“Is a proposal happening soon?” was one of the first questions I asked Noel Ferrer when he gave me a call to make arrangements for Hidilyn Diaz and her team to stay in one of the Resorts World Manila’s hotels right after she struck gold in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Noel is, of course, a good friend of mine from way back and also happens to be Hidilyn’s talent manager. “Yes, kapatid. Let’s talk about it some other time pero sa inyo rin mangyayari ‘yan,” was his response, assuring me that I will have a hand in mounting such a life-changing event for the country’s Olympic pride.
Making a decision to host Hidilyn was a no-brainer. More than being an Olympic champion, she had been a recipient of the Resorts World Manila Lucky Person of the Year Award in 2017 and was even my date once in a high society event we both attended to represent the integrated resort brand.
Her victorious homecoming in July ended without any of us talking seriously about “the proposal.” It would have been inappropriate on my part to have brought it up, at that time, since such undertakings are usually done behind the “unsuspecting” girlfriend’s back. I and Julius Naranjo, Hidilyn’s boyfriend of more than four years, would sometimes get some chances to chat about the secret project but he would always say: “Not at this time. Hidilyn worked so hard for everything that she’s getting right now, and I don’t want to take away anything from her by popping the question now.” So, that was that.
Just a week and a half ago, I tried to phone Noel just to ask if the proposal is still happening since I know that Hidilyn and Julius will have to fly back to Malaysia very soon to resume their training for competitive weightlifting. Noel said “Yes, but they will have to fix some travel papers first.” The proposal was not supposed to happen until the couple had finalized their travel arrangements to Malaysia. The plan is to push through with the proposal, have the materials embargoed for some time, and then release those to the media once the couple has flown to their next stop. The set-up would have spared them from having to explain much about their wedding plans to the public.
Exactly a week ago, I finally got a call from Noel, confirming that the couple is checking in to Hidilyn’s favorite hotel in the metro, Sheraton Manila Hotel. The choice was obvious since she has already developed some relationships with the people of Sheraton having previously stayed there in the past.
The call was followed by a virtual meeting with Sheraton General Manager Anna Vergara who gamely agreed to be an accomplice for the plan: the couple will check in on a Thursday, spend a night over in the hotel; the proposal will happen on the evening of Friday at the Vubble pods by the poolside which will be followed by some cocktails attended by handful friends. The couple will immediately fly out of the country early Saturday morning, and the world will know about the engagement the moment they reach Malaysia.
With the schedule finally calendared, and the daily schedule laid down to the minute, all we had to think about was the script. How will we make Hidilyn believe that everything that’s going to happen will just flow oh-so-naturally in her usual daily agenda, without her suspecting that something big is being planned for her? We started with the reason why she had to check into the Sheraton, while she can actually come from home and just go straight to the airport. Aside from the usual despedida from friends, what’s one thing that she can’t possibly refuse? A birthday invitation from the Sheraton GM was our answer! Besides, a grand celebration like that one will also convince her to dress-up and look more girly for her special night.
Then again, how can we possibly document and catch the proposal on-camera without stirring unnecessary suspicions from our subject? Well, since it’s a birthday, I thought that asking for birthday greetings for the GM might not really be unusual, so I volunteered to be the in-house Sheraton reporter doing the rounds of the different Vubble pods to ask for birthday greetings. The last pod to be visited will, of course, be the couple’s and that’s when Julius will have to do his thing.
DAY OF THE PROPOSAL
On their way to lunch, Hidilyn and Julius bumped into GM Vergara in a restaurant and Hidilyn courteously greeted her: “Happy birthday, Ma’am!” Quite absent-mindedly, the GM looked confused and said, “Huh?!” then remembered, it was all part of the script. She recovered and said, “Oh, yes! Thank you! It’s my birthday!”
Immediately after lunch, I vibered Julius to sneak out from Hidilyn and to see me for a final briefing in a meeting room somewhere in the hotel. He said he was nervous but promised he’ll find a way. At about 4 o’ clock in the afternoon, an almost hyperventilating Julius made his appearance in our agreed meeting place. He was and looked really nervous. After a short briefing, he agreed to be recorded for a brief interview where he said: “It’s good motivation for her for Paris. I think, it’s a gold for her before she aims for another gold for her last dance,” then brings out the barbell-inspired gold ring that he intended to give his girl later that night. “She’s been waiting for this for a long time,” he said. And I believed him. During an interview I did with Hidilyn two years ago, I do remember her already sounding impatient when asked about marriage plans. I remember her saying: “Naku ewan ko sa kanya, Sir Joee. Tanong nyo na lang po sa kanya.” Well, I guess the answer will finally come soon.
At about 7 o’ clock, the other “birthday” guests started coming in. Lara Quigaman and Marco Alacaraz were the first to arrive. Iza Calzado and husband, Ben Wintle, stepped in next. Julius and Hidilyn (who looked radiant in a pink floral dress) came down from their room to join the other guests. Dinner for the couples started. GM Vergara, Noel and I headed to the Oori Korean restaurant to have our own dinner while we waited for our cues for the “birthday greetings.”
About an hour later, the executive chef advised us that dessert was already about to be served. That was our cue to start heading down to the poolside and do my reporter act. Everything worked as planned. When we opened the door of Hidilyn and Julius’ Vubble, the Olympic champ was her usual jolly self, kidding her boyfriend around while doing “the greeting.” She sounded a bit upset that Julius somehow couldn’t deliver his lines properly. As Hidilyn started explaining why Julius was stammering, Julius got down on his knees and brought out the ring that his girl had long been waiting for. Almost unbelieving, Hidilyn initially wasn’t sure if what was happening was serious. When it dawned on her that everything wasn’t a joke, she blurted out a response she had long wanted to say: “Of course, yes!” responding to Julius’ “will you marry me” query.
Quickly recovering from the shock, she told Julius: “I thought it was a prank. You always do that to me. I did not expect that this would happen today. Thank you so much for loving me. Thank you so much for supporting me. Thank you so much for this. Feeling ko ang haba ng hair ko.”
For his part, all that Julius said was: “Believe me, this is more nerve-wracking than the Olympics!”
As for me, Noel, GM Anna and the rest of the crew it finally was “mission accomplished.”