Bigamy, horses, and Vegas: Steve Braunias reports on the turbulent marriage breakdown of model Kylie Bax and Spiros Poros.
Everyone knows that it takes two to untango and the last thing you should ever do is take sides in a break-up, but I ignored these rules of conduct and impartiality when quite famous person Kylie Bax called to talk about her very messy, very unpleasant split with her ex-husband Spiros Poros. "How awful," I said, probably quite a few times, over and over, as she went on at length about his apparent many and various deep failings not just as a partner but as a member of the human race.
She saw it as a movie. I agreed. Rough outline: small-town girl from New Zealand becomes glamorous model in New York in the 1990s, cover shoots and ad campaigns and Linda and Naomi, hangs out with Donald Trump for heaven's sake, all is happy and swell... and then she meets a tall dark handsome stranger with a mysterious past. It's tawdry. It's lurid. It's got stunning locations (Athens, Las Vegas) and boring locations (Cambridge), and it's got a big reveal: bigamy.
Bigamy! That old audacity. The author Erica Jong made a good joke about it in her best-seller The Fear of Flying: "Bigamy is having one husband too many. Monogamy is the same." Jong's novel was published in 1973, when bigamy was a routine American pastime. It's since become a kind of an antique scandal, not exactly quaint, but dated, a practice driven out of existence in our nosy age of access and information.
It's a rarity even in louche Los Angeles, with just three reported cases in 2019, and 13 in total since 2010. The last story about it in New Zealand was published in 2012. Good intro, the Herald: "On December 17 last year Rodney Peach married his partner in front of her family and friends, while still married to his unsuspecting wife of 28 years." The previous story about it was published in 2010. Really good intro, the Herald: "Authorities are circling in on a Whāngārei Bride of the Year contestant who allegedly has two husbands."
Bax has proved in a court of law that Poros committed bigamy when he married her. She emailed a PDF of legal documents. The word "bigamy" appears several times, each time like a deadly sin. The documents make for exciting reading. It's possible to see the paperwork as the first draft of a script.
Bax had in mind something along the lines of Dirty John, the Netflix series about a conman who targeted wealthy women. A movie, a TV series – either way, a creepy melodrama, a tale of fraud and deceit, with two attractive lead characters plus someone to play Trump.
Another great world leader might have a cameo role: after living together in Los Angeles, New York, Athens, and Sydney, the couple moved to Cambridge in the Waikato, where they raced and syndicated horses, and had their photo taken in what appears to be a happy group shot at a racetrack with then Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Key. Bax was miserable at the time, she said. "I was just there. Just functioning. But it wasn't real. As a model it was my job to smile and to look – my job was to be happy when I'm freezing in a photoshoot."
It turned out that Poros was also enthusiastic about the prospect of his marital woes being turned into a film. I called him and he claimed, "I am writing a book about it. Producers in LA have contacted me about making a movie."
I said, "What kind of movie would it be?"
"This story," he said, and dropped his voice almost to a whisper, "is monstrous."
I met Bax in 2017 when I invited her along to lunch at the Hamilton Press Club, where I am modestly installed as life president. The guest speaker was Jacinda Ardern. Bax seemed to me to be an ideal guest. As one of the rare public figures in New Zealand prepared to say a good word about Donald Trump, her very presence acted as a counter to the liberal luvvies who adored Ardern, then deputy to Labour's unvoteable leader Andrew Little. But this is not to falsely or glibly stereotype Bax as some kind of alt-right Barbie. Bax has star quality. She also has a bracing, direct manner, someone with a zest for life, confident, striking, intelligent, a good egg. I liked her at once.
And so to the taking of sides when she got in touch. There were emails, then she called, and it was hard to get her off the phone: Poros this, Poros that. Then I interviewed her at her handsome rural spread on the edges of Cambridge on a winter's day, with bright sunlight steaming the frost off the grass. Again, it was all about Poros – he was a bum, a gambler, a shyster, a brute, a gigolo, essentially a no-good sonofabitch. Most of it sailed into the teeth of a defamatory wind and besides there are various ongoing court proceedings which obstruct her commentary.
They met in 2003 and married two years later. They have three children. They broke up in 2014, haven't spoken to each other since, and are engaged in a property dispute. The Herald investigated it in April. Bax was very displeased with David Fisher's story, which she viewed as taking Poros's side, and said to him: "I'm a Kiwi and he's not a Kiwi." Curious to suggest that patriotism should favour her version of events, but she brought it up again when I spoke to her at her Cambridge home.
She said, "My parents thought it would be black and white, that New Zealanders would rally around to support me, but it was the other way around – I was the b****, I was the girl who done the dirty to this poor little Greek boy who had come all the way to New Zealand to be with her. This is how they treated me."
I said, "Who's 'they'?"
She said, "The courts. Media. Your friend David [Fisher - Herald reporter]. It's very odd; you see stories all the time going, 'Oh Rachel, Rachel, Rachel!' I'm happy for Rachel Hunter but there's a whole different feeling of support, and rallying around for her."
I asked, "Why do you think it is you don't inspire those feelings?"
She said, "I've just never inspired that. It's always, I've been the wild one, or the weird one. 'She's for Donald Trump!' I just never got that support. People judge you, and it is what it is."
But most stories or profiles about Bax, certainly in the genre of women's magazines, have been supportive, admiring, even a little awed.
At 17 she was crowned Miss Thames Valley-Coromandel at a beauty pageant in the Goldfields mall. One of the judges was a modelling agent, and Bax was soon thrust into an international modelling career, in France and Italy. At 19, she moved to New York, and signed with the Women Management agency: "At one point I was their biggest model, the most demanded model of my time."
I said, "You're often referred to in the New Zealand press as a supermodel. Was that accurate?"
She claimed, "Yeah. I was one of the supermodels. I worked with Linda, I worked with Naomi, all the best people in the world."
They included photographers Steven Meisel ("He was kingmaker") and Helmut Newton, maestro of a cold erotica. Bax: "Helmut was such a cool guy. He either liked you or didn't like you. He always tested you; he wanted to make sure he was photographing a strong woman to represent his artwork. My first shoot for him was American Vogue, and I did Italian Vogue for him, too. Some people would call it risque but it was beautifully done. It was a black and white of me drinking from a wine glass in Monaco, and I had one breast hanging out from my dress. But Helmut always put lipstick on the nipple so you actually never felt naked."
In New York she lived in the same apartment as actress Marisa Tomei; in Los Angeles she lived at Colonial House, a famous old pile on West Hollywood opposite Chateau Marmont. She worked hard, didn't drink, acted in a few small films. Then there was her friendship with The Donald.
"Contrary to popular belief, I never dated Donald," she said. "Donald was a friend. I was also friends with his ex-wife and his current girlfriend at the time, who is now his wife. It was just friends hanging out with friends. He was good for a giggle and he spoke from the heart. Melania? She's very quiet, and really lovely. A strong woman. She wouldn't let Donald get away with anything..."
Good times. And then Bax met Poros at a photoshoot. He was a model turned photographer. They were married at a chapel in Las Vegas, and lived in the US, Greece, and Australia, before arriving in Cambridge with their three children in 2013. They were an instant sensation on the social scene, and were often photographed at various openings of envelopes in Auckland by Norrie Montgomery, the Herald's photographer of the Spy social section.
I called Norrie and he said, "They were a real breath of fresh air. She was beautiful, he was extremely handsome. It was like they'd stepped out of the pages of Vogue. Very glamorous, and very easy to deal with."
They split the following year.
For Poros, it was his third broken marriage. Well, that's life. Even a series of failed and disastrous relationships isn't a crime – but the trouble was that Poros never actually divorced from his first wife, who is really his only wife.
At a hearing on August 22 last year at the Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County, Nevada, the Honorable Joseph ("Joe") T Bonaventure presided over the case brought by plaintiff Kylie Bax against defendant Spyridon Poros. He found that Poros's marriage to his first wife, Yolanda Gili, in a religious ceremony at the Sacred Temple of San Demetrio Loumpar in Athens in 1996, was lawful and valid. He further found it was not dissolved prior to the "purported" marriage of Poros and Bax at the Gracelands Chapel in Las Vegas in 2005.
Terrible and damning word, "purported"; as for Gracelands, the chapel's website proudly declares that it is "recognised around the world as the very first chapel to conduct an Elvis themed ceremony". Worse, Jon Bon Jovi got married there.
Much of the rest of the paperwork in Bax's PDF were submissions prepared by her legal team. Nothing shall be private before the law; the documents resemble a breathless gossip rag when it reports, "Before Poros and Bax met, Poros had a relationship with a professional model named Yolanda Gili, but claims that he had broken up with her a year before she 'came to see him' in 1996 while he was living in New York, they went out drinking, had sex, and Gili became pregnant. According to Poros, her parents were very religious Catholics, so they'd decided to get married in a Catholic church service."
It notes Poros married a second time, to Rhea Rachevski in 2002, at the Little Church of the West in – of course – Las Vegas. And then it gossips, "This marriage was also apparently based on pregnancy... Very shortly after the birth, Poros met Bax, and while the record is not entirely clear, Poros claimed that they immediately began a sexual relationship, again soon thereafter resulting in a pregnancy."
After a tremendously long-winded and quite pompous dissertation on the history of marriage ("After the fall of Rome...Prince Nicholas I declared in 866...In England, from a very remote period...", etc), the submission notes that bigamy is prohibited under Nevada law (as well as marriage between people "nearer of kin than second cousins"). It sets out that Poros had married Gili. It establishes that Poros did not gain a divorce from Gili. It emphatically declares that the marriage between Poros and Bax must be declared bigamous. (As a kind of postscript, it notes that his marriage to Rachevski was "equally bigamous").
In contrast to the paper mountain prepared by Bax's team, Poros' submissions consist of a two-page memorandum. Its central point is that while Poros was wed at a ceremony, it wasn't signed off in a registry office, and therefore cannot be defined as a marriage.
The memo warbles, "It is obligatory that a marriage should also be registered suitably in a Greek Registry Office... Marriage is declared to the registrar of the region it took place within 40 days... Registry files about Mr Poros show that as far as the Greek Special Registry Office is concerned he only got married to Kylie Bax and none other person."
In essence, Poros told the court he did not believe he was legally married to his first wife. The response from Bax's lawyers: "It makes no difference whether a bigamist believes he is committing bigamy; the only intent required is to have actually entered into a second marriage while being married to another and knowing that the other is still alive."
And: "The failure of Poros to register in Greece his marriage to Gili is irrelevant to the validity of that marriage."
The central issue before the Clark County court in Las Vegas was the validity of the Bax-Poros marriage. Judge Joe Bonaventure declared it invalid. "The court finds," he ruled, "that the purported marriage between the plaintiff [Bax] and the defendant [Poros] was null and void at its inception." Nine years of marriage, none of it real. It never existed. It was fiction.
I asked Kylie Bax, "What are your feelings about him now?"
She said, "None. I have none. I have no feelings about him at all. I wish he would just disappear."
Poros is now living in Buenos Aires. I called him on Messenger on a Wednesday night. He was at home, in an Airbnb, about to watch a game of football on TV – Chile vs Uruguay in the Copa America tournament. I asked him about the bigamy case. He gamely stuck to his thin and failed defence in Clark County, that he wasn't a bigamist because his first wedding wasn't registered and therefore didn't count as an actual marriage.
He claimed, "When I met my second wife [Rhea Racheski], I told my Mum to ask what we need to do in order for everything to be legal so I can divorce Yolanda [his first wife] and move on. I asked my mum to check it out because I didn't want to do anything illegal. So my mum went to the registry in Greece, and it says I am single. I was not married in the registry to Yolanda. So I wasn't married in 2002. So how can you get a divorce when you're single?"
The first that Bax said she knew he hadn't divorced his first wife was when her parents met Yolanda for dinner in Barcelona about two years ago, and it was mentioned in passing. I called Bax's father Graham; her parents were holidaying in Madrid, and we spoke as he walked along the street in a summer heatwave with his wife, Helen-Gaye.
He remembered the dinner with Poros' first wife, and said, "We went to a restaurant down on the waterfront. We were just chatting away and Yolanda said she can't remember getting divorced from Spiros. Helen-Gaye pricked her ears up and started asking more questions, and that's how it all started. When we went back and told Kylie, we took it further. It took a lot of work and a lot of money to find out. But we did find out."
Hell hath no fury like a father-in-law unimpressed with his daughter's choice of husband. "We first met him in Greece," he said. "I didn't take it to him, I got to be honest. I don't know how the hell Kylie got involved with him. But she chose him, so I thought I'd keep my distance, and just do what a good father-in-law does, and it went from there."
He put the phone on speaker, and now and then Helen-Gaye Bax joined in the conversation. Most of it was about the various ways they detested Poros. I asked what sort of movie they thought might be made about Poros and their daughter, and he said, "It's certainly got a twist to the tale! Kylie thought she was marrying a Greek goddess, and – "
"God," said Helen-Gaye Bax.
"Right. God. But he turned out to be a bigamist. He was just a bloody horrible person, you know. You couldn't have a conversation. He'd yell and scream. Very excitable," he said.
"Swearing," Helen-Gaye Bax.
"He abused me and Helen-Gaye. He swore at her over the phone, told her to go f**k herself. Look, I couldn't stand the guy. He didn't want to talk to us. He didn't want to know. I'd bail Kylie up about it and she'd say, 'Oh it's the Greek way.' "
There was a bit more of this kind of thing, and I said, "He's the father of three of your grandchildren."
He said, "You might think I'm painting a bad picture but you haven't been around him so you don't know. But I'm telling you, why would I want to lie? I'm a good Kiwi guy. Lived in this country all my life. I don't want a story coming out that paints him as a good guy because he's not a good guy."
Again, like his daughter, the plaintive appeal to patriotism, that a New Zealander's word is better than the claims of someone from another country. The next day, Bax snr sent a couple of long, fulminating texts threatening legal action, and demanding to read the story before it was published.
That request was not granted and it was around about then that I regained a sense of partiality. The Bax family's loathing of Poros was so total, so absolute; there was something cartoonish about their depiction of him as a charmless villain, a man without virtue or talent. Kylie Bax was adamant he wasn't even a photographer: "He lives off the fact everyone thinks he's handsome and gorgeous, and he calls himself a photographer. The guy is not a photographer. He can shoot a picture. Anybody can shoot a picture." His portfolio includes an assignment with Jennifer Lopez taken at night in the Acropolis, an exhibition at the Gow Langsford art gallery in Auckland, and a commission to photograph a ballet company in Cuba.
Graham Bax mentioned during our interview that he had "no time" for anyone who had a good word to say about Poros. Carita Fenning, who works in real estate in Auckland, had many good, kind, warm words to say about Poros. She also has experience of the private miseries of a broken marriage made public: in 2014, a Herald story reported on the legal notice of demand for payment that she served on her ex-husband Warren Fenning, who she accused of showering his partner Sally Ridge with nice holidays and expensive jewellery instead of settling the terms of their separation.
I asked her, "What do you make of Spiros?"
She said, "He's not a typical guy. He's not a conventional Kiwi guy. He's very European."
"What does that mean?"
She said, "He's passionate, arty, outspoken, very family oriented – him and his family, they're always Skyping. I love the guy like chocolate. He would do anything for you. He's like family. He comes to all our family events and he's never been anything but decent. All of my family would say that."
"Were you two ever involved?"
She said, "We were seeing each other for a while. I was two years out of my marriage and I was like, 'Yay!', but he was still going through it. They'd not long broke up and he was devastated. Absolutely devastated. It's very hard to be upbeat when you've got your mind so crowded like his was. But we've remained really good friends and I just feel for the guy."
They keep in touch. He's photographing the slums of Buenos Aires for a non-profit organisation, and talks to Fenning about the crushing poverty, and how it puts his own life into perspective. "He's not materialistic," she said. "As long as he's got a cigar and his motorbike, he's happy."
I said, "Well, that's all he might have left."
She said, "That's very much right."
When Poros and Bax moved to New Zealand, they lived in a $1.3m home in Cambridge. Legal submission from Bax's lawyers, put to the judge presiding over the bigamy case, suggested the reason for the dispute in that court is that it had something to do with the property. "The question presented is what effect the purported Nevada Poros/Bax marriage might have to property claims in light of the fact that the marriage was void."
Judge Bonaventure's ruling: "The court finds... that under the facts and circumstances of this case, Poros has no viable putative spouse claim against Bax."
Bax estimated that she spent upwards of $70,000 in legal fees to win the bigamy case. It was a kind of investment to protect her rights to the Cambridge property. Poros said of the bigamy court action, "It was to find ways to exclude me from my property."
When we spoke on the phone, and he reckoned that film producers in Los Angeles were interested in his story, he said, "In the US, it would be a movie. People would not believe what happened. And it's why most things happen in the world."
I said, "Money?"
He said, "Thank you, Stephen."
When I interviewed Bax in Cambridge, I asked her of her ex-husband who, in fact, had never been her husband, "What are his good qualities?"
She said, "Honestly I don't think there are any. I thought at the beginning there were, obviously, but they dissipated as soon as he got control of me, as soon as he pushed my friends away, as soon as he manipulated me so he had control over me. There weren't any. There weren't any good qualities."
Bax at her home in Cambridge, a lovely old villa with 14-foot ceiling stud; Poros, on the other side of the world, in his Airbnb in BA, watching football on the telly... There's a famous line from the classic 1964 movie Zorba The Greek, where Anthony Quinn's character is asked if he was ever married. "I married," he replies. "Wife, children, house, everything. The full catastrophe."