TV personality Michaele Salahi and Journey guitarist Neal Schon say they are precisely where they should be right now-in each other's arms.
The couple spoke to The Daily Beast exclusively in a series of interviews, via telephone and text, as Schon's band continues on its cross-country tour.
"It's like a fairy tale. It is, it really is," Schon said from a hotel room in Tampa. "I'm very happy, very happy after waiting for her for 15 years. Now I want to get beyond all this media hype that Tareq has put out there. It's really quite embarrassing."
Neal Schon, 57, played with Santana in the '70s and then came to national attention when Journey exploded onto the music scene in the late '70s and early '80s with songs like "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'," "Open Arms," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," and "Any Way You Want It." And the still ubiquitous anthem "Don't Stop Believin'."
Michaele Salahi, of course, was one half of the tainted couple accused of crashing President Obama's first state dinner with her husband, Tareq, in November 2009. They were then featured players on Bravo's unsuccessful The Real Housewives of D.C.
In my book, Cirque du Salahi, the 46-year-old Michaele first revealed she has suffered from multiple sclerosis for nearly 20 years and the disease was the deciding factor when choosing her husband. She had been dating both Neal and Tareq in the late '90s (for the record, she dated Neal first) and there came a time she had to make a life decision.
"I chose Tareq over Neal because I thought life would be less stressful living on a vineyard in Virginia. Life on the road with a rock band … well, I thought I might not have been able to keep up." Yet during research for the book last year, in private talks away from her husband, Michaele made it clear she still had deep feelings for Neal.
So how did they ultimately come together just 10 days after they saw each other backstage at a Journey concert in Bristow, Va.? The couple now admits they had been communicating via text "for a while" over a device a friend had sneaked to Michaele so the controlling Tareq wouldn't find out she had a pipeline to the outside world. (Repeated e-mails and calls to Tareq Salahi for comment for this story have gone unanswered.)
"Neal was like, 'Are we going to do this forever?' And I said, 'No, we're not,'" Michaele said of the moment she realized it was time to make another life decision. "I began to see he really loved me. I had to begin to feel it completely-in my soul." That was when she knew she would leave her husband.
Neal sent complimentary tickets and backstage passes to the Salahis to come to the Labor Day weekend concert being held just 20 miles east of their home in Linden, Va. The ever-sociable Tareq showed up backstage with a video camera, Michaele, and Michaele's friend Irina. He urged the women to surround Neal and kiss him, "Ahhh. There you go … hugs and kisses for Neal!!! Rock on, Journey!" Tareq is heard cooing in the background. (Tareq would later supply that video and other materials to the gossip website TMZ in an effort to humiliate his wife.)
Tareq had no way of knowing exactly what had happened just moments earlier in Schon's dressing room. But if he did have an inkling of his wife's behavior that night, he chose to put on a happy public face.
"What happened was … she takes off her wedding ring, OK, right in front of Tareq—takes it off," Neal told The Daily Beast, sounding astonished. "And then she proceeds to come into my dressing room where I'm sitting down. I have tennis shoes on and she's, like, nine feet tall over me."
Neal's voice took on a joyful tone as he told the story, and I could hear Michaele giggling in the background. He continued: "And she looks down at me like she's standing on stilts and says, "I love YOU. And, that's never gonna change. And when that happened I said, 'Get over here! This has taken 15 years!'"
In retelling their story on the phone these not-too-young lovers sounded like teenagers who had just gotten the keys to Dad's car. They were finally together and nothing else mattered.
The night of the concert, Sept. 4, Neal urged Michaele to get on the tour bus with him. "I was pretty close to doing it," Michaele said. "But then I thought, No, that's not who I am. That would be public humiliation for Tareq." She explained to Neal that she had obligations and things to wrap up over the next few weeks but she told him that night: "We will be together. I promise." She went home with her husband that night.
Nine days later, Michaele says she realized she couldn't stay. "I didn't want to hurt anyone, but I realized I was hurting myself." And, according to Michaele, "Tareq was too controlling." Neal jumped in to elaborate. "He says, 'Don't go out of the house, you can't have any money, I took all the money, you don't have a telephone, you can't drive'—plus, there are cameras in every room!" (After spending considerable research time in the Salahi house in mid-2010, I can confirm it contains a sophisticated surveillance system.)
Last Tuesday, Tareq left home to go to the family's nearby Oasis Vineyard to ready things for an upcoming bankruptcy auction that was held this past weekend. He did not know that Michaele and Neal had been texting back and forth:
"Michaele come, I don't want to wait anymore," Schon wrote. Michaele agreed, and told The Daily Beast, "I was going crazy. Because when you want to be with someone that bad, you start to go crazy. He sent someone to come get me. I got on a plane by myself and I just went. I just walked away from everything."
Having known Michaele Salahi for two years now, after having had intimate talks with her about the state of her marriage, the very fact that she was able to get on a plane by herself-taking no luggage with her-must have been a monumental achievement. Tareq had convinced her over the years that they must always be together in case her MS symptoms flared and made her weak. According to Michaele, he also dwelled on death threats they had received after the White House scandal and warned she must never be without him. Michaele says she was cowed into believing she couldn't do anything alone.
As lovey-dovey as they are on the telephone, the harsh reality is that both Neal and Michaele are entangled, and it could get ugly as they try to wrestle free of their pasts.
Schon refused to talk about his companion of the last two years, Ava Fabian, a former Playboy centerfold (August 1986), model, and actress who has among her credits the soft-porn series entitled Erotic Confessions. It is unclear whether a reported marriage between the two—said to have taken place just two months ago in Paris—was a legally binding event. One source close to the band who attended the ceremony called it, "One of those humanistic unions. You know, a friendship-type thing staged in a park." This source also revealed Ava left the band's tour in Pittsburgh weeks before Michaele came on the scene. Ava was allegedly sent away for being a disruptive presence. A second source close to the Playboy scene said the relationship between Ava and Neal was nearly always a "constant argument." (Repeated calls and emails to try to reach Ava Fabian directly for comment were unsuccessful.)
For Michaele's part, she has a very hurt and angry husband on her hands. Tareq Salahi, always the promoter, did what he does best after his initial report that his wife had been kidnapped was publically debunked by police—he attacked. Known for launching legal and media attacks on his enemies, the cash-strapped Tareq seems to have teamed up with TMZ, which often offers payment to sources, to release a stream of private videos, photographs, and documents—including the Salahis' prenuptial agreement.
Since last Wednesday, not a day has gone by without multiple Salahi revelations—as many as five stories a day—with titillating headlines such as "Tareq Salahi Films Rock Star Kiss His Wife. Ultimate Humiliation" and "Tareq Salahi—I'm Divorcing That Bitch!" At this writing, the latest TMZ entry shows a trio of pictures of Tareq burying the couple's beloved Doberman, Rio, in a backyard grave. The headline: "I Lost Two Bitches in One Week."
There is a divorce—maybe two—in this new couple's future, as Tareq has already filed papers. It promises not to be an easy split as the litigation-happy Tareq may choose to try to extract a monetary payment to go away. There are also adjustments about living arrangements after the band's Eclipse tour is finished at the end of October. Will they live in Neal's home base of San Francisco or closer to Michaele's beloved mother and brothers in Virginia?
And the biggest question of all: will these two lovers find that fairy-tale ending after all the hoopla dies down?
When I first located Neal and Michaele, after the "kidnapping" reports surfaced, Neal laughed into the phone. "Hey, you wrote in your book she had to choose between us—and that Tareq won. Guess you'll have to rewrite that book now—because I won!"
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