An Unexpected Encounter
Celebrity romances happen all the time. Some occur when famous people meet while working on the same projects, others occur more gradually over time. Then, there are the utterly unexpected romances, like the fascinating relationship between Brigitte Nielsen and Flavor Flav, which began in 2005.
Nielsen and Flav were big in the 80s and met as part of a reality TV show, with sparks immediately flying between them. Here’s the full story of the dramatic relationship that occurred afterward, leading up to the couple’s eventual split.
All About Brigitte Nielsen
Brigitte Nielsen was born Gitte Nielsen in Rodovre, Denmark, in 1963. Standing 6 feet tall and famous for her striking blonde hair, she was a model in the early 80s and transitioned into movie work later that decade, becoming pretty well-known in quite a short period.
In 1985, Nielsen had a starring role as the title character in Red Sonja, acting opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger. She went on to appear in the Rocky franchise, too, along with various other films through the 80s and 90s, like Beverly Hills Cop II and Cobra.
All About Flavor Flav
Flavor Flav is the stage name of William Jonathan Drayton Jr. Born in 1959, Flav grew up on Long Island and was related to various other rappers, so quickly got into the rap scene himself, teaching himself to play instruments like piano and guitar.
Flav burst onto the scene in a big way in 1985 when he co-founded the rap group Public Enemy alongside Chuck D. The group became instantly popular, with Flav being Public Enemy’s “hype man” and having a big part in its success.
Big in the 80s
Long before they ever met, Nielsen and Flav came from different worlds but had a few things in common. The biggest factor they shared was that they were both very big in the 80s, with the decade proving to be the peak of each of their careers.
1985 was a major year for them: It was the year that Flav created Public Enemy, and the year Nielsen appeared in Red Sonja and married action superstar Sylvester Stallone. In the decades that followed, both enjoyed more success but had their best career years in the 80s.
Up and Down Relationship History
Nielsen and Flav also had their fair share of romantic ups and downs. Nielsen and Stallone divorced after less than two years. She also had an affair with Schwarzenegger and high-profile relationships with Mark Gastineau and Sebastian Copeland.
Flav, meanwhile, had three children with his first partner, Karen Ross, and another three with Angie Parker. He has also since had two children with two other women and hasn’t exactly been regarded as the sort of person who wants to settle down and live a calm and quiet life.
Entering the New Millennium
By the time of the new millennium, Nielsen and Flav had begun to diversify their media activities. Nielsen, for example, appeared in an Italian reality show called The Mole in 2004 and hadn’t done much successful film or TV acting for a while.
Flav, meanwhile, had experienced some tension with members of Public Enemy and expanded into other musical projects, doing some solo work and teaming up with other rappers like DJ Tomekk and Grandmaster Flash. Like Nielsen, Flav received offers to participate in reality shows, and this was how the couple ended up together.
The Surreal Life
Flav and Nielsen met on the set of The Surreal Life, a reality TV show that started on The WB. The idea for the show was loosely based on The Real World and Road Rules, two other reality shows of the time, and it came out at the height of reality TV popularity.
The main concept of the show was to put a small group of celebrities, mostly people who were famous in the 80s and 90s, in a Hollywood Hills mansion for a couple of weeks and make them do certain tasks and activities.
The Third Season
Seasons 1 and 2 of The Surreal Life aired on The WB and included such famous faces as Erik Estrada, MC Hammer, Corey Feldman, and Vanilla Ice. For Season 3, the show shifted over to VH1, where it remained for the rest of its run.
The Season 3 cast included Charo, Dave Coulier, Jordan Knight, Ryan Starr, Nielsen, and Flav. When the cast was announced, fans were interested to see the different dynamics and relationships between the various cast members, especially Flav, who was well-known for his outspoken personality.
A Relationship Nobody Could Have Predicted
Fans of The Surreal Life were certainly excited for the new season and eager to see how it would pan out, and some of them may have even hoped to see an on-screen romance blossom between a couple of the cast members.
However, nobody could have imagined or predicted what was about to happen, as Flav and Nielsen met and developed a very special bond, with romance blossoming between them from the very first moments of the show and growing into a genuine small-screen relationship.
The First Meeting
The very first meeting between Flav and Nielsen on The Surreal Life was a memorable moment for the show. From the start, Flav seemed amazed by Brigitte’s height, saying, “You a big one, lady. You tall!”
The pair then joked about which one of them would be the boss and made fun of their respective height difference, but Flav later admitted he had no idea who Nielsen was, saying “When I saw Brigitte, I was wondering, ‘Who was she?'”
A Rapid Connection
Right from that first meeting, it seemed that there was chemistry between Flav and Nielsen. They appeared to be much more interested in each other than the other castmates, and in some scenes, they couldn’t keep their eyes off each other.
They quickly started to make flirty comments and jokes with one another, with Nielsen joking about Flav’s gold teeth and Flav consistently impressed by her height and physical appearance. As the show went on, the bond between the pair continues to grow.
Opposites Attract on Live TV
As the old saying goes, opposites attract, and that’s exactly what seemed to happen before the eyes of viewers on The Surreal Life. Flav and Nielsen had a clear spark, but they also had so many differences.
From the first meeting, viewers could see the possibility for friction between the couple, as Flav protested Nielsen trying to touch his teeth and Nielsen hit Flav with her makeup bag and vowed to be the boss of the show. Could this relationship between two very different people work out?
Toning it Down
As the show went on, the relationship seemed to start to work, thanks to both stars toning things down a little. In one memorable scene, for example, Flav brought Nielsen dinner in bed as a touching, romantic gesture.
The next morning, while watching Nielsen prepare breakfast, Flav admitted that he might fall in love with her, and the rest is history! By the time the show ended, it was obvious to many that Flav and Nielsen had something going on, but other fans weren’t convinced.
Were They Faking It?
Online, a lot of The Surreal Life fans were sharing their views on the on-screen romance. While some hoped it was true, others were highly critical, accusing the show of being scripted, calling Flav a sellout, and so on.
Tommy Smith, an L.A. DJ and Public Enemy fan, said “VH1 must think I’m a fool to believe that. At what point can we stop calling it reality TV?” Meanwhile, other reality TV viewers called the relationship “unnatural and unlikely,” and some thought the whole romance had been made up to make the show more popular.
Flav Denies the Accusations
In interviews, Flav has vehemently denied that any part of The Surreal Life was scripted, especially not his relationship with Nielsen, who he affectionately nicknamed “Gitte”. He says that the show, and their relationship, was 100% genuine right from the start.
“My show wasn’t scripted. Definitely, on television, we had the greatest chemistry. That’s why Strange Love was number-one rated,” explained Flav, adding that he thinks a lot of other reality TV is scripted and feels that The Surreal Life was a high point for the genre.
Evidence of Tension
Each season of The Surreal Life only runs for two weeks, so Nielsen and Flav were only at the beginning of their relationship, but fans could already start to see a few signs of tension and possible problems between the pair.
For example, during one sequence, we saw Nielsen flirting with some other men and Flav got mad, calling her “loose.” Both stars also clearly have very big personalities and liked to have control, so it was hard to see how they could work together to build a solid relationship.
The Show Comes to an End
All good things must come to an end, and after its 10-episode run from September 2004 to November 2005, the third season of The Surreal Life also came to a close, so what would happen to Nielsen and Flav?
Fans were unsure. Some thought the couple’s on-screen relationship would be nothing more than a flash in the pan, ending at the same time as the show. However, others hoped that Nielsen and Flav might still be able to make things work and could even make an exciting return to the small screen.
A Brand-New Show
Fans didn’t have to wait too long to find out what would happen with Flav and Nielsen. Not long after The Surreal Life ended, VH1 revealed plans for a new show, entitled Strange Love and starring Nielsen and Flav.
The show was billed as a kind of spinoff of The Surreal Life. It was still a reality show, but it would focus exclusively on Flav and Nielsen. The show offered viewers a chance to see more of the couple’s “strange” relationship and find out if they could make it work.
A Major Influence on the Channel
Strange Love was the first spinoff of The Surreal Life. Before that, the show’s producers and VH1 executives had wondered about the possibility of spinoffs but never had an opportunity to make one. Nielsen and Flav changed all of that.
In the end, more than a dozen spinoffs of The Surreal Life were made, all started by that special bond between Nielsen and Flav in Season 3. In a way, their relationship had a major impact on VH1’s programming through the 2000s and the reality TV scene at large, too.
Could They Make it Work?
Since the third season of The Surreal Life had been such a hit and the couple proved so popular, VH1 executives were determined to make more shows about them. They pitched Strange Love to viewers as a will they-won’t they concept.
The channel enticed viewers with the possibility that Nielsen and Flav might end up together by the show’s final episode, and it was an appealing idea. Fans grew excited about the idea and many hoped that the unlikely romance would somehow work out, while others continued to accuse the show of being scripted or fake.
A Hybrid Show
Various TV executives had opinions and thoughts about the new show. Ken Mok, one of the producers of America’s Next Top Model, called it a “hybrid show” or “reality sitcom,” and Ben Silverman, another reality TV producer, said viewers shouldn’t take the show seriously.
Silverman said Nielsen and Flav were “almost caricatures” due to their huge personalities and argued that fans should watch the show for casual entertainment rather than real romance. However, Mark Cronin, producer of Strange Love, countered: “Producers see Flav and Brigitte when the cameras aren’t around, and we can tell you: it is real.”
The Odds Were Against Them
Many fans hoped things would work out between Nielsen and Flav, and that their unlikely romance could blossom into a loving bond that was strong and true. However, it was already clear to see that the odds were against the pair.
Not only did they have contrasting personalities and characteristics, they also both had other romantic ties. Around the time Strange Love was made, Flav was still close with his ex-girlfriend, Beverly Johnson, while Nielsen was romantically involved with Italian TV and film producer Mattia Dessi.
Meeting Mattia Dessi
Dessi was a relative unknown before Strange Love, but he was about to be thrust into the spotlight in a big way as Flav’s main love rival with Nielsen. So, who is Dessi? Well, he was born in Sardinia in 1978, making him 15 years younger than Nielsen.
He always wanted to get into the world of show business and film production but struggled in the early days and started to work as a waiter. It was while he was working as a waiter that he met Nielsen, and the pair felt an instant spark, building up into a real long-term relationship.
A Difficult Situation
Before Strange Love aired, Nielsen and Flav conducted various interviews with media outlets to talk about the show and also revealed some details about their personal lives and relationships. One interview with The New York Times showed how difficult the couple’s situation was.
In the interview, Flav claimed that everything on-screen was real and that their love was not fake. He then called Nielsen, who was in Milan with Dessi at the time. The pair had an awkward exchange over the phone, with Flav getting angry and insulting Dessi, but promising they would speak again soon.
Strange Love Starts to Air
So, fans had a whole lot of questions, hopes, and doubts about the couple in the buildup to the show, which is exactly what VH1 wanted, and plenty of people tuned in to see the opening episode of Strange Love when it began to air on Jan. 9, 2005.
The first episode attracted 1.8 million viewers and was entitled “The Flavor of Love”. It introduced the concept of the show and gave viewers another look at the fascinating relationship between Flav and Nielsen, while also revealing the presence of Dessi.
It Didn’t Work Out
Unfortunately for anyone who hoped that the relationship between Flav and Nielsen could turn into something great, it didn’t quite work out that way. Throughout Strange Love, viewers watched as the flame of love was slowly extinguished.
The whole premise of the show was to follow Flav’s quest to try and win Nielsen’s heart, but he couldn’t do enough to take her away from Dessi. So, in the end, viewers learned that Nielsen would stay with Dessi, to whom she was engaged at the time, and Flav would move on to look for love elsewhere.
Too Much Jealousy
There were a couple of reasons why Flav and Nielsen’s relationship didn’t work out. One of the biggest problems between the couple was the presence of a ton of jealousy, on both sides.
Flav in particular showed a lot of jealousy and was angry about Dessi’s presence in Nielsen’s life. Because of this, the couple had a lot of arguments and got very annoyed and aggressive with one another, making it hard for their romance to grow.
Nielsen Wasn’t as Committed as Flav
Another clear issue that prevented Flav and Nielsen from starting a love story was that Nielsen never quite seemed as into the idea as Flav. She was, understandably, torn between her attraction to Flav and her existing relationship with Dessi.
Nielsen was also going through a lot of personal problems at the time regarding alcohol addiction, and Dessi had been a big help in terms of aiding her to overcome her issues. She felt a deep connection to him because of that, and it made it hard for Flav to compete.
So, in the end, Strange Love ended and the Nielsen-and-Flav love story ended with it. It was a sad conclusion for fans who had hoped to see the Red Sonja actress and the rapper somehow work things out.
However, Nielsen and Flav didn’t fall out or end up hating each other. They accepted what happened and decided to move on. Since the show, they’ve had major developments in their personal and professional lives. Let’s see what they’re up to nowadays.
Marrying Mattia Dessi
One of the first things Nielsen did after Strange Love ended was to commit herself fully to her relationship with Dessi. The pair was engaged by that point and set to work planning their wedding.
In July 2006, Nielsen and Mattia tied the knot. They had a beautiful ceremony in the island nation of Malta, and Nielsen seemed very happy with her new beau. Mattia is her fifth husband, after marriages to Kasper Winding, Sylvester Stallone, Sebastian Copeland, and Raoul Meyer.
More Reality TV
Nielsen also continued to appear on reality TV, as the success of The Surreal Life had helped revitalize her career and gave her another chance of being on screen. She appeared in the Danish version of Big Brother, for example, as well as The Mole.
In 2005, she appeared on the UK reality show Celebrity Big Brother alongside her former mother-in-law, Jackie Stallone. Nielsen proved popular on the show and finished third at the end. Later, she appeared in The Surreal Life: Fame Games on VH1.
Overcoming Her Addiction
In 2007, after years of dealing with alcohol addiction, Nielsen made the brave decision to overcome her issues and seek help, checking into the Cri-Help facility in North Hollywood.
Nielsen’s manager, Steven Tempone, said “All I know is it’s something she did of her own free will, and we’re proud of her and wish her very well… When she gets out, we’ll have a big birthday party.” There were also reports that Nielsen’s family had intervened to encourage her to seek help.
Feeling Like a New Person
Nielsen left the rehab facility in July 2007. She also appeared on screen in the “Comedy Central Roast of Flavor Flav” event, in which friends of Flav were invited on to poke fun at the rapper and discuss his career and most famous moments.
In interviews, Nielsen said that she was very satisfied with her time in rehab. She said that she emerged feeling “like a newborn person.” She also added that it hadn’t been an easy process, “but it was definitely time.” She later appeared on Celebrity Rehab on VH1.
Looking Like a New Person
Not only did Nielsen feel like a new person after rehab, she also decided to look like a new person, too. In the middle of 2008, she decided to get some plastic surgery.
Nielsen’s surgery was the subject of a German reality TV show called “Aus alt mach neu”, which aired on RTL. The idea of the show was that Nielsen wanted to look younger to match her youthful husband and underwent various procedures to rejuvenate her physical appearance.
The Sober Life and More TV Work
In the years that followed, Nielsen continued to appear on various TV shows across Europe and in the U.S. She appeared on La Ferme Célébrités, a French reality show that put a group of celebrities to work on a farm, but she was eliminated after a week.
Nielsen also appeared on the German version of Dancing with the Stars, a Danish version of Celebrity Come Dine with Me, and in 2012, she won the German version of “I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!” She earned 150,000 euros (approx. $166,854) for appearing on the show, too, and continued to live a sober and healthy lifestyle.
Returning to Acting
Thanks to Nielsen’s rediscovered fame and a new lease on life, she also made a return to professional acting, appearing in a few different shows and films throughout the 2010s. She appeared in an episode of Portlandia, for example, as well as an episode of Raising Hope.
In the film world, she reprised her role of Ludmilla Drago in Creed II, and appeared in a few low-budget movies like Big Money Rustlas with the Insane Clown Posse and Eldorado, a British horror-comedy. These films weren’t hugely successful but gave Nielsen a chance to act again and do what she loved.
Becoming a Mother Later in Life
Everything was going well for Nielsen. She’d finally found true love, returned to the spotlight, and had plenty of new fans all over the globe, but there was one more thing that she wanted: a child with Mattia.
However, the couple knew having a baby wouldn’t be easy due to their age. The best option was to try in-vitro fertilization (IVF), an expensive and difficult process, as the likelihood of conception was low and Nielsen knew there would be ups and downs along the way.
Finally Getting Pregnant
It took a lot of time and a lot of money, but Nielsen and Mattia finally got the good news that they were pregnant. They were originally told that they had a 2.5% chance of having a baby, but persistence finally paid off and they got to see the heartbeat of their baby girl on an ultrasound, something both said was one of the happiest moments of their lives.
Nielsen has spoken out about how happy she was to get the positive news, and she was even happier 9 months later when her baby, Frida, arrived. Since then, she’s received lots of letters from older women who are inspired by her story.
The Flavor of Love
So, what about Flav? How has he been getting on since Strange Love ended his chances of being with Nielsen? In the immediate aftermath of the show, he starred in another Surreal Life spin-off: Flavor of Love.
Flavor of Love ran for three seasons. It was a reality dating game show, based around the idea of Flav trying to find love. It was similar to The Bachelor, with various women competing for Flav’s attention and affection and living together in a California mansion.
The Quest was Unsuccessful
Unfortunately, even though Flavor of Love lasted 39 episodes and featured dozens of beautiful women meeting Flav and trying to get him to fall in love, the show didn’t provide Public Enemy’s hype man with the happy ending he desired.
Flav chose a “winner” from each season, with Nicole Alexander winning the first season, Chandra Davis winning the second, and Tresha winning the third. However, none of the relationships worked out and many contestants have gone on to appear in other reality shows since then.
Reigniting a Former Flame
Even though Flavor of Love didn’t work out in terms of finding love for Flav, he still found a new relationship shortly after the show ended. In fact, on a special reunion episode, he announced that he was in love with Elizabeth “Liz” Trujillo, a former girlfriend and mother to his son, Karma.
In the reunion episode of the show, Flav proposed to Trujillo, and she accepted. They stayed together for years afterward, but their relationship had some ups and downs, including one dramatic moment when Flav was arrested after making threats to attack Trujillo’s son with a knife.
An Up-and-Down Life
Flav’s life since Strange Love has had its highs and lows. In his personal life, he’s had some highs, such as the reigniting of his relationship with Trujillo and the arrival of their baby boy, and lows, like the aforementioned domestic incident.
Professionally, too, he has had highs, such as his continued work with Public Enemy, and lows, like the time he tried to open a chain of fried chicken restaurants but had to shut down after just a few months. He’s also had various run-ins with the law.
Lots of Love for Nielsen
So how does Flav feel about Nielsen? Well, in a 2018 interview with People, he had nothing but kind words for his former lover, saying “All I want to see is her happy and [get] everything she wants in life.”
Flav also said that he missed her and missed “being around her” and summed up by saying, “When it comes down to Brigitte Nielsen, she’s one of the nicest, kindest people that you’ll ever want to know. One of the sweetest people. She’s very lovable. That’s my good friend.”
Are They Still Friends?
So, are Nielsen and Flav still friends? According to most reports, the pair isn’t exactly close and hasn’t seen each other much at all since Strange Love ended. However, there is no animosity between them, and they seem to be respectful and admiring of one another.
In interviews, Flav has repeatedly stated how much love he has for Nielsen and her family and has stressed that he’d like to see her again. Nielsen, too, has said nice things about Flav, so it’s certainly possible the pair will get together again to reminisce about old times.
An Iconic Reality TV Romance
Even though Flav and Nielsen’s romance didn’t end in marriage, kids, and happy ever after, it still seems to have been a fun and interesting experience for both of them, and it’s great to see that they still have friendship and respect for one another years later.
Even though the relationship was short and sweet, it still went down in history as one of the biggest reality TV romances ever, breaking reality viewing records, inspiring all sorts of gossip, and changing the face of reality TV in more ways than one.