“I had come out of a relationship, so wasn’t looking for anything serious, but she was around and we had a lot of same interests,” adds Howie. “We both loved to entertain, be around people, go out, visit theme parks, ride roller coasters and eat.
“She opened my mind to music I hadn’t listened to, like Ben Harper and Dave Matthews,” the Dead 7 star continues. “She took me to Primus and exposed me to a totally different realm of music, and I introduced her to more pop/R&B, like Maxwell and Sade -- as well as our music. She knew who we were, but didn’t truly know our songs, so when I hung with her, I was like, ‘She’s not a typical fan who knows every word and asks crazy questions.’ It was a breath of fresh air to have somebody who had totally different interests, but we still saw eye-to-eye on a lot of things.”
While their courtship was free of the glare of social media and the backlash to which the wives of younger bandmates, Nick Carter and AJ McLean, have been heavily subjected, Leigh “still got a lot of hate.” Unsure how to handle herself in public, she would keep her head down and stay quiet, which ignited more criticism. Howie confesses he “didn’t help the situation” by avoiding publicly confirming their relationship.
“In the early years, we were encouraged not to announce girlfriends, and that stayed in my mind longer than the other guys,” he explains. “I never announced any previous girlfriends and wasn’t one to talk about it until I knew for sure I wanted to. I always had my sister, Pollyanna, as my date because she wanted to come to everything! Once I felt comfortable enough to look at fans and hope they could see past the performer and want me to be happy as a person, and acknowledge her as my significant other, a lot of fans accepted her. Before that, they were like, ‘Who’s this hoochie mama hanging around?’ I think fans thought that about all our girlfriends until they became part of our lives, and they realized they weren’t just a one-night stand.”