Dressed head to toe in billowing black clothes, Janet Jackson was almost unrecognisable as she strolled hand-in-hand with her husband, Wissam Al Mana, in London in October
The photographs were eye-catching, to say the least. Dressed head to toe in billowing black clothes — an oversized poncho, baggy trousers and a hood that covered her hair — singer Janet Jackson was almost unrecognisable as she strolled hand-in-hand with her husband, Wissam Al Mana, in London in October.
Gone were the thigh-high boots, skimpy skirts and cleavage-baring tops of her heyday. Instead, not an inch of flesh was visible as 50-year-old Janet, then six months’ pregnant with her first child, gazed pensively into the distance.
Bemused fans took it as evidence that Janet’s makeover, from raunchy singer to modest mum-to-be, was complete.
In place of her X-rated lyrics, she wished fans ‘Inshallah’ — meaning ‘God willing’ — at the end of every show, and even featured the Arabic word in the chorus of one of her songs.
Her most recent message to fans on her official Twitter account ends with the phrase ‘Al Hamdu Lillah’, which translates as ‘Praise God’. A previous tweet said simply: ‘I miss you guys.’
Janet never confirmed nor denied her supposed conversion to Islam, but friends say she began immersing herself in Muslim texts very early on in her relationship. On visits to Wissam’s family in Qatar, she ditched her make-up and hair extensions and shrouded herself in traditional clothing.
‘She feels like she has found a home with her new religion,’ a friend said then. ‘She has spent a great deal of time studying it. The days of raunchy dance moves and sexual lyrics are long gone.’
Religious conversion was not a new concept to her: having been brought up as Jehovah’s Witnesses, her older brother Jermaine converted to Islam in 1989 and there are even rumours Michael did, too, shortly before his death in 2009.
It wasn’t so much her husband’s religion, but his introversion — verging on reclusiveness — that started to drive Janet away. Having settled in London to appease him (they also have a home in Doha, Qatar, and an apartment in the Trump Tower in New York), she resented that Wissam refused to meet her family and friends and tried to keep her away from the public eye.
Though keen to step back from the spotlight, Janet — the woman who once posed topless for Rolling Stone magazine and became the most searched-for woman on the internet after flashing her nipple at the 2004 Super Bowl — wasn’t used to such a staunch rejection of the world in which she’d made her £120 million fortune.
Eissa, whose name means ‘God is salvation’ in Arabic, arrived at a time when the pair hoped a baby might help paper over the deepening fissures in their relationship.
Janet had always wanted a child, telling an interviewer in 2011: ‘Everyone tells me, for the longest time, they’ve told me: “Oh, you’d make a great mother.” They would tell me: “You’re very nurturing. You’re very mothering, and you take care of people all the time.” ’
Having a baby at the age of 50 — making her the world’s oldest celebrity mother — was no easy feat, and experts suspect she may have had IVF or used donor eggs (if she hadn’t already frozen her own). Though the delivery was said to be ‘stress-free’, any couple who has been through IVF knows the strain it can put on a relationship.
Cynics may look at the timing of Eissa’s arrival and the break-up of her marriage and wonder if Janet stuck it out simply so she could achieve her dream of motherhood.
Others have pointed to the rumoured pre-nuptial agreement between the couple, reputed to involve a £400 million payout to Janet if the marriage broke up after five years. Neither party has yet filed for divorce, but the fact that around five years have passed is nonetheless intriguing.
Whatever the truth about the break-up, fans are already wondering whether it may signal a return to the Janet they know and love.
One thing’s for sure: she hasn’t lost it. Her most recent album, Unbreakable, the first since 2008, went straight into the U.S. charts at No 1 — another bone of contention, perhaps, for her seriously-minded husband.
With him out of the picture, there is no telling what Janet’s next reinvention may be.