“This I copied from the Louvre,” Jackie Siegel says, pointing to the pyramid-shaped structure jutting off the back patio of her partially finished dream home known as Versailles. She tosses a ringlet of streaky blonde hair over her shoulder and pads into the grand ballroom, her bejeweled flip-flops glinting against the dusty concrete floors. “We’re going to inlay the floors with a lot of onyx and amethyst and semiprecious stones,” she says, heading up one of the fishtail staircases flanking an immense grand ballroom. Rays of Central Florida sun filter through a custom-made stained-glass oculus, illuminating the bones of the 90,000-square-foot mansion. Arriving on the second floor, Jackie describes her plan for a theater inspired by the Paris Opera House and the master suite she’ll share with her husband, septuagenarian time-share mogul David Siegel. “We’re gonna have a round platform with a round bed, and it’s going to have buttons so you can watch TV,” she says, moving swiftly between beams that do not yet fully articulate her vision. “This is the master bathroom. There’s going to be a Jacuzzi here, and we’re going to have a his-and-hers shower, and then one in the middle, if we want to take a shower together. Because that,” she smiles, coyly swiping a finger at the space between showerheads, “is too far to walk.”
This is precisely the type of out-of-touch-rich-lady remark Bravo audiences will savor when The Queen of Versailles screens on the network April 29, and Jackie, the documentary’s titular star, knows it. Jackie harbors reality-TV aspirations, which is part of the reason she’s giving a tour to me and a Bravo publicist to promote the film, a not entirely flattering portrait of her family’s ham-handed attempts to cut back after the financial crisis. When creditors started going after her husband’s company, Westgate Resorts, the couple halted work on Versailles, the largest single-family home in the country, and put it on the market.
“I think it gives a good lesson to people,” says Jackie, who comes across as a Zsa Zsa Gabor for the subprime age, coping with heretofore unknown indignities (e.g., flying commercial, driving her own car) while trailed by seven children and innumerable small dogs. “It teaches people to live within their means, no matter what level you’re on.”
The postscript to their story underscores another lesson of the financial crisis: There are fewer consequences for the rich. Though scores of Westgate Resorts employees lost their jobs, the company has recovered enough that by last winter, the Siegels resumed construction on Versailles. Outside, workers install doors made of possibly the world’s last batch of Brazilian mahogany. (“They had to stop exporting it because they were cutting down the rain forest, or whatever.”) Inside, Jackie pauses regally on the mezzanine. “Here is where we would probably have, like, an orchestra for the people downstairs,” she says. “Or speeches. Like if the president came.”
A moment passes while we all consider the image of Barack Obama at Versailles.
“Do you want to see the staff quarters or the bowling alleys?” Jackie says brightly. We head downstairs to what will soon be a 30-car garage, a commercial kitchen with a Benihana-style grill, a roller-skating rink, and a 10,000-square-foot spa. “Here’s our indoor relaxation pool,” Jackie says, arriving at a hole in the ground. “I think I’m going to do it more Moroccan, super-colorful.” To the right is a warren of staff apartments. “Each of them will have a Jacuzzi,” Jackie says proudly.
After the movie premiered last year, the Siegels got a lot of flack for conspicuous consumption. “People said, ‘Why do they need ten kitchens? That’s ridiculous!’ ” she says widening her eyes. “But it’s because they’re in the staff apartments.”
Jackie does think she could have come off a little bit better. “For one thing, I really learned about the importance of hair and makeup when you’re on-camera,” she says, on the chauffeured car ride back to the Siegels’ current gargantuan mansion.
Her husband, David, was less pleased with his portrayal. “The only thing that’s true about it is that my wife is a big-busted shopaholic,” he bellows, sitting down at the dining-room table in the shadow of a giant Fabergé egg. David filed suit against the filmmaker, Lauren Greenfield, before the documentary was even released, claiming its depiction of his company’s downfall was inaccurate and damaging to his business. The suit is still in arbitration. “Jackie, they could have called her an ax murderer, and she’d have been happy they spelled her name right,” he says, reaching for a Styrofoam cup of soda. “I mean, if somebody watched the movie last night that came to my resort and I’m trying to sell them something, they would never buy. They’d think, Oh, the company’s going under, but we’re doing better than ever,” he says. “Last year was the best year in my 33-year history!”
David’s gripes are many, but the overall thrust seems to be that he wasn’t expecting a portrait of his own personal financial crisis. “I was in favor of her filming the house. Because I was going to have somebody do it anyway, and I thought, Gee, I’m getting it done and don’t have to pay for it,” he says. “Then the economy changed, and I don’t know how it happened, suddenly the focus wasn’t the house. It became the family, and then it became the business.”
Both Siegels are adamant that their marriage—which at times in the film seemed as rocky as the company—is doing well. Although having one half of the couple promoting the film while the other is suing the filmmaker is not ideal. “I’m not standing in the way,” David says, rubbing his wife’s jewel-laden hand. “I’m not happy about it. I’m happy for her.” Still, he wants to make sure he gets the last word, which is why he’s currently haggling with Bravo over the epilogue. “I want the audience to know, when it’s over, that at least we lived happily ever after.”