THE show was over and the cast were about to take their bows when the leading lady of bedroom farce Not Now Darling suddenly found herself under an entirely different spotlight, writes Lesley Potter.
Actress Heather Gibbs was shocked when her real-life boyfriend not only appeared from the audience but leapt up on stage at the Mill at Sonning, dropped on to one knee and pulled out a diamond engagement ring.
In clearly rehearsed Thespian tones he then asked, in front of the packed theatre, “Heather, will you marry me?”
“Thankfully, she said yes,” said the Mill’s managing director, Sally Hughes. “There was so much commotion going on among the audience. They burst into spontaneous applause. All the girls in the cast slapped their hands to their mouths, while the men just looked amazed.”
However the proposal, which took place at the theatre on the Thursday before Christmas, had been carefully stage-managed by the financÚ, Sandip Dhillon, who had rung the theatre in advance to ask permission for the stunt.
Only Sally, general manager David Vass and production manager Joan Farnese knew — as well as the bride’s father, whom Sandip had approached to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Heather, who was making her debut at the Mill as stripper Janie McMichael said she was “flabbergasted”.
“It was a huge surprise,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting it at all. We were told by the theatre to stay on stage after the curtain call as there was going to be a short presentation by a charity group. All the actors thought it was a bit odd.
“Then suddenly my boyfriend stood up and I thought, ‘What on earth are you doing here?’ He hadn’t seen the play and I wasn’t expecting him to be there. I thought he was at work and I spoke to him in the interval. He was pretending to be in the office. Then he got up on the stage and proposed in front of the whole audience. There was lots of clapping and cheering.”
Sandip, who works in finance, and Heather have been together for three years and are now planning their wedding for 2015. She said: “It was so special because I grew up in Burnham and used to come to the Mill at Sonning all the time when I was younger. I used to dream of being an actress on the stage there. So to be proposed to there is magical. I will never forget it.”
She added: “I never knew he could be so romantic.”
Sally explained: “Sandip rang us and said he wanted to go on stage and propose and we thought it would be great. When he came down the stairs from the back Heather was standing there looking, you could see she was thinking, ‘What’s happening?’ Then he pulled out a beautiful diamond ring.”
She confirmed it was the first time anyone had proposed on stage at the Mill. The newly-engaged couple celebrated in the bar with champagne.