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Jewish Journal

A Conversation with Simon van Kempen

by Ilana Angel

October 30, 2011 | 5:31 pm

Simon van Kempen

I never thought I would ever have a conversation with Simon van Kempen. Truth be told, I was never really a fan of his or Alex on the Real Housewives of New York City. By not a fan, of course I mean I have been rather sarcastic, and somewhat harsh to this couple.  So you can imagine more than my surprise to talk to Simon, how surprised he must have been to find himself talking with me.

Last week on Twitter, Simon was asked if he had come across any of the current cast filming now in NYC, and if he would appear as a guest. He responded that he had not seen anyone, and would never do a housewife type show again.  I wrote that I thought he lied, and of course he would do another reality show.  After 4 years with a steady paycheck, nobody is walking way that quickly.

Simon wrote back to assure me he would not appear on the housewives again. I then asked him if he was up for an interview.  I was shocked that he said yes.  In fact, when many of his followers took to Twitter to inform him of how evil I was, I half expected him to cancel.  In the end not only did he not cancel, but he called exactly when he said he would, and spoke with me for an hour. He is not what I expected.

Simon van Kempen is articulate and non-confrontational.  He is not concerned with the opinions that people have of him, but it troubles him when people lie.  Whether or not I think he is a liar is irrelevant. He answered questions quickly and without hesitation.  I liked Simon, and I don’t think he lied to me.  He speaks easily and there is a humble undertone to him that I found surprising.

This man has been dragged through the gutter.  He has watched the show alter how people think of him, and that he is able to stay positive is impressive.  I’m sure it hurts his feelings, but at the end of the day he is aware enough to know that no matter what he says, it will be interpreted in the same way someone sees him.  I’ve not changed my mind on how I see the show, but perhaps my idea of Simon has shifted.

Think what you want about Simon, and we all have opinions, I appreciate that even after my not so flattering blogs, he has not blocked me on Twitter, which tends to be quite a popular choice by many of the people associated with Bravo.  The “celebs” of reality television like to block people to avoid negative things appearing on their Twitter.  If nothing else, Simon is not afraid of the good, bad or ugly.

When word spread that he had agreed to an interview with me, people wanted to know if he was still smoking.  Yes.  He’s none too thrilled about it, and wants desperately to quit, but for now he is a smoker.  He does not smoke in the house, so maybe a good winter will be the thing he needs to kick the habit.  Heading out in the cold for a smoke, might be enough to finally help him stop.

From the first season, Simon and Alex did not fit in with the cast.  If it was about housewives in NYC, why was this couple from Brooklyn included?  I had the same opinion of Bethenny in the beginning.  She never should have been on this show and I never got why they were there.  To hear Simon tell the story, he was unclear as to why they were there too.  What became RHONYC was not what they signed up for.

Simon opened a hotel a week after the attacks of 9/11.  It was in Manhattan, and the tragedy was hard on businesses.  In order to keep the doors open, Simon turned to filming as a source of revenue for the hotel.  That led to the venue he managed being used as a location for some reality televisions shows.  Through those contacts, they heard of a show about moms in NYC with kids applying to private schools.

Simon and Alex auditioned for that show. They thought it would be fun, they would meet other young couples, and make a little extra money.  Simon looks back on those early shows and he admits it was a little mortifying, as they were presented in a different light than their real lives.  They were painted as the wannabes, when they were always happy with their lives in Brooklyn, and were not aspiring to be anything else.

It’s interesting that we all watched the first season in NYC and judged Alex and Simon based on a life that clearly was not theirs.  Granted one can blame editing on every unflattering moment on television, but the truth is that we see Simon and Alex in the exact way Bravo wanted us to see them.  The only thing that is clear, is that you need to have a very thick skin in order to survive being on a reality television show.

Simon told me about how he met Alex on match.com and it’s a great story. It’s a whirlwind romance of travel and love.  It seems rather fated that they met, and surprised them both that they got married.  It was a fortunate colliding of two worlds, and to hear Simon tell it is sweet.  He is in a little awe of his good fortune, and how he talks about his wife is enough to make even a jaded blogger’s heart flutter.

Simon was only 5 when his father passed away.  I was 35 when my dad died and I have still not recovered.  To lose a father as a child is crushing.  His dad’s name was Francois Johan, thus his children’s names.  He speaks about the boys in a kind but funny way.  He loves them, and is entertained by them. They go by their formal names, but living in Brooklyn, Simon says the days of Frankie and Jonnie might be near.

Sidebar:  We spoke of Jill Zarin, cyber bullying, anti-Semitism, and Lynn Hudson.  I’ve opted to talk about those things in a separate blog, as this is about Simon, not RHONYC.  I will say that Simon has a love of Israel, and has been there.  He says he is not anti-Semitic and has never made an anti-Semitic remark.  Of course he would never admit it, but in my opinion, Simon does not hates Jews.

Simon does not care if you love him or hate him, just be honest.  He understands that we are all allowed to have an opinion, and those opinions are based on a television show that is based very loosely on reality.  You don’t have to like him, just don’t lie.  So many reality television personalities work hard to control what is said, and Simon was not like that.  He does not sweat what is said, but stands up against the lies that are spread.

I asked Simon to tell met three words to describe himself.  He chose honest, misunderstood, and tall.  When asked to tell me three things to describe what he is not, he went with gay, controlling husband, and bad dad. The Simon that I see on television annoys me.  The Simon I spoke with on the phone is lovely.  The key to reality television viewing is to know the difference between the two.

I stand by all the blogs I have written about the Real Housewives of New York City, as it was my reaction to what I saw.  I write about a non-scripted, scripted television show, not “real” people.  To the real Simon van Kempen however, I want you to know that I thought you were lovely in real life.  As a television personality, you make for fun blogging, but as a man, the love you have for your wife and children is wonderful.

I figure we will see Alex, Simon and the chums on television again.  If they come back talking about how they met online, their kids, his wanting to be the dad he never had, her undying support of the man she loves, and somehow can undo the damage Bravo has done, I think we’ll all be surprised that they are actually a very entertaining couple.  That said, I will still blog, and it may or may not be a love fest.

We’ll see what happens.  In the end I liked Simon.  He could be full of crap, but truth be told, aren’t all celebrities, whether reality or not, full of a little crap?  Don’t they all want fame and glory?  Don’t we all? It’s all perception and whilie I stand by mine, I could be a little off when it comes to Simon and Alex.  I could be wrong, as I’ve been wrong before, but right or wrong, I’m keeping it real.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Ilana Angel writes two blogs for JewishJournal.com. KEEPING THE FAITH is about her worldview as a single Jewish mother, and KEEPING IT REAL is all about reality television....

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