So was Alex’s choice to be a Housewife just the scratching of a long-held itch? “You know, that’s funny,” she says. “I was talking to a very well-known actress at an event, and we were talking about the difference between playing a character and being on a show—and now we’re getting into the psychology of acting, but I never got that thing that people talk about of escaping yourself. Maybe that’s because I like myself.”
Part of what made the McCord–Van Kempens’ behavior so fascinating to watch is that they do in fact seem to like themselves. Cavorting on the sand in St. Barts, where they will return this summer, they looked rather like they were having the time of their lives.
“We’ve always been reluctant, if not anti, the Hamptons,” McCord says, in spite of the fact that three days later she will leave for a rented house in East Hampton, where the couple will be photographed at a party for Hamptons magazine. She is sitting in the breakfast room of the Hotel Chandler, which is managed by her husband. (When the show aired, some online commenters cast aspersions on its boutique status.) The hotel is near Penn Station, and its bar was filled that evening with a bunch of men barking train times into their cell phones.
“We go in August because it’s an amazing time to go,” she says of St. Barts. “The crazy people are elsewhere. We had actually been at a party in the Hamptons with all these music moguls, and then shortly thereafter, we were in St. Barts and there was an AAA-list musician letting loose. Dancing on the table. Not caring. There were no photographers. It wasn’t being documented. It was the low season. It’s great. Just great.”
Like most reality stars, Simon and Alex are quick to emphasize that their onscreen personas were developed in an editing suite somewhere far from Boerum Hill. But it wasn’t all off-base. “I can tell you moments that are representative,” she says, like “the love that Simon and I have for each other. People come up to me all the time and say we’ve renewed their faith in marriage. I love that.”
The social ambition, they say, was blown way out of proportion. “It made social climbing out to be much more important to us than it is,” says Simon, who grew up in Australia. “I’ve always loved to study people. I mean, for example, Jill’s from Long Island, and boy, that shows. You can see these sorts of people from areas outside Sydney and London as well. As for us, well, I use the Dickensian phrase: Who doesn’t want to improve their station in life? Everyone does.”
“If you think about a part of your life that is a tiny part of your life, like brushing your teeth,” Alex adds, “then suddenly you are on the show and it’s like ‘She brushes her teeth all the time!’ ”
“Look,” says Simon. “I know who I am. I know what I am. I know who Alex is. I know what she is. I know who we are.”
Alex continues: “If somebody said to you, ‘You’re an umbrella,’ would you think you were an umbrella?”
But I’m not an umbrella, I say.
So they are unfazed, then, by the whole thing. The parents at François’s elementary school were upset that she referred to it as their twelfth choice? So what. Large chunks of cyberspace think her husband’s uxoriousness is just a beard? Who cares. Nude photos of Alex wearing a Venetian mask turned up online? Pshaw. They came to New York for fame, and now, in a small, weird way, they’ve got it, and they can’t wait for the cameras to roll again. “Simon and I live our lives boldly and happily,” Alex said that night at the Chandler, in between big, burning bites of a slice of sausage pizza. “We are really happy, optimistic, positive people. We don’t do things if we’re going to regret them.” She chews and waves her long hand in front of her mouth. “There’s no point in worrying. We just look at each other and say, ‘Why not?’ ”