A ballet dancer took a leap of faith when he proposed to his partner during a live performance of The Nutcracker.

Male lead Paul Kay brought some real-life romance to the stage after asking his female counterpart to marry him in front of an audience of 2,200 at the Royal Opera House.

During the final scene of the festive ballet, the character of the Nutcracker, played by the 26 year old, hands a card to Clara, played by his partner Leanne Cope.

But instead of it showing an address as usual, the card given to Miss Cope, also 26, revealed the four magic words “will you marry me?”.

Miss Cope, who lives with Mr Kay in Lower Mortlake Road, Richmond, said: “It happened in the last scene of the ballet when there’s only two minutes left to go but I did go off stage faster than normal.

“He’s quite a private guy and quite quiet - that was why it was so surprising for him to do it in front of thousands of people.

“It was such a special performance for us. We’ve never really danced together and it was my biggest role.

“He knew it was very special to me - it was already a momentous occasion.

“Luckily it was our last show. I don’t think anything could have topped it.”

The couple have been together for nine years after meeting at the Royal Ballet School, in Richmond Park.

They have been appearing alongside each other in The Nutcracker and the Tales of Beatrix Potter at the Royal Opera House.

Miss Cope said she was glad her fiance chose The Nutcracker to propose.

She said: “If it had been during the Tales of Beatrix Potter we both would have been dressed as squirrels, which wouldn’t have been so romantic.”

Although the dancing duo are not planning on getting married until summer 2011, Miss Cope revealed they were considering Richmond as the location.

She added: “We’ve spent most of our lives together in Richmond so we thought it would be nice to do it here.”