Brigitte Nielsen and Flavor Flav’s Unlikely Romance

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.

Brigitte Nielsen / Brigitte Nielsen / Brigitte Nielsen, Flavor Flav / Flavor Flav, Brigitte Nielsen, Matti Dessi.
Source: Getty Images

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.

A dated portrait of Brigitte Nielsen.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

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.

A backstage photo of Flavor Flav.
Photo by Isaac Brekken/BET/Getty Images

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.

An image of Flavor Flav performing on stage / A promotional shot of Nielsen for Red Sonja.
Photo by Paul Natkin, Getty Images / Rolf Konow, Sygma, Getty Images

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.

A picture of Nielsen and Flav during an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

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.

Nielsen attends an event.
Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

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.

A still of Nielsen and Flav in The Surreal Life.
Source: YouTube

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.

A still from the show.
Source: YouTube

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.

A still of Nielsen and Flav during a conversation in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

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!”

A scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

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.

Nielsen embraces Flav on stage during his performance.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for Bragman Nyman Cafarelli/Getty Images

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.

A portrait of Flav and Nielsen talking to each other.
Photo by KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

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.

Nielsen and Flav embrace each other on stage.
Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic/Getty Images

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.

A picture of Nielsen and Flav during an event.
Photo by Chris Polk/FilmMagic/Getty Images

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.

Flavor Flav attends an event.
Photo by Paul Archuleta/Getty Images

“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.

A backstage photo of Flav and Nielsen.
Photo by KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

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?

A still of Brigitte in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

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.

A still from Flav and Nielsen in a scene in the garden.
Source: YouTube

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.

Flav and Nielsen speak on stage.
Photo by KMazur/WireImage/Getty Images

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.

A picture of Flav and Nielsen posing for the press.
Photo by Fernando Leon/Getty Images

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.

A photo of Flav and Nielsen on stage.
Photo by Scott Gries/Getty Images

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.

A photo of Nielsen and Dessi posing for the press.
Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

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.

A picture of Nielsen and Dessi walking the street.
Photo by BG002/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

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.

A still of Nielsen flirting with another man in a still from the show.
Source: YouTube

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.

A still of Brigitte in a scene from the show.
Source: YouTube

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.

Nielsen poses for the press.
Photo by Toni Passig/WireImage/Getty Images

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.

Nielsen and Dessi attend an event together.
Photo by Toni Passig/WireImage/Getty Images

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.

A portrait of Nielsen attending an event.
Photo by Greg Doherty/Getty Images

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.

Moving On

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.

A photo of Flavor Flav.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

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.

A photo of Dessi and Nielsen during their wedding.
Source: Facebook

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.

A portrait of Nielsen at home.
Source: Instagram /@realbrigittenielsen

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.

A photo of Nielsen entering her car.
Photo by BG026/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images/Getty Images

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.

A photo of Nielsen leaving a restaurant.
Photo by Chris Wolf/Star Max/GC Images/Getty Images

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.

A headshot of Brigitte Nielsen.
Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images

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.

Brigitte Nielsen poses for the press on stage.
Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images

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.

Nielsen speaks to the media.
Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

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.

A picture of a pregnant Nielsen.
Source: Instagram /@realbrigittenielsen

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.

A picture of Nielsen and her newborn.
Source: Instagram /@realbrigittenielsen

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.

Flav poses in a promotional shot for the show.
Source: Amazon

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.

Flavor Flav attends an event.
Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

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.

A picture of Trujillo, Flav and Karma.
Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

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.

A mugshot of Flavor Flav.
Photo courtesy Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images

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 speaks during an interview.
Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

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.

A portrait of Flav / Nielsen and Dessi walking the street together.
Photo by Dia Dipasupil, Getty Images / gotpap, Bauer-Griffin, GC Images, Getty Images

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.

A photo of Nielsen and Flav during an event.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc/Getty Images

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.