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Spouse in the Spotlight

All the world's a stage for Mark Clifford, clogger in The Carolina Opry dance group All That! - from his nightly stint on-stage here in Myrtle Beach, his appearance on the finals of TV's "America's Got Talent" a few years ago and a win on the more recent "Fast Track to Fame" on the Speed Channel to the staging of his picture-perfect marriage proposal to Junell Maddox, their wedding reception and honeymoon.

"He's an entertainer all the time," says Junell. "Let's just say everybody aboard the Royal Caribbean cruise ship knew him before the last day," Apparently, Mark made quite a splash jumping off the pier in Cozumel, Mexico.

But beneath the performer, Mark is a hopeless romantic, and was star struck by Junell, a manager at The Carolina Opry, on their first meeting. "We never saw each other until after the show one night. I had invited some of my out-of-town family to see it," recalls Junell. "After the curtain lifted, I took a relative to the stage to get an autograph. It was then that Mark and I caught each other's eyes. No words were spoken, but we both noticed something between us."

A few weeks later, at another chance meeting in a boutique, Junell introduced a friend to Mark, who finally realized Junell worked at the Opry, too. "I could tell he was a little happy about it," she says.

That was a cue for phone numbers to be exchanged. Phone conversations evolved into dates and, before long, the two co-workers were inseparable. "I knew he was the one on our first date," says Junell. "When we hugged goodbye, I felt like I was home ... I can still tell you exactly what he was wearing. I'll never forget that feeling. It was like love at first hug!"

Junell and Mark had talked of marriage, but Junell was completely surprised when Mark proposed on Jan. 20 last year. "It had started to snow here in Myrtle Beach, and Mark knows how much I love the snow and the beach, so he thought it would be nice to go down to the ocean and watch the snow fall," she says. "We just happened to be walking along the beach, passing some condos where we both had stayed before knowing one another, when he got down on one knee. Mark said, 'I'm so happy you came into my life and I can't picture it without you. I know it won't be easy, but will you marry me?'"

The magic answer was yes, of course, and plans were quickly underway for a winter wedding on Jan. 16. Because Mark and Junell are constantly in the public eye full-time at The Carolina Opry, the couple wanted a small-scale, intimate wedding witnessed by family and close friends. "We liked the elegance of 'Platinum Weddings' you see on TV, but with a smaller crowd. And we originally wanted to go away to a resort, but our family here in Myrtle Beach and Charleston didn't want that," she confesses. "I feel like we got our $50,000 'Platinum Wedding' without paying for one."

The Cliffords' ceremony took place at Myrtle Beach Church of Christ, followed by the reception at Marriott at Grande Dunes. Lighting and entertainment, which was a DJ referred by staff at the Opry, were important factors for the celebration. Small, pretty pastel carnations, roses and bells of Ireland also softened the mood of the evening. Dinners of chicken infused with fruits and vegetables were served to guests at their tables.

Junell's trio of bridesmaids complemented the muted color palette in champagne dresses. Junnell's gown was a Maggie Sottero design, selected after sorting through 17,000 other options online. "It took me forever to find the perfect dress," she says. "I knew I wanted something with pick-ups, something sparkly. I don't like to dress up that much, but on this day, I wanted to be the princess."

And a princess she was crowned, on a wedding day that brought a dousing of rain showers, which Junell considers a sign of good luck. "Right before I walked down aisle, I panicked," she admits. "Not because I was unsure, but because I couldn't believe I was in that place at that time."

The newlyweds continue to work at the Opry and live happily in Myrtle Beach, where their destiny began - off-stage. "I'm more of the serious one, and he's more happy-go-lucky," says Junell. "He always claims that he gets to brag about me, but I do, too, when he's on-stage or touring. I'm like a proud mom."

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