She’s also become, both despite and because of Conscience Point, a kind of rock star. On a Saturday afternoon during Fashion Week, I met Lizzie and two of her Power Girls at the launch of UPN actress LisaRaye McCoy’s lingerie line. When I arrived, Rachel and Kelly were checking in guests at a table by the entrance of the Altman Building on West 18th Street. About a half-hour before the show’s start time, a commotion broke out by the door. From across the room, a crown of white-blonde hair peaked out above the cluster of crouching paparazzi. The photographers chanted—“Lizzie! Lizzie! Lizzie!”—over a cannonade of camera flashes. “I have to do the press and paparazzi thing,” she said, once she arrived at our table, having navigated an obstacle course of squealed hellos, hugs, and air kisses. “I’d rather not, but—you know.” She widened her large eyes in a “What can you do?” expression.
Of course, the questions everyone really wants to know about Lizzie are, Does she regret the accident? Is she sorry? Has she changed? She can’t address issues of responsibility or the details of what happened. While she’s settled fifteen of the sixteen civil cases brought against her by people injured that night, there’s one case still outstanding (typically, the plaintiffs can’t talk about the terms of their settlements, but most of them are reportedly pleased). What she will say is this: “My car accident was a period of my life that I wish never happened. No one feels more horrified about it than myself. And every day of my life, for the rest of my life, it will be with me. But I have to move on.” She says she rarely goes out now, never drinks, wakes up at 5:30 a.m., and exercises three hours a day. She works all the time, and when she’s not working, she claims to stay home watching TiVo. As for Lizzie’s famous party lifestyle—“That was a misconception that I created,” she says. “I allowed the press to think I was this party animal because it was good for my business. Quite frankly, it came back to bite me.”
In the months running up to her plea bargain and jail term, when Lizzie was in the eye of the media maelstrom, she says she would sit up all night in her apartment and surf the Internet, reading every clip, every article, every mention of her on the Web that she could find. “I wouldn’t sleep. I’d beat myself up. My punishment was to read everything. I was crazy,” she says. It’s easy to suspect that Grubman offers this information to elicit sympathy. But maybe for a distraught Lizzie, watching her story unfold like this, out there, beyond her control, was a kind of self-inflicted purgatory.
In August 2002, as part of her plea agreement, Lizzie received a 60-day prison term, to be served at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility. She also can’t talk about the events that led to her sentence, but a source close to her legal team says that, although some of her advisers believed she could win an acquittal if her case went to trial, she wanted a deal that would include jail time. She thought that, if she didn’t serve a sentence, the story would always be, Rich girl buys her way out of trouble. She knew the people wanted to see her punished.
Lizzie doesn’t like to talk about the details of her term, which she describes as “personal and private.” In 2004, though, a source credited as Lizzie’s “friend” told Joanna Molloy, a gossip columnist for the New York Daily News, about Grubman’s life at Suffolk. Grubman was kept in solitary confinement because of her celebrity. “Lizzie had freedom for only one hour a day,” the friend said. “She was in 23-hour-a-day lockdown. Imagine sitting in your bathroom 23 hours a day. That’s how big her cell was.”
When Grubman was released on Friday, November 29, she wasn’t met at the prison by friends or family; she was picked up by a security team and whisked home. “There were 60 camera crews camped out all night, so getting me out of there was a bit of a circus,” she says. She stops to pour herself some water in a plastic cup—her hands are visibly shaking. That weekend, her father hosted a post-Thanksgiving party where hundreds of guests welcomed her home. She said hellos for a while, she says, but then she locked herself in the bathroom. “It freaked me out to be around so many people.” For Lizzie, there was only one remedy. On Monday, she went back to work, and that night, she hosted a party for the shoe company Cesare Paciotti.
When Lizzie was serving her prison sentence, she’d fantasize about a new life: She wanted to open a bakery. “I love to bake,” she says. “It’s like my therapy.” It’s tempting to imagine Lizzie living out her days in a quaint kitchen, far from the spotlight, industrious as a monk in a cloud of flour dust. But that’s not exactly the plan. The bakeshop is just one arm of what she envisions as a Lizzie Grubman empire. “I’m an entrepreneur,” she says. “This show is the first thing. I’ll open a bakery down the road. I have offers to do a clothing line.”
Of course, Lizzie will never escape the incident. It will always be, as the saying goes, the first line of her obituary. But the final irony of Conscience Point is that the notoriety from the accident, far from ruining her, has actually given her a career boost—and a fresh chance to spin her story.
Before meeting with Grubman, I paid a visit to the MTV office of Power Girls’ producer, Tony DiSanto, in Times Square. The room was filled with gadgets and toys, and a poster of the cast of Laguna Beach, an MTV reality hit about pretty teens in Orange County, was propped against a window. From the corner of DiSanto’s desk, Lizzie Grubman’s famous face stared out at me from a snow globe.
The globe is a promotional trinket, sent out to announce the coming of Lizzie’s show. On one side there’s a picture of the four Power Girls, standing shoulder to shoulder like a quartet of backup singers, the Supremes to Lizzie’s Diana Ross. On the other side is a photo of Lizzie posed against a fantasy backdrop of bowing palm trees and a tropical pink sunset. Shake the globe, and she’s engulfed in a sudden, incongruous blizzard. But eventually the snow settles, and there’s Lizzie, smiling out from a tiny, hermetic world where no one asks, no one tells, and it’s spring 2001 all over again.