IT’S a love story that could have come straight from a Hollywood movie script.
Almost two decades since their first whirlwind romance ended in tears, a blissfully happy Jennifer Lopez announced last month that she and her former lover Ben Affleck were getting married.
Holding up her engagement ring — a gigantic, 8.5-carat, square-cut, green diamond flanked by two smaller diamonds, estimated to be worth an eye-watering £8million — she was captured on camera by her fiancé for her On The JLo newsletter, singing: “Going to the chapel… gonna get married.”
She then mouthed the words “I love you” directly at her famous cameraman. It was a blockbuster moment — for both the celebrity world and the couple themselves.
“Bennifer” is back with a bang. But this time, the three-time-married, six-time-engaged Jennifer, 52, has vowed: “It’s going to last forever.”
I’ve interviewed Jennifer numerous times over the course of her three marriages — to waiter Ojani Noa (1997-98), dancer Cris Judd (2001-03) and singer Marc Anthony (2004-14) — during her rollercoaster relationship with rapper Puff Daddy (1999-2001) and in the aftermath of her initial failed romance with Ben, now 49.
It’s not the first time she’s said it will last forever. She has also told me: “I’m the queen of mistakes”, and “the eternal seeker of love”.
But this time, I would like to think things will be different, and Bronx-born Jenny From The Block will finally get her happy ending.
There are noticeable changes already. The woman who once hated giving details of her private life has been unusually open so far.
As well as the video in her newsletter, she also revealed personal details of the proposal: “Saturday night while at my favourite place on earth (in the bubble bath), my beautiful love got on one knee and proposed.
“[I] just looked in his eyes smiling and crying at the same time, trying hard to get my head around the fact that, after 20 years, this was happening all over again.
“I was quite literally speechless and he said: ‘Is that a yes?’ I said: ‘Yes, of course that’s a yes!’”
But will it last? Like the very best Hollywood movie plots, theirs is a romance with a long, complicated and high-octane past.
The couple went public in Long Beach, California, in May 2002 after meeting the year before on the set of the romcom Gigli, in which they were cast as unlikely lovers — him a low-ranking mobster and her a lesbian assassin who ends up falling for him.
In real life, Jennifer was about to divorce her second husband Cris Judd, while Oscar-winning Ben had just ended a three-year on/off relationship with Gwyneth Paltrow.
They were both young, super-sexy A-list stars with turbulent pasts — he struggled with gambling and alcohol addictions and she ricocheted from one high-profile love affair to another.
Within days of meeting, the electricity between them was lighting up the Gigli set and, within months, they became an item.
Jen and Ben were splashed across the front pages of the world’s press, dashing from yachts to private jets and exclusive restaurants in fabulous outfits, kissing passionately on hotel balconies and flaunting their impossibly perfect love affair.
As two major stars joined together in one romantic entity, their nickname of Bennifer entered the public lexicon, setting the trend for Brangelina and Kimye to follow.
In November 2002 — just two months before her divorce was finalised — they announced their engagement, topped off with a gargantuan six-carat, pink diamond ring that set Ben back £1million, as well as a public blessing from her close family.
“It’s so important to me that my family love my guy,” she told me then. “I need that seal of approval. So does he.”
A wedding was planned for September 2003 in Santa Barbara, but just months beforehand, a story emerged that Ben and actor Christian Slater had been spotted in Brandi’s Exotic Nightclub in Vancouver, Canada, “heavily tipping” strippers.
‘HEAVILY TIPPING’ STRIPPERS
J.Lo’s sister Lynda Lopez, a radio host, called her live on air and the singer responded: “He… It sounds like Ben. He, uh, does tip a lot… I don’t know about this. I’ll have to ask him.”
Weeks later, the wedding was called off and by January 2004 they had officially called it quits.
That June, Jennifer married fellow Latino musician Marc Anthony, father of her twins Emme and Max, now 14. Exactly one year later, Ben wed actress Jennifer Garner and they have three children, Violet, 16, Seraphina, 13, and 10-year-old Samuel.
In 2014, J.Lo and Marc Anthony divorced. Never one to let the grass grow under her feet, she subsequently dated Dancing With The Stars judge Casper Smart for two and a half years.
Then in 2019, she got engaged to multimillionaire baseball player Alex Rodriguez, but broke things off last year, after discovering he was alleged to have cheated on her.
Meanwhile, in 2015, a year after J.Lo split from Marc, Ben announced his own separation from his wife, blaming many of their issues on his alcohol problems.
Their divorce was finalised in 2018 and Ben entered rehab for the third time. In April 2021, just days after Jen announced her split from A-Rod, Ben came back into her life.
The news did not surprise me at all. Jennifer Lopez, the first Latina woman to be paid a million dollars for a Hollywood movie, is all about optimism and reinvention.
Rewind to a studio in New York in 2005, where she was recording an album she planned to name Call Me Jennifer. Now married to Marc Anthony, she told me she wanted to retreat from the spotlight to have babies.
I asked her if she felt it was a time of rebirth. “Write that word down in your notepad and tear off the page,” she told me. She looked at it for a few seconds and grinned: “That’s the new name of my album.”
Indeed, the album that she released in February 2005 was called just that.
By then, we’d met many times, including a few weeks after she was arrested in 1999 when Puff Daddy was pulled over by police after a nightclub shooting in Manhattan — she was later released without charge.
It did really start to get to me, and the easy thing to do would be to walk away. But the bottom line is, I’m a fighter.
I had managed to break through the tough “fly girl” front she used to put up back then and saw her for what she was — an ambitious, talented, hard-working girl from the Bronx with a soft heart, fierce pride in her culture and a weakness for bad boys.
This was a woman who could eat just a few bites of the most delicious chocolate brownie and tell me: “I stop now because that’s enough. I have a lot of discipline. Too much, probably.”
But not when it came to men. And on that day back in 2005, the spectacular implosion of her relationship with Ben, and the impact it had on her was very much on her mind.
“You know things have gone wrong for me,” she said. “Everybody has laughed, everybody has had a knock at me. It hurts. It always does. There have been times when I didn’t want to be me any more.
“From the outside looking in, it may have appeared it was a glamorous, exciting life, but from the inside, I would have swapped places with anybody.
“It did really start to get to me, and the easy thing to do would be to walk away. But the bottom line is, I’m a fighter.
“I decided I had to welcome the opportunity to learn from the bad times, however many come my way. It’s made me stronger — and I just hope it’s made me wiser.”
Regardless of the circumstances, she never had a bad word to say about Ben, and nor did he about her. I know she blamed a lot of the problems they had on the intense media speculation around them.
“You can break under that pressure,” she said to me at the time. “It’s very hard when things are being written and said and so much isn’t true. It’s just hard.”
Interviewed for People magazine in 2016, Jennifer again refused to diss her ex, insisting their love had been the real thing. She said: “I think different time, different thing, who knows what could’ve happened, but there was a genuine love there.”
Now they have a chance to prove that it always was the real deal. Since April 2021, Ben and Jen have been inseparable — first with low-key dates, before public outings and movie premieres as things turned more serious.
There have been farmers’ market visits with their five children, where she was seen chatting happily to Jennifer Garner.
I think you have to still be able to be brave enough to try and take risks and really risk failure if you want to do something interesting, something that is going to make you happy, something that could really work.
And when J.Lo was given the Icon award at the iHeartRadio Music Awards in March, Ben was in the audience, flanked by his son Samuel and her daughter Emme. The same month, the two multimillionaires reportedly bought a £44million home in Bel-Air.
In 2010, I interviewed Ben and was warned not to ask him about Jennifer, in case it upset him.
Jennifer had long ago told me that she and Ben were very similar, in that they both came from tough parts of town and are the products of close, working-class families. But where she likes to laugh and talk about fashion and love, Ben is as serious and intense as they come.
He told me then that the greatest gift in life was “to be given a second chance.” He also talked about how nothing on earth would ever stop him from taking a risk.
“I think you have to still be able to be brave enough to try and take risks and really risk failure if you want to do something interesting, something that is going to make you happy, something that could really work,” he said.
A friend of Jennifer’s told me: “I really think this is going to work this time. Of course it’s a risk, but Jennifer has never been frightened of taking a chance on true love, and Ben has held a candle for her for 20 years. He’s not going to let that flame go out.
“It’s different now. They’re grown-ups. They’ve been through a lot. She’s a mom, he’s a dad. They know each other’s flaws, but they focus on each other’s strengths — they are incredibly supportive of each other.
“The families are happy. Jen’s mom, Guadalupe, cried when they told her they were engaged. They were each other’s ‘if only’ relationship. They kept in touch over the years, and cheered each other on from the sidelines.
“Jen reached out to him when he went into rehab and does everything in her power to support him in his sobriety. And Ben, he is just so happy to have his girl back in his life. It’s complicated, but both feel this is meant to be. They both deserve a happy ending.”
In a recent interview, Jennifer said: “I feel so lucky and happy and proud to be with him. It’s a beautiful love story that we got a second chance.”
Let’s hope this Bennifer sequel will have a true happy-ever-after ending.
https://www.the-sun.com/lifestyle/5340660/ben-affleck-jennifer-lopez-happy-ending/ How Ben Affleck ‘held a candle’ for Jennifer Lopez for 20 years as couple blend families to FINALLY get a happy ending