Bethenny Frankel always wanted to be a Somebody, and it’s only through sheer bloody-mindedness that she has ended up here, perched on a stool in a private room at a vast Toronto liquor store, pretending that she’s willing – somewhat, anyway – to be your BFF in a fake cocktail setting.
A high small table adorned with flowers has been placed against a backdrop of promotional material for her Skinnygirl margarita, the latest addition to the reality star’s platform of products, aimed at the young women who first became her fans when she appeared on Bravo’s hit series, The Real Housewives of New York, in its debut season in 2008.
But it doesn’t take long, after being ushered to a stool opposite Ms. Frankel, for me to realize that the pretense of having a fun, girlfriend chat is not something she can act even if she wanted to. She can only be reality. Her strong, quirky personality – that Bethenny trademark persona – pokes up persistently through the veneer; determined as a weed in a pretty garden.
Ms. Frankel is enjoying a new, big moment of fame after appearing on the cover of Forbes magazine’s celebrity issue earlier this summer, quite a feat for someone who was unknown until six years ago, when she appeared on The Apprentice: Martha Stewart and came runner-up with her now-defunct natural foods business, BethennyBakes. Her own reality show, Bethenny Ever After, currently filming its third season, pulls in 1.6-million viewers each week. At last count, she had 571,026 Twitter followers. And earlier this year, she sold Skinnygirl cocktails, which will eventually include low-calorie wine and other drinks, to Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc. for a reported $120-million.
A tiny woman, she is dressed in a short red-leather skirt, ruffled white blouse under a black sweater, a Cartier watch, rings and teetering five-inch heels. Under the immaculate precision of her make-up, she offers a determined sort of smile and at every opportunity plugs her products, her latest book ( A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life) and her philosophy, a take-no-prisoners approach to being successful.
“I have always believed in myself,” she declares at the start of a rapid Long Island-accented recitation of her work ethic. “You treat every job as if it’s the most important job, and you will end up where I have ended up.”
Her background is as famous as her outcome. Along the way to fame, she has been many things: horse track worker, wannabe actress, party planner, foodie, caterer, pashmina seller, nanny to a young Paris Hilton, assistant to Los Angeles power couple Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer, author and reality TV star.
It all began in Long Island, New York, where her late father was a top-ranked horse trainer who abandoned the family when she was 4. Her mother, who is still alive, was just as untrustworthy. There were multiple marriages and divorces, 13 different schools, two relocations across the country, and allegations of child abuse. Ms. Frankel, now 40, reportedly had her first drink at 7 and was betting at the track by 8.
“I don’t know what she makes of my success,” she reports acidly when asked if she is in touch with her mother. “I’m sure it’s quite shocking and overwhelming to her.” She hasn’t talked to her “in years.”
“I’m not a therapist,” she replies when asked how the instability of her childhood might have contributed to her ambition. “Freud might have an answer,but really, I have no idea. Perhaps, because I didn’t get love at home or any kind of pat on the back or any praise, maybe I looked for it elsewhere and maybe I look for it in my fans.”
But she must have some idea, because her reality show, which chronicles her busy Manhattan life with husband Jason Hoppy and their daughter Bryn, features regular interaction with her shrink.
“Oh sure,” she says, tossing her mane of long, black hair behind her shoulders. “But he doesn’t know exactly either. It’s not a science. … Some people have perfect childhoods with parents that are very involved, and they’re just as driven as I am.”
Ms. Frankel appears to be caught in that odd space of post-modern life in which she both violates her own privacy by participating in a reality show about her life, but also protects it, acting a little put off at certain questions, as if it’s no one’s business to pry into how she might feel.
She has made a Faustian bargain that she wants to control. She and her husband talk about their exit strategy often, she says. “We won’t be doing this for much longer at all,” she declares. “I don’t want to be on reality TV that much.”
Still, the blurt-a-minute habit of reality TV is hard to break, and there are moments when her guileless honesty is endearing, even if she doesn’t smile when she’s being funny. “I have huge money noise,” she says at one point, her term for the chatter inside her head about finances. “I’m not a person who can just throw away money, because I was always broke.” She looks down at her clothes. “There’s this skirt I’m wearing. It wasn’t even expensive – $89 at Zara. But it’s five inches too short and I have massive anxiety about the fact that I bought it and now I’ll have to get rid of it. It’s like a pair of leather underwear,” she says, yanking at the hem and rolling her eyes.
Everyone in the room laughs, except for her.
I ask about the money spent on the lawsuit by Doug Wald of Raw Talent Management, who claims breach of oral contract and is suing her for $112-million. “That doesn’t bother me,” she retorts. “That’s frivolous and I would spend $20-million to punish him for wasting my time, the legal system’s time and that bag of bullshit. I will send back all the purses and all the diamonds and everything to sue that guy’s ass and put him where he belongs.”
Finally, is there any part of the real Bethenny that people don’t get to see?
She thinks for a minute.
“I get very moody and grouchy,” she says. “Sometimes, I’m from a place of no.”