In an ironic twist, after giving up yachting, Dani Soares is finally feeling anchored thanks to motherhood.
“Oh my god, it’s hard,” the Below Deck Sailing Yacht star tells ET of being a first-time mom. She welcomed daughter Lilly in May. She’s now raising her in Australia, officially retired from life as a stewardess. “Honestly, it’s hard and everything, but if Lilly wasn’t here, I feel like I would probably be passed out on the street right now with heels and makeup everywhere, and that’s not a good thing. So she definitely came to change my life and give me the meaning that I was looking for.”
Dani shocked fans of Below Deck Sailing Yacht by announcing her pregnancy about halfway through the show’s season 2 run, which was also just weeks before she gave birth. She says a handful of her castmates knew (specifically fellow stew Alli Dore and chef Natasha De Bourg), but admits the pregnancy was “shocking for me, as well. It was shocking for everybody.”
As soon as Dani announced she was expecting, viewers started piecing together a timeline and came to the (as yet to be confirmed) conclusion that Dani’s yachting season fling, deckhand Jean-Luc Cerza Lanaux, was the baby’s father. Dani says fans will get that answer during the show’s two-part reunion, airing as special episodes of Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen this week.
“Yes, we’ll talk about that there,” she teases, but notes that she and Jean-Luc (aka J.L.) don’t appear together during the virtual chat. J.L. filmed his interview separately from the rest of the cast, something Dani admits was “disappointing.”
“It’s just me talking — and I’m not confirming or denying anything — but his name is out there and there is a discussion and all that,” she says. “So, it would have been much better if he was there.”
“Apparently he was on charter,” Dani laments. “I think he’s going to explain that there, but I did really wish he was there. That’s all. I think that we all should be together to discuss things that relate to all of us. … It’s much better when we’re all together and we can have a discussion instead of just being separate, and we might not get a chance to answer and things like that. So I wish he was there.”
In the sneak peek at the reunion, Dani told Andy that the father of her child “doesn’t want to have anything to do with it” and “thinks it’s not his child.” In the days after the clip surfaced online, headline after headline popped up using those quotes, to which J.L. took issue. He posted to Instagram, “There’s a lot of gossip about my social media silence so I think it’s time to clear the air. While others are off chasing their 15 minutes of fame, I am working on a yacht in Central America and heartbroken to have to hear about the baby’s birth on social media and read headlines like ‘Dani Soares Says Her Baby’s Father Doesn’t Want Anything to Do With It.’ All I can say is if she’s mine, I want to be involved 100 percent.”
“As someone who grew up with parents who weren’t together, I wouldn’t wish that on any child,” he added. “Not looking for a pity party. Just want everyone to know how strongly I feel about this, especially the haters who are so sure I am neglecting my responsibility. No one wants to know more than me if this is my baby girl!”
J.L.’s castmates didn’t take kindly to the message, as captured by Comments by Bravo, accusing him of “playing the victim” and calling the post a “pity party.” ET spoke with Dani before J.L.’s Instagram post.
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“There is no point to telling just my side of the story,” Dani says. “We need everybody’s sides, because we all have different points of view and we all think we were telling the truth, but we all see the truth differently.”
Dani says she and J.L. last saw each other in the few days they had together after filming wrapped late last summer (lining up with when Dani would have gotten pregnant — and for the record, she does not recall making the “And if I get pregnant, it’s God’s will!” comment on the show), and haven’t spoken since. It’s a bit of a surprise, seeing as the pair walked off the boat seemingly ready to give land-based romance a shot.
“I think the reunion is going to answer all the questions and more,” she offers of what went wrong between the two. “I feel like we’re really genuine on the boat and… I was. I know I was, and whatever happened, we still had that thing. I guess if we were in the same country, if we were in the same place, we would probably try to make it work better. Giving it a try, a proper try.”
Dani says if her and J.L.’s paths ever crossed, again, though she would not give romance a second shot. When pressed why, she quips, “Hashtag no comment.” In a follow-up Instagram post addressing all the comments, J.L. said he was willing to take a paternity test to find out whether he’s Lilly’s father.
“I learned of the baby’s birth, not the pregnancy, on [Instagram],” he wrote. “The goal is for us to take the tests together instead of shipping saliva samples around the world. But yes, there will be one ASAP. No, Australia isn’t open yet or I would have already gone so those of you saying ‘just go’ must not know that. We are truly on different continents, so easier said than done.”
“Why am I sharing on Insta?” he continued. “Because it’s the only way I have to set the record straight about me not wanting to be involved if the baby is mine.”
J.L. went on to say Dani blocked him on Instagram in December, and suggested he had not spoken to her since. He did, however, claim to have received a message from her the day before his latest post.
A post shared by Jean-Luc Cerza-Lanaux (@jeanluc_cerza_lanaux)
“I would never deny a father seeing their daughter,” Dani tells ET. “That’s horrendous. … For Lilly’s sake, I know it would have been much better for her to know that her dad actually wants to meet her and wants to know her, than growing up knowing that he didn’t really do anything about it.”
“I have a view of life that it’s like, if we can’t change something, then we shouldn’t stress about it because there’s nothing we can do,” she adds, “and there’s nothing I can do. I’ve done everything I can and all I can do now is just make sure I’ll take the best care of my daughter and do my best. And that said, the door’s always open.”
Dani admits that “maybe” there are things left unsaid between her and J.L., but that those comments are for a private conversation. She does say she feels like they’re in different life places, nearly a decade of life between them. As for how she’s dealing with all the questions and interest in her life from strangers, she’s still adjusting.
“I get so many comments like, ‘Oh, she signed up for a reality show, so she should expect this. We should ask about everything about her life…’ And I’m like, yeah, I did sign up for a show, during the show, during the filming,” she notes. “I appreciate all the support and everything, but the picture that leaked of somebody taking a picture of me pregnant at work, that was a bit overstepping, I think.”
“I have zero problems talking about my life. It’s just a problem that involves somebody else, and then you have to be careful what you say,” she continues. “You have to be careful because it’s on TV, it’s on the internet. It’s going to be there forever. So my daughter is going to see that one day. So you don’t want to say things that you’re going to regret later. So, you need to be very careful, but it does feel good to talk about it, just to put it out there and just be like, ‘Right, you guys all wondering, there you go. Have fun with that information.'”
As for what’s next, Dani’s excited to build a life for herself and Lilly in Australia. She won’t return to Below Deck Sailing Yacht for another season.
A post shared by Dani Soares (@iamdanisoares)
“Below Deck was really my saying goodbye to yachting,” she shares. “I thought it was a great way to say goodbye to yachting. I really did. I was ready to move on land and everything. So I’m pretty happy with being in Australia. Australia is such an amazing country and I’m so lucky to be here. I have my daughter now, obviously, and she needs my attention and just having a normal life.”
Dani’s Below Deck experience was also a chance to heal from heartbreak.
“I lost my friend in [the] beginning of 2020, and he was actually more than a friend. I knew him for 14 years, we were together 14 years ago and then we were actually giving it another try, beginning of 2020,” the new mom reveals. “So we were together for four months when he passed away, and that’s something I don’t think I have said on the show, or I haven’t said anywhere else.”
“I was a bit embarrassed to say that my ex passed away, now I’m here doing a TV show,” she says. “But after he passed away, I was like, wow, what is life really meant to be? What is the point? What is the meaning of it? I was just like, you could die at any moment, so what should I do? Should I just get drunk, pass out, or should I just do something meaningful? Become a priest or something. So yeah, I was having… 2020 was hard for everybody, but it was really hard for me.”
The two-part Below Deck Sailing Yacht season 2 reunion kicks off Monday night at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo. Part 2 airs on Tuesday at the same time.
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