For Alex McCord and her hotelier husband Simon van Kempen, the roles of reality TV stars on Bravo’s hit series, “The Real Housewives of New York” is not something they ever expected and initially turned down.
In a recent telephone interview, the Reality TV star spoke candidly about casting for the hit series, their roles as parents, an upcoming book and how they maintain balance in their lives and manage to keep their romance alive amidst the chaos.
We began, of course, with life in the real world of reality TV. With a new season beginning and controversy brewing, both on and off the set, for “The Real Housewives of New York,” Alex McCord laughed about the coming months, “It’s shaping up to be an amazing season,” she said, “I think you’re going to see a lot more drama, a lot more of not holding back. The fact that we’re all comfortable with each other made us more comfortable with taking risks. Certainly, for Simon and I what we’ve seen feels a lot more real; a lot more representative of what you would see if you walked into our home.”
Originally as she explained, “In January of 2006, we had heard about a show that focused on parenting in New York City and that appealed to us. We began a conversation, with Bravo’s producers, that lasted over a year and at that point we were the only ones they had; they didn’t have the rest of the cast they didn’t even have the green light.”
Laughing, she continued, “But they kept in contact with us and kept calling and calling and calling and finally in August 2007, over a year later, they called and said they had the cast and were ready to go. At that point the show had morphed into Manhattan Mom’s.” She added, “It wasn’t the Real Housewives until after it was completely filmed and we all found out about it when it was announced to the press.”
With all that The Real Housewives have become, a pop culture phenomenon with spin off’s in other major markets, it’s difficult to believe Alex and Simon almost walked away, as she explained, “between the time that we began talking to the producers and the time we actually rolled cameras we had decided that I wanted to start working again full-time so it really was a question of ‘Do we want to do this or not?'”
Her voice still reflected the hesitation. “At first we said, ‘No. Our lives have changed we don’t want to do this and we walked away. But the producers were willing to accommodate filming around our jobs, filming evenings and weekends and so we said “What the heck?” The rest is, as they say, is television history.
The Real Housewives is certainly centered on the New York glamorous life, and with that if you’ve seen one show, you know the women are all deeply involved in the benefit season with multiple charity events possible on any given night and with the glam life, the benefit season and career I asked Alex how she keep it all together?
She laughed explaining, “You really have to be good at multi-tasking. Recognize that you’re not going to catch everything. It all comes down to be here now. When you’re with your children don’t text; at the events be present and don’t think about what you’re going to do next. Focusing on the immediate and recognizing you can’t do everything.”
Having recently attended their book launch party, I felt the need for more research on The Real Housewives and watched one of the episodes. As with all reality TV shows the lives of the women are followed and with that of course, are the “real” moments when truth and temper meet and words may not be camera kosher.
In this episode, the other cast members talked about Alex and Simon being inseparable and that she didn’t have a life without him.
So, I asked her, “How does the gossip and criticism by the other cast members affect you and your husband’s relationship?
Dispelling all rumors, Alex and Simon are not bothered at all by the gossip and criticism that is the vein of the show. In fact, she reiterated with emphasis, “The gossip and the criticism have nothing to do with our relationship. When they film the show they filmed about five thousand minutes for Season 1 and about 1 percent of that made it to air. Obviously, it’s the producer’s job to show the most entertaining footage.”
Anyone who has seen reality TV understands that the producer will choose the moments that are the most real and stinging criticisms certainly add drama. She continued laughing, “Also Simon and I were at a little bit of a handicap because we had never seen reality TV; At all. I mean, when I say we didn’t watch it, I mean we didn’t watch it at all.”
As parents of two young children one can understand the absence of television viewing. The pre-series life and the post series life have not affected the dedication Alex and Simon have for their children.
The two are dedicated parents balancing big city lives with strong family ties reminiscent of values reserved for life in a much smaller town. Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Alex and Simon’s home, is right across the Brooklyn Bridge, one stop from the heart beat of Manhattan.
The book was birth from the roles that each of them have grown into as The Real Housewives have progressed. Known as the jet-setting duo from Brooklyn raising two young boys in the shadow of the concrete jungle the book, which wasn’t titled at the recent launch party, has been titled “The Urban Parent: Tales from a Real House in New York City.“
Due out later this year, “The book,” as she explained, “was also a long time coming. We were very surprised at the amount of people who reached out to us with parenting questions. It kind of organically happened. We were on vacation and we were getting up before the boys and that was the point where we started writing. The bulk of the book was written while we were on vacation.”
She explained the direction behind the book, “After I became pregnant with Johan, and Francois was one, I began to write things down and the thing that resonated with me were not prescriptive “How-to” books but stories of other mother’s experiences, stories from the trenches of parenting.”
As in the show, Simon is an active and dedicated Dad who is a believer in communication as the two participate in verbal volley’s that is their signature style of discussion and they bring that same style to the book.
Allowing for readers to incorporate the technique into their own lives each chapter ends with the communicated volleys. The book is directed to every parent and addresses parenting issues that may be lost in chaos.
Alex and Simon certainly don’t have the conventional life and perhaps that is reflective of the way they met. They have the unusual happy ending through an online dating service. She said, “It will be ten years ago this May that we met.” As she explains it, “We had zero expectations; we met for a drink and it literally took off from there.” They were engaged six months later and married soon after.
And how do they keep their romance alive in the midst of chaos? According to Alex, “You have to remember that you and your spouse were there first. Before the kids and before the house and before the life you have together. You have to remember when you become a parent, you’re still you. You don’t become a different person. I had this misconception that when you become parents life is in pastels with this bag that says, ‘B-A-B-Y” spelled on it. You have to retain your sense of self. I’m still me and he’s still him and we have to feed our personal interests.”
Francois and Johan, the van Kempen children, are as are the other children of “The Real Housewives,” an active part of the on-air goings on for “The Real Housewives” and as much cast members and even more so when you find the children are very quick to share their opinion. Francois and Johan are endearing and understand the on-set cues that are quickly becoming part of their vocabulary.
So how do the children adapt to all this? According to Alex they have “very little awareness of the media coverage. As far as filming it is certainly a challenge.” Francois was asked recently how he liked the filming and as if on cue according to Alex quoting her son Francois, he said “Mommy, when the cameras roll Francois rolls.”
You too can roll with Bravo’s The Real Housewives franchise. Check your local listings for times.
Since the departure from Bravo’s Real Housewives series, Alex and Simon are now on the reality show “Couples Therapy” on VH-1. At the time of this interview Ms. McCord was a series regular on The Real Housewives of New York.
For more on Alex and Simon: http://mccordvankempen.com/blog/