The raging ex trying to wreck Phil Collins’ reunion with wife No.3: It was a love story Against All Odds – the singer going back to the love he paid £25m in their divorce. But, as our compelling series reveals, there’s one BIG problem...
- Phil Collins announced earlier this year he was back with ex-wife Orianne
- The couple, who have two sons together, separated in 2006
- Orianne is now in a court battle with her ex Charles Mejjati, 47
On Saturday, we revealed how the first marriage of Phil Collins was scarred by infidelity.
Today, in the final part of his enthralling series, DAVID JONES describes how the rock star’s second marriage also fell apart when he met, and later wed, a Swiss beauty.
But now the singer’s tangled love life has taken an astonishing - and unexpected - turn...
Phil Collins announced earlier this year that he was back with his third ex-wife, Orianne
Shortly before 8am, on September 2, a limousine pulled up outside the Museum Tower, a shimmering, steel-and-glass skyscraper in downtown Miami, and an elderly man clambered from its air-conditioned interior.
Hobbling into the building with the aid of a black walking cane and taking the lift to the 29th floor, the balding, slightly overweight visitor didn’t rate a second glance from office staff, though many had doubtless uploaded his songs on their iPods.
Take a look at him now (to paraphrase the title of one of his hits) and it was difficult to believe it, but this was Phil Collins - once the dapper, cheekily good-looking Mr Nice Guy of pop.
He was keeping an important early morning appointment at a lawyer’s office. However, he wasn’t there to sign some new recording deal.
Aged 65, the veteran of three failed marriages that have seriously dented his reputed £115 million fortune, Collins again found himself embroiled in a bitter divorce battle; and he had been summoned to give a sworn statement for use in the forthcoming trial.
We will return to this later.
They met while Collins was playing a concert in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1994. The couple are pictured here together in 1996
Meanwhile, having announced his retirement in 2010, not least because of chronic back problems and hearing loss, in recent weeks he has started a comeback.
It began in August, when he played his first major concert in six years, performing at the opening of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, with his son Nicholas, 15, a talented drummer, among his backing group.
This month he’s publishing his autobiography, sardonically titled Not Dead Yet, which he promises will be a no-holds barred account of his romantic tribulations, a battle with alcoholism, a near-suicidal bout of depression and much more. He is also re-releasing all eight of his albums.
To top it all off, Collins made the surprise announcement, earlier this year, that he was back with his third ex-wife, Orianne, and that they are living together with their sons, Nicholas and 11-year-old Matthew, at a £26 million Miami Beach mansion, once owned by singer Jennifer Lopez, overlooking Biscayne Bay.
Given that she waltzed away with a £25 million alimony settlement, and wasted little time in remarrying - to a handsome Belgian-Moroccan businessman with whom she has a five-year-old son - Phil’s decision to take Orianne back seems extraordinarily forgiving.
In an exclusive interview with the Mail a few days ago, Orianne’s mother revealed how they had quietly rekindled their romance in early 2015. Orianne told her mother during a Greek island cruise later that summer, but for months kept their reunion private.
Orianne later married construction boss Charles Mejjati (left), after she separated from Collins
‘They told me they wanted to get back together,’ said Mrs Orawan Cerney, 74, speaking at her Swiss home, where a gold-framed wedding photograph of Collins and her daughter takes pride of place.
‘We went all around the islands without stopping and stayed on the boat for a whole week. It was like a celebration. I hope now they are back together, that this will be for ever. The children are so happy.’
In their Miami circle, there is talk of the couple remarrying. Before they can do that, however, they must overcome a formidable foe.
He is Charles Mejjati, 47, the disillusioned - and according to her lawyers deeply vengeful - husband Orianne abandoned so she could return to Collins.
The roots of this protracted saga date back to 1994, when Collins was still married to his second wife, Jill, and living with her and their infant daughter, Lily (now a successful actress), at a secluded mansion in the Sussex countryside.
As I revealed on Saturday, however, they were drifting apart. Then, while playing a concert in Lausanne, Switzerland, the promoter assigned a petite, dark-eyed 22-year-old Swiss-Thai woman to oversee his travel arrangements.
Orianne and Collins got married in 1999 and they had two sons together
From the moment he saw Orianne, the pop star was smitten. ‘She was a very beautiful girl and she had presence,’ he recalled. ‘I was married to Jill and having a hard time, so I guess my blinkers were off.’
He invited her to dinner, he says, ‘and you could say I never went home again’.
The story of how Collins, then 42, informed his wife that he was leaving her for a girl 20 years his junior has become part of rock folklore.
In those days before emails and texts, he is said to have dumped Jill by way of a remorseless, brutally worded fax, sent to her at their Sussex home and quickly leaked to the newspapers: ‘I am so sick and tired of your attitude, Jill. I will not be coming back Thursday. I don’t expect you to like ANYTHING that’s gone on, of course not . . . it’s you that is offended that I should choose to be with someone else. YOU are the one with the f***ing problem.
‘FACT - I am in love with Orianne, and wish to be with her when I can. FACT - I love my daughter and fly to see her when I have a day off during the week. FACT - this at least keeps everybody (BUT YOU) as happy as possible given the situation.’
Collins insists that he simply wanted to send a message to Jill because she kept slamming the phone down on him.
But their considerable age difference began to tell and the pair separated in 2006
Nevertheless, the damage to his bloke-next-door image was irreversible, and record sales dropped. Always sensitive about the public’s perception of him, the workaholic Collins retreated to Switzerland to start his new life with Orianne.
Yet this move only brought more criticism. It was revealed that he had earned £24 million in 1994 alone, and he was accused of seeking Swiss residence to dodge paying income tax. Collins replied caustically that he ‘would have moved to Grimsby’ had that been his young lover’s home town.
The couple bought a lakeside villa formerly owned by racing driver Jackie Stewart and - as Orianne loved entertaining - he became ‘a more social animal’.
When they got married in 1999, then had their two sons, their happiness seemed complete. However, soon after giving birth to the second boy, Orianne says she suffered from post-natal depression. Meanwhile, their considerable age difference began to tell.
While she wanted to socialise, he preferred staying at home with their boys.
In 2006, they separated. She kept their villa; he moved to a more modest home nearby, where, he said later, he began drinking heavily and spent much of his time ‘horizontal’.
Collins and Orianne are now living together again with their sons, Nicholas (centre) and 11-year-old Matthew, at a £26 million Miami Beach mansion
Then, while in New York to promote the Broadway musical Tarzan for which he wrote the songs, Collins began dating TV news anchor Dana Tyler.
For her part, Orianne fell for the suavely handsome Mejjati, a construction and home design company boss whom she met at a charity fund-raising event. They married in Las Vegas, in 2008, moved to a home on Miami Beach, and had a son, Andrea, now five.
Orianne became a fixture on the Miami social scene, hosting events to raise funds for the Collinses’ charity Little Dreams Foundation, which helps underprivileged young people fulfil their potential. She also opened an exclusive jewellery store in the city.
Collins would visit their sons Nicholas and Matthew - and, according to my sources, he was not only friendly with his ex-wife but her husband, too.
‘There was a bit of jealousy between the two men, but the three of them went to restaurants with the kids and seemed to get along well,’ I was told. ‘But it’s very different now. Phil and Charles don’t speak.’
Why Orianne left a man in his prime and, by all accounts, devoted to his family to return to her ailing and ageing rocker ex-husband is a matter for much speculation in Miami.
Phil Collins and Orianne pictured together at the 2004 Oscars with his daughters Joely (left) and Lily (right)
She says she ‘never stopped loving’ Collins and eventually realised leaving him had been a huge mistake. ‘We talked about all the amazing times we’ve had. We have memories and children together,’ she said recently in an interview. ‘I realised I never wanted to be apart from him again.’
Collins, for his part, seems very content with the arrangement. He helps Nicholas perfect his drumming technique and can be found on the touchline of his other son Matthew’s school football pitch, propped up in a fold-up chair and studying the play intensely.
His other passion is collecting artefacts from the Battle of the Alamo, the legendary last stand of a heroic group, including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, which heralded Texas’s independence from Mexico, in 1836. He recently donated his collection - worth millions - to the state, on condition that a museum is built to exhibit it, and makes regular trips there to discuss the project.
When I caught up with him, a few days ago, he was limping on to the stage in a sparsely filled university lecture theatre, in the Texas capital of Austin, to address an Alamo seminar. Yet his private life is as chaotic as ever. That much become evident when one examines more than 400 pages of documents filed in Case Number 2016-001327 at the Dade County Circuit Court.
That is Orianne’s divorce petition from Mejjati - the matter which obliged Collins to give his sworn testimony last month - and even by U.S. celebrity standards it is a vicious battle.
According to the court papers, the marriage was on the rocks in 2014. Then, in December, that year, when Orianne returned to Switzerland for a routine spinal operation, events took a fateful turn.
The surgery went badly wrong and she was hospitalised for months. She now requires three hours of daily physiotherapy, wears a supportive corset and - like Collins - walks with a stick. However, while convalescing in Switzerland, it was Collins who comforted her.
By April 2015, when Orianne told her husband she wanted to leave him and they negotiated a Marital Settlement Agreement, the documents state Collins was at her side.
Dana Tyler, meanwhile, took three months off work in February - reportedly to recover from the heartbreak of losing Collins.
For his part, Orianne’s ex, Mejjati, is said to have been deeply distressed by their break-up.
Nevertheless, when Orianne moved back with Collins, he agreed his design company should revamp the couple’s mansion. But matters turned sour and the parties are now daggers drawn.
In the court papers, Orianne accuses her ex-husband of forcing her to sign the marital agreement - described by her lawyer as one of the most one-sided he has ever seen - while her judgment was impaired by the powerful painkillers and anti-depressants.
Under the terms of the deal, she let Mejjati keep their £6 million Miami home and agreed that they should sell their sumptuous Swiss residence and split the proceeds.
She also agreed he should become the primary residential parent of their young son, though she would be permitted to spend an equal amount of time caring for him.
However, she now claims her ex-husband ‘threatened he would disclose and make public allegations (that would cause her) ‘great personal, professional and social embarrassment’. He allegedly told her if she refused his demands: ‘It will be war. There will be hell to pay.’
Orianne further accuses Mejjati of locking her out of the marital home, confiscating her computer and selling her jewellery collection.
Mejjati denies most of her claims and portrays her as an irresponsible mother who puts her own interests above their five-year-old son, as a result of which his attendance record at his kindergarten is said to be ‘causing concern’.
Matters came to a head when Orianne wrote to the boy’s teachers asking permission for him to travel to New York to watch Collins perform at the U.S. Open tennis competition. When they refused, she filed a court motion urging a judge to compel the school to accede to her request.
Her lawyer’s appeal makes for extraordinary reading: ‘This is a Major Event. Tickets are sold out. The crowd is going wild. There are fans coming from everywhere to see the concert. Fortunately the Minor Son has been invited to this incredible event.
‘It will be an amazing experience for the minor child. He will meet stars. He will be in the limelight. It is a once in a lifetime situation.
‘But then there is the husband. Once again he objects. He objects to the minor child being out of school for several days because his position is that the minor child needs therapy and assessment.
‘The minor child is in pre-kindergarten. This is not a child studying to take the SATS or Law Boards. He is starting kindergarten!
‘Honestly, would a few days out of school be in any way traumatic or adverse to the minor child’s best interest, and anything other than an incredible experience for him? The husband is vindictive.’
On August 26, just two days before the concert, Judge Sarah Zabel granted the appeal, and the boy was taken to New York, where he met celebrities such as Alec Baldwin and Susan Sarandon.
One battle had been won, but the war goes on. We can but wonder whether Phil Collins realised what he was letting himself in for when he took his ex-wife back.
His mother-in-law, though, is thrilled. She clearly had little time for Mejjati, but adores Collins and plans to fly to Miami to spend her 75th birthday with him and Orianne.
‘He calls me “Mama”,’ she smiled. ‘Phil is a nice man and I’m so happy they are back together. Not because he is a millionaire, but because he is a good husband, good dad and good son-in-law.’
This might not be a description the singer’s ex-wives would choose, but as he belatedly reinvents himself as a family guy, it will be music to Phil Collins’ own ears.
Additional reporting: ALEXANDRA WILLIAMS and ANNETTE WITHERIDGE
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