PICTURES: Romantic Jake proposes with banner on Cromer Pier

Unsuspecting birthday girl Alex Sharman was so busy moaning about getting wet feet on Cromer beach that it took a moment before she noticed a large banner hanging from the side of the pier above.

And by the time she had registered its wording: 'Will you marry me Alex?' her boyfriend Jake Marshall was already down on bended sandy knee, proffering an engagement ring and popping the question in a shaky voice.

The romantic Saturday lunchtime tableau had delighted onlookers clapping and cheering on the beach and along the pier - especially when Alex said 'Yes' .

'It was quite emotional. I had to wear sunglasses in case I started blubbing - and then when I asked her to marry me, she started crying!' said Jake, 21.

Cromer-born Jake had been planning the surprise with his dad Steve Marshall for several months and chose a white-gold and diamond engagement ring, ordered the eight-foot banner, and a bottle of bubbly without Alex suspecting a thing.

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While Jake and Alex were having a drink in Cromer's Red Lion pub to celebrate her 22nd birthday on Saturday, Mr Marshall and friend Mark Potter secretly fixed the banner in place and phoned Jake to let him know it was all systems go.

'I was very nervous in the pub waiting to hear from dad,' said Jake. 'I had about five beers and Alex kept telling me to slow down.'

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He then casually told Alex that they needed to meet Mr Marshall on the beach and the pair headed for the sands.

Alex remembers being so preoccupied because she was wearing flip-flops and didn't want wet feet that Jake had to prompt her to look up at the pier. 'I saw what it said and thought 'Oh my gosh!' Then when I looked down at him, he was on one knee. I was over the moon. He told me later that he'd got a big speech planned but was too nervous to say it all.'

Mr Potter's son Will appeared on the sands beside them with an iced bucket of champagne and the newly-engaged pair sat sipping it together on the beach while Alex phoned her mum with the good news.

They couple met about a year ago at a pub in Alex's home village of Rothley, Leicestershire, where they now live.

They plan to marry in two or three years' time when Jake's younger brother Hellie, 15, who will be his best man, is old enough to join the stag night.

Jake said they had talked about getting married previously and Alex had expected him to propose after her graduation from Aston University this summer, or on a recent birthday-treat holiday in Barcelona, but he kept telling her he was 'much too young.'

Jake works in Leicestershire as a project manager for Microsoft marketing but was brought up in Cromer and is a former pupil of the town's high school.

He said: 'I wanted this next chapter in my life to start in Cromer. I still don't quite believe it. I'm very happy and up in the air.

Since meeting Jake, Alex said she had also fallen in love with Cromer and the couple hope to retire to the town one day.

Jake said his grand romantic gesture wasn't entirely out of character as he had been known to buy occasional presents and flowers for Alex. He added: 'My motto is: 'happy wife, happy life''.

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