The Secret Life of Janet Jackson

Surprise! Michael’s little sister has been married to a Qatari businessman for a whole year—and it’s not even her first secret wedding. Kevin Fallon on how Ms. Jackson keeps her life under wraps.

02.26.13 10:52 PM ET

With every salacious rumor and scandalous detail of her family’s personal life splashed across tabloid pages on an almost daily basis, that Janet Jackson has managed to keep her private life so, well, private is an age-of-TMZ miracle.

The “Control” singer proved an uncanny ability to do just that—control—her private life when she announced Monday that she’s no longer Ms. Jackson (if you’re nasty), but Mrs. Al Mana. Shocking the entertainment press, Jackson said that she married Qatari tycoon Wissam Al Mana … and that the wedding happened last year.

In a culture of such rabid celebrity obsession and microscopic coverage of even the most D-list of stars’ daily lives (Breaking: Hilary Duff and Mike Comrie make date night a priority!) a key member of one of the world’s most public families managing to keep an entire marriage secret for any amount of time is astonishing, let alone for months. More impressive is that this is the second time Jackson has managed to keep her nuptials a secret from the press. In fact, looking back, Michael’s little sister has had a remarkably—almost implausibly, given her notoriety—private life.

Janet Jackson had been dating Wissam Al Mana since 2010. That much wasn’t a secret; the two were even spotted out Monday, the same day as their marriage announcement, taking in the Giorgio Armani show during Milan’s fashion week. They began seeing each other less than a year after Jackson’s seven-year relationship with Jermaine Dupri came to an end, after meeting at a hotel opening in Dubai. Al Mana is the 37-year-old managing director of Al Mana Retail, his family’s luxury corporate group in the Middle East. Jackson is 46.

The marriage was finally revealed because rumors over the past few months that the couple was planning a lavish wedding had spun out of control. After breaking news of the couple’s engagement in December, Us Weekly ran reports that they had their sights set on a spring wedding. The same day the “engagement” news leaked, The Daily News reported details of a supposed $20 million wedding in the work, a price tag that included the supposed cost of flying Jackson’s entire family to Qatar on a fleet of private jets.

None of that, apparently, was true. They were already married.

“The rumors regarding an extravagant wedding are simply not true,” the not-so-newlyweds said in a statement to Entertainment Tonight. “Last year we were married in a quiet, private, and beautiful ceremony. Our wedding gifts to one another were contributions to our respective favorite children’s charities.”

And these nuptials were even revealed faster than Jackson’s last ones. News of her marriage to Rene Elizondo Jr. in 1991 didn’t surface until the couple separated in 1999. When the news broke, it was called “the best kept secret in Hollywood.” At the time, even Elizondo said he “was surprised we kept it a secret so long.”

At the time of their divorce in 2000, Elizondo told JET magazine that keeping a secret marriage with one of the most famous people in the world was difficult, but worth the effort. “We decided early on that we wanted to preserve our marriage by keeping it private. We noticed that couples that are always in the media seem to break up quickly in Hollywood.”

Their 1991 wedding was performed at their home in San Diego County, and was attended by Jackson’s mother and her best friend, Jackson’s best friend, his parents, and a few of his closest acquaintances. The couple may have been on to something with their privacy crusade—between their secret marriage and courtship, Jackson and Elizondo were together for 14 years, a Hollywood eternity.

Even Jackson’s three-month first marriage to singer James DeBarge, when she was 18, has some lingering secrecy—although the reports there are harder to take seriously. Gossip rags chased stories for years in the 2000s alleging that Jackson had a secret child with DeBarge. Rumors ran rampant in 2005 that Jackson had given birth to a girl during their marriage. At one point, it was speculated that it was a son named Omer Bhatti and he would now be in his late 20s. While (coincidentally) promoting new music, DeBarge’s brother, Young DeBarge, claimed that Jackson had a grown daughter named Renee who lived with her older sister, Rebbie.

Jackson shot down all that talk. “I do not have a child and all allegations saying so are false,” she said.

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So no secret babies, but Jackson’s proven herself incomparably skilled at masking marriages. Of course, secret or surprise weddings aren’t exactly rare for celebrities. They’re even en vogue. Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen did it. Anne Hathaway and Adam Shulman did it. Kate Winslet and Nick Rocknroll did it. There are monthly reports that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have done it—so far none of which seem to be true. The difference, however, is that those weddings were only “secret” in that no save-the-date cards were leaked to the press. In most celebrity cases, news that the clandestine nuptials are in progress hit E! Online or TMZ often before the celebrity bride gets down the aisle. Jackson kept her ceremony a secret for a full year.

Long-kept secret marriages have occurred before. Bob Dylan’s six-year union to backup singer Carolyn Dennis in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s wasn’t revealed until ten years after they divorced.  There are conflicting reports that Aaliyah and R. Kelly were scandalously married in 1994 when she was 15 and he was 27 (she reportedly lied about her age on court records).

Yet the big difference is time. Those marriages predated the paparazzi circus and the Radar-TMZ-Inside-Edition-will-pay-you-millions-of-dollars-to-sell-out-celebrities culture. By that measure, even Jackson’s first secret marriage is all the more understandable. As countless veteran Hollywood actresses diplomatically say when asked to give advice to today’s young starlets, the amount of privacy celebrities had then and can expect now has decreased beyond reason. Naked photos (Scarlett), tawdry affairs (Kristen), secret siblings (Lindsay)—it all comes out, whether someone close to the star leaked it or some intrepid gossip journalist dug it up.

It’s why talk that Beyoncé faked her pregnancy is ridiculous (with so many people around her, someone would have spilled the beans). It’s why allegations that Justin Bieber fathered a child are insane (he’d never get away with that). And it’s why the fact that Janet Jackson—amid all her family’s drama—managed to keep her own wedding a secret for an entire year is utterly amazing.