Chip Gaines grew up thinking that his destiny was to be the star of every show — until he met his wife, Joanna.
The Fixer Upper star, 45, recently opened up about embracing his “supporting role” in his personal — and professional — partnership with his wife, 41, in an essay for the Spring issue of Magnolia Journal, the couple’s quarterly lifestyle magazine. (Magnolia Journal is published by Meredith, the parent company of PEOPLE.)
In the personal piece, titled “Best Supporting Role,” the home renovation expert explains that he always believed that he was meant for the spotlight, even considering that he might grow up to be the President of the United States — “In my dreams, it was me standing at the podium giving the State of the Union address to millions of Americans,” he writes.
“Throughout grade school, I was the popular guy, the athlete, the comedian,” he continues. “I had become a rather impressive chameleon by the time I graduated from high school — always prepared to knock the socks off anyone I encountered.” But that changed when he met his bride to be.
He explains that when he and Joanna were asked by HGTV to star in Fixer Upper, he felt like he was finally going to answer his true calling, ready to step into the limelight. “In a very literal sense, it seemed as though I was going to be the superstar I’d always envisioned myself becoming,” he said.
Joanna, on the other hand, had no interest in fame, and would actively avoid the spotlight, he says.
Somewhere around Season 2 of the show, Chip says, he realized that he was not meant to be a star in the same way he had always imagined — but Joanna was.
He recalls sitting in meetings with HGTV heads and expecting them to hang on his every word, but it didn’t happen that way at all.
When the execs asked the couple a question, Chip stepped right up with an answer he says he’d “been rehearsing since birth . . . I all but expected a standing ovation. Everyone around the table would respond to me with these expressions of amazement and bewilderment, not at how incredible my answer had been, but because they had no earthly idea what I was talking about.
But when Joanna would perk up and say a few words, he says, people listened.
“The reality was, when Jo spoke, it changed the dynamic of our meetings,” he says. “People would straighten up in their chairs and lean in . . . I was slowly realizing that this universe we’d stepped into was actually built for Joanna in the lead role, not for me.”
Chip recalls it was at that moment he decided he would take on the supporting role in their working relationship, cheering on the mother of his five children — Drake, 14, Ella Rose, 13, Duke, 11, Emmie Kay, 9, and Crew, 1 — as she learned to shine.
“Any fantasy I’d concocted about my own future paled in comparison to the potential I was seeing in Jo,” he writes. “You see, something is built into the fabric of Joanna’s being that is quietly compelling and meant to be shared with the world. She’s a visionary. She’s captivating. Even though it may not resemble what I thought those qualities were supposed to look like.”
Despite this shift, Chip says he still tends to be the “life of the party” while his wife “prefers to fly under the radar.” But when he’s able to make Joanna feel comfortable enough to work her magic, big things happen. Currently, the pair are busy working on their own TV network launching this summer, building their Magnolia empire and preparing for the opening of their boutique hotel in Waco in 2021.
“The role I thought I was born to play ended up not being the one intended for me,” Chip says. “Instead, I’ve accepted my supporting role, a role I’m actually honored to play. And I gotta tell you, it’s been the absolute joy of my life!”
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