Although the Balloon Boy saga has been revealed as a hoax, America’s Next Top Model judge Nigel Barker was captivated by the plight of the Colorado family.

The married father of two thought he was embarking on a parent’s worst nightmare when son Jack, 3, went missing. It was no laughing matter.

“I certainly can relate,” the British photographer/filmmaker/reality star, 37, says during the Whitney Museum Gala held in NYC this week. “When I was staying at a good friend’s house, I thought I’d lost him and I panicked. We were on a lake, and I couldn’t find my son anywhere. I literally thought that he had drowned. I thought he had gone outside and drowned.”

He continues, “I completely lost my mind only to find out 25 minutes later that he had been hiding behind the couch. Twenty-five minutes doesn’t sound long, except when you’re looking for a three-year-old, and every minute that went by, you thought something worse had happened. I was frantic. And he heard me screaming so hard he was scared to come out.”

One reason the story worked so well is because it was imaginable.

“Hide-and-seek can be a scary game, so the story of this kid hiding in the attic … I could feel for them. I was like ‘whoa.’ I know what that’s like.”

These days, Nigel’s son Jack is bridging the gap between preschool and kindergarten. “We’re meeting the teachers, and going to the next level at school,” he says. “It’s a big deal.” Daughter Jasmine, 10 months, will be “walking any moment now.”

Maintaining a strong relationship with wife Cristen is key to keeping a happy family.

“We just celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary, so I took her to Del Posto, and we went away for the weekend up to Woodstock with the kids,” he tells me. “We love upstate New York.”

How do they make couples time with two kids?

“We try to have a couples night out. We haven’t done much in the past few months, but we are starting to now. Hopefully there will be a turnaround in our scenario. For the first ten months to a year of a new baby, you don’t have any couples time.”

The secret to their long-lasting union lies in trust.

“Ultimately, if you don’t trust your partner, you can’t trust them to know what they’re doing,” he says. “In my business, I’m always with beautiful women, I’m out traveling the world, and it’s a lot of time apart. If she didn’t trust me, she wouldn’t know that I loved her and believe it. That would sow the seeds of doubt, and that’s what destroys relationships ultimately.”

Even celebs face budgetary limits when it comes to expanding their families.

“I would love more kids, but I’m not sure I can afford more in this city,” he tells me. “I certainly enjoy making them.”

Nigel serves as a celebrity ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. His documentary, Generation Free, chronicles the plight of those fighting HIV/AIDS in Tanzania.

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