LuAnn de Lesseps, author of Class with the Countess and star of the hit Bravo reality show The Real Housewives of New York City, is a real-life example of acquired elegance, social stature and class. Originally trained as a practical nurse, LuAnn was ‘discovered’ by an Italian TV magnate, which helped her launch a successful career in modeling and television in Europe. Through her ladylike charm and a twist of fate, LuAnn met and married Count Alexandre de Lesseps, a French aristocrat and heir to the Suez Canal. Proving fairytale life doesn’t come without its own unique challenges, the Countess discusses humble beginnings, societal class struggles, and balancing success, fame and maintaining a sense of normalcy under the constant pressure of being in the limelight.
Q: What specific challenges do women face in the world of aristocracy? Are career aspirations supported or is it difficult to escape the shadow of a royal husband?
LuAnn de Lesseps: I married a very successful businessman who also happened to be an aristocrat. This meant that we entertained in society and in business circles and I was very busy being a hostess. My job during my marriage was to support my husband’s work and participate in philanthropic efforts. I was also raising two children while my husband traveled extensively for his career. I wouldn’t say that career aspirations aren’t supported, but I think balancing career and family is difficult for all women regardless of social status.
Q: You have said your decision to film The Real Housewives was a family decision. Can you relay how you’ve protected your children from being over –exposed to negative press to maintain normalcy in your house?
LuAnn de Lesseps: Although my children film with me for the Real Housewives, I try to keep them out of the public spotlight as much as possible. My kids don’t read everything that is written about me because they are too busy studying and hanging out with their friends. Early on, I explained to them the difference between gossip and news and they realize that everything that is written about our family or me is not always true.
Q: Your book Class with the Countess discusses the art of being yourself and acts as a guide to modern social graces. What tips can you provide women who feel intimidated by social situations and networking in general?
LuAnn de Lesseps: I always say being comfortable in your own skin is a prerequisite for moving through life with grace and ease. First impressions are so important, especially in networking situations. Before entering a room, get yourself together. Take a deep breath and smile, and then let your eyes sweep over the room. Oftentimes, someone will come up to you and begin a conversation. If no one greets you, enter the room in a purposeful and vital way and begin introducing yourself to others. By being open and lively, you will attract people to you and you will make connections you never thought possible.
Q: How did you handle the pressure from the entertainment industry to be ‘perfect’?
LuAnn de Lesseps: Back in my modeling days when I arrived in Europe, the agencies told me I had to lose fifteen pounds even though I had lost a bunch of weight walking to my modeling jobs in New York City. I had no intention of starving myself and decided that my weight was fine the way it was. I transitioned from modeling to television and my weight has never been an issue since. I believe in feeling good on the inside and I’m comfortable with who I am. That is my idea of perfection.