Abdulla Yarulin has spent the last two years proposing to scores of eligible bachelorettes.
Far from this being one man’s desperate quest to get hitched, Yarulin, 28, is actually paid to ask the most important question in many men’s lives. This is because he works as part of a 16-strong team of divers at Atlantis, The Palm, who propose to hundreds of women each year from the depths of the hotel’s Ambassador Lagoon.
Almost every day, hopeful suitors dining in one of Dubai’s most romantic restaurants – seafood spot Ossiano – propose to their other half with a little help from the diving team.
On those nights, Yarulin and his colleagues arrive at underwater windows, holding a placard inscribed with one of the most nerve-racking questions someone can ask: “Will you marry me?”
And now, having united hundreds of couples, he has found his own happy ending. Just a few weeks ago, he summoned up the courage to propose to his partner of three years, Marina Mukaeva, after taking her down into the aquarium for a “diving lesson”.
"Obviously I had plenty of proposal experience," he tells The National with a laugh. "And, to be honest, it was almost the same as every other time." He talks us through the usual process: "You go down there, you look at the man and only he knows and you know what's going to happen and you feel very, very worried."
“What happens if something goes wrong? It’s like a secret between two people that nobody else knows and you’re nervous for him. It’s an emotional thing,” Yarulin says.
Ever the professional, Yarulin kept his true intentions a secret from Mukaeva, 30, who also works at Atlantis, The Palm as a revenue analyst. He told her that she would be taking part in her second-ever diving lesson. He stashed his placard at the bottom of the aquarium – one of the world’s biggest, with a depth of 10 metres – and tucked the white-gold diamond ring from Dubai Gold and Diamond Park safely into his diving suit.
“I took a ring, I took a sign and we went diving in Ambassador Lagoon and I pulled it out underwater,” he beams. “I had to train her very, very hard in her first [diving] session so she would be confident, in case she started going hyper. Everything was hidden; she had no idea. Only my director knew I was going to propose and that was because I had to get her permission,” Yarulin explains.
Thankfully, he maintained his 100 per cent success rate, as Marina said "yes" and the happy couple plan to get married in just a few weeks' time.
Yarulin now encourages anyone thinking of getting down on bended knee to do it underwater. “We do proposals almost every day,” the team leader says. “Every time it is unique.”
It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. “We have to be fully briefed because imagine if we went to the wrong window?” he says. “It’s nerve-racking; you feel like you’re doing a proposal yourself. Every time you’re like ‘please don’t say no’ because everyone is looking at you – not only that couple, but the whole restaurant is looking at you and it’s scary.”
With two years and about 200 proposals under his belt, Yarulin insists there have been no rejections or mistakes, but admits the nerves never go away. "We can't let it go wrong and so far we've been really lucky," he says. "We have five windows and before we go they tell us which window and then we call them again five minutes in advance just in case they've moved or gone to the toilet or something. Then we'll go down and hide behind the wall until it's time to burst out with the sign."
Every single time is a big deal, he adds. “It’s not something people do every day. People start to act real crazy. There’s smiling, crying, flowers and they come and take selfies with you – and they don’t want to let you go.”
In the first moments of the proposal, people don’t actually realise what’s happening, he says. It’s a moment that leads Yarulin to panic. “I think that maybe it’s the wrong table. But then ladies start to cry and men start to cry and you realise that you have the right spot.”
There was one occasion when the proposer did it himself, too. “He went up, quickly changed and went down with the sign. As long as you’re a certified diver, it’s not a problem.”
Although this is undoubtedly one of the best parts of his job, facilitating proposals is not all Yarulin does. As well as spreading love from the 11-million-litre tank among 65,000 fish, he is also part of an important conservation scheme at Atlantis, The Palm. His duties at the Ambassador Lagoon also involve teaching diving, feeding and caring for the 220 species of fish, cleaning out the huge tank and dealing with all the aquarium logistics.
It’s a way of life for him. “Your first dive is something you’ll never forget,” he says.
“I feel I do something important in this world because diving for kids changes their minds. They will never throw a piece of plastic into the ocean again after a dive lesson and I’m part of trying to make the world a little bit better.”
He certainly does that – in more ways than one.