A BLONDE wig atop her head, Emmy award-winning journalist Benita Alexander ‘wailed’ in the car parked near a house in the hills on the outskirts of Barcelona.
Nearby, her friends who had travelled with her from New York to Spain spoke to the distinguished looking gentleman in a doorway.
As a woman looked on confused while a child called him ‘dad’, Benita’s heart broke a bit more – the man they were talking to had just texted her saying he was in Russia.
‘He was supposed to marry me,’ says Benita, 55, recalling her ‘insane’ love story with Italian throat surgeon Paolo Macchiarini which has now been made into a podcast called Dr Death: Miracle Man.
Actually he was already married and the elaborate wedding he had promised Benita – ordained by the Pope in Vatican City, attended by the Clintons and a castle – was never going to happen.
Benita, who had spent $50k (£36k) on a number of dresses – and had even made her dress and invitation designers sign Non Disclosure Agreements where they can’t reveal details of the nuptials, was fuming.
She found out after a pal sent her an email entitled The Pope and it emerged His Holiness was actually in South America on a long-planned trip on the date of their proposed nuptials.
But she didn’t tell him she knew straight away – instead hiring a personal investigator (PI) to examine what was true.
Then, disguised in a wig, she visited his Spanish home where she learnt he had a secret family.
‘In July 2015 our cat and mouse game came to an end when I revealed to him I knew he was married. I put it all in a message. He responded ‘wow.’
‘In my hideous blonde wig I was like James Bond.
‘But did he forget I was an Emmy-award winning journalist?’
Benita, now in a happy relationship, told how things were ‘nagging’ at her when she got the email in May 2015 on the day after she left her job of 17-years to marry him.
‘I had these things which were nagging at me and in that moment [I got the email] I just knew,’ she says.
‘But I didn't begin to understand the extent of the lies, I felt sick. I knew he was lying.
‘From there it unravelled. I woke up out of my love haze, I put my journalist hat back on and hired a private investigator.
‘I went full on into investigator mode as I knew he wouldn’t tell me the truth.’
She found out exactly what he’d lied about – and it was extensive.
He’d told her, as personal surgeon to the Pope, the leader of the Catholic church wanted to marry the couple.
‘He said he was having trouble finding a priest to marry us,’ she says.
‘Then he said he had ‘connections’ to the Vatican. It wasn’t surprising being a surgeon in Italy.
‘He [the Pope] wanted to use us as the poster couple for the catholic church to prove people who are divorced can get married in the catholic church.’
Benita admitted this concerned her because she didn’t want the ‘spotlight’ on her. ‘But he was very clever. He said it [marrying in the Vatican] would be so controversial and groundbreaking it was imperative I not talk to people.
‘He had people sign NDAs and said the Clintons were coming… the level he went to was insane.
‘None of these people were coming. He didn’t know Pope Francis, he wasn’t his personal doctor.’
The slip from ‘Prince Charming to pathological liar’ took place over just two years.
Meeting Macchiarini , Benita wasn’t looking for love.
A successful TV journalist, the mum-of-one was interviewing him for a story and still married – to a man dying of brain cancer – when they met in 2013.
‘I was doing a story about regenerative medicine and his name kept coming up,’ Benita, from New York, says.
They became friends and over time, after her husband died, she felt herself falling for him. But her journalistic integrity meant she challenged those emotions.
‘He seemed like he was the miracle man,’ she says. ‘He was a top doctor, he spoke six or seven languages.
‘He was a good listener and gave me sage and solid advice.’
In mid 2013 they became a couple and in December that year they became ‘pre-engaged’ as Macchiarini, who lived in Barcelona, Spain, said he was still married with two grown up daughters.
It was eight months in July 2014 afterwards they became properly engaged after Macchiarini presented her with a $100k with the wedding planned for July 2015.
‘The headline is that it started out as a beautiful love story and it ended up as a total nightmare,’ says Benita.
‘I to this day have no idea why he lied about our entire relationship.
‘He paid for most of the wedding.
‘He wanted me to do nothing but find my dress but show up and look beautiful. I resisted it. ‘I’m a control freak and it was really difficult for me to do.
‘I was giving up everything for him to ride off into the sunset.’
Macchiarini didn’t respond to requests for a comment.
Dr. Death: Miracle Man premieres everywhere from August 16 including Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music and the Wondery app.
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