Romantic return for Suffolk ex-pat
ROMANTIC Mai Fleetwood-Bird called on Dutch courage to propose to her boyfriend in an emotional return to her Suffolk roots.It proved to be a fairytale occasion for the 32-year-old, who left Trimley St Mary as a toddler when her family moved to Holland.
ROMANTIC Mai Fleetwood-Bird called on Dutch courage to propose to her boyfriend in an emotional return to her Suffolk roots.
It proved to be a fairytale occasion for the 32-year-old, who left Trimley St Mary as a toddler when her family moved to Holland.
What made the moment even more poignant was the fact she decided to pop the question at the Creeting St Mary church where her great grandfather was canon for 45 years.
Mai, a speech therapist, said: "I really wanted to do it here because this is a very special place.
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"I thought it would be very appropriate, with all the Fleetwood names everywhere.
"Since I've been over here I've been told it's an English tradition that a woman can propose in a leap year.
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"I didn't know that and would've done it anyway."
Henry Arthur Fleetwood is buried in the grounds of St Mary's Church and various reminders of his time there are also on display, including a plaque inside the entrance hall.
Other members of Mai's family are also laid to rest at the church.
The romantic reunion would not have been possible without retired Felixstowe firefighter Ray Wade, 60, of Chepstow Road.
It was he who helped the couple find the church and her former house, in Cordys Lane, Trimley St Mary.
Having just got together, in June 2001, they were on holiday with the aim of piecing together Mai's family history when they bumped into Ray at a church gathering in Walton.
He agreed to help their search and eventually succeeded, but not before Mai and Steef had returned home, to Brielle, near Rotterdam.
Ray passed on the good news and they made a return visit in autumn 2002.
Soon after, Mai hatched her proposal plan, which she finally carried out last week.
It marked the end of her three-and-a-half-year journey to retrace her roots.
Now she and her boyfriend Steef Van Velzen, 49, a teaching consultant, are planning to tie the knot at the same place in September.
Before getting down on one knee, Mai even made sure her husband-to-be was sitting on a chair carrying a plague commemorating her great grandfather.
She said: "I was very nervous but it was really great, just as I wanted."
Despite Mai's efforts to conceal her plan, Steef had his suspicions an offer of marriage could be coming.
He said: "We agreed that if Mai didn't ask me to marry her before January 21, 2004, I could ask her.
"But she didn't want to wait for that. She has always said that she wanted to be one who asked.
"So when we came into the church I sensed she was going to do it and I was very nervous too."
The couple thanked Ray for all his help, adding the two families are now firm friends.
Ray, who has been asked to be best man by Steef, added: "I'm just so happy this chance meeting has led to Mai and Steef becoming man and wife.
"We're going to be friends forever."