When Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck married in a Las Vegas ceremony earlier this month, almost 20 years after calling off their first wedding ceremony, it was a feel-good second which appeared to show the previous adage that real love is definitely worth the wait.
With three failed marriages behind her, J Lo, 53, lastly wed the person she calls her ‘soulmate’, saying: ‘Possibly you’ll discover the very best second of your life in Las Vegas at twelve thirty within the morning within the tunnel of affection drive-through along with your youngsters and the one you’ll spend perpetually with.’
However whereas the world has been captivated by the romantic story of ‘Bennifer’ – the nickname bestowed on the £300 million star and her Oscar-winning husband – the information has reopened painful previous wounds for one man.
Ojani Noa, Lopez’s first husband, right now lives a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood highlight. However he, too, was informed by J Lo that he was the person she needed to spend ‘perpetually’ with – and that, he says with a shrug, ‘was three husbands and 5 engagements’ in the past.
‘I want her and Ben the very best, however I’m not satisfied it is going to final,’ Ojani says now. ‘Jen loves being in love however she’s been engaged six instances. Ben is husband quantity 4. I used to be husband primary and he or she informed me I used to be the love of her life. Once we lay in mattress on our wedding ceremony evening, she mentioned we’d be collectively for ever.’
HUSBAND ONE: Ojani Noa (left) poses with Jennifer Lopez (proper) on their wedding ceremony day, February 28, 1997
Ojani, 48, has hardly ever spoken about their intense and passionate relationship.
Though they divorced in 1998, they remained pals for a few years afterwards. However he’s speaking publicly now as a result of he’s bored with being dismissed because the ‘penniless waiter’ J Lo dumped after only a 12 months of marriage.
‘We have been collectively romantically for 2 years however pals for almost a decade,’ he says, sitting within the foyer of a Miami resort a 45-minute drive from the house in South Miami he shares together with his two canine.
In particular person, the 6ft 1in former mannequin nonetheless has the rugged beauty which caught the younger J Lo’s eye. As he speaks for almost 4 hours, it turns into apparent that ‘Jen’ – as he calls her – stays deeply embedded in his psyche, a girl he firmly believes he would nonetheless be married to had fame and people he dismisses as ‘parasites who feed off celebrities’ not received in the way in which.
However the actual fact that Ojani, who fled Cuba on a blow-up dinghy when he was 15, even got here into the orbit of ‘Jenny from the Block’ is exceptional. It’s an enchanting, nearly fairytale story.
‘There have been many instances I felt like Mr Cinderella,’ he admits. ‘She was essentially the most stunning girl I’d ever seen. To start with, I had no concept who she was.
‘We fell in love when she was already well-known. However throughout our marriage she grew to become a megastar. For years it was too painful to speak about. I needed to lie low and dwell my life. However after I noticed she received married to Ben, who is an effective man, the sentiments got here flooding again.’
He provides: ‘There was a lot written about Jen and I, particularly up to now couple of weeks, most of it improper. I would like folks to know the actual story.’
Ojani, now a private coach, met J Lo in 1996 when she walked into Gloria Estefan’s Cuban restaurant on Miami’s well-known Ocean Drive. Then 22, he had arrived within the US illegally seven years earlier after making the perilous 90-mile journey from Cuba to Florida with six pals on a 6ft lengthy inflatable boat. ‘It was a miracle we survived the crossing,’ he says.
HUSBAND TWO: Jennifer Lopez married Cris Judd on the Non-public Residence in Calabassas in September 2001
After washing automobiles on the powerful streets of Miami, he discovered work as a dishwasher at Estefan’s restaurant, Lario’s On The Seashore. ‘Gloria handled us like household,’ he says. ‘I labored my method as much as being a waiter. Miami was buzzing. I did some modelling. I hustled. I needed the American dream – and I discovered it when Jen walked into Lario’s.’
At 28, the actress was already a celeb. She had starred as a ‘fly lady’ dancer on the TV present In Residing Color, and alongside Woody Harrelson within the film Cash Practice. When she met Ojani she was filming Blood And Wine alongside Jack Nicholson and Michael Caine.
‘I had no concept who she was,’ Ojani insists. ‘Our eyes glanced at one another and I believed she was essentially the most stunning girl I’d ever seen. She was together with her buddy, Anita, and Arlene, her assistant.
‘They got here again the following evening and Jen was on the bar. I used to be bringing French fries over for an additional buyer and he or she mentioned, “Oh my god, these look yummy.” I handed them to her with out saying a phrase.
I used to be smitten. She was carrying a white prime and trousers, and I keep in mind considering she had the very best physique I’d ever seen. She later informed me she knew that first evening she was going to marry me.’
Arlene informed Ojani they have been heading to the film’s wrap social gathering to rejoice the top of filming, however needed to fulfill afterwards at a membership known as Commune.
‘Once we received to the membership my buddy Leo took Jen to the dance ground, and I believed, “Oh man, you’re a fortunate man.” Then Anita mentioned, “After they get again, take Jen on the market. It’s you she’s all for.”
‘They get again and I take her hand and lead her on to the ground, and a gradual music comes on. It was electrical. She was shaking and mentioned, “You make me nervous.”
‘We might each really feel the romantic power. It was immediate and intense. Prefer it was surging by way of our our bodies. I mentioned, “I really feel the identical method you’re feeling.” I lifted her chin and gave her a kiss – it was a kiss like we’d recognized one another for ever.’
HUSBAND THREE: She married singer, songwriter and actor Marc Anthony in 2004
The actress was resulting from fly residence to Los Angeles the following day. ‘Nothing occurred that evening, I kissed her goodnight and gave her my pager quantity. Once I was strolling her to her automobile some random man walked by and mentioned, “Oh my God, that’s Jennifer Lopez from Cash Practice.” That’s after I realised perhaps she was any person.
‘The following morning my pager goes off. Jen needed to see me earlier than her flight. The door goes and I open it and he or she falls into my arms. We kissed, and as she drove off in her limo, she seemed again like within the films and I believed, “That is it. That is loopy.” ’
The pair spent weeks speaking over the cellphone – Ojani utilizing the pay-phone within the restaurant’s kitchen.
‘She was coming to Miami for the premiere of Blood And Wine and needed me to be her date. I rented an affordable swimsuit. We received to the purple carpet, there have been all these flashing lights and followers screaming. I began to really feel sick. I walked down the carpet holding her hand then stood to the aspect whereas she gave interviews.
‘I heard her say, “Jack, I would like you to fulfill my date, Ojani.” I rotated and he or she was introducing me to Jack Nicholson. Then she mentioned, “That is Michael” – and it was Michael Caine. I felt like I used to be in a film. A couple of years earlier I used to be on a dinghy within the ocean operating away from Fidel Castro, and now I’m on a purple carpet. Michael Caine was beautiful. He mentioned, “Don’t fear, you’ll get used to it.”
‘After the premiere we went again to her resort. That was the primary time we made love. It was good. She was good. We lay there afterwards and he or she mentioned, “I would like you to all the time be in my life. I like you.” I felt like Mr Cinderella.’
A part of his enchantment, Ojani believes, was that he wasn’t starstruck. ‘She’s a standard lady. She comes from a humble Puerto Rican household. She needed somebody to guard her, somebody who would arise for her. We fell completely in love.
HUSBAND FOUR: Lopez shared this healthful wedding ceremony selfie with Affleck in Las Vegas after they tied the knot
‘I stop my job and moved to LA. We lived in a pleasant residence. However quickly we moved into our first home after which the homes stored getting greater. She liked that I used to be a balseros [rafter] from Cuba. I by no means needed something from her. I all the time labored and had my very own cash. She talked about her childhood within the Bronx. She loves her dad, David. He’s such a very good, candy man. Her mum, Guadalupe, is the powerful one. She pushed Jen to succeed.’
Within the new Netflix documentary Halftime, about her efficiency on the 2020 Tremendous Bowl present, J Lo admits her mum ‘beat the s***’ out of her. Ojani says: ‘She loves her mum and Lupe could be very happy with her, however I believed the connection was poisonous. Lupe would scream at her. I didn’t prefer it. Trying again now, I generally assume perhaps Jen loved the drama.’
The primary signal that Hollywood would flip his life ‘the wrong way up’ got here when his lover landed the lead function in 1997 movie Selena, concerning the doomed Latina singer gunned down by a deranged fan.
It was a breakout function that turned J Lo into an in a single day sensation. Gives got here flooding in, together with a multi-million-dollar deal from Sony to make her first album, On The 6.
‘We’d been collectively about six months when she received Selena. We went to San Antonio, Texas, for the shoot and each evening we’d come again to the resort and he or she’d collapse in my arms stuffed with insecurity. She didn’t assume she was ok. In the course of the evening she would burst into tears. I comforted her and mentioned she was the very best, that she was killing it.
‘She loves procuring, and when she wasn’t filming we went to the native mall. Sooner or later we went into a jewelry retailer and he or she began rings. She pointed at one and mentioned, “I like that one.”
The couple finally cut up in 1998 and J Lo went on to publicly date P. Diddy shortly after their divorce was finalised (pictured in 2000)
‘She left and I pretended I wanted to go to the restroom. I snuck again within the retailer and informed the lady to place it to at least one aspect. I had cash saved up. I’d been working as her private coach but in addition had modelling cash. The ring was $15,000 – a fortune again then. I hid the ring in a plastic bag behind the sink.’
The wrap social gathering for Selena was on the Arduous Rock Cafe. ‘They have been making speeches. I grabbed the mic and mentioned, “Jennifer, I like you. Will you marry me?” Everybody was cheering. I went down on one knee and gave her the ring. She was crying and laughing and mentioned Sure!’
The pair determined to have the marriage in February 1997 in a buddy’s again backyard on the water in Miami. It was then that the primary cracks started to point out.
Ojani claims Guadalupe berated her daughter for not holding the ceremony in her native Bronx.
‘Jen can be in tears on a regular basis. Her mum was calling and yelling at her, making an attempt to get her to vary the venue. So I known as Lupe and mentioned, “It is advisable to cease this.” That was an enormous mistake. From then on there was pressure between me and Lupe.’
Intriguingly, Lupe has been quoted not too long ago as saying she all the time believed Ben was ‘the one’ for her daughter. ‘If Ben has Lupe onside then perhaps he’s received an opportunity,’ Ojani tells me with a smile.
Tensions grew as the lady Ojani knew and liked modified.
‘She went from Jen to being J Lo, this massive enterprise bringing in thousands and thousands. She had all these new folks round her, all eager to earn money off her. I’d name and an assistant would say, “Sorry, she’s not accessible.” ’
Regardless of the crumbling relationship, Noa says he was inspired to ‘faux it’ for the cameras when the pair travelled to Chicago to movie an Oprah Winfrey interview in 1997
Issues solely received worse after the marriage. Ojani was put accountable for launching a nightclub in LA known as The Conga Room, part-owned by J Lo, whereas she went off to make her album in New York. Ojani began seeing footage of his bride with rapper Sean Combs, often called P. Diddy, who was producing a number of of the tracks.
‘I rang Jen and requested why she was going out with him on dates and he or she mentioned, “It’s simply enterprise. That is what I’m being informed I’ve to do.” I used to be jealous and would scream, “However you might be married!” ’
Their desires of beginning a household additionally bit the mud. ‘We needed youngsters, we mentioned having youngsters. Then she informed me she couldn’t have a child as a result of it will intervene together with her profession.’
Regardless of the crumbling relationship he says he was inspired to ‘faux it’ for the cameras when the pair travelled to Chicago to movie an Oprah Winfrey interview.
‘Oprah knew we have been having issues. I used to be sitting within the viewers and thought Oprah would come to me as a result of we had talked about it beforehand.
‘Oprah mentioned to Jen, “I hear you guys are having issues.” With that stunning face and that stunning smile, Jen mentioned, “No, the whole lot is wonderful”, or one thing like that.’
Ojani says he misplaced 40lb by way of stress as he fought to avoid wasting his marriage, ‘whereas on the identical time our complete life grew to become a lie’.
In the meantime, J Lo’s profession went from energy to energy as Selena was flooded with award nominations. ‘We went to the Golden Globes and sat with Jack [Nicholson]. He mentioned, “You guys look so completely happy.” I informed him, “It’s not what it appears.” He informed me to hold in there. I by no means thought I’d be getting relationship recommendation from Jack Nicholson.’
The couple finally cut up in 1998 and J Lo went on to publicly date P. Diddy shortly after their divorce was finalised. Ojani acquired a reported $50,000 within the settlement and the couple remained shut. Ojani even continued to put on his wedding ceremony ring.
‘There have been instances she informed me she needed to get again collectively. In quiet moments she would say, “I would like you in my life. I don’t wish to lose you.”’
After splitting with Diddy she went on to marry back-up singer Cris Judd. But, mockingly, Ojani claims he was there when her relationship with Affleck started in 2002 as her second marriage hit the rocks. By then J Lo had opened an LA restaurant, Madres, and had requested Ojani to handle it.
‘Madres had a grand opening. She walked the purple carpet with Cris however Ben was ready around the again with a bunch of purple roses,’ he says. ‘Cris and Ben are each good guys. That evening I sat on the patio with Ben and he informed me what a tremendous girl Jen is. I mentioned, “I do know.”
‘I’m completely happy she has gone again to Ben however I’ve a sense this gained’t final.
‘I feel she’s somebody who will likely be married seven or eight instances. I can’t see her ever settling down with one particular person. She pushes herself to always go ahead in her skilled life, which is why she’s had a three-decade profession, however she additionally strikes on in her personal life.’
Ojani says the pair lastly fell out when he was unceremoniously dumped because the supervisor of Madres in 2005. He sued for unfair dismissal and the case was settled. Ojani moved again to Miami and has come near marriage solely as soon as since J Lo.
‘For a few years I felt burned, bruised. I feel if she hadn’t had all these folks round her then we would nonetheless be collectively.
‘However I’ve my life and I’m completely happy. I nonetheless consider in love and I hope Jen has lastly discovered the love she has been on the lookout for.’