Kelly Killoren Bensimon on The Real Housewives of New York City's Season 4
What have you learned about yourself from doing Real Housewives?
After Season 3, I learned that friendships need to have boundaries. You can't be trusting of people. There are bad people out there with bad intentions. You have to be, for lack of a better word, more calculating. I don't like to be like that. I like to explore my life, not exploit it. So it's just better to have friendships with boundaries.
Are those lessons you've applied to Season 4?
Not only did I apply "Friendships With Boundaries" to Season 4, but I also made a concerted effort to be there for anyone that was in a situation. There was absolutely no way I was going to have a sequel to Scary Island. Alex McCord gets herself in some precarious positions; Sonja Morgan does, too. I spend most of my on-air time really consoling and talking and working situations out with these women. Because I'm not going to see anyone that's around me—ever—in that situation.
There is no Scary Island—a trip to St. John that resulted in a lot of horrible fighting—sequel this season?
No, but I wish there were. Just kidding! It's OK for women to cry. It's OK for women to get upset. It's OK for women to express emotion. Is it OK to express those emotions while you're being filmed and know that the potential is that people on their computers in Topeka, Kansas, are going to be blogging like crazy, and that YouTube's going to go bananas over it? That's not really OK. But is it OK to express emotion? Absolutely. Did I want to get out of Scary Island? I would have swam butt-naked (too bad Playboy wasn't there!) as fast as I could to get away from those women. Believe me.
How has your attitude changed between then and now?
I'm incredibly loyal and honest and genuine. This isn't the Kelly Killoren Bensimon Show, this is my intersection with several women. But my responsibility this season is to be there for people when they're in need. You can see it in the first episode when I'm talking to Jill Zarin.
How has your relationship with castmember Ramona Singer changed? After the Scary Island episode, she told The Daily Beast that you were "frightening" to watch.
Ramona is spirited. You get Ramona-ed. You have to know that. Once you know that Ramona has her idiosyncrasies, they can actually move into the charming zone, and not to the alarming zone. I think that she now knows that whatever she is, I'll be there for her. Even recently, she's up in arms about this party that she threw for the Housewives to promote her wine. And she's saying, "You have to be here at 7," and I said, "Don't worry about it, I'll be there. Calm down." So I spend a lot of time telling people just to calm down.
The separation of what's for the show and what's real-life is a huge issue for you. How does that play out this season?
Since Day 1, everyone has been like, " You're not playing the game." What game are we playing? I'm on reality television. I've been on reality TV where I'm swimming with sharks. If I'm swimming with sharks, why can't I walk into a room with women? That's a huge bone of contention for me: being on a reality show and being real.
That's one thing that's been a huge pop-up for fans. They're like, "What's going on with Kelly? Why is she not playing along?" Because it's not about playing along. I walk into a room and I'm the way that I am with you, the way that I am with my kids, the way that I am with my parents, my brother, my sister, my friends. I'm exactly the same way. There is complete parity in my on-camera and off-camera life. And how they choose to respond to that is something that I can't control.
After last season, you told The Daily Beast that you watch the show with your daughters to show them "what not to do." Tell us more!
My daughters are in 5th and 6th grade. And they're going to have to deal with a lot of women. But this isn't on a field trip with teachers who are moderating. This is a group dynamic of six women in St. John, one of the most beautiful places—and I feel so sorry for that gorgeous house—with no parents. No teacher. No moderator. But tons and tons of wine, and people being like, "Oh really? That really happened? Tell me more!"
What did your daughters learn specifically from last season?
They learned specifically from last season that when you're wearing bunny ears, you should have a good time (with sheets). Just kidding! They learned from last season that what we talked about is that bullying is not OK. It's not OK for me to let my emotions get the best of me, it's not OK for me to engage in any kind of activity like that, it's not OK for me to choose friends like that.
What's the biggest lesson they can learn from Season 4?
"Kill 'em with kindness" is the biggest lesson from this season.
You said on The View that it's "hard to be portrayed as crazy and them come back from that." What do you mean by that?
I really don't like the word "crazy." I think it's really a disgusting word. Unless you're a doctor, you can't be calling people crazy. It shouldn't be used, and I don't like it. I don't appreciate anyone using it. It's hard to come back from! This season, I really made a concerted effort, against my will, instead of just being working and being a great mother, I have had to spend the last year rebuilding a reputation that was tarnished by someone else's insecurity.
Ah, "someone else's insecurity"—we get to your relationship with Bethenny Frankel. Would you have come back if Bethenny, the person you didn't get along with most, were still on the show?
Would you go into work tomorrow if somebody told you they didn't like your shoes? Of course you'd go back to work! And if you weren't going to go back to work, I'd hope that you'd tweet me and ask me about it, because I will yell at you and scream at you and say, "If you don't get back into work, I will walk there with you! I will stand with you!" You cannot allow anyone to shadow-cloud your future. That's just not OK with me and I won't put up with it.
You were ahead of your time with your anti-bullying message. Give us some updates on what you're thinking about that these days.
What you saw on Scary Island is a television show, where we're made to entertain you. Bullying is a serious issue. People are dying. I use it as a way of talking about what happened, but bullying is not something that people should take lightly.
That's the whole irony. People are like, "You're not very nice at the reunion show!" What am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to sit there and smile at these women and say "I really like your hair" after you go after me every two seconds because I'm tall? I can't change my height! But now, because they went after me so much, they raised my name, and there were blogs about "she's this, she's that," and it literally lit on fire to the point where I could ask my Twitter followers to help me do something great for people and then I match that number. I got to go Haiti and I got to see what hope looks like. When you're on a television show with these women complaining about if you didn't come to a party—go to Haiti for one day and tell me how you feel about that party.
How have you changed the show?
I'm just so proud that Bravo stuck in there with me and that they believed in me and that they were willing to change. And they were willing to change the way that the show was going. They were like, "Kelly's freakin' right!"
It didn't change the filming process, but I think it changed everyone's perception. They know that when Kelly comes in, she's working. If it's not going to be a solid working environment, it's not a good thing.
Every single reality-TV star is like, "This is all about reality." No, no. This. Is. Reality. If you see me crying about something, I'm really crying. There's no strategy behind it. There's no micromanaging. There's no brand that's being built around it, there's no product endorsement next to me. I'm crying because I'm really crying and because I'm really hurt. And that's OK. And I want the world to know: Lose it! Lose it all day long! If that's how you feel, lose it. It's fine.
Kelly Killoren Bensimon, the mother of two daughters, is a model, equestrian, author, editor, designer, and castmember on The Real Housewives of New York City . She has published three books—The Bikini Book , American Style , and In the Spirit of the Hamptons . Bensimon contributes to both Hamptons and Gotham magazines and launched Elle Accessories as editor in 2005. She splits her time between New York City and East Hampton.