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Catching Up With Kelly Killoren Bensimon


The third installment of Bravos The Real Housewives of New York City was so chock-full of drama and in-fighting that the shows producers deemed the reunion special at seasons 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 its been great. Ive gotten to spend a lot time with my girls. Its 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, its 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 Mens 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 its just the they want to live and I dont have any problem with that. I think thats great. I want people to celebrate themselves. Well, its a fact of life. Its 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 administrations 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, thats 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 dont 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 its 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 its the whole idea of safe sex. Whether its same-sex relations or heterosexual relationships, its the same issue. If you are not making the right choices, it doesnt really matter whether its 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 dont 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 youve got your hands in a lot of things the jewelry line, the writing. Can you talk about whats 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 cant tell you about, but its going to be very, very exciting. Its coming out in a couple of weeks and its a really big deal for me. I am going back to my roots and going back to being an editor, which is exciting. And thats 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 its on the media side. Youre going to be getting back into more of that? Yeah. Thats where I belong, thats what I am good at. I am not good at fighting. Im 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. Thats up to Bravo. They ask us back, we dont demand anything of them. Speaking of Housewives, this season was obviously bit of a rough one -- Not really. No, you dont 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? Its 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 its obviously got everything that I love, whether its 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, its 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 thats a huge honor and I am really grateful to Bravo for exposing me and exploiting my name like that. Its created that platform -- Yeah. I dont really see it as anything else. Its really entertaining television -- its really nothing more than that. But its my job. I get paid to entertain, thats 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. Thats my job. Its 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 its like being in a bad improv class. Im responding to something that I wouldnt 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. Its really not my game and I dont find it interesting and I dont 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 dont know evocative? Not really. Does it make great TV? Absolutely. What comes across in this show is that youre one of the women who doesnt participate as much in the self-editing process. What you see is what you get -- I would never edit. Thats what everyone says to me, thats the biggest complaint. They are like "Why aren't you using it as a vehicle? Why aren't you showing a certain side so you can maximize on it." And Im like "What for?" If you are going to say something mean to me, I would rather cry and scream at you and say I am not going to put up with that then be disingenuous and create an emotion or emote an emotion thats not real. I dont take my job home. Like I tell my kids, were not affected by it. The rest of the world might be, but we are not. Gotcha. So you are sort of less concerned about the way that things come across on TV -- If I was concerned, on the reunion show, I would have been engaged in the conversation. I mean I was so bored by everything I was just like, The conversation is over. We already had this so I am not going to talk about talking. I think that was clear to everybody they were like Uh-oh...You had moved on, they were still talking but you werent having any more of it -- No. Its not that I had moved on, its just if you want to talk to me about something thats real and something thats serious, then absolutely Ill talk about it. But if you are going to talk to me about something that you fabricated -- absolutely not. Are you interested in having your own show? Its funny that you ask that because my kids were saying that the other day. They are like, "We want to have your own show. People need to see who Kelly Bensimon really is." The one reason I would like to do my own show is because I am exposed to so many unbelievable people and so I would use my show as a vehicle to explore all these different people that I know, whether it would be Richard Meier to the man that helps me with my computers. I really want people to understand that brilliance isn't about a financial amount, its about the state of mind and I happen to know an incredibly amazing group of people. I would like to be the vehicle to expose all those amazing people. I mean thats my one reason why I love working for magazines. Everybody has a great story -- I would love to be the vehicle for that. Would it be necessarily about Kelly Killoren Bensimon? Its never really about me. Its always about the other people because thats what I find interesting. I dont really find what I do really interesting. So it sounds like more of talk-show format -- No, not a talk-show format. Id rather have them come in and help me train my dog. The dog trainer that I have is amazing with animals and Id rather have you learn about him and then me going and meeting a man thats opening a new restaurant or someone thats working in branding or someone thats in fashion. I would rather have you come in and walk in my shoes and see all these amazing people. Do I need to be a comic relief for them? No. Can I be a vehicle for them to show how amazing people are? Yeah, I would love that. But not really like a talk show. I would rather have it be more organic. So youd be the vehicle to learn about other people? Yeah, because I am very low-key and people, when they are around me, they talk to me because I am actually interested in what they have to say. And I am not combative and I just want to know who they are and what makes them them. I think that a lot of people respond well to that and you dont see that on Housewives because they dont want me to be the real me. They want me to be a socialite in New York. The way that they like me is not the way that I really am. The moment where I was filming for Hamptons Magazine -- when I was taking the pictures -- that was really a great moment because it really showed how I am like that. They did show me in my real life during that scene and also with my kids they showed me in real life. Right, but thats obviously not most of the airtime that you get -- Well, most of the airtime is with these women that I dont even know and its like I dont even understand what youre fighting with me about. I dont get it. Mostly Im just like Huh? What? And then I look like Im an airhead because Im not engaging in stuff that I dont understand. I dont want to -- it's not like we are talking about politics, we are not talking about something thats going to affect my kids or my business, so therefore I dont want to talk about. So youre just sort of disengaged and disinterested in what's going on around you on the show? Its not interesting, it's not like people are talking about their real feelings. Its always about random facts that are disconnected and I am always just like, Guys, we need a script. Because we need to stick to something like "Today we are going to talk about kids, tomorrow we are going to talk about dogs, tomorrow and the next day we are going to talk about work" -- so there is a common conversation so we all know what we are talking about versus "I dont like your hair." Well, what would an ideal story or plotline? You mentioned politics earlier. What is interesting to you in the realm of politics right now that would make for a more interesting dialogue? Talking about sex. All of us have kids. What are you doing? How are you teaching your kids about safe sex? Is your daughter having sex? I mean, dont you think America -- dont you think all the women in America that are in their 40s would want to hear how New York women are dealing with their kids thinking about sex? Starting to learn about sex and the possibility of engaging in it? Dont you think people want to hear about that? Or going to back to work at 40 years old -- how do you go back to the workplace after you did not work for so long? Or charity work. How do you actually start a charity? Basically, more information is what Im saying. Its like teaching people how to do stuff. Teaching as opposed to just fighting? Its not like these women arent smart. They all are exposed to such amazing people and I dont understand why we are not exploring how great we are -- we would rather exploit how bad we are. Do you think the ratings would be as good? You can still fight, but you could learn, too. Its called back-door education. Why do we have to be all flowers and lollipops? Why can't it be like fighting, but we are actually learning? Thats called back-door education. I would love that. Maybe thats what your show could be about? Because I want my show to be about back-door education! [Laughs]. You know this new program that I am doing? I said theres only one thing that I want. I only want one thing. I want live stream. So every time I walk into the office, I want to be live. Theyre like, "What are you talking about?" I said every time I walk into to the office I wanted to be live -- on me in every single meeting. How do I work, how do I do things, how do I get things done? Because people are always asking me, "How do you do so much in a day? How do you get all the stuff done?" To be clear, youre talking about people being able to tune in and watch you at any point of the day to see what you are actually doing at work? Yep, at any point of the day. And thats what youre going to be doing? Thats going to happen? Yep. Its going to happen. Thats really interesting -- While everyone else is so worried about what they are going to look like, I want people to see me. I want people to see me making really bad mistakes and how I come up with a solution to fix it. Has that ever been done before? No -- people dont do that, people dont want people to see how they work. Well it gets back to the self-editing concept -- just putting yourself out there completely for everyone to see. Why not? Are you excited about that or does it make you nervous? I am really excited about it. I am nervous because what if I look like crap or something, but I mean apart from that [laughs] I guess the vanity part, but thats it. I would love for people to see watch me make mistakes -- I would love it. From a logistical perspective, how does that work? Are there stationary cameras in your office, just capturing everything all the time or are you still followed by a camera crew? No, no. For the live stream basically you can actually do it on your iPhone. There is actually a live stream application that you can actually live stream what you do all the time. Its brilliant. Brilliant. So you can actually edit yourself if you want to. I dont really want to. When I am in the office I want people to see how I work. It sounds like people are going to get an opportunity to make their own call about who you are as a person as opposed to what has been edited down for TV. Do you agree with that? Thats not really the reason I am doing it. I am not really doing it because I want people to judge me. I am doing it because I want to expose people to this amazing opportunity that I have. Right. What Im saying is that I think people might be surprised by the fact that the Kelly that they see now with all of this live footage is not necessarily the Kelly that they made initial judgments about from Housewives -- Oh, yeah. But, listen, lets not badmouth what I got from The Real Housewives. If I didn't take the chance to go on Real Housewives, I would never in a million years be able to sell an earring for Feeding America because no one would really care. I would never be able to go on live stream because no one would really care. And so from every single dramatic movement that happened, I will never regret any moment. I will never regret any fight, any tear, anything that I ever said because it was most the amazing opportunity and its given me the voice I could never in a million years get. So you see Housewives as a stepping-stone for what is next to come? Yeah. And I am grateful for it. Its going to a good year. You know, everybody knows the problems -- why can't we come up with different solutions? And thats like what I like. I like teaching in a different way and if it doesnt work we can always do something. What's the big deal? It sounds like obviously there are a lot of new elements to this new position. Is it for a publication or is it something that is totally new? I can't tell you that [laughs]. But, its going to be different. Its totally innovative and its something that I am so proud of because finally Im able to do what I love and thats my motto: Do what you love. Im running a half marathon in three weeks for the Red Cross and thats really exciting, too. So its like all these different opportunities have come from fighting. Right, right -- Fighting is going to be an incredible vehicle for me. [Laughs.] Not one you were necessarily expecting, but it seems to have worked out OK. Because I realize what it is. Im not taking it personally. If my best friend ever spoke to me in a way that one of the women spoke to me on television I would be speechless. I wouldnt know how to repair a situation like that. But were on-camera friends and you just brush it off because it doesnt really matter. They dont care and so you can't care. And you probably realized through each little stab and each insult that its actually helping you in the long run? Right, right. I just feel that out of everything there is something positive. Every single situation has always got something positive. Thats how I think. Send a letter to the editor about this article.
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