"The kilt was a novelty. The smile was all I needed," Langer tells PEOPLE of first meeting her future husband

By Simon Perry
November 22, 2017 10:21 AM
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A beloved ’90s TV star walks into a bar in Vegas, sees a strapping, very tall (6’6″) man in a kilt – and immediately falls for him.

And he falls just as hard. That’s how My So-Called Life star A.J. Langer, in Vegas on a bachelorette party in 2002, met the man who would become her husband, Charles Courtenay – a lawyer who was visiting from Britain with his London Scottish rugby team.

“We caught eyes and smiled. The kilt was a novelty. The smile was all I needed,” Langer, 43, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

For his part, “We instantly got on like a house on fire,” says her husband, 42, who goes by Charlie. “We went out to a nightclub — I wasn’t allowed in because I was wearing a skirt! So we spent a bit of time walking around the streets and got to know each other really, really well.”

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Charles Courtenay and A.J. Langer
| Credit: Richard Austin/REX/Shutterstock

Briefly escaping to her hotel room, A.J. scribbled down her number for fear of losing him. “I hadn’t done that since my first boyfriend when I was 16,” she recalls.

What she didn’t know about him then was that he was the heir to one of the grandest titles in Britain: Earl of Devon. For his part, Courtenay had never seen My So-Called Life and had no idea she was famous.

For more about A.J. Langer’s amazing new life as an English countess, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE

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A.J. Langer
| Credit: Julian Broad/Getty

After a few months of letter-writing and a brief date in New York, Courtenay invited Langer to the U.K. for a wedding, preceded by a short vacation in Scotland. (“It was lobster-potting, hiking, sea-smelly dogs,” she says.) Then they headed south to see his ancestral home, Powderham Castle. Inspired by his father, Hugh, Courtenay didn’t tell his new girlfriend the full truth about his family heritage, “just to get to know someone and really like them irrespective of all of this,” he says.

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Credit: Julian Broad/Getty

She remembers being barely prepared, wearing “my brother’s old cut-off jeans and a surfing beanie and a tank top” as they drove up to the 600-year-old castle. “And this is me showing up at a castle. And it’s beautiful, stunningly beautiful,” she says.

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Credit: Julian Broad/Getty
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Credit: Julian Broad/Getty

The couple wed in 2005, and today they are raising their children Joscelyn, 10, and Jack, 8, at Powderham, where Langer also oversees the castle’s many businesses.

“You really can’t appreciate this place until you hear all the stories,” she says — including her own!