


So when is the wedding, and will it be on a P&O Cruises ship? ‘We are hoping to get married late summer this year or spring 2018. We’ll have the ceremony on dry land but we’d definitely like to have our honeymoon on board, with a blessing from the captain. We are totally hooked on cruising now. We only tried it for the first time last Christmas when Jo got us a two-night cruise to Bruges. Everything was of first-class quality – the food, the entertainment... We’re already looking to have a family cruise in July with my two children and Jo’s son. We love all the dressing up and Black Tie events, so to have a honeymoon cruise as well would be really special.’


And this time, he can wear his own suit!