Straight outta a fairytale!
When Neil Brown Jr. married his high school sweetheart, Catrina, in 2000, he may have been the man of her dreams, but at the time he was not able to give her the wedding she had always dreamed of.
Fast forward 18 years later, the award-winning Straight Outta Compton actor is at the height of his career and ready for his next move — one he’s been planning for five years: to re-propose to his wife.
In late June, Brown Jr., 38, flew both his and Catrina’s family out to Los Angeles to celebrate the high school graduation of their youngest son, Ethan. Little did his wife know, that wasn’t all they would be celebrating.
“This night was such a long time in the making, like seven years in the making, and it turned out to be more than I ever dreamed of,” the actor tells PEOPLE exclusively about the dinner, which was held at Gesso in West Hollywood on June 24. “My wife never got the proposal, wedding or honeymoon that she deserved. We were so young, had no money and spent our wedding night in the hospital. I always wanted to do it the right way. I prayed for guidance.”
“My son and I devised a plan to make this night perfect,” he says. “It was hard to keep this secret from my wife. She always wanted another wedding, but I had to convince her that I didn’t. Which, in fact, the opposite was true.”
Slipping away from the crowd in the middle of his son’s speech to get suited up in his tux, he returned to his son asking his parents to share a dance to her two favorite songs — one from Ed Sheeran and one from Luther Vandross — sung live by Quinton Sampson, actor Kendrick Sampson’s brother, who had been flown in from Houston for the proposal.
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“The butterflies didn’t go away until I walked out and looked into the eyes of the most beautiful woman in the world,” he says. “On this night, I was her prince and we wrote the first page in the new chapter of our lives.”
But no proposal is complete without a ring. Not only did Catrina get her life-long wish when Brown Jr. got down on one knee, but she also got some new bling to mark the occasion.
“I had spent months designing a custom engagement ring for her, engraved with our special quote, seeing it for the first time in person the night I slipped it on her finger,” he says.
“The night my husband re-proposed to me was absolutely magical,” Catrina adds about the special moment. “His infamous quote to me was ‘Do you want a house or a wedding, you can’t have both,’ [and] needless to say I was convinced that after 18 years of marriage, I would never have my Cinderella wedding.”