After the homophobic attack in Orlando this year, the atmosphere at Pride in London was: “You can’t win. You’re not going to stop us.” I’m a police constable and I’d volunteered to be at the parade.
I spoke to a lot of people in the police force about whether it was a good idea for me to do a surprise proposal to my boyfriend, Johnny, during the parade. Everyone was so supportive. It was significant for me because I joined the police after being brutally assaulted on my 18th birthday because of a public display of affection with my secret boyfriend. It was 10 years ago and my family didn’t yet know I was gay. Both my parents are vicars and my sister had just come out, and it wasn’t a good environment. Only the police showed any support.
I had anxiety around public affection after that. I’d have panic attacks on dates. So it was therapeutic for me to be publicly proposing with so much support. Saying that, as we got near the spot outside Hamleys on Regent Street where I knew Johnny would be, my nerves were something else. My body rushed with adrenaline.
He saw me and waved excitedly; it’s impossible not to be excited at Pride. An inspector stopped the parade. It was all done very precisely, very police-like. I walked towards Johnny. He had no idea. I couldn’t see anything but him. I couldn’t hear the crowd. I took my helmet off, so I’d be able to see him when I was kneeling. I was trying not to rush it. The sergeant helping me beforehand had said, “Go ahead. You’ll be nervous, but don’t rush it.” I took Johnny’s hand and got down on one knee. Then it clicked with him and it began to click with the crowd. I said: “Jonathan Sammons, will you marry me?” He paused, then said, “Yes.”
The crowd exploded. There was cheering and people started chanting, “Love is love”. I was aware I was still on duty, so there were limitations to what I could do. I was thinking, “Should I kiss him?” He’d just agreed to marry me, which was a huge deal, so I just reacted and we kissed.
Johnny’s been instrumental in getting me comfortable with showing affection. My friends say, “What’s he done to you? You’re holding hands in public. This isn’t the Phil we know.”
Back at the police station, I was waiting to go off duty when the inspector told me the proposal was online and had already got hundreds of thousands of views. I had been told there wouldn’t be any press, but there was a TV crew, photographers and of course lots of people caught it on their phones.
On the tube home, we heard people talking about it. A friend working with the Royal Ballet in Tokyo sent me a text saying we were on Japanese news. The UK papers went crazy. It was overwhelming.
We can get a distorted view of life with all the horrible and tragic news stories. The reality is good things like this happen all the time. The backdrop of Brexit had some people worried that the UK was becoming less tolerant of our differences. But the positive reaction to the proposal shows the country is accepting and actually a really wonderful place, and we do celebrate diversity.
We’re getting married next year. It feels like a different life from where I was 10 years ago.
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