When a handsome bloke from Whangarei stepped into a salsa lesson that Rachel White was teaching in Los Angeles back in 2011, the Dancing with the Stars NZ judge confesses it was "love and lust at first sight".
The Russian-Californian beauty recalls, "I vowed I'd never in my life date a client, but I had full-on fireworks and couldn't stop thinking about him. My dream guy, this Ken doll, had just walked through the door, with a gorgeous accent to boot. I knew I had to have this person in my life."
Yet while Rachel, 30, was surprised to find herself falling for a customer, she wasn't at all shocked that her future husband, gym owner Stuart, 36, was from New Zealand. She tells Woman's Day, "Ever since I was a kid, I've had a crazy connection to this part of the world. Before I even met Stu, I just knew I would end up with someone from Down Under."
"I'd already fallen in love with New Zealand," Rachel smiles, looking at her LA-based husband, who has joined her for a week-long holiday in his homeland.
"It's the scenery, the lifestyle and the food – but the biggest thing is the people.
"Unlike in America, Kiwis are so sincere and genuinely care for each other, and Stu is so sweet. Whether it's the receptionist or the janitor, he rolls out the red carpet for anyone. I was in awe."
And Stu, who moved to the US in 2007, was impressed too. He remembers, "She looked like a stunning Latin temptress, but as I got to know her, I realised there was more. She's an extremely generous, positive person with a wicked sense of humour. But the clincher was when she offered to pay on our first date – she doesn't have a sense of entitlement."
That said, Rachel wasn't entirely sure that first date, a sushi lunch, was actually a date. She laughs, "He was so polite and nice, I thought that maybe we were just going out as friends."
To find out where she stood, Rachel followed the meal up with a text asking, "Where was my kiss?" And from that moment, it was all on, with the couple moving in together after a few months.
It was at their LA home in 2015 that Stu got down on one knee and proposed with a ring they'd both helped design. However, if their engagement was simple, the next year's wedding in Hawaii was not.
Rachel beams, "We spent way more than I intended, but it's only money and I got my dream wedding – an amazing experience with our family and friends, and I loved every detail. It was a beautiful day.
"It was all outdoors, and we included Hawaiian spiritual elements and a few Jewish traditions from my background. It was black-tie because I knew otherwise all the Kiwis would turn up in shorts!"
Stu's highlight was their first dance, a Viennese waltz, choreographed by Julz and set to Metallica's "Nothing Else Matters".
Rachel says, "My dress was really tight and clearly not made for dancing, so I was tripping over myself, but Stu handled it really well."
Stu isn't surprised Rachel has been branded "the mean judge" on the Three show. He laughs, "Because she's both American and Russian, she's extremely forward and blunt. It's not the Kiwi way of doing things, but when Rach is giving a critique, there's no focus on failure – it's things you've done well and the things you can fix."
In their week together back in NZ, Stu watched Rachel at work in two live tapings of Dancing in Auckland, then they headed north to his family farm at Maungakaramea to celebrate his niece's fourth birthday. They also visited his 90-year-old grandmother in Dargaville.
Asked what the future holds for them, Rachel confesses that starting a family is on the cards. When pressed for when they'll begin trying, she blushes, "Actually, we started a couple of nights ago. We're ready
And if they're lucky enough to conceive, they might move back to Aotearoa permanently. Stu tells, "I was stoked that Rachel was so vocal about how much she loved New Zealand from the start because it was always in the back of my mind that I might want to come back. This is an exceptional place to raise a family."
Smiling, Rachel adds, "Ideally, I'd live both here and in LA, but just the other week, I was teaching a bunch of kids in Auckland and their manners were just exceptional. I could see how well they were being brought up here and it was really special. I was sold."
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