By Denise Dunbar | [email protected]
When Monte Durham and Jakob Evans married in October 2013, the theme of the wedding was ‘Lucky us.’ The two had known each other for nearly 20 years at that point, but decided to wed after gay marriage was legalized earlier that year.
“Lucky us. Not just us, but anybody to marry whoever you love,” Durham said.
Durham remembers when Evans first raised the topic of marriage earlier that year. He was stuck in an airport in Vancouver, British Columbia on July 4, in the midst of a business trip related to his role as fashion director of the TLC show “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta.”
“My flight’s been cancelled. I’m trying to get back to see the fireworks here in D.C. and we’re already three hours behind. I’m in the United lounge,” Durham said.
“Your family had come up from North Carolina,” Evans added.
“I’m trying to get another flight,” Durham continued. “And Jack calls me. And he says,
‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘I’m here and I’m frazzled.’
“He never calls. I always call,” Durham said. “He’s trying to talk and I’m like, ‘Really? I’m really in no mood.’ I’m trying to get on this flight. It’s going to be a nightmare. I’m not going to get home tonight – I can see that already.”
“He goes, ‘You know, gay marriage is legal in D.C.’ I go, ‘Yeah, I know that, Jack, I know that.’ And he’s talking to me and the woman is trying to work on my ticket so I’m going back and forth. He says, ‘I think we should get married.’ I’m like, ‘OK, I’ll take that seat. WHAT?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I think we should get married.’”
“The timing was just something,” Durham said.
“I’m like, ‘Really? Do we need to talk about this now?’ I had been working for two weeks and I just wanted to get home. … ‘[I said] OK Jack. I think this is great and wonderful. But can we talk about this when I get home?’ He was like, ‘Fine, if that’s the way you want to be.’ I said, ‘That’s not the way I want to be, I’m just trying to get a ticket.’”
Durham finally made it home at midnight and they did have that talk the next day. Evans said there were multiple reasons for wanting to get married.
“The Supreme Court had ruled The Defense of Marriage Act was no longer valid,” Evans said. “And so that forced the federal government to recognize gay marriages. And based on that they would extend benefits to your partner so long as you were legally married. So based on that, I said, ‘We can get him health coverage. We don’t have to worry about that.’”
Health coverage was an issue because, as an independent contractor, Durham did not have
employer-provided insurance of his own.
“[Marriage] just solidifies everything,” Durham said.
Their wedding weekend was a three-day event. They were married at the D.C. Courthouse on Oct. 18 – using a Bible that had belonged to Durham’s grandmother – then had a post-ceremony luncheon at the Hay-Adams Hotel. Then on Oct. 20, there was a blessing ceremony at St. Paul’s Church, followed by a brunch at the Morrison House. Durham’s “Say Yes” co-star Lori Allen and her husband made the trip up for the ceremony. The date of Oct. 20 was deliberately chosen for the blessing and brunch.
“…I’m all about Jackie O and Oct. 20 was when she married Ari Onassis,” Durham said.
At the brunch, Durham deliberately recreated the famous pose of Jackie lighting candles on a dinner table. The glamour of their wedding weekend greatly contrasted with Durham’s upbringing in rural West Virginia.
“I grew up very poor in West Virginia in a holler,” Durham said. “I grew up in a house with no running water and an outside toilet. I started school in a two-room schoolhouse that my great-grandfather built because my mother and her siblings, all 12 of them, had to walk five miles so he put in the school.”
Durham said it was a dramatic change to go from that upbringing to his current life, where he stays in five-star hotels and wears designer clothes.
“I am telling you that was never my view that it would happen to me. Never, never,” he said.
Evans was also a transplant to the D.C. area, having grown up all over the state of Colorado. He considers Eagle, Colorado his hometown.
“After high school, I’d applied with the F.B.I. because I wanted to come out east. I don’t know why I wanted to come out east, I just had that urge,” he said.
Unfortunately, the paperwork and process took so long that Evans gave up on the F.B.I. and joined the Army instead. He had just arrived at boot camp when he called home to let his family know he had arrived safely.
Evans said, “My mom was sad and kind of crying [on the phone]. And she said, ‘You’ll never guess what came today: your acceptance letter to the F.B.I.’”
So Evans served three years in the Army and reapplied to the F.B.I., was accepted again and embarked on a 38-year career at the Bureau. He retired in 2010.
It was through a friend at the F.B.I. that Evans met Durham, who was working at Woodward & Lothrop at the time as a personal shopper. The partner of one of Durham’s co-workers was with the F.B.I. and invited him to a Christmas party.
“I was like, ‘Eh,’” Durham said. “Believe it or not I’m not really a big party guy. I’m more of a recluse than people would imagine. But anyway, I said OK.”
The party was being held in a building where two apartments had been joined together.
When he went into the first apartment, there was no one there and he wondered where all of the people were. After walking down a hallway he entered a crowded room, and loudly exclaimed, “Oh my, that’s where everybody is.”
Evans was in that crowd. After a while the crowd had thinned and Durham made his way over to Evans and said, “Well, I guess we’re going to have to talk.”
“He started stalking me,” Evans said. “That’s literally what it was.”
In the era before cell phones, Durham and Evans didn’t immediately connect or start dating, but they did see each other occasionally because they were part of the same larger circle of friends.
“There wasn’t like, bells, lights and all that,” Durham said. “It literally was we just started talking. And we formed a friendship first. Because we knew so many of the same people once we started talking.”
“What was even more interesting, was I had lost my partner like three years before,” Evans said. “And his name was Monty with a ‘y’. It was like, wow. It was interesting.”
That New Year’s Eve, Evans went with some friends to a bar on King Street called 808.
“So we entered there and I looked up and who was on the bar but Monte,” Evans said.
“It was New Year’s Eve,” Durham exclaimed. “We were trying to get the crowd up. So there were three of us guys in the same vest and we had boas. We had this skit and it’s narrow [in 808], it’s a townhome. There’s no room. So when we got there we said, ‘Well, how are we going to do this? There’s no room.’ And they said, ‘Just get on the bar.’”
Evans couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I know my mouth just dropped open,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Oh. My. God.’”
Soon afterward, Evans came by the Woodward & Lothrop at Landmark Mall to see Durham and the two exchanged phone numbers.
“He started coming over to my house,” Evans said. “I had a little bitty house.”
Durham had a condo at the time that they moved into after selling Evans’ house. Soon,
though, they decided to sell the condo and buy a house together. They found a 74-year-old house with white columns that they have extensively renovated. Durham also purged most of Evans’ furniture along the way.
“We wanted to … start out fresh,” Evans said.
“Even though there’s nothing in this house that belonged to you originally,” Durham said.
“You’ve definitely gotten rid of everything,” Evans agreed.
“Well, you had no taste, actually,” Durham countered. “I mean, some of the things. … You know it’s bad when the Salvation Army says, ‘You know we’re not taking that.’”
“He’s right,” Evans sighed. “My little house had all white walls.”
“His paintings, well posters, were all hung up high,” Durham remembered. “I’m shocked when I look back at that house.”
Durham is amused at other contrasts between the two of them, including in attire.
“Jack is very conservative in dress, very liberal in viewpoints,” Durham said. “So it’s interesting because, you know, I wear whatever I think is trending or fashionable.”
The two remain grounded, despite Durham’s celebrity since he started with TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta” seven years and 10 seasons ago. Durham travels frequently for TLC, including for the nonprofit “Say Yes to the Prom” that he helps run. A 90-minute segment will air on March 24 that features the stories of young men and women who were able to attend proms with the organization’s help. Macy’s department store provided 2,000 prom dresses as part of the partnership.
“I’m happy that he’s gone a lot,” Evans laughed. “That’s the only way we probably have
When Durham is traveling, Evans tends to stay home with their two rescue Welsh Terriers, Patsy Jo and Charlie Champ. When they go out together, they have little privacy, because people constantly come up to Durham.
“I used to enjoy that when people would recognize him when we would go out or shopping,” Evans said. “And now it’s more like an inconvenience. I don’t think of it as an intrusion, because I feel honestly that’s what he chose. That comes with the territory. But it can get a little aggravating.”
It’s been almost five years since they married and seven since Durham became an internationally known celebrity.
“It’s still all about that. It’s Monte, Monte, Monte,” Evans deadpanned.
“That’s the way I like it. Now we’re talking,” Durham countered.