In late 2007, paparazzo Adnan Ghalib was taking photos of Britney Spears when the pop star suddenly jumped into his car to escape the throngs of photographers following her. That fateful moment kicked off a surreal relationship between Ghalib and Spears — one he presented to his wife, AzLynn Berry, as nothing more than a friendship, but which she soon found out was much more. Now, in an exclusive interview with Us Weekly, Berry is speaking out for the first time about the affair and that tumultuous time in her life.
Berry says her relationship with Ghalib, whom she married in 2003 at the age of 23, had always been rocky, partly due to his wandering eye. “He didn’t have a history of being honest when it came to his relationship status,” she claims.
Still, Berry was determined to make things work. “I come from a very religious background [and] my family had no [history] of divorce,” she explains. “I [also had] a lot of people-pleasing behaviors and was consistently trying to prove my worth in order to be loved. It was kind of an impossible situation to build anything real from that place.” (Multiple efforts to reach Ghalib were unsuccessful.)
According to Berry, her relationship with Ghalib was nevertheless at a “high point” when he began seeing Spears. “It was the closest we had ever been,” she says, emphasizing that she and Ghalib were “definitely still married” at the time.
Berry says the paparazzo told her he was trying to help Spears, almost acting like a personal assistant. “Britney was aware of the incoming conservatorship,” says Berry. “He told me a lot of intimate details [about her] … even mental health stuff.”
But Berry wasn’t aware Ghalib and Spears were romantically involved until January 2008, about three months into their affair, when a photo was published of them kissing in a Santa Barbara, Calif., parking lot. Berry was shocked. “I’m pretty sure I called him, yelling and screaming. I probably texted him 50 times and waited for him to come back,” Berry tells Us, calling the experience “extremely traumatic.”
In her memoir, The Woman in Me, Spears claimed she didn’t know Ghalib was married during their affair. Berry says Spears’ father, Jamie — who went on to file a restraining order against Ghalib after he and Spears split — “was trying to inform Britney of my existence. [But] if you have a choice between listening to someone who has kind of ripped away your identity and the hot guy with a thick accent that’s willing to treat you like a human being, you’re going to get what you want out of it.”
Years later, it’s all water under the bridge for Berry, who says she’s thankful Spears caused her marriage to implode. “I’m so f**king grateful that, for whatever reason, this unbelievable person walked into my husband’s life and removed him from mine,” she says.
Berry believes Ghalib manipulated her and Spears. “He was very charismatic. I was never going to leave Adnan,” adds Berry, who filed for legal separation on January 18, 2008. (Ghalib filed for divorce in June 2008.) “[Britney’s] presence was the catalyst that was strong enough to end the marriage, and I’m actually very, very grateful. I know for a fact that I would’ve killed myself if I stayed in a toxic relationship.”
Berry and Ghalib were in touch only sparingly through 2010. Two years ago, she cut off contact completely. Us Weekly reviewed one of their last communications: a two-sentence, handwritten note he left her when they split, apologizing for how things ended and that the situation “got messy.”
These days, Berry has a career in the wellness space. She is a contributing writer for Best Holistic Life magazine and works as an alignment and embodiment guide. She says talking about her painful past helps with her healing process. “Everyone has a right to their perspective and story,” she says. “[Sharing it] is a very important part of reclaiming your voice.”