No one could understand why the blushing bride had her dashing husband on such a tight leash.
Five weeks after their chic Hamptons wedding in 1998, former model Annette Roque kicked up such a fuss on hearing that Matt Lauer was heading to Florida to cover a space shuttle launch for the “Today” show that NBC staffers had to scramble to get her a set of last-minute press credentials so her husband would never be out of her sight.
“Friends of Lauer’s are stunned that the down-to-earth newsman is suddenly catering to such indulgent whims,” Page Six reported at the time. “Offers one insider: ‘He’s whipped.’”
But in hindsight, Roque, now 52, simply may have been trying to rein in her new husband’s wandering eye — a problem that, two decades later, would cost him his job.
Roque, perhaps the most overlooked victim in the sordid Matt Lauer scandal, is now reportedly hiding from the press in the Hamptons, as many wonder if she’ll finally free herself from a disastrous marriage that had been an open secret in media circles for years.
Lauer, 59, was fired as the long-term host of “Today” on Tuesday night, less than 24 hours after an NBC employee brought accusations of sexual harassment to company officials. As many as seven other women have since come forward with similar accusations. A Variety story claimed that the TV anchor “had a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside without getting up,” so he could “initiate inappropriate contact” without fearing that someone might walk in.
Meanwhile, Lauer’s reclusive wife has kept quiet. For the last decade, the waifish mother-of-three and her husband have led separate lives, with Roque sticking to the couple’s properties in ritzy Sag Harbor, Long Island, while Lauer remains in their Park Avenue apartment during the week, insiders said.
“If she goes out to dinner, it’s always with Matt and one other couple,” a source in the restaurant world told The Post. “I’ve seen her in Manhattan only once or twice, and she’s painfully frail.”
For years, while Lauer spent his days hosting one of America’s most popular morning shows, Roque has honed her equestrian skills at the boutique 40-acre horse farm that the couple constructed near their home.
“When I see her, she’s always in riding clothes,” said one local.
It’s a far cry from the couple’s high-profile start, when the two were toasted by a glittering power crowd at a 1998 wedding that, People magazine claimed, “put a serious dent in the fantasy lives of multitudes of early-rising American women.”
She was a Victoria’s Secret and J. Crew model with an exotic background — part-Indonesian, part-Dutch. He was the highly eligible, nationally famous newsman whose romantic exploits had been tabloid fodder ever since his last marriage ended in divorce in 1988. But even though he was a playboy, he was a prude, colleagues said.
“He was incredibly worried about his image” and balked at covering risqué stories, said an insider who worked with Lauer at New York’s WOR-TV in the early 1990s.
“He bought Annette a $100,000 horse, and we said, ‘Well, Matt must have been caught cheating again…’”
“I had to do an hour-and-a-half on women who fake orgasm,” Lauer complained of his previous job in a 1997 interview, shortly after he started hosting “Today.”
“Do I look like the kind of guy who’d be comfortable doing that for half a minute, much less an hour and a half? That’s how low it got. I couldn’t wait to get off that program.”
Still, NBC brass feared that Lauer’s playboy ways could hurt his reputation with “Today’s” largely female viewership. Execs urged him to settle down.
Less than a year after meeting Roque on a blind date in 1997, he proposed to her — in Venice, while on assignment for his regular “Where in the World is Matt Lauer?” segment.
As the wedding neared, Roque was a shadowy presence.
“We’d say, ‘This woman is a phantom. She doesn’t exist,’” Lauer colleague Elizabeth Vargas told People magazine shortly after their October 3, 1998 nuptials. “We teased Matt,” Vargas said, when he explained that his fiance — who modeled under the name Jade Roque — was frequently away on photo shoots.
The couple set up home in an Upper East Side apartment and started a family three years later with the birth of son Jack. Daughter Romy was born in 2003.
But rumors of discord were rife, and the Lauers separated in 2006 — shortly after he returned from covering the Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.
Insiders gossiped that a furious fight erupted when Roque learned of Lauer’s alleged affair with “Today” show correspondent Natalie Morales while the two were on assignment for the games.
Both Lauer and Morales have fiercely denied an affair, but that September a seven-months’-pregnant Roque filed for divorce, alleging “cruel and inhumane” treatment and citing Lauer’s “extremely controlling” behavior — but not on grounds of infidelity.
“Defendant has continuously and repeatedly given higher priority to … personal interests than his family obligations to plaintiff, causing plaintiff to feel abandoned, isolated and alone in raising the parties’ children,” according to court papers leaked in 2014.
Mysteriously, Roque withdrew her divorce suit three weeks later, and the couple claimed to have reconciled in time for the November birth of son Thijs.
Page Six reported on Saturday that Lauer offered her up to a rumored $5 million deal to remain in the marriage. A source said, “Matt needed to stay in the marriage to keep his reputation as America’s nicest dad. He is in fact a … very doting dad to his kids, but he is also a terrible husband.”
The détente held until 2010, when another Olympics assignment — this one to the winter games in Vancouver — led to another blistering row after Lauer returned home.
This time, the National Enquirer ran a story claiming that Lauer went “wild” at local nightclubs and remained in Vancouver to continue partying after the rest of the “Today” crew went back to New York.
The couple began living separately that March, an NBC source told the Chicago Sun-Times — blaming Roque for the breakup.
“For any good-looking women on the staff or who had any work-related contact with Matt, forget it! Annette would go nuts!” the Lauer ally said.
By 2011, Roque and the children were living in Sag Harbor full-time — while Lauer stayed in Manhattan, heading out to join them each weekend.
“They play happy families at their Hamptons home on weekends, and then she lets him run off to New York to do ‘Today’ — and goodness knows what else,” an East End insider snarked to RadarOnline in September.
Roque is not a presence on the supercharged Hamptons social scene. The family’s only major annual appearance is at the Hampton Classic horse show, a celebrity magnet in which daughter Romy competes alongside big-money equestrians like Georgina Bloomberg and Jessica Springsteen.
“My wife and daughter ride like crazy,” Lauer told Newsday as he watched the 2014 contest. “And so we love the competition. I know a lot of other people love the scene of this, but we get out of our seats and . . . we watch the jumping.”
The Lauers bought a 40-acre property near their home in 2012 and spent lavishly to convert it into a high-end horse farm, with luxe stables for 36 animals — including five owned by the Lauers — and 16 paddocks, two outdoor riding rings, cross-country trails, and a climate-controlled indoor ring cushioned with a “premier low impact” surface.
“Bright Side Farm was a true labor of love and now that it’s here I feel like the luckiest girl in the world,” Roque gushed via email to a local website, 27East.com, in 2013. Local media portrayed Lauer as a weekend-warrior tractor operator who lived to run the heavy machinery.
But at the same time, the Hamptons horsey set was whispering about a new addition to the Lauers’ stable. “He bought Annette a $100,000 horse, and we said, ‘Well, Matt must have been caught cheating again,’” a media source told The Post. “Every time he’s caught he buys her a horse.”
Locals in Sag Harbor and Manhattan on Friday confirmed that the two have long lived entirely separate lives.
At the Calypso St. Barth boutique, employees said that Roque is the town mystery, seen as “a sad wife.” “While Matt is always out and about with his kids and very pleasant, he is never with Annette,” a local told The Post.
Students and parents at the two Hamptons public schools reportedly attended by the Lauer children said they rarely encounter their mom. Meanwhile, Upper East Siders said they frequently run into Lauer on the street or in restaurants without his wife.
Neighbors say that the former “Today” host is a regular at Donahue’s Steak House, a whiskey bar across the street from Lauer’s apartment, where he stops in alone three or four nights a week in jeans and a button-down shirt.
Next door at a restaurant called Barbaresco, an owner remembered Lauer taking his ex-wife, TV producer Nancy Alspaugh, out to dinner there once, and filmmaker Spike Lee on another occasion, “but we never, ever saw the wife.”
Since Lauer was fired on Tuesday night, losing out on a $30 million payout from NBC News, Roque may be off the scene more than ever. While early reports suggested that she had fled to her native Netherlands, a source outside the home told The Post that Roque is still in the Hamptons. Daughter Romy, 14, was spotted leaving the family’s Sag Harbor home Saturday morning.
Shockingly, Lauer was brought down by his actions on yet another Olympics assignment — the Sochi Winter games in 2014 — where he allegedly harassed the first NBC employee who complained to her bosses. Lauer has since expressed remorse in a statement, saying, “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I regret that my shame is now shared by the people I cherish dearly.”
But this time, it’s hard to imagine Roque being appeased with an apology, a new horse or a million-dollar payout — even if Lauer could afford it.
With reporting by Kirsten Fleming in the Hamptons and Melkorka Licea in NYC