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Relationships

Westside actress Jessica Grace Smith's romantic beachside proposal

Even after eight years together, Ben’s proposal still came out of the blue for unsuspecting Jess.

By Marilynn McLachlan
If you really want to surprise someone, wait eight years before you propose to them!
At least, that's the advice of actor Benedict Wall, who romantically popped the question to Westside actress Jessica Grace Smith after almost a decade as a couple.
They first met at a dinner party in Auckland in 2010, then moved in together across the ditch to pursue their acting careers the following year. But while their engagement has been a long time coming, they knew from the beginning that they shared something special.
Within months of meeting, Jess, 30, who was filming Spartacus at the time, flew to Wellington and gushed to her mother, "Oh my God, Mum! He's the one!"
"I don't really think in those terms, but I was very keen on Jess," Ben, 35, agrees.
Speaking to Woman's Day from their duplex in Sydney's eastern suburbs, the couple are still in a loved-up glow as they remember the dreamy moment Ben got down on one knee – but it was six months of planning for the former Shortland Street actor.
Jessica Grace with her Westside co-star Reef Ireland.
"We'd been back home in New Zealand and I was working on an American TV series, and my mum offered me the ring that my dad had proposed with. She said I could have it if I wanted to ask Jess to marry me," Ben recalls. "And later, Mum snuck the ring to me under the table at a Chinese restaurant on Dominion Road and Jess didn't notice!"
Ben, who grew up in Auckland, took the ring back to Australia, where he placed it in his bedside drawer.
He wanted to get the rocks taken out and have a ring designed especially for Jess, who shot to fame for her role as Denny Miller in Aussie soap Home and Away and is best known in New Zealand for playing Westside's matriarch Cheryl West.
But when he took it to friend and award-winning musician Dane Rumble, those plans changed. Now running a bespoke engagement ring business Culét, Ben's old school pal had some advice.
Ben was on Shortland Street with Amanda Billing.
"He looked at it and said this sort of craftsmanship doesn't exist any more. It was hand-cut and really beautiful, but because it had been in a drawer for so long we sent it to someone who put it in a special machine that gets all the dust and dirt out of it," Ben says. Having previously measured it against Jess' other rings while she was out of the house, it was also resized to fit her finger perfectly.
But the actor still had one more thing to tick off before he proposed – asking permission from Jess' parents.
"That was the more nerve-wracking part of it," Ben laughs, admitting that he waited until a month before he popped the question because he didn't trust his future mother-in-law to keep it a secret for too long!
"I'd never called them on Skype before, but they were great. I think they knew what was up pretty quickly, especially when I asked to speak to them both at once. They were really gracious and gave me the go-ahead."
With everything in place, he just needed to choose when he would pop the question and, last November, he did just that. Visiting Byron Bay for a friend's 40th birthday, the pair were staying in a stunning home in the bush, with a path that led to the sparkling aquamarine waters of Tallow Beach.
"I was really nervous," Ben tells. "We woke up at 6am and it was a perfect day. I asked Jess if she would like to go for a quick swim before we jumped back in the car to drive back to Sydney."
Once there, he scanned the beach and saw that no-one was there and, when Jess turned around, she saw the love of her life down on one knee.
"He was quite teary, quite emotional," she recalls.
"It was hard to get the words out," Ben agrees.
But his future wife knew what he was asking and answered, "Oh my God – yes!"
The lovebirds then jumped in the water and had a long swim together before returning to the house they were staying in to share the happy news with friends. They then hit the road back home, calling family along the way.
"My mum was super-excited," laughs Jess."She said it was such a hard time trying to keep it secret!"
And despite being a couple for so long already, both admit that they're looking forward to tying the knot.
"We're our own little family and whether we expand on that or if we don't, we get to move forward and make plans and have a lifelong commitment to one another. I'm really excited for that," Ben gushes.
"It does feel different," Jess agrees. "I like the idea that we've got each other's backs and we're planning everything together. It's not just 'me', it's 'we', which is really nice."

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