She's one of reality TV's most enduring stars, known for her no-nonsense attitude and willingness to speak her mind ... about anything. During Bethenny Frankel's recent visit to Australia to promote Season 10 of The Real Housewives of New York, screening now on Foxtel and hayu, WHO caught up with the 47-year-old businesswoman to find out about life in front of and away from the cameras.
The Real Housewives of New York is up to Season 10. What keeps you interested in doing the show and what do you think keeps viewers interested?
I like the comedy. If you get the joke, you get the joke. If you don’t, I don’t know what to tell you. It’s a satire. It’s hilarious. Imagine if you could just tell someone in your office to go f*** themselves. I can do that and that’s good. Do that in your office. It’s a different sort of thing, and it turns out I’m not so bad at this thing.
It must be nice sometimes to not have cameras recording your every move...
Oh yeah, there’s a massive part of my life where there are no cameras. But everyone always wants there to be cameras. Like someone just asked me today, “Let’s make your house in the Hamptons an inn for the summer and let’s produce that TV show.” A major TV producer. My ex-boyfriend always says—and he’s right—that the reality show is when I’m not on television. That’s when it’s really the funniest and most ridiculous. My apartment is like Grand Central Station—there’s constantly some character, like on Seinfeld, coming in and out. It could be a hair person, a dog walker, a tailor … there’s always some interaction and something ridiculous happening. That’s when the comedy really happens.
You've been heavily involved in relief efforts in Puerto Rico. How eye-opening has that been?
Everyone thinks it was just Puerto Rico, but it was Houston, Mexico, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, St Martin, Dominica—it’s important they’re not forgotten. It was the sickest thing I’ve gone through in my life—it was so hard and volume intensive. I was shooting three television shows at the same time and doing five renovations and going back and forth to Puerto Rico every week like private planes were a taxi, bringing relief and bringing patients home and medicine there and pets and generators and solar power—things that… I mean, dialysis machines. Things I didn’t even know that I knew about. And I took major A-list celebrities there who went to the big organisations and said, “I have money, I want to get a plane,” and they couldn’t help them and I was the don of this. At some point, I’m going to have to do this in a less intense, vodka at 11pm to stop the lambs from screaming kind of way.
Well, thank goodness you stepped up...
Nobody else did it. I was the first one there—I was there before the president and I visited over 50 communities out of 73, I think it is. From churches to the elderly to the kids to the dogs to the homeless to schools, they all said we were the only people that came. Much of American crisis relief is for administrative costs and they don’t see the money. How insane is that? They don’t see the money. I could cry because I really found my calling. I’ve given money to charities for years and gone to events and donated, and it always felt synthetic. It just didn’t feel real. I didn’t know where that money was going and that’s the whole new world order. After things like this, people know a rubber chicken dinner with a celebrity singing does not mean you are doing your part necessarily. You want to know exactly where the money is and you don’t want to have to divide it by a caterer and some chairs and linens and flowers and some band costs. The money’s going right to those people—and now, that’s my job. It is going to churches, schools, hospitals, bottled water, a bag of rice ...
It’s a great example to set for your daughter, Bryn.
Unbelievable. She gets the sense, but she won’t fully know until I take her. Part of me regrets that I haven’t taken her yet, but it’s just so intense and you’ve got to get things done, and the last thing I want to do is start snapping at her because she’s not taking it seriously enough, especially when she’s a little young to really get it. So I’d like to take her there on sort of a social mission—deliver some toys. And also you think, “Am I scratching the surface?” I know I am, I know we’ve actually directly saved lives, but you feel like it’s just a drop in the bucket. But it was just me getting one plane and then another plane, and then my friend said, “I’ll get a plane.” It was leading by example. And I’m so happy I’m here in Australia and this is a big part of the conversation. I’d like this to be a real organisation where next time if something bad happens it’s like—boom!—I got this, I know how to do this, let’s go.
What was shocking to many people was the delay—how long it took Trump to get there.
My ex-boyfriend said to me, “You can’t go there—there’s no water or electricity.” I said, “What do you mean, that’s why I have to go. What, am I going to wait for a cocktail party? It’s a crisis.” Major celebrities wouldn’t help me. You learn who people are through crisis relief, which is crazy. More than anything else, I have never seen corruption and people wanting to hog fame and not share planes and help you. So now, I know who the real people are, who the fake people are.
Speaking of fake things. What’s the funniest false story you’ve read about yourself?
Years ago, someone said I had made out with The Situation. It was the most random thing. I don’t even know him. I don’t know if I’ve even met him. It’s like, “Let’s just say anything. Let’s say I’m marrying Elton John.” It was so random.
You must get used to the wild and crazy stories…
Yes, that I had a tummy tuck while I was in the hospital—like, let’s cut a baby out of me but also give me a tummy tuck at the same time. It’s ridiculous.
It makes sense from a logistical point of view.
Yes, but I don’t think I’m the girl for a tummy tuck. I’m not really the clientele for that.
That's true. The one everyone has been going crazy for recently is your link to Meghan Markle’s ex, Trevor Engelson...
I know! Everyone loves it. You guys eat it up. I happen to know her ex and he introduced me to Celeste Barber. We have no romantic connection whatsoever, but he sent me a script last week that I like and that we may produce. That’s really what’s going on.
What was the biggest challenge in making your latest series, Bethenny and Fredrik, with Million Dollar Listing New York's Fredrik Eklund?
That was a rough show. We manage budgets very differently. I run a very tight ship; Fredrik’s the spender of other people’s money—he’s buying $25 million apartments for other people. It’s very different when it’s your own money, so I think he was slightly outside his comfort zone doing renovation, which he’s never done. He has great taste and he’s an incredible negotiator—I like watching him work. He knows real estate inside out, but it was the reverse—I was the husband saying, “No, honey, you understand there’s a budget here.” I was controlling the budget and he was just wanting to spend, because he has an attention to detail and a taste level. I’d love it too if we were living there, but we were trying to flip it and we did and we made some real money.
Read more of our interview with Bethenny Frankel in the issue of WHO magazine onsale now.