[INTERVIEW] Real Housewife Simon van Kempen

Our very own Mike Austin recently had a chance to interview Simon van Kempen for our podcast.  Simon, along with his wife Alex McCord, have a parenting book coming out later this year.  We had to edit the interview to fit in the podcast, but we wanted to make sure you had a chance to read the whole thing.  Here’s the complete interview:

TFL: If you’ve not familiar with Simon’s name, maybe you’re familiar with his show.  He’s on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. I almost want to say it starred you, because you were referred to as the sixth housewife.

Simon van Kempen: It’s funny, you know, because this season they brought on a sixth housewife, so I’ve been demoted to the seventh housewife!

TFL: Do you get a stripe for that or any thing?

Simon:I’m not sure, we’ll have to see what the viewers say!

TFL: Simon, and his wife, Alex McCord, have two wonderful children.  Tell me, what are some of the challenges that are unique to New York City, besides the obvious things like playing in traffic.

Simon: I grew up in a rural area in Australia, so when Alex and I first talked about having kids… I think  when you first think about having children, you imagine your children are going to grow up as you did, and I certainly didn’t grow up in a large city. So for me, one of the biggest changes that we had to make in our life was I insisted that if we staid in New York City, which I wanted to do, that we had to have a house with at least a backyard so we would have an area for the kids to run around in. We’re lucky where we are in Brooklyn – we’re just over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan – we have an amazing amount of birds that come to our back yard and we have an amazing amount of squirrels. Of course, we have to get away from New York for weekends and get them out to smell the country – to smell that life is not just what goes on in the city.

TFL: I suppose it takes a bit more scheduling.

Simon: Certainly Alex and I lead very busy lives; we both work full time. We’re very lucky in our careers. I was certainly older when Francois was born. I was 39, so my career was established. I didn’t have to work from 6 AM to 9 at night anymore. We get lots of time with the boys in the morning before we go to work, and then evenings we’re always home around 6 PM  to have dinner with them. But then come weekends. Alex and I have to resist the urge so we’re not too tired to get them out and run around. You know, we’re only about a mile and half from Prospect Park. It’s an amazing park – much more rugged than Central Park is.  You can actually lose yourself in it, unlike Central where you can always look up and see a tall building around you. In Prospect Park in Brooklyn you can bury yourself in a ravine and not even have an idea that you’re in a major concentration.

TFL: You two have written a book together on parenting, correct?

Simon: Correct.  We’ve written half of it to date.

TFL: What are some the things that a dad in particular would find unique to your book as far as your parenting style?

Simon: Look, whether it’s unique or not, I’m very very involved with the kids. I don’t have a role model. I was Francois’ age when my father died, so I grew up with a single parent. It’s possibly because of that that I am adamant and passionate about being involved with both my boys in their lives. You know I spend a tremendous amount of time with them, and it’s just the perspective that if you blink, you miss it. Our boys are now 3 and 5, and they grow up so rapidly. That’s one of the reasons we did the show – to get a video diary of their lives. Even the viewing audience across the states have seen them in series one, and series one we filmed in the summer of 2007. So now they’re 18 months older!

TFL: Is there any talk of perhaps a spinoff of just your family, perhaps with a parenting show?

Simon: There have been discussions and so on, but I don’t know that we could necessarily hold the sort of audience that we’ve been getting with season one of Real Houswives.  that’s why they’ve added a sixth housewife this year, with Kelly Bensimon coming on to add a little bit more spice.  These shows, I think, have a natural life.  The OC franchise is wrapping up in season four. How much longer they can go on in this franchise? I don’t know. We’ll see.  We did season one and we got polar opposite reactions.  Some people will love us, some people will hate us.  Hopefully Alex and i were a little bit smarter in season two. We didn’t do some of the things they wanted us to do.

Particularly when you do a show like this, you do it and you want it to succeed.  And let’s face it, you take anyone’s life and you just show that 24/7, it’s pretty boring.  The really smart thing they do with these shows is they film you for hours. In season one we were filmed for probably 5,000 minutes, and if 70 minutes made it to air, we’re talking a very small percentage. If i take 1.3% of anyone’s life it can look interesting. It’s basically like looking at a mushroom under a microscope. A mushroom can look like a beautiful vegetable you, but look under a microscope and you say, “Do I really want to eat that?” It’s taking the extreme parts of anyone’s life and putting it out there.

TFL: How do you deal with having a camera crew all the time and the upheaval in your family life? That must be the hardest thing to pretend that they’re not there.

Simon: Yes, it is.  The cameras aren’t here all the time; we invite them in.  But we film over a three or four month period.  Sometime that can mean us filming six days a week.  Now, as I said earlier, Alex and I both work, so we don’t film during the day, which puts most of our filming  on in the evenings and at weekends.  Certainly, throughout filming season two last summer, Francois was much more aware of the cameras.  There was a funny anecdote – we just finished filming a lunch in the Hamptons with some friends. After we were finished filming, Murray said to Francois, “So Francois, how do you like having the cameras around?” This four year old boy just looked at Murray with a glint in his eye and said, “Murray, when the cameras roll, Francois rolls.” It’s like the old cliche – you should never work with children or animals.

TFL: You mentioned you grew up without a father, and I think the stereotype, in America at least, is if you grow up without a father, you’re going to be a terrible father and you’re going to be very ill equipped. As with everything, though, it comes down to choices, doesn’t it? You’ve obviously made the right choices and look at how you’ve turned out.

Simon: It does come down to choices. I remember when my oldest brother, who is six years my senior, had just started high school and we were lliving in a small town of our 6000 people in South Wales. The headmaster said something to my mother that “your son is going to be a juvenlie deliqnent becuase he comes from a sinlge parent household.” Now this was in the middle 70s, and peoples views, thankfully, have changed since then.  We were just very lucky that my mother sacrificed a lot to bring up four really wonderful kids, and she did it by giving us love.  We weren’t financially wealthy, but we were wealthy as far as our family life. We did as much as any other kids, if not more. Yes, I didn’t have a father figure as much, but i did have a very strong mother – a very strong willed mother. You do make choices with parenthood. Parenthood is not something we delegate or should delegate to other people.

TFL: You mention here consistency, maintaining a unifed parental front. Is that hard with both of you working? How is the communication between the two of you?

Simon: Alex and I have amazing communication. That’s not to say that we haven’t had differences over parenting, but we’re very strong in terms of if one says something to the children that the other one isn’t happy with, the other one keeps their mouth shut until the boys aren’t around and then we discuss it.  Look, do we get it right 100% of the time? No. Nobody does, and no one should pretend otherwise, but we’re as unified as you can be.

TFL: Do you have a working title for the book and any projected date?

Simon: The working title is The Urban Parent: Tales From a Real House In New York City, and it’s probably looking at coming out in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Simon van Kempen’s bio: Simon is a successful hotelier and involved Dad.  Cast mates and fans of The Real Housewives consistently refer to Simon as the 6th housewife; throughout season one he appeared more than any other spouse, for the simple reason that he and Alex are very close in reality.  Shaped at an early age by the loss of his father at the age of 5, Simon vowed that when he had children he would be present and an active partner in their lives and upbringing.  After working around the world in the hotel business, Simon came to NYC in 1999 on a three week business trip, met Alex on day three and the rest is history.  Of Simon’s many contributions to the parenting book, is his side of an entertaining he said/she said that follows each chapter; a give and take repartee that has become their signature on the show as a couple.

8 thoughts on “[INTERVIEW] Real Housewife Simon van Kempen

  1. Simon, your kids are 3 and 5. You’ve experienced very little of what being a parent entails. I have four children. Two are away at college and two live at home. One is disabled. I feel a thousand times more qualified to write a book on parenting than either of you. Sorry, but you just don’t have the experience yet to be someone whose book I’d look to for advice or inspiration.

  2. I have never seen such undisciplined ,unpleasant little pucks as those Kemp Children ,they have absolute no manners ,maybe instead writing a bock on Child-raising ,maybe they should take some parenting Classes or at least read a Book on it

    And to the Parents

    Class and social grace ..,money ,preteens, beauty, material wealth, do not give you that, you have it or you do not ,and I have to say ,You
    do not have one or the other ,

  3. I have come to the conclusion that Simon and Alex are the only two on the show who truly have class. They do not talk badly about people behind their backs. They are always polite to others and are very nice people – sincerely nice. I don’t understand why they are so disrespected by the others. As far as raising their children, I believe what is important is that Simon and Alex spend quality time with their little ones. No one is perfect, but atleast Simon and Alex don’t spend their time belittling people. They are positive, kind people and I think they are great.

  4. I was born and raised in an affluent area of Long Island. I went to a private Women’s college, travelled overseas…etc. During college, I interned on Park Avenue in Manhattan. Watching this show has gone from entertaining and funny to sad and pathetic. It’s an embaressment to all womene everywhere, not just in New York, to have these women representing “Real Housewives”…. they could not be farther from the truth.
    As the wife of an Australian who grew up in Queensland and spent years in the mining industry – in 129 degree weather in the Outback, I take one look at Simon and know instantly why these other people react to him the way they do. My husband oversees explosives and the operation of machinery larger than most houses. People are killed in an instant and life there is very much concentrated around being as efficient and waste-free as possible. Australian people are straight to the point. When my husband arrived here, he was not readily accepted by all of those we socialize with, but he didn’t care and Simon expresses this explicitly. He could care less if you don’t like him, he just wants to know where he stands. With the amount of gossip and backstabbing that occurs on this show, you can easily see why he isn’t ‘filling in the mold’ .
    Now, let me briefly touch on something that has plagued my mind since I dropped my jaw when it aired. Countess. While obviously self-absorbed while being oh so politically correct in her charity involvement, is NOT classy. What a sham. Even worse that she should have a publisher willing to release a book entitled “Class with the Countess.” Nobody can deny my point when I remind you all of a little filming trip she made to the Boys & Girls Club. As she sits with the young (and impressionable) girls, they go around the table discussing what they would like to be when they grow up. When one girl says she would like to be a model, the “Countess with Class” says rather abruptly with her tight smile, “by then, you’ll have plenty of time to lose the weight.” Ferme la bouche idiote!!!! My GOD my GOD… how RUDE!

    I still have hope that one day, television producers will design a show around charities and how hard they work for their causes. That they will do more documentary series and pull away from this materialistic, plastic and exploitive nonsense.

  5. Ummm, you know that EVERYONE with kids could write a book about the funny, ridiculous and touching stuff which they do. But WE DON’T because the only people interested are the grandparents! A BOOK?! About parenting, by a couple who employs a FULL TIME NANNY and put themselves on a reality show! Really? Who would need/want any advice about them?

  6. @ Calli and Patricia—AGREE, with the both of you. I know this was a few months ago, and you may not get to read it, but I agree that the ” Van Kempen’s
    are the only one’s worth watching on the air. The book is NOT really about
    actual parenting as everyone is complaining about, and Alex keeps explaining this over and over. I read an excerpt on another site, and it is a humorus little
    book on what their boys have done over the years and how Simon and Alex
    have dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it. They do NOT tell anyone to do anything,
    because as the Van Kempen’s say, they are NOT professionals, and don’t
    pretend to be.

    Simon is just Simon!!!! I love his personality of telling it like it is, and when the
    other ladies ” slam him or offend his clothes or Alex “, he makes his opinion
    known. The other husbands, like Mario, will scream ( oh my Lord, can he scream ), and make you a nervous wreck, but Simon just walk’s off. Good for
    him. Alex will do the same thing, taking up for Simon and her precious son’s,
    who are no different than other children, except she offers them more schooling
    and a foreign language, which alot of children are not privy to.

    That adds up to jealousy to the people on most sites and the other Housewives
    who wish they could do the same thing, or wish they SHOULD have done it.
    Several of my friends have nanny’s, which is the same cost as a day-care
    center for 2 children. She arrives at 6:00am and leaves 6:30pm. Sometimes
    they will pay her extra to spend the night, ( has her own room ) and will
    baby-sit extra during the week-end if needed. This is the ONLY family she works
    for, and my girl-friend pays her well.

    I believe Ramona IS jealous over Alex. She blushes every time someone
    ask’s her this. Like on the re-union show. She envy’s their relationship.
    Can’t wait until the next season, to see the idiot ” Countess “, and ” stupid Kelly”. Maybe the producers will have air-head Kelly run down the middle of
    the road, jogging her little heart out, flipping her hair side-to-side, all the while
    looking around to see if anyone is watching her, while traffic is backing up.


  7. Simon and Alex are both an unusual couple and I find that interesting because it adds spice to the show. As for writing a book about parenting, forget about it as their two boys are unruly and undisciplined. Simon continues to push French onto the boys when he should be teaching them manners and respect foremost. Everyone wants to write a book e.g. Countess Luann whatever who annoys me to no end with her phoniness just because she married a Count who smartened up and dumped her.

  8. For what it’s worth, I’m understanding that the book is about parenting, not a parenting book. I doubt Alex and Simon are trying to replace Dr. Spock… as you said that’s pretty ludicrous. Even if they are different and slightly controversial (so funny how being unorthodox these days qualifies one as controversial), they are the most honest people on that Bravo show. I’m sure the book is just going to give us more of that raw honesty.

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