The crowd at the Rodeo Drive Walk of Style Award bash honoring Tom Ford on March 28 was a who's who of Hollywood's hottest couples: Demi and Ashton, Tommy Lee and Pamela Anderson, and Mischa Barton and Brandon Davis. So where were the stars of MTV's hit reality series Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica?
Although the couple — she's 23, he's 30 — had been set to attend (Simpson even had a Gucci outfit selected), "Jess was just too tired to go to the party," her mother, Tina Simpson, tells Us.
"She and Nick have been going nonstop, and they just needed to crash at home."
Indeed, as their private time has become precious, their 6,400-square-foot home outside Los Angeles seems to be their favorite destination. Simpson herself tells Us, "The part of my day I look forward to the most is when the cameras are gone, the lights are out. We're lying in the bed, it's just me and him."
But it's not as if the Newlyweds, married 18 months, have a lot of downtime. In the last few months, Simpson's reissue of In This Skin hit No. 2 on the Billboard charts. She and Lachey scored his-and-hers deals with ABC (she'll star in a sitcom pilot in which she'll play Jessica Sampson, a TV reporter; he has been cast as an aspiring actor-handyman opposite Gina Gershon in the comedy pilot Hot Mom), and The Nick & Jessica Variety Hour airs April 11 on ABC.
And let's face it, keeping their marriage hot is a job all its own. While MTV viewers often see how Lachey caters to his wife (he had a custom closet built for her), his brother Drew Lachey, 27, says "the fact that she supports him as well is underplayed."
That's intentional. "Conflict makes good TV," Simpson's father, Joe, one of the show's producers, tells Us. "If it was all about their romance, we'd bore you to death." But that's where Simpson really shines — as a wife who is more committed to her marriage than her career.
Here's a look at the little things she does for Nick that you don't see on TV.
1. She makes his hobbies her own: This past Valentine's Day, as seen on the Newlyweds' season finale, Simpson presented Lachey with a golf membership to the Calabasas Golf & Country Club. "It was like heaven to him," she tells Us.
And who can forget her willingness to test the wild by camping with Lachey? "It's an amazing sign of respect for her husband to try [things she has never done before]," Simpson's longtime hairstylist, Ken Pavés, tells Us.
That she took an interest in athletics says something about her priorities. As a kid, she hated sports — the closest she got to a football field was when she walked on the turf in heels as homecoming princess (she was elected twice). But now that she's married to an ex-high school jock and obsessive football fan, she can often be found on the couch with Lachey watching ESPN.
"I can stand to watch one game. It's when it becomes six in one day — that's a little annoying," says Simpson.
Her solution? Go shopping.
"I just look at it as the perfect time for me to go do what he doesn't want to do."
2. She's more of a homemaker than you might think: So what if she burns pancakes and can't identify oregano? Simpson does know her way around the kitchen.
"Nick wanted me to be a woman before he married me, so I took cooking classes," she says. And they paid off! "I love her cooking," says Lachey.
"Her chili is awesome. Her beef stew is really good. She cooks great Southwestern chicken."
Lachey also admits that her habit of placing candles and flowers around their house has helped turn it into a home — though she could never be the next Martha Stewart. "Cleaning? Forget about it," says Lachey, who, as viewers have seen, at least has taught his wife (an admitted spoiled child) how to pick up after herself.
3. She helps lighten him up: Simpson's laid-back demeanor has rubbed off on her more tightly wound husband.
"He loves how free-spirited I am and he wants to be just like me!" she said on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno on March 17. Recording sessions and performances aside, Simpson — the butt of many ditsy-blonde jokes — does not take herself too seriously, something Lachey is still figuring out how to do.
Case in point: Lachey's spoofing by Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live.
"They mocked his boy-band past," notes a source close to the couple, "but she made it OK — she shows Nick how to laugh at himself."
4. She keeps the passion burning: The virgin-till-married bride surprised Lachey with a sexy performance with the Pussycat Dolls for his 30th birthday last November.
"They couldn't keep their eyes off each other," says Us fashion director Hayley Hill, who styled Simpson that evening in Roberto Cavalli. And while vacationing at Las Ventanas al Paraíso resort in Los Cabos, Mexico, in February, a bikini-clad Simpson snapped pictures of her hunky husband poolside. But the couple's hottest moments happen in private. "Romance for me is just being with Nick," Simpson tells Us.
"It doesn't have to be an elaborate scenario. We love to take bubble baths, drink wine and listen to jazz."
5. She gives Nick her undivided attention: Simpson is constantly surrounded by a team of handlers (publicist, parents, hairstylist), yet she's always tuned in to Lachey.
During a recent dinner conversation, Simpson paused to make sure the waiter had Lachey's order right. Says a friend of the couple, "The only opinion she cares about is Nick's. They disappear into each other."
Simpson also knows how to make her husband feel special. "I think it's good for the male ego to be complimented," she tells Us. "Nick and I are emotional people, so that's how we connect."
6. She can't live without him: "We try to spend as much time together as we can," Simpson tells Us. "If we're working while we do it, at least we're together."
Of course, more often than not, she's the one who is on the job and Lachey is standing nearby, ready to hand off her microphone (as he did before her Sugar Bowl performance) or simply provide much-needed confidence. As she told Us in January, just after the couple hosted Saturday Night Live: "I'm always better when I have Nick around."
His presence certainly came in handy in March, when the couple made a quick trip to Le Meridien Cancun Resort & Spa in Mexico so Simpson could host a contest for MTV's Spring Break 2004 and perform her latest single, "Take My Breath Away."
At the end of the day, Nick got stuck wheeling Jessica's luggage," an eyewitness tells Us. "He had this look on his face like, 'I'm only doing this because I love this girl.' "
7. She lets him know she's committed: Simpson's marriage role models? "My grandparents. They have been through all kinds of drama, and still today, after 50 years, my grandfather will pinch my grandmother's butt and tell her she's hot. They are madly in love," she tells Us.
And to all the naysayers out there who think the Simpson-Lachey union is headed for Splitsville, Drew Lachey assures Us, "Nick and Jessica's marriage is stronger than ever."