Cynthia Bailey didn’t know what to expect after her friend Steve Harvey set her up with Mike Hill on a “Dating Game”-style segment of Mr. Harvey’s talk show taped in January 2018. Longtime fans of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” had already watched her date, get engaged, marry and divorce one man before she publicly swore she didn’t want to get married again. That was fine by Mr. Hill, 50, living in Los Angeles and casually dating, though already impressed by Ms. Bailey from watching her reality show with his ex-wife.
Producers of Mr. Harvey’s show had hoped Mr. Hill and Ms. Bailey would take their first date on the rooftop of the studio immediately after the episode taped, but Mr. Hill had to run back to his sportscaster job at Fox Sports and gave Ms. Bailey a quick hug before leaving, believing he wouldn’t talk to her again.
“Neither one of us was pressed,” said Ms. Bailey, 53. “It wasn’t love at first sight with Mike. It was like at first sight.”
The next month Ms. Bailey accepted an invitation to appear on a podcast Mr. Hill co-hosted in Los Angeles. She admired Mr. Hill’s confidence and “sexy voice,” while he flattered her. After recording, the two went for sushi at Sugarfish.
Ms. Bailey had to do a phone interview during the meal but neither expected the call to last the hour it did. Mr. Hill was understanding and waited patiently as Ms. Bailey held and caressed his hand. “I could tell she was feeling me,” Mr. Hill said. She was; they shared their first kiss after the meal.
But, “I had some distractions,” said Ms. Bailey. And per Mr. Hill, those “distractions” allowed Ms. Bailey to ghost him before a planned date. Turned off, Mr. Hill retreated until learning Ms. Bailey had a noncancerous tumor removed from her back. He expressed his concern via an Edible Arrangement sent to Ms. Bailey’s home. Because he didn’t know her well, he was unaware of Ms. Bailey’s aversion to fruit. “I thought everybody liked fruit,” Mr. Hill said.
Mr. Hill made a greater impression during a second date outside of Atlanta in Duluth, Ga., where Ms. Bailey’s former co-star Nene Leakes joined them on an outing of Italian food and karaoke. Mr. Hill took the mic and doffed his shirt as he did a strip tease and sang Jodeci’s “Forever My Lady.”
Ms. Bailey was hooked, and their episode on “The Steve Harvey Show” still hadn’t even aired.
Though she initially played it cool, Ms. Bailey said “I love you,” first, repeatedly, and accidentally, in the heat of an intimate moment, six months in. Mr. Hill said nothing. “Mike and I were a slow burn, but once it heated up, things moved really fast right after that,” Ms. Bailey said. She tried again, this time, dropping an “I love you” at the end of a phone call. Mr. Hill was feeling it, but couldn’t yet say the words.
Ms. Bailey began to film the 11th season of her show early that summer and though most men she dated refused to appear on the show that turned her from a magazine cover model to a popular reality star with several businesses, Mr. Hill said he’d join to support her, despite “everybody” telling him it would hurt his career. He had reservations but felt he could be his authentic self. “And he wasn’t going to come on and just hold my purse,” Ms. Bailey said.
By fall of that year, Mr. Hill realized he was in love. Ms. Bailey warmed to the idea of getting married again, but Mr. Hill would not propose until July 2019, during the opening of Ms. Bailey’s wine store and tasting room in Atlanta. Ms. Bailey had “no clue” she’d get engaged that day, nine seasons after her first on-camera engagement. Her co-stars, and Andy Cohen, executive producer of the show, saw it coming. “If Cynthia Bailey can’t find love, then there’s no hope for any of us,” Mr. Cohen said.
Ms. Bailey and Mr. Hill quarantined with her 20-year-old daughter and his two daughters, 18 and 21, at Mr. Hill’s Los Angeles home after the pandemic hit, and the forced cohabitation challenged their relationship. “We were definitely tested during the quarantine,” Ms. Bailey said. “And it almost took us out.”
They were married on their original date, Oct. 10, at the Governors Towne Club in Acworth, Ga. Pastor Charles Wesley Knight, of the Revision Church Atlanta, prayed for them when they met him at their engagement party, and they knew then that they wanted him to officiate. Naturally, camera crews and Ms. Bailey’s co-stars were in attendance, with temperature checks, masks and sanitizer stations designed to keep all 250 guests safe.
The couple plans to maintain their Atlanta and Los Angeles bases, though Mr. Hill is interested in spending more time in Atlanta if his work allows it. “I’m really working hard on Mike,” Ms. Bailey said. “I don’t think he’s going to want to go back to L.A. for too long without me.”
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