When Kiwi basketball star Alex Pledger and his wife, celebrity stylist Bailee Wilson-Pledger, planned their first wedding in 2021, they refused to let the uncertainty of lockdowns or the former Tall Black's terrifying cancer diagnosis stop them hosting their emotional vineyard nuptials in Central Otago.
And when, two years later, the pair decided to celebrate the athlete's recovery from cancer with a shotgun second ceremony at the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas on 7 November, nothing could stop them this time either – not even a delayed flight.
When airline staff at Auckland Airport spotted Bailee's garment bag with "Brides by Donna Rae" emblazoned on it, she and Alex, 36, were rushed onto a different plane headed for the US, where Bailee, 35, was due for work, as well as their planned nuptials.
"We were heading to Vegas for BravoCon 2023, where I'd been invited to style and do hair and makeup for Below Deck stars Aesha Scott and Katie Flood," explains Bailee, who'd planned their Sin City ceremony around the three-day reality TV convention for fans of shows such as Real Housewives and Below Deck.
"But our flight kept getting pushed and then someone told us we'd probably have to get one the next day. I mean, how many Kiwi stylists get flown over to dress the stars at BravoCon? And suddenly I was going to miss it!
"I was clearly radiating stress, but this beautiful Air New Zealand hostess had seen my wedding dress draped across our luggage, grabbed our bags and ushered us on a different flight, saying, 'These two are getting married and we've got to get them out today!' I had makeup running down my face from crying as we were put in whatever seats were available."
The flight left five hours later than planned, but the pair made it to BravoCon in the nick of time.
Alex – who was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in May 2021 – laughs, "When it all turned to absolute custard, I kept telling Bailee it would work out and somehow it did!"
Originally, the couple had planned to slip into the infamous Little White Wedding Chapel – where celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, Britney Spears and Jason Alexander, and Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner have tied the knot – in between Bailee's BravoCon commitments, but her job was unexpectedly hectic.
"It was so full-on that by the time I finished work each day, I just wanted to get off my feet!" tells Bailee, who got to know Kiwi TV sensation Aesha, 31, through a mutual friend before becoming her stylist.
"Each day, we were picked up in blacked-out SUVs and there were crowds of people screaming when we got out, excited to see Aesha and Katie. Paparazzi were everywhere and it was crazy! I kept saying to Alex, 'I don't recognise my life right now!'"
Indeed, it was a far cry from June 2021, when the pair married at Gibbston Valley Winery in front of 40 loved ones. Although they had originally wanted to elope to Vegas, the pandemic put a stop to those travel dreams, so Bailee and the former New Zealand Breakers player tied the knot in snowy Central Otago instead.
"Our first wedding was obviously amazing and we loved it, but it was kind of tinged with the fact everyone was hyper-aware that Alex was sick," shares Bailee. "It was hard to watch him go through all that and there was this feeling of impending doom. I think I carried that around his entire treatment."
During his fifth season with the Southland Sharks, after he was diagnosed, Alex endured five weeks of intensive radiotherapy and chemotherapy less than a month before their wedding.
Around five months later, he had surgery to remove the cancer, followed by his final procedure in November 2022. Just six months later, Alex returned to the court for the second half of the basketball season.
"I retired in July this year after 14 years of playing because I was too old," laughs the Hamilton-raised athlete, whose work now is teaching sports skills at primary schools. "I plan to get involved with the game again in some capacity in the future, but for now, 2023 is about having fun."
While it'll be several years of blood tests and examinations before professionals can confirm he is in remission, all his post-operative testing has come back clear.
"So far, it has gone about as well as you could hope and it's looking good," enthuses Alex, who last week marked the first anniversary of his final cancer treatment.
Bailee admits she still worries each time Alex goes for tests, but she's happy seeing her hubby with his old energy back, laughing and reaching milestones.
"After we set out to have fun this year, I threw myself into all this work I love and Alex is my cheerleader now," smiles the fashion enthusiast, who recently launched her PR business Boldly Known and will join Dose & Co founder Libby Boxall in releasing the affordable skincare brand Milou Beauty in February. "I definitely wouldn't be able to do it all without his support."
On the last day of BravoCon, she and Alex joined the Below Deck crew for an after-party. They'd planned their Vegas wedding for the next day, but after attending the wrap drinks with Aesha and Katie, the couple spontaneously decided to head to the Little White Wedding Chapel for an impromptu ceremony.
Unlike their first wedding, where Bailee wore a custom gown by bridal design guru Donna Rae, the petite 152cm bride was dressed in an oversized black blazer, paired with slicked-back hair and heels that got her just that little closer to her basketballer husband's 2.16m height.
"Since we weren't planning on getting married that night, I wasn't dressed wedding-appropriate at all," laughs Alex, who proposed on a Ferris wheel in Melbourne in 2019. "I was wearing jeans, a white T-shirt and a pair of Jordans!"
After tying the knot for a second time in a "quirky, weird, little ceremony", he and Bailee immediately boarded a luxury party bus to explore the Vegas clubs, ending up back at their hotel around 4.30am.
"I love that the wedding was spontaneous because it fit with the rest of our year and the idea of just going for things," shares Bailee, who signed a nondisclosure agreement that prevents her from talking about partying with an array of Bravo stars. "Just think of the chapel in that episode of Friends where Ross and Rachel got married in Vegas, and that was us!"
Despite having little sleep, the couple and their celebrity friends then drove to Sin City's iconic art installation Seven Magic Mountains, where Aesha's Kiwi partner Scott Dobson took some beautiful wedding photographs.
While Bailee and Alex had no firm expectations for their second nuptials, they agree the wild Las Vegas wedding surpassed anything they had imagined.
"There aren't many mornings where you wake up hungover and say it was worth it," laughs Bailee, who this time opted for a $1000 manicure with diamonds from the Layla Kaisi Collection instead of a second wedding ring.
"Vegas chewed us up and spat us out, and it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! Coming out of cancer, we just wanted to do something fun to celebrate love and life. It really was an amazing weekend."
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