Gina Neely is trying to give love a second chance as one of the star’s of the new Bravo reality show, To Rome for Love. The series follows a group of successful Black women as they try and find the love they struggled to obtain in the States in Italy. Gina is along for the ride, but before she could move forward fully, her cast mates (and former Down Home With the Neelys fans) wanted to know what really happened between her and Pat Neely. In a new episode of the series (which airs on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. EST), the 52-year-old begrudgingly shared what it was really like to be married to Pat during the height of their fame as Food Network stars, and how she finally decided to file for divorce in 2014. It wasn’t easy. “It’s sort of a part of my life I can’t seem to move past,” she said.
“I never aspired to be a chef,” she told the ladies. “My ex and I worked together at a family restaurant BBQ business. I thought it would be one show, we’d go back to our regular lives. Who knew it would be the highest-rated show on Food Network?”
The show ended up becoming a hit, and it was to the benefit of their careers, but to the detriment of their connection as husband and wife. If you asked Gina, “I never wanted to be on TV. That was Pat’s dream. Everybody was over the moon except for me. This wasn’t the life I planned for me.”
The fact that she seemed to be the bigger star threw even more of a wrench into things. And while no one could really tell that there was trouble in the relationship, especially since the couple seemed to have so much chemistry and were known for their PDA, Gina said she was incredibly unhappy.
“I was always seen as this person that has it together,” she said. “I would cry in my pillow at night. I would cry in the car. I would cry anywhere anybody couldn’t see me.”
“The TV show became bigger than the marriage,” she continued. “He became more my business partner than my husband. I didn’t ask for a business partner. I needed my husband.”
And then one day she didn’t need either. She got up the nerve to grab her purse, her duffle bag and leave her husband after five failed attempts at doing so in the past.
“I had so many inboxes on my Facebook page of women asking me, ‘How did you have the courage to leave a 24-year marriage,’” she said. “And I applaud myself because I didn’t think I would have the courage to do it. And I did.”
But unlike many stars who split from their spouses and end up talking poorly about them in public, Gina wanted to go about things in a peaceful manner for the sake of their daughters (one from a previous marriage; both Pat and Gina were married once before).
“I was always worried about my girls,” she said. “And it was also important to me that I just didn’t go out blabbing on their dad and being ugly because at the end of the day, they’re our daughters.”