Take away the TV cameras, the million-dollar tiara, and the People magazine reporter, and LeeAnne Locken and Rich Emberlin were just two people pledging their love in a heartfelt wedding at Dallas’ Cathedral of Hope last spring.
In fact, if planning had been left to LeeAnne, they might have ended up — pearl clutch! — at the Justice of the Peace.
But simple “I do’s” just won’t do when you’re a star of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Dallas and your tagline is, “Dallas is a pageant I always win.”
So, the cathedral was draped with abandon. A cake the size of a city monument was erected. Music was composed. Dancing cowboys were hired. Disco ninjas got the call. And the bride was adorned with $3 million worth of jewels for her walk down the aisle.
“It was the most perfect day I’ve had in my life,” LeeAnne says.
After witnessing their proposal, parties, and showers as plot points throughout the show, RHOD fans finally got to watch LeeAnne and Rich’s made-for-TV, do-Dallas-proud, $4 million wedding on November 6.
But Bravo did not plan, produce, or pay for the wedding. During a chat one Sunday afternoon, LeeAnne unveiled personal details that the TV audience didn’t see: their sweet first date, their excruciating secret engagement, and the words Rich said during the ceremony that melted her to tears.
No love for country
LeeAnne and Rich’s love story began like all the great ones do now: with Facebook stalking. Ten years ago, Rich, then a part of the elite Dallas Police Department SWAT detail, worked security for the Ritz-Carlton, Dallas on weekends. He noticed LeeAnne one night when she was out with girlfriends.
“He proceeded to find me on Facebook and requested to friend me, and we started talking, and he was really sweet,” she says. “The first time asked me out, I said, ‘I don’t date people from the internet. I didn’t want to go out with him.’”
After a nudge from friends, she agreed to a date. But she almost immediately regretted it.
“The first time he pulled up to pick me up, he was in a pickup truck. I thought, ‘If he’s playing country music, I’m gonna have to fake a stomach illness.’ Thank goodness he had rock playing.”
They headed over to Fearing’s inside the Ritz for dinner. By the time they ordered entrees, LeeAnne was in trouble. Rich was handsome, charming, funny, and a great storyteller.
“I’ve never been in love on a first date; I didn’t think it could happen,” she says. “From that first date till today, we’ve been together side by side. “
And that date just happened to be Rich’s parents’ wedding anniversary — February 2, 2009.
‘Aim for the shiny ones’
Several years in, Rich and LeeAnne were good. They bought a house in Preston Hollow and fixed it up together. They showed up to charity events together. They helped each other through the deaths of pets, parents, and grandparents.
“We started living together and loving every minute of it, and all of a sudden, the show came around,” she says.
Real Housewives is supposed to be about wives. LeeAnne was not a wife. From the moment the first episode aired in spring of 2016, the audience gave them grief for it. Sure, they’d talked about marriage, but Rich decided to take action now.
“It was his idea to propose on camera,” she says.
In season 2, audiences saw Rich take LeeAnne to the State Fair of Texas and watched their proposal: he throws a bean bag at a balloon, pops it, and the fair worker hands him a gold ring box. It was a sentimental proposal for a woman who grew up working on the carnival circuit.
“On the show, you see I lean back and say, ‘Aim for the shiny ones because they pop easier because they’re newer.’ I had no idea he was going to ask me; I was just teaching him the game,” she says. “When she handed the box to him, I thought, ‘Oh my god. How incredibly romantic.’”
Rich won the game, and LeeAnne went home that night with an engagement ring and a big pink and yellow stuffed gorilla, which she still has.
Because of the advance filming schedule, the couple had to keep their engagement a secret for a year, from fall 2016 to fall 2017. “It really kind of dampened the joy of being a newly engaged person,” she says.
Suddenly, the show’s producers wanted the wedding to air the following season. LeeAnne put her foot down.
“By the time we started filming season 3, I’ve got to plan a wedding in a month,” she says. “The producers haven’t allowed me time to be engaged. I said, 'It’s not fair to rush this. This is an authentic wedding, this isn’t crap.'”
So the show agreed to a season 4 wedding, and planning finally began.
Friends in high places
LeeAnne called on one of her best friends, celebrity event planner Steve Kemble, to plan and manage her dream wedding.
“Everything about the wedding, Steve Kemble touched,” she says. “I genuinely put this wedding in God’s hands and God gave me Steve Kemble ... my friends really came through for me.”
In fact, friends and vendors LeeAnne knew from her nonprofit work came out of the woodwork to help or donate services. Kemble says no fewer than three vendors in each category (floral, catering, band, decor) wanted to contribute something.
In the case of the dress, five designers offered to gift her a gown. But LeeAnne wanted to work with her friend and well-known Dallas designer Nardos Imam, who had made her engagement party dress.
In a now-famous scene from earlier this season, it appeared as if LeeAnne was haggling with Nardos for a free dress worth $25,000. Kemble says that wasn’t the case.
“Nardos and LeeAnne have been friends for a long time. LeeAnne has always supported her, and Nardos, LeeAnne,” Kemble says."In that scene, Nardos was telling us the cost, and I wanted to make sure she knew that there were others that were all donating. And in evaluating the overall budget, it would be hard for me to recommend LeeAnne and Rich to spend money on a dress due to all the people willing to give. I am a pretty straight-forward talker, so if it came out blunt and direct, that’s all on me.”
Nardos told LeeAnne, "I want to make you something that reflects how I see you." The result was a romantic gown of re-embroidered French lace over Duchess satin, with long lace sleeves and a column silhouette with draped cascading fabric down the front. Nardos says the gown brought out LeeAnne’s innocence.
“It was a princess dress,” LeeAnne says. “I literally felt like I was Princess Diana walking down the aisle.”
Princess Diana may have had jewels from the Queen of England, but LeeAnne had jewels from Joe Pacetti. Another friend of LeeAnne’s, the fine jeweler insisted that she top her wedding look with a tiara.
“I didn’t plan on a tiara,” she says, “But that’s how Joe saw me.”
The tiara had 94 carats of diamonds and 164 carats of emeralds. Pacetti also provided matching emerald and diamond eardrops and a one-of-a-kind bracelet. Total cost of the jewelry loaned to the bride: $3 million.
One of the bride's easiest decisions was the ceremony venue. No question it would be at Cathedral of Hope, the world’s largest inclusive Christian congregation.
“It was very important to me, since 98.999 percent of my friends are male gay friends, that everyone feel comfortable in church,” LeeAnne says. “My grandmother used to tell me the way Jesus loved was agape, acceptance of all. To me, agape love is the way we should love. I truly believe that is what they preach. I wanted to be in a church where I’d feel unconditional love.”
On this day, I finally wed …
The big day finally arrived on April 27, 2019. LeeAnne and Rich were calm, excited, and anything but superstitious.
“The night before the wedding, I went to Round-Up [bar] by myself with friends,” she says. “I came home, and Rich and I got up, and the Rolls-Royce picked us up and drove us to the cathedral together.”
Four-hundred guests — friends, family, and some (but not all) of her Real Housewives co-stars — filled the cathedral. The sanctuary’s walls had been draped in 270 yards of silver silk fabric that soared 16 feet into the air. The altar area, which Dallas-based designer Prashe Shah finished out, featured two 24-foot cherry blossom trees and 170 candles in various heights and sizes.
LeeAnne waited behind a curtain as the Christina Perri song “A Thousand Years” played. “I remember being behind curtain, thinking, ‘I feel like I’ve waited a thousand years, and I’ve never been more grateful than I am right now.'”
When the curtain was drawn and LeeAnne and Rich’s eyes met, he reached his hand out as if to say, “Come to me,” and she mouthed, “I love you.”
The ceremony was quick but full of touches that were personal to the bride and groom. Rich’s 21-year-old daughter, Elise, lit the unity candle with LeeAnne’s mom. They used her grandfather’s Bible for the marriage service.
And to honor LeeAnne’s beloved grandmother, who passed away eight years ago, Magnolia leaves — her favorite — were incorporated into the bridal bouquet.
Although Bravo brought in four extra cameras to film the day, LeeAnne says they honored the couple’s wishes not to disrupt the events. “It flowed like a regular wedding,” she says. “Once I walked down the aisle, Rich and I never knew the cameras were there. Not once did production step in.”
After being pronounced Mr. and Mrs., Rich and LeeAnne took some time for themselves before the reception began. This included a swing through a Sonic drive-thru for corn dogs in the Rolls-Royce. "By the time we were done filming, we were all alone at the Hotel St. Germain, and we could change clothes and eat our corn dogs,” she says.
‘Party their butts off’
For the reception at the Prashe Showroom, Kemble and Prashe created a whimsical wonderland in the colors of black, silver, and gold.
“I wanted our guests to be witnesses of the dedication of love, and then to come back and party their butts off,” LeeAnn says.
The bride literally let her hair down and made a costume change, into a white catsuit with a detachable, 6-foot train designed by Dallas-based Ese Azénabor.
Guests were greeted at the valet drop by the Bubble Tap Champagne Trailer, which is a first-of-its-kind, fully renovated vintage camper trailer that has been converted into a mobile bar.
Throughout the night, they felt like they were in a kaleidoscope with “attractions” that included a giant charcuterie board, vodka bar, tequila shots, Sprinkles cupcake wall, photo booth, and flower wall.
There were no toasts and no “getting to know the bride and groom” games. But there were dancing cowboys, disco ninjas, an Epicurean cyclist who roamed through the party passing out wine, and the most outrageous feature: a woman suspended in the air on a Texas saddle with “RHOD” printed on the back.
“It was over-the-top fabulous. Every time you turned around, you saw something new that amazed you,” LeeAnne says. “I wanted it to be everything I am — crazy cray cray cray.”
Shane Morgan of Posh Cakes created a showstopping wedding cake that was 12 feet tall.
And as a special surprise, the 10-piece Emerald City Band composed Rich and LeeAnne’s first-dance song called “Party All Night.” They danced cheek-to-cheek before the band revved up and kept the dance floor packed all night.
Once the newlyweds departed in their Rolls Royce back to Hotel St. Germain, there was one more surprise in store. The car drove past the Omni Dallas Hotel, which had projected the couple’s monogram in lights on the side of the building.
The grand ceremony and spectacle of a reception were all a dream come true for LeeAnne, who'd waited 51 years to get married. But the most memorable part of the day — the thing that “stole the wedding,” she says — were Rich’s vows. He had worked on them for three months. They began, “I know we both come from the land of misfit toys,” and she melted.
LeeAnne explains that she and Rich often describe themselves as “broken toys” who found each other and found happiness together against all odds.
As Rich expressed in his vows, she says, “I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. We make each other whole.”
Ceremony venue: Cathedral of Hope (The Rev. Dr. Neil G. Cazares Thomas, Senior Pastor)
Reception venue: Prashe Showroom
Wedding planner: Steve Kemble
Wedding and reception decor: Prashe Shah, Prashe Décor
Bridal gown: Nardos Imam, Nardos Design
Reception cat suit: Esé Azénabor
Groom's tuxedo: Don Morphy Prive Clothiers
Jewelry and tiara: Joe Pacetti Precious Jewels
Wedding cake: Posh Cakes by Shane Morgan
Wedding band: Emerald City
Catering: Spice of Life Catering Dallas
Cupcakes: Sprinkles Cupcakes
Champagne trailer: The Bubble Tap Trailer
Reception entertainers: Bravo Entertainment
Balloons: WOW Balloons DFW
Draping: Quest Drape
Wedding logo and napkins, cups, gift bags, and labels: GB Design House
Valet parking: Gold Crown Valet Parking Inc.
Getaway Rolls-Royce: Park Place Motorcars
Honeymoon suite: Hotel St. Germain