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Ell met Paul on Qantas' 'I Still Call Australia Home' ad. 16 years later, he proposed at Uluru.

There’s a nine-week-old baby out there called Jones Van Der Toorren who owes his existence to one of Australia’s most beloved TV ads.

It was a hot day in 2000 when Elysia Simons from the Australian Girls Choir took her spot in front of Uluru to sing Peter Allen’s ‘I Still Call Australia Home’ for a Qantas ad. Ell was nine, and tells Mamamia she was often mistaken for another member of the choir, Caitlin Stasey, “because we were both brown”. All the girls were looking fresh-faced.

“We weren’t allowed to wear a scrap of makeup, no jewellery,” Ell remembers. “We were all very innocent in our white shirts.”

Video via Qantas

Ell was placed next to a member of the National Boys Choir, 10-year-old Paul Van Der Toorren.

“He was so cute and so shy and I thought I was so cool and I tried to make him laugh. He was just all smiley and sweet. Little did I know that he had a crush on me!”

Paul was so taken with Ell on the day that he tried to snap a sneaky photo of her, without her knowing.

“He pretended he was taking a photo of one of his friends and I’m in the corner of the photo!” she laughs. “He was not a very good photographer as a 10-year-old but you can see it’s me. It’s my hair, which is so cute.”

Qantas ad couple
Paul was so taken with Ell (left) that he tried to snap a sneaky photo of her. Image: Supplied.
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As it turned out, Paul and Ell lived quite close to each other in Melbourne. They saw each other a couple more times at choir events, then, when they were at high school, they reconnected.

“He says I contacted him through MySpace and said, ‘You’re the guy from the choir,’ but I believe that it was him contacting me! He was close friends with another friend of mine. We’d hang out. He made me laugh all the time," she told Mamamia. 

"After high school he was friends with my uni friends. We just kept getting drawn back into each other’s lives.”

The two started dating in 2009. Seven years later, Paul planned a proposal, which deserves to go down in history as one of the best marriage proposals of all time.

Paul contacted Qantas and explained that he was dating Ell, after meeting her while filming the ad, and he wanted to propose to her at Uluru. But he would need their help to make it a surprise.

“A guy from Qantas called me,” Ell remembered. “He said, ‘A little birdie has told me the story of how you and your boyfriend met. We’d love to get you guys over to Uluru and we’d love you to review the [art installation] Field of Light.’ I got on the phone to Paul. Paul was like, ‘I don’t believe you. You’ve got to get some proof,’ and I said, ‘It’s true, Paul!’”

Ell was “super excited” to see Uluru again, because she hadn’t been since she was nine. As they stood there, at sunset, Paul turned to her.

“He goes, ‘I haven’t quite been honest with you. I actually enlisted the help of Qantas because I needed a reason to get you back here without you suspecting anything.’ And then he got down on one knee and proposed to me in front of Uluru.”

The couple got married the following year – and no, they didn’t sing 'I Still Call Australia Home' at their wedding. In fact, the two former choir members didn’t sing at all at their wedding, even though they had been planning to. “We left practising way too late and we were way too critical of ourselves,” Ell says. “It just didn’t happen, which is pretty sad. It’s a regret.”

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Nine weeks ago, the couple welcomed their first child, Jones Theodore.

“We were watching Indiana Jones and I was like, ‘Indiana’s a cool name, but with our last name, Van Der Toorren, it’s too much talking for a name.’ I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, Jones is so cool!’”

Ell and Paul are planning to take Jones to Uluru one day, so he can see the place where it all started for them.

“It’s the most amazing place and it’s got our little connection to it,” Ell says. “It is so magnificent. It’s got this magical power. When you’re there, you feel it everywhere in your body.”

Qantas ad couple
Ell, Paul and baby Jones. Image:shotfromtheheart.com

Ell, a wedding photographer, and Paul, a graphic designer, both stopped singing when they got “too busy with work” and “too shy”. But since Jones came along, they’ve both started singing again.

“We sing to Jones,” Ell says. “We’re constantly singing. Paul’s voice is amazing, truly. I’m looking forward to Jones actually being able to react to his singing.”

And yes, they are planning to sing 'I Still Call Australia Home' to Jones. “I’m going to do that tonight!”

So does Ell ever look at Jones and think that this small person wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the Qantas ad? “I do think that,” she says, “but I also just believe that it was always meant to be, as cheesy as that sounds.”

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