Catching Up With Kelly Killoren Bensimon
By Joseph Hassan
The third installment of Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City was so chock-full of drama and in-fighting that the show's producers deemed the reunion special at season's end warranted three individual episodes. To the viewer, socialite Kelly Killoren Bensimon had a particularly rough go of it this time around, especially in light of allegations by other cast members -- and many viewers -- that she had suffered a complete mental collapse during a televised trip to St. Barts. Out took the chance to catch up with the outspoken mother of two about her upcoming return to the workforce, what she did for Gay Pride this year, and why sex education is such a hot-button issue for her. We also learned that Kelly has a very different take on this season of Housewives, seeing each fight and insult as little more than an opportunity to raise her brand and spread her message.
Out: How is your summer going?
Kelly Killoren Bensimon: So far it's been great. I've gotten to spend a lot time with my girls. It's been so exciting because obviously during the school year they are busy and we have lot more time to just be a family. And my jewelry line just launched, which is great.
And you were just recently at the Mohegan Sun Casino ' what was that about?
I was at Mohegan Sun for the opening of their Mohegan Sun Days event, it's their [monthly] GL -- GLBT night. I always think that sounds like BLT. It was just a really, really fun group of people. Everyone was just having good clean fun' dancing like crazy. I was dancing with everybody and it was just a lot of fun to be in an environment like that where everyone was having a blast and no one was like trying to be too cool for school.
And you rode on the Gay Men's Health Crisis float in New York City Pride this year?
I did. Yeah it was an incredible honor. I mean to be invited by GMHC to be on their float for the gay pride is up there in terms of one of the biggest honors for me. I have an initiative, which is safe sex. I have a 12-year-old daughter and, you know, basically she has been learning all about sex in school and so -- not that I am encouraging her to have sex -- but I am encouraging her when she does have sex to think and to be smart about the choices that she is going to make. So then speaking with GMHC about safe sex and also just about bullying, I learned so much about how alternative lifestyles get bullied so much and I was really disturbed by that to be honest with you because I have been a model for a long time and I have had so much respect for people that have alternative lifestyles. I mean it's just the they want to live and I don't have any problem with that. I think that's great. I want people to celebrate themselves.
Well, it's a fact of life. It's interesting you bring up sex education in school because the White House just launched a new plan for combating HIV in the U.S. ' on both the prevention and treatment side. One of the things that has frustrated many people is the previous administration's focus on abstinence-only sex education. What are your thoughts there?
I think education is key and I think that giving children the tool to make the right decision is the best thing to do. I mean, whether they are going to be abstinent or whether they are going to be engaging in sexual activity, that's really none of my business. But what is my business is encouraging them to think and to be smart about the choices that they are making. If they want to engage in sexual activity, be smart about it -- you don't want to be a number. If I can encourage my daughter to think and be smart about her choices then I have done my job.
So it's about making sure that young men and women are at least armed with all the information to make the right decision themselves?
Yeah, I mean I have seen so many people pass from this disease [AIDS] that it makes sense for someone like me to speak about it because it has affected me in so many different ways.
Do you see your involvement with GMHC growing in the future -- more work with activism?
I would like to be more active, but more importantly it's the whole idea of safe sex. Whether it's same-sex relations or heterosexual relationships, it's the same issue. If you are not making the right choices, it doesn't really matter' whether it's HIV or contracting another disease. So my role in this is to use the voice that I have and to encourage people to think about the choices that they are making. I am not going to be lobbying about it but I have a big mouth [laughs] and when it comes to my kids, I would do anything to protect them.
I want to talk about something a lot of people don't know about -- your upbringing. You grew up in Illinois?
I am from Rockford, Illinois, and I went to a small private school of 20 people. My twin brother, me, and 18 other students. I started modeling when I was 16 and I lived with Stephanie Seymour in New York City for a week and we had a lot of fun. And I went to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, for a year and I transferred to Columbia and then when I was young -- I mean I was very, very young -- I met [fashion photographer] Gilles [Bensimon] at 23 and by 27 I was married.
And these days you've got your hands in a lot of things ' the jewelry line, the writing. Can you talk about what's coming up?
We just finished the third season of The Real Housewives Of New York City and my jewelry line just launched. I am in the process of working on a really, really new project that is confidential and I can't tell you about, but its going to be very, very exciting. It's coming out in a couple of weeks and it's a really big deal for me. I am going back to my roots and going back to being an editor, which is exciting. And that's the biggest news for the fall. Kelly goes back to work. And I am really excited about exposing myself to the world and what I love, which is art, entertainment, architecture, people that are doing interesting things.
So it's on the media side. You're going to be getting back into more of that?
Yeah. That's where I belong, that's what I am good at. I am not good at fighting. I'm not a good fighter.
Does that mean that you are not going to be doing the next season of Housewives?
I am not sure. I can't give you that answer. That's up to Bravo. They ask us back, we don't demand anything of them.
Speaking of Housewives, this season was obviously bit of a rough one --
No, you don't think so?
I mean maybe for the viewer but not for me. [Laughs]
What's your take -- that this was just a 'normal' season for you?
It's my job to create content and they asked me to be on the show because they wanted me to legitimize the brand and they wanted a real socialite. They wanted a real New Yorker, if you will, on the show. And it was a great opportunity for me because it's obviously got everything that I love, whether it's my safe-sex initiative or antibullying or working on my jewelry line or just having my books be -- literally, I mean, you can't even get any of my books anymore -- they are not available. So, it's been just unbelievable for that and to put my name on the map. Whether or not you watch the show, everybody knows my name, so that's a huge honor and I am really grateful to Bravo for exposing me and exploiting my name like that.
It's created that platform --
Yeah. I don't really see it as anything else. It's really entertaining television -- it's really nothing more than that. But it's my job. I get paid to entertain, that's my job on television. Like when I am working for a magazine I get paid to write, I get paid to edit. When I am on television, I get paid to entertain. That's my job. It's really no more and no less.
You say you get paid to entertain. So are those reactions absolutely real or is there some hyperbole to live up to those expectations?
No, my reactions are incredibly authentic, but it's like being in a bad improv class. I'm responding to something that I wouldn't necessarily respond to but because I am getting paid I have to respond to it. Is it a normal occurrence to me? I would never engage in fighting. It's really not my game and I don't find it interesting and I don't find it evocative. I mean I find incredibly creative people evocative. I find architects evocative. I find amazing artists evocative. Do I find fighting with someone I don't know evocative? Not really. Does it make great TV? Absolutely.