Last November, Michaele Salahi sauntered into the White House in a sparkling red sari, arm in arm with her husband, Tareq. Within hours, the Salahis were making headlines around the world as White House party crashers. White House social secretary Desiree Rogers ultimately stepped down over the security breach, but Salahi used the headlines to her advantage and secured a spot on Bravos upcoming The Real Housewives of D.C., which premieres this week. We caught up with Salahi to chat about starring on the newest season of the Bravo franchise, her catty co-stars, and her outfit of choice for the night she infiltrated the Obama's dinner.
Out: OK, first things first: Tareq is adorable. How did you two meet and how long have you been married?
Michaele Salahi: We have been married seven years and met 10 years ago. We met in Georgetown through a mutual best friend. He just blew my mind. Our first date was at a romantic, five-star restaurant in the middle of wine country. It was just beautiful. Our second date really blew my mind. He picked me up, I thought, just to go out to dinner. We were going out to dinner, but we got on a flight to Paris and were back in time for me to go to work the next day. Getting on a plane to another country and coming right back was nothing to him. To me, it was mind blowing. It was a girls dream.
You live in Virginia on a vineyard with your husband and youre a socialite who spends time rubbing elbows with D.C. hotshots, but who are you exactly, and howd you get to where you are today?
I was born in Maryland and grew up in Florida -- in Orlando. I went to school there. I came back to Virginia, lived in New York for a little bit, then came back to the D.C. area. I was always a people person, no matter what I did. I also always gave back. My mom taught me to do so. And dont look for anything in return, just be happy and enjoy life. I dont know about that socialite thing. Im just a people person and I always try to look good. The Washington Post recently called me "Commander in Chic." I was like, OK! I may not have power-power, but I have fashion power. Ive been a big part of D.C. during the past 15 years, at charity balls for human rights and other things. I do a piece in the show with [D.C. council member] David Catania, an activist for gay marriage here. He and I did a big thing on Housewives. I dont know what will make it in. I havent seen any of it. But I hope he makes it in. Hes awesome. In this Housewives, we have politics and we highlight gay marriage. God willing, theyll keep that in there. Its such an important part of life -- the freedom to make your own decisions and to love who you love. Youre ballsy and clawing your way into the spotlight -- two things gay guys love in a woman. How do you feel about being a gay icon?
Ive been supporting the gay community for the past decade. I would be flattered to be a gay icon. I just hope Ill do you proud.
You burst onto the scene with blaring headlines about being a White House party crasher when you and Tareq turned up at President Obamas first state dinner. Lets cut to the chase, howd you end up wearing that stunning red sari?
I was in India in 2009 with my husband on the Fourth of July. We were invited by the ambassador to improve bilateral relations through sports. My husband plays polo. I said to him, Were going to be in India on the Fourth of July. He said there would be nothing better than celebrating America in India. And the people were so loving and humble and real. It wasnt about wealth. There was wealth. But then there were people who were just so proud in their beautiful saris and very gracious. It was very humbling, to be honest. When I wore the sari that night, I had phoned a White House official to make sure it was appropriate. I had bonded so greatly with the women of India that I wanted to make them proud. The White House official said, Oh my gosh, Michaele, no one would wear a sari better. Please do it. So, I did. It was bright red and sparkly. And, it doesnt look it, but the sari is very heavy. I had to have someone help me get it on. There was a dignitary from India after that night who told me that I made it hip again for Indian girls in America to wear a sari. Ill never forget that.
There were reports shortly after that White House party last November that you were already taping The Real Housewives of D.C. Is that true?
I was the first housewife cast [for the show] in March 2009. So, I wasnt auditioning. But Bravo wasnt ready to talk about the show, so I had to take the Fifth. My attorney said that I needed to remain quiet. There was so much that day that I would have liked to say, but I couldnt. But in March 2009, I was honored to be selected [by Bravo]. I had no idea what it was. They just said, You look good, youre fabulous, you do charitable work, so well try you out. A week later they said, You got it. Then I learned what the show was. Now Im addicted! Theyre all successful for their own reason: New Jersey for drama, pretty girls in Orange County and New York for each woman being an individual. I ended up recommending Lynda Erkiletian and Mary Schmidt Amons for the show. I sat with producers and they had lists of people, thousands of people. We were going over the list and I pointed to them and said I thought theyd add something to the show. So that night wasnt an audition. It wasnt a stunt. I went that night with what I was told to believe. We went, gave our names and our IDs and we were announced. Ive never needed to crash a party. If Im not wanted, I dont want to be there. I just like to have fun. In fact, most of the parties in D.C. are parties my husband and I throw.
Theres a scene in the first episode when youre hosting a party for Americas Polo Cup. Youre just flitting around, talking to everyone and laughing.
I had so much fun that day. Theres something great about everybody. Thats what makes D.C. great. Were not about one look. We have so much diversity. Everyone has a great look for a different reason. I think thats what this Housewives will highlight. D.C. isnt just about America. Its about the world.
Its interesting that you recommended Lynda Erkiletian for the show. On the show, shes kind of vicious to you -- at least behind your back. Whats that about?
I havent seen the first episode. But its the anorexia thing, right? Theres something about her that, if I get a pink dress, she gets a pink dress. Theres something within her that, when she said I was anorexic, she gets a high off of knocking people down. I dont. If I go to a party, Im not about making fun of people. Im about having a positive vibe. For Lynda, if you look too good -- like the Post calling me the "Commander in Chic" -- it kills her. If she would maybe have less hate, it might work in her favor. With the anorexic thing, Id normally laugh it off, but its something shes done to me for a long time. It gets old. I may be skinny, but Im not anorexic. Heres the difference between Lynda and me: If we went out dancing, Id be meeting the room, dancing and having fun. Shed just sit there.
So, having seen the first episode of The Real Housewives of D.C., I think its safe to say a lot of viewers will be surprised to find out that youre not the villain on the show. Were you surprised by that?
Im definitely not a villain. If I was with you, Id say, Come on, lets go dancing.
The villain on the show appears to be Catherine Cat Ommanney, a British migr whos droll, condescendin,g and a bit mean-spirited. It she really like that?
I keep trying to rise above it with Cat. Im just different. I dont get her sarcasm. I just dont get it. It doesnt mean my way is right and her way is wrong. I just dont have fun making fun of people. I think she makes fun of me in one of the episodes and my assistant stood up for me. I never see my assistant get tough with anybody. Cat is sarcastic and I just dont get it.
Do you know any of the housewives of Orange County, New York, Atlanta, or New Jersey?
In October last year, I was asked to meet NeNe Leakes and Kim Zolciak [from The Real Housewives of Atlanta] to do a fund-raiser. But Bravo hadnt announced the show, so I couldnt go to the fund-raiser. I would have loved to have supported them and definitely will in the future. But on the Today Show, when it was our time to talk about the White House party, Danielle Staub [from The Real Housewives of New Jersey] was in the greenroom with her assistant. She was promoting her book. She jumped up and hugged me and said, Hi, I know youre the housewife from D.C. She is super friendly and loving. And, speaking of thin, Lynda Erkiletian would have an out-of-body experience. Danielle is really thin and beautiful.
If one thing is crystal clear about starring in The Real Housewives, its that your dirty laundry is going to become internet gossip within minutes. Several of the housewives are having money troubles. Danielle Staub is reportedly hooking up with lesbian songwriter Lori Michaels, with millions of people reading about it. Are you ready for that type of gossip?
When I signed up, I kind of knew about that. Everybody goes through things and were going through difficult economic times. If someone is going through a foreclosure, thats so painful. But how strong are they for being out there sharing it? For Danielle, thats her choice. Whatever anybody wants to do, its their choice. America is all about freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I think people should decide whats right their body, their mind, and their heart.
It seems there are also perks to starring on The Real Housewives, with some of the housewives promoting books or make up or jewelry and starring in their own shows, like Bethenny Frankel from The Real Housewives of New York. Are those perks already lined up when you sign up for the show?
It comes out of each person differently. When I signed on, it was to highlight the charities that are important to me. I also wanted to highlight my own life and maybe help others by showing what I go through. But I also wanted to highlight D.C. What an honor to have this huge franchise to show that D.C. isnt stuffy and boring. We can highlight some of the best stuff. We are very hip. We have fashionable people and great restaurants. D.C. makes a lot of powerful decisions for the world, but its fun, too. D.C. has a lot going on, including a lot of drama.
What can we expect from you outside of Real Housewives? Book deals, modeling, the talk show circuit, your own show?
We started working with an investigative journalist whos writing a book. A lot of people are writing books about that night. But weve had a lot of other nights. Were working with her on the book, answering questions. Itll come out this fall. Its about who we were as individuals, who we are as a couple, and how we came out of that media circus. Its her book, but its about our lives and weve been talking openly with her.
Last thing, is there anything specific youre hoping to accomplish or highlight by starring in The Real Housewives of D.C.?
We have been big supporters of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I was my husbands campaign manager in 2002, when he won Man of the Year for raising the most money for leukemia and lymphoma in the nation. It was a big deal. Thats dear to our hearts. So is multiple sclerosis and youth AIDS. I have been very active with various charities. If I can help someone on the way, or as many people as I can, I would feel that I have done something right.
The Real Housewives of D.C. premieres Thursday, August 5 at 9 p.m. EST on Bravo. For more info, visit the official website.Send a letter to the editor about this article.