Exclusive In-Depth Interview
Source OK Magazine 27th October 2000
one of pop's number one pin-up boys, she's the all-American
girl on the verge of movie stardom. As one of the five
stars of the world's biggest-selling boy band, the
Backstreet Boys, Brian Littrell is used to big occasions,
but even huge concerts and the adulation of the masses
couldn't prepare him for his own big day - his wedding to
actress Leighanne Wallace.
The happy day marked a new start for the singer fans know as B-Rok - after two years of heartache, both physical and emotional.
Just two years ago, the singer was battling for his life after he underwent open-heart surgery to correct a hole-in-the-heart defect he has had since birth. And then, only a few months later, his beloved grandfather died. But meeting Leighanne on the set of the Backstreet Boys video, As Long As You Love Me, three years ago, has been enough to help Brian through his darkest days. In fact, he still refers to their first meeting as 'the day I met the rest of my life'.
Leighanne, however, once walked out on the Backstreet Boy after he twice postponed a life-saving operation to repair a hole in his heart. Instead, he went on tour with the band. Leighanne gave Brian the ultimatum: 'Have surgery or lose me and your health.'
She adds: 'It was really tearing me apart to know he was risking his life. Now, he has been given a second chance and it's wonderful. He has a scar across his chest, which reminds him every day of how lucky he is to be alive. But there was no way I was going to let him die, even if that meant leaving him.'
Brian admits it was a foolish thing to do and Leighanne's decision to walk out on him made him realise how selfish he was being. He says: 'The saddest thing is that I scheduled open-heart surgery around my work schedule. It was like nobody really cared or felt that it was important, because my career was moving on.
'Music is my love, but it's also my job. There are things that used to be taken for granted that aren't now - time with your family, time to enjoy the fruits of your labour. I'm trying to figure out ways to hang my hat at the end of the day.' And now he doesn't take any chances. 'I have a medic and oxygen for whenever I get short of breath on stage. I take really good care of myself,' he says.
The couple met in Los Angeles, where budding actress Leighanne was just another extra in just another pop video. Neither she nor Brian were looking for love, but it hit them right between the eyes.
In the video, the boys act out scenes where they are auditioning girls - and Leighanne, then 27, was one of those girls. The actress, who is now 31, recalls: 'I was always taught in my acting classes to introduce myself to everyone, especially the stars. So I walked straight up to Brian and introduced myself at the video shoot. That was how it started.
'Brian asked me out there and then. In fact, our first date was a dinner date at the Melrose Hotel in Los Angeles during a break in his schedule. I was thiilled. It was love at first sight for me. He was and still is adorable.'
Leighanne often returns to the hotel when she's shooting movies and always makes a point of calling her 26-year-old love. (Note: He was only 25 when this was published)
She giggles: 'I ring him and tell him I'm back in our hotel. He always says: 'Oh baby, that is really romantic."'
The Backstreet Boys star loves a little romance in his life. He proposed to Leighanne on Christmas Eve last year - after persuading her to join him for a winter picnic. He then shocked her by presenting her with a multi-million dollar diamond ring and popping the question.
Leighanne beams: 'It was such a surprise. He said he wanted to go and get a picnic hamper and set it up in my mum's back garden. I thought he was mad - but it seemed like a sweet, romantic idea.
'It was very cold and so he had loads of blankets. He picked me up and carried me into the garden with a blindfold on. I know it might sound crazy, but I still had no idea. I just thought: "What a sweetie, he wants to give me a surprise picnic."
She admits the rest of the romantic picnic proposal remains a daze, because as soon as she looked into Brian's eyes, she knew exactly what was on his mind. Wiping a happy tear away from her eyes, the blushing bride says: 'I saw Brian's mouth move and he started talking, but I was in complete shock and I can't remember a word he said to me.
'I just know that first he said a prayer and then he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife.' He waited to do it in my parents' house, so that I could share it with my family. It was a beautiful time.'
And the romance didn't stop there - the love-sick Brian made the most of his songwriting talents by penning a special tune for his new wife and performed it at their wedding reception at Atlanta's prestigious Four Seasons Hotel.
'It doesn't have a title and I have no plans to ever perform it again or to make it a Backstreet Boys ballad,' Brian beams. 'It's just for Leighanne - I hope she liked it.'
The surprise song, which left the bride in tears, was one of many special touches on the big day that made it an unforgettable event for both Brian and Leighanne.
Kentucky-born Brian, who has set up a home in North Fulton, Atlanta, with Leighanne, spent the morning of his wedding playing basketball with friends and relatives a short drive from the Peachtree Christian Church in Midtown. The groom fell in love with the sprawling church shortly after proposing to Leighanne.
The couple chose to marry in Atlanta and Brian went on the hunt for the perfect church. But it wasn't so much the building that impressed the Backstreet Boy, Pastor Collins, the clergyman who was to oversee his wedding ceremony, was a great source of comfort for the couple. Friends claim that Brian enjoyed the Pastor's services and his boast that he would marry anyone of any denomination in his church - as long as they agreed to sit down with him and discuss their thoughts and feelings about matrimony.
As Christians, the couple were both a little concerned that some ministers wouldn't marry them as they were already living together.
Leighanne explains: 'I believe it is unfortunate that we were living together, because it is not the Christian way and it is disapproved of. But, then again, we have so little time alone.
'Pastor Collins was very understanding and even suggested we won't have any big surprises Because we had been living together. That put a lot of our fears at ease.
'We met with him several times before the wedding and he was convinced we were right to marry. Both of us have a very strong faith in God. Without God, we would never have made it through all the craziness that surrounds Brian. God and the Church keep me sane'
The couple say they plan to be regulars at Pastor Collins' services, now they've set up home in Atlanta. Leighanne says: 'We want to make a life and a home there. The people are really great.'
While Brian was enjoying a last game of basketball as a single man, Leighanne - who has just finished work on her new movie, Olivejuice - was putting the finishing touches to the plans for the day at her family home in Marietta - making sure that obsessive Backstreet Boys fans, who have caused her occasional upset in the past, were still guessing as to the whereabouts of B-Rok's wedding.
But the bride needn't have worried. The fans seemed to respect Brian and his bride-to-be and stayed away. That, and the fact that people from Atlanta can be relied upon for their silence, made sure that Brian and Leighanne's big day was the city's best-kept secret. Leighanne admits it was one of the things that made her wedding day so special after spending months of replying to vicious hate mail from Backstreet Boys fans.
'Most of them are really scary,' she reveals. 'I received quite a lot of emails saying: "You don't deserve to live' " it was horrible.
'I get scared, but I handle it. I send them emaoils saying: "God bless you and I will pray for You." Some of them write back and apologise, but if they continue to do it, I try to forgive them and I just delete them, but it does scare me.
'I have no way of relating to them,' she adds, 'because I was never a fan of anyone in that way.'
The anxiety of their big day prompted both Brian and Leighanne to arrive early at the church. Brian arrived two hours before the ceremony for 'special prayers' with his older brother and best man, Harold Jr. 'I just wanted to make sure everything was okay,' he explains.
Meanwhile, Leighanne chose to slip into her elegant Vera Wang wedding dress in one of the church's ante rooms - fearing that a trip from home to the church in a limousine would ruin the design of the white satin outfit.
Black and while limousines deposited 300 guests, including Brian's bandmates, outside the church just before the ceremony, while six Atlanta Police officers monitored the area for any signs of disruption.
The 35-Minute ceremony included a fairy-tale-themed poem, read by Leighanne's sister, Tracy Hext.
The couple then left the church discretly in a vintage Rolls-Royce, which ferried them to the lavish reception at the Four Seasons Hotel, where they had rented out the entire fourth floor for the occasion.
Guests wore beige wristbands and showed identification to gain entrance - another ploy to keep the unwelcome guests away. And, upon stepping into the reception hall, where the magnificent £5,500 wedding cake was on display, they were greeted by a sign reading: No photographs, no autographs. Leighanne says: 'We didn't want to seem mean, but we just wanted the evening to be as private as possible - just for us and our families.
'There was a competition on the Internet to see where we were marrying and where the reception might be, so it was hard to keep it under wraps.'
Brian and Leighanne had a tough choice when it came to electing a best man and ushers. The groom's bandmates were an obvious choice, but the couple chose not to ask them because such a task would interfere with their demanding schedules.
'We just knew that with their schedules, the boys wouldn't be able to fit in all the rehearsals we needed to have. Even Brian struggled to attend some of them!'
And what's more, Brian's cousin and bandmate, Kevin Richardson, had enough to keep him busy with his recent wedding to Kristin Willits. But fellow Backstreet Boy Kevin had one special surprise up his sleeve - a rendition of Kool & the Gang's Celebration. Kevin joined best man Harold jr for the song, backed by the J Michael Davis Sound Flights. Friends say the cousins used to perform together at family gatherings when they were younger, but it was always Brian and Kevin who looked like becoming the family's pop stars.
Kevin and Harold, joined by Brian for an encore, might have surprised the guests with their planned performance, but it was the groom who stole the show when he stepped up to perform 'a special song' dedicated to his new wife. Leighanne wept tears of joy as her husband sang the tender, untitled love song.
The couple ended the evening dancing together, before jetting ofF on a short honeymoon the next day. And now, Leighanne " she plans to get a few things straight as they start married life. 'Brian said he wanted us to start a family on our honeymoon, but I've persuaded him to let me have a couple of years for my career.'
She warns that he'll also have to come to grips with housework. 'He's discovered that vacuuming to music can be fun,' she says. 'He admitted that before he was famous, his mother did all the cooking and cleaning and he has always had a team of people around him to take care of his every need. He also loves to take the trash out, because it is such a new thing for him. He looks at me and smiles and says: 'Oh I think I will take out." I also make him wash the car. He goes: "I'm going to wash your wheels!' Like it's a real big thrill.