05/08/2008 AT 1:00 PM ET
They hadn’t even gone public with their relationship – in fact, they had only recently begun seeing each other – when Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon decided to take the plunge. “We got tattoos!” says Carey. “His is on one shoulder to the other and it says ‘Mariah.’” And hers? “It’s on my lower back and it says ‘Mrs. Cannon,’” she says. Only after that did they ink a marriage license – and pull off the surprise wedding of the year. Carey and singer-actor Cannon first met in 2005 at the Teen Choice Awards but only started dating in late March. Just weeks later, to the shock of a lot of their friends and family, they whisked off to Carey’s Bahamian estate and wed in a sunset, ocean-side ceremony April 30. While still on their honeymoon, the giddy newlyweds spoke exclusively to PEOPLE’s Liz McNeil about their whirlwind courtship, Cannon’s candy-themed proposal and – yep – having kids.
So, how does it feel to be married?
Mariah: [Laughing] Who wants to go first? You go first.
Nick: It feels amazing. My cheeks hurt from smiling so hard. I’ve been smiling for days.
Mariah: It’s comforting – and something I’ve never felt before. Which is really being in love and happy with someone who really understands me and isn’t trying to do anything but make me happy. It’s wonderful.
It happened pretty fast, didn’t it?
Nick: In our minds, it was a love-at-first-sight thing. Since we’ve been together, we’ve been inseparable.
Mariah: I don’t think anyone realized what we already knew – that we were going to get married.
When did you first know that?
Nick: I’d always admired Mariah from afar, but once we connected I felt it was destined: This has to be my wife.
Mariah: I definitely knew. Of course, everyone is running the photo from the 2005 Teen Choice Awards …
Nick: From then on, I thought, “I have to get closer to her and express my true feelings.” I was praying I’d have the chance to share them with her.
Mariah: People were very skeptical and told him, “You can never get past her people.” I only knew that he’d say nice things about me. So I thanked him when [I saw him again].
Nick: I said, “I meant every single word. Hopefully I can express more to you.” She was down-to-earth. From that point, we built a friendship.
In late March, Carey flew to Antigua to shoot a music video for "Bye Bye," from her new album, E=MC2. She cast Cannon, 27 – star of MTV’s Wild’N Out, and an entertainment minimogul with his own record label and clothing line – as the romantic lead.
Mariah: I told people, “I like him and want him to do it.” The song was a love story. It was perfect for us.
Mariah: [Laughing] We were having a such a good time on the shoot.
Nick: I brought her little pieces of candy. I’d write little third-grade notes instead of being over-the-top.
Mariah: He wrote a note, “Will you be my girlfriend?” with boxes for yes or no. In the video, we’re boyfriend and girlfriend. It seemed very natural.
Were all your friends surprised by your marriage?
Mariah: Some were, but some weren’t. One thing [few people] knew was we got tattoos a few weeks earlier. So anyone who saw my [Mrs. Cannon] tattoo wasn’t surprised.
Nick: To me rings are special and exciting, but tattoos mean more than anything. They’re forever and ever. They professed our love.
Mariah: And they hurt!
Nick: A lot.
Why did you keep your engagement and wedding plans a secret?
Mariah: We only told people who had to know. [To everyone else] we said we were [going to the Bahamas] for the video. If we brought a million people with us, it would’ve been obvious we weren’t shooting a video.
The week of the wedding, Nick and Mariah traveled to her estate on the Bahamian island of Windermere on a Gulfstream jet. They also flew in boxes of live Maine lobsters, fine china and Dom P rignon champagne. Just a dozen guests attended, including BFFs like rapper Da Brat.
Mariah: Only about four people knew we were going down there to get married. Once we were there, they gave me a bachelorette party. Everyone calls me Mary Poppins. No matter how provocatively I might dress, I’m very prudish. So they did everything they could to shock me. They had a grab bag full of silly things they think a bachelorette wants. They were so happy they got to embarrass me.
Describe your wedding dress.
Mariah: It was a simple, slim-cut dress [by Nile Cmylo] in an off-white that turns into a very pale pink to match the sand. And [Christian] Louboutins – I can wear high heels with Nick because he’s tall. Flats are not in my repertoire. Nick looked beautiful in his tux.
Nick: I think it was Balenciaga.
Mariah: We got married at sunset on the beach. We were trying to get the really golden light. It was late – of course I was late, it’s just in my DNA. We had a white carpet on the sand that went to the water’s edge. My pastor Clarence Keaton flew in from New York. The whole wedding was really beautiful and sweet. Being there with loved ones under the sky … it was a spiritual moment.
What were you thinking then?
Mariah: When I walked down the aisle, I was thinking, “My veil is blowing all over the place!” It was really windy. I was nervous. We didn’t know if they would make us speak.
Nick: I haven’t been shy in years, but I was speechless. I was elated, but I was thinking, “Don’t pass out.” What the pastor did was really cool. He said, “The eyes are the window to the soul,” then gave us an entire minute to stare into each other’s eyes. So I was saying, “Don’t cry.”
Mariah: With the sun setting on the turquoise water, we kissed.
Nick: We had our passionate wedding kiss. Then I swooped her off her feet.
Mariah: He carried me to the water.
Mariah: The cake came out. Everybody stumbled over their toasts. They didn’t know what to say. They thought they were coming to a shoot!
What about a honeymoon?
Mariah: That was being here [in the Bahamas] after the wedding. Some friends stayed, too, but it was really time for Nick and I to be together.
Have you thought about kids yet?
Mariah: It’s part of the whole purpose of getting married. I’d just want our children to have the best childhood and upbringing they possibly could.
So you have thought about kids?
What do you love about each other?
Nick: She is beautiful on the outside and 10 times as beautiful on the inside. She is such a giving, nurturing spirit. Someone who has spent their entire life making others happy.
Mariah: We really do feel we are soulmates. I never felt a love like this was in the cards for me. I was always so career-oriented. I would hope and pray for my friends to find love, but I never did that for myself. And then? Everything just fell into place!