I thought I’d struck gold when I tied the knot with my hot and hunky Nigerian hubby, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
By Deana Charles, 23, from Tiverton in Devon
I popped some bread in the toaster and filled up the kettle, ready to make a yummy breakfast, when I turned round to see my boyfriend Ben holding a jewellery box in his hands.
Suddenly, my heart started racing. It wasn’t my birthday or our anniversary – surely this could mean only one thing?
“Deana,” Ben said, opening the box to reveal a gorgeous silver ring with a single imitation diamond. “Will you marry me?”
He didn’t have to ask twice. I dropped the kettle on the work surface and launched myself across the room to give him a big hug.
“Yes!” I squealed, kissing him. “Yes, yes, yes!”
Ben and I had met on a dating site a year previously. I’d signed up for a bit of a laugh, but when Ben’s handsome face popped up on my screen I was instantly smitten.
He explained that he had been born in Nigeria but had come to London to study business at university.
I thought: He’s so brave.
After just a few dates, I’d left my family home in Devon and moved over 200 miles to be with him. It was a big step, but I knew he was The One.
Now we were going to be husband and wife, things couldn’t get any better.
“I can’t wait to start planning!” I said, as Ben slipped the ring onto my finger.
“Yes, let’s do it as soon as we can,” Ben said. “I don’t want to wait any longer to be your husband.”
We didn’t have lots of spare cash as Ben was working hard on his degree and I was studying childcare at college but I’d always dreamed of having a big, fancy wedding.
But Ben was right – it wasn’t about the day, it was about our love for each other.
We booked the local registry office and my mum, Chrissy, helped me scrape together some money for a gorgeous floor length white dress.
I thought his eyes might pop out on stalks as I made my way down the aisle.
“You look stunning,” my gorgeous groom whispered.
As I promised to love Ben forever, I meant every word.
I thought: This really is the happiest day of my life.
Ben’s mum wasn’t able to travel from Nigeria for the wedding so I suggested we phone and tell her the good news.
I told Ben: “Your mum will be waiting for your call. You better give her a ring.”
“I’ll phone her soon,” he replied.
“Come on, Ben,” I said. “Phone her now. It’s our big day, she’ll want to know how it went.”
He looked uneasy as he took his phone from his pocket and I watched over his shoulder. I was about to take it from him and dial his mum’s number when a message flashed up.
It read: I love you and miss you too.
I felt the blood pumping to my head as I looked at the name of the sender, Naomi*. Naomi was Ben’s ex girlfriend and she still lived in Africa.
My legs almost buckled beneath me as I snatched the phone from my new husband’s hands.
“You better have a good explanation for this,” I said.
“It meant nothing,” Ben replied, voice shaking. “It was pre-wedding nerves. It’s you I want.”
I turned to storm out but Ben ran after me.
“Please believe me Deana,” he sobbed. “I love you.”
Suddenly, I felt my resolve weaken as the vows we’d said just moments earlier swirled around in my head. For better or worse, til death do us part…
I reasoned: The ink is barely dry on our marriage certificate. I should give Ben the benefit of the doubt.
“You have one last chance,” I told him and he wrapped his arms around me, showering me with kisses.
Over the next few months, we settled into married life and I thought our little wedding day hiccup was behind us.
That wasn’t to say we didn’t have our rough patches. Ben was desperate to be a dad, but I thought we were too young to be parents.
Eventually, we agreed to start trying for a baby but I had some fertility problems and had to see a specialist.
We got through it, though, and Ben told me he loved me no matter what, so I felt safe and secure.
But one night, I borrowed Ben’s laptop to do some college work and something popped up which made my stomach lurch. It was a picture of a girl in her undies!
Her name was Lucy* and she’d written: Just for you, babe.
A wave of nausea swept over me but I knew I had to keep my cool if I wanted to get as much dirt on Ben as I could.
Seconds later, more messages popped up, this time from a girl called Sarah*.
It read: I can’t deal with this, rushing to plan a baby.
Surely this girl had got the wrong end of the stick? My hubby couldn’t be planning a baby with someone else…could he?
Somehow I found the strength to scroll up and despair coursed through me as I read what Ben had written just moments beforehand.
The message said: We have connected and this could grow into something. I’ve decided I want to have a baby with you.
But I barely had time to process his words when my mobile began to vibrate and mum’s name flashed up on the screen.
“Hello?” I said.
“Deana,” Mum replied. “You’re going to have to sit down before I tell you this.”
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I’ve just been chatting to a girl on Facebook who says she’s been sleeping with Ben,” Mum said. “Her name is Sarah.”
It all made perfect sense. Mum explained that Sarah had felt so guilty about the affair she’d come clean.
I thought: Just wait until Ben gets home…
A little while later, I heard his key turning in the door and my palms began to sweat, but I knew I had to keep my cool.
“Hi, sweetheart,” he said, moving in for kiss but I pulled away.
I told him: “I’m leaving you. You’ve been cheating on me.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he spat.
I turned his laptop round to face him and said: “Is it?”
Panic stretched across his face as he caught sight of the messages, which I’d been careful to leave open on the screen.
“You’ve got it wrong,” he said. “Those girls made up the messages to frame me.”
“I wasn’t born yesterday, Ben,” I replied. “I should have left you as soon as I saw that message from your ex. I want a divorce.”
There was a flash of rage in Ben’s eyes as he slammed the door and ran out of the room. A few seconds later, he returned.
He said: “You are so dumb. I’ve never loved you. I married you for a visa.”
My mouth fell open in shock. It was bad enough that Ben had cheated on me. Now, he was telling me our whole marriage had been a sham.
But suddenly, everything started to fall into place. Ben’s student visa was set to expire soon and if we hadn’t got married, he mightn’t have been allowed to stay in the UK. He’d been in a rush to get married and now I knew why.
It also explained why he’d been so desperate to get both Sarah and me pregnant. The authorities would find it much harder to send him home if he had a child.
I burst into tears and said: “You disgust me.”
I packed all of my belongings and phoned mum, who arranged a lift back to Devon for me. As soon as I got home, I filed for divorce but Ben was a nightmare and refused to sign the papers.
I thought: No surprises, there.
After we’d been separated for over two years, he finally relented and our divorce came through late last year.
I’ve heard rumours that he’s gone back to Nigeria but we don’t speak so I’m not sure where he is.
I’ve now got a new partner and I’m slowly learning to trust men again. I’m not sure if Ben ever loved me but I do know that he betrayed me in the most cruel way possible.
I thought my Nigerian hunk was the man of my dreams, but our sham marriage was nothing but a nightmare.
Ben Mowah, 25, said: “It’s a memory that is still upsetting but I wouldn’t want to be seen as a terrible person. Terrible enough to marry a woman for a visa. I have been accepted back in the family and we are moving on. I’ve tainted the family name enough and I wouldn’t want any more scandals. My mate used to send me dirty pics of girls he was seeing. I knew my wife would get jealous if she saw them on my phone so I either deleted them or sent them to my e-mail. She must’ve checked my e-mail that day and found them.”
*Some names have been changed.
As told to Helen O’Brien Google