Inside The Vanderpump Empire: Philanthropy, Restaurants and, Of Course, Dogs
Written By: Nick Pachelli An Insider Interview with Lisa Vanderpump
Photographed By: Bradley Blackburn
Styled By: Nicole Pollard at LaLaLuxe
Hair & Makeup By: Patrick Tumey
It’s Friday morning and Lisa Vanderpump is in the middle of her morning routine: wake around 6 a.m., exercise, eat breakfast, read emails, scroll through social media, watch the news, play with the dogs and pet the ponies. Yes, the ponies that appeared only a few episodes ago in The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, season six. We’re discussing recent months when she’s been filming Real Housewives and her spinoff, Vanderpump Rules, in its fourth season. “When I’m doing two shows I’m really pulled in all directions, ” she says. “Housewives will often shoot in the day and Vanderpump Rules in the afternoon and evening.” With 40 episodes shooting across six months, wildly successful restaurants and her endless list of philanthropic work, Vanderpump hasn’t had a week off since last April. Such a life would take a toll on most but Vanderpump, 55 years old with two kids, Pandora, 28, and Max, 22, stays as vibrant and motivated as ever.
The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills in which Vanderpump stars is part of the larger franchise with iterations in cities across the country including Atlanta, New York City, Orange County and soon Potomac. The shows thrive on giving viewers access to the friendships, betrayals and occasional screaming matches that occur among groups of five to seven women. “[The Real Housewives] gives people a chance to settle into our worlds. Everyone has a different perspective, so it’s great fodder for dinner party conversation. People always come up to me and say, ‘I agree with you … I’m on your side.’ The show puts it all out there for discussion, ” Vanderpump says.
And those who aren’t tuning in every week? They appear almost as eager to engage in the discussion too, sometimes coming up to her and asking, “Are you a nice one or a mean one?” in reference to the inherent good vs. evil portrayals that drive the Housewives empire. But the anchor of the Beverly Hills franchise, with her British wit and dry humor, believes that no one word or phrase should define anyone. And rightfully so. While speaking to Vanderpump, it’s easy to see that although her TV career is her most obvious pursuit, it’s not her most important one.
As she sits in her Beverly Park home dubbed Villa Rosa, having her hair done and watching CNN, she pets her brand new rescue puppy named Harrison. “He went from the pound to the palace so we’re calling him Prince Harry, ” she says. Prince Harry has one ear, “dodgy” legs and alopecia. He joined the ranks of seven other dogs at Villa Rosa only five days ago after Vanderpump saw a picture of the pup on Twitter and went to Fresno to bring Prince Harry to his new home. “I’m dog obsessed, ” says Vanderpump.
Dog obsessed may be too narrow a description. Canine champion? Certainly. What other housewife is as comfortable with animals, let alone with riding in the back seat of a van with an angry swan (Hanky the swan, to be exact)? Take one pass through Vanderpump’s Twitter feed and you’ll find a skoch of retweets from co-stars yet an even larger amount of images aimed to spread awareness of the tortured dogs of the Yulin festival in China. These caged and bound dogs that are sometimes skinned alive might be difficult to look at, but it’s necessary in Vanderpump’s eyes to spread the word about the inhumane atrocities being committed. “Trying to end the barbaric torture of dogs in Yulin is going to be my main campaign this year.” So far, Vanderpump has already organized a march to the Chinese consulate and filmed a PSA drawing attention to the issue. And this evening, she is headed off to dinner with California State Assemblymember Richard Bloom to discuss what’s next in this fight. Bloom recognized Vanderpump as 2015 “Woman of the Year” for the 50th Assembly District.
Outside of her fight against Yulin, Vanderpump advocates for dog welfare in both her support of the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards, honoring dogs in law enforcement, therapy, military and search and rescue, and the effort to find a cure to alopecia, led by her most famous Pomeranian, Giggy—a perfectly dressed pup who suffers from the disease. To top off her work for animals, Vanderpump adds, “We’re starting the Vanderpump Foundation for Dogs. We have Vanderpump Pets, which is a business selling collars, leashes and carriers, and we’re starting the foundation to focus on health and rescues.”
Vanderpump speaks about her philanthropy work with vigor—whether it is for canine rights, LGBT equality, anti-bullying, homelessness or Alzheimer’s—but how much can the star add, and keep, to her platform? We’ll have to wait and see. “I’m passionate about a lot of things, ” she says. “The world saddens me—looking at young Syrian children starving or seeing the torture of animals in China. I’m an avid supporter of Keep the Memory Alive for brain health as well as The Trevor Project against teenage suicide. But one can only choose so many things. You can dilute yourself so much that you end up talking about everything, so I try to call on the things I truly believe in.”
What viewers see of Vanderpump on Real Housewives and Vanderpump Rules is only a small window into the rest of her life.
And she reminds me of this when speaking about Vanderpump Rules, a show she produces in conjunction with Evolution Media. “I have probably 300 people working for me and you see eight of them.” The show Vanderpump Rules is in its fourth season, and it focuses on the young adults who work at Vanderpump’s wildly successful West Hollywood restaurant, Sur, in a very The Hills meets Jersey Shore way. “The dynamic of the kids on the show goes back for years and that makes the stakes higher and builds a real emotional dynamic, ” Vanderpump says. “They’re not just being cast for a reality show, they have true feelings and strong authentic ties to one another.” Vanderpump mentors the young 20-somethings in Hollywood and occasionally dishes out some tough love. “I try to mentor them and help them see that this too shall pass and not to overreact and to work hard and keep your eyes on the ball. But of course they’re going to be naughty and poorly behaved. If I showed you the well-behaved ones you’d turn the channel, right?”
Sur Restaurant is one small piece of the Vanderpump puzzle. While it’s been ranked one of the 100 hottest restaurants in America by OpenTable, it’s matched by the equally dazzling establishments Pump, also in West Hollywood, and Villa Blanca of Beverly Hills. (Pump also made the OpenTable top 100 list). Vanderpump and husband Ken started their careers as restaurateurs with a wine bar followed by restaurants and clubs in Europe. “We ended up playing with it and loved it. We’ve had 29 restaurants now.”
Here in SoCal, Vanderpump’s original restaurant design and management pursuit is Villa Blanca, but it is Pump that she is most proud of right now. “My greatest challenge was Pump. From turning a car park into a restaurant and getting the right permissions with the health department and dealing with the city council—it was a lot of hoops to jump through.” But once she overcame the hurdles, Vanderpump transformed one of West Hollywood’s most prominent corners into a flourishing garden oasis. When you enter this place, you feel transported to Tuscany or Provence with giant, hundred-year-old olive trees, antique fountains, towering gates and picturesque bridges. And the food matches the chic ambience from pistachio crusted salmon to tuna tartare with pomegranate seeds. And you can’t forget the LVP Sangria, a new line started jointly by Vanderpump and daughter Pandora.
Two miles down the road from Sur is Vanderpump’s flagship Villa Blanca, arguably what launched Vanderpump toward a relationship with Andy Cohen and the Bravo franchise. “Six years ago, I was approached by a group of women to go into a casting audition for Real Housewives and I said, ‘No, I don’t think that’s my kind of thing.’” But Vanderpump did fill out an application she regards as “half-assed.” Before long, she was approached again; with a high profile restaurant at the heart of Beverly Hills, she was an obvious candidate as reality TV was heating up. But Vanderpump again abstained. She remembers thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t think I’m interesting. I don’t fight or squabble. I see the funny side of everything.’ But perhaps it was that exact attitude which made Andy Cohen green light the show after Vanderpump’s friend and news anchor Robert Kovacik drove her to the Valley to audition in person.
Since gaining the Real Housewives platform, Vanderpump has soared, gaining titles and accolades far beyond restaurateur and philanthropist. She’s written a book, has a star on the Palm Springs Walk of Stars, danced on Dancing With the Stars, stood as Grand Marshall of Mardi Gras, was honored as Queen of White Party and West Hollywood Pride, and has spoken on the floor of the State Assembly and the United Nations.
And what does Vanderpump think about her life after more than 200 episodes on reality TV? Of her experience and the integrity of the TV mega-enterprise, “I think it’s been an accurate portrayal. [Reality TV] just magnifies who you are, ” Vanderpump says. “If you’re funny you will come across as funny and if you’re a bitch you will come across as a bitch.” She concedes to “a bit of creative license” with the editing, but dismisses any claims of inauthentic portrayals. “Of course, there’s no point in editing to make someone a bitch when they’re not a bitch because where’s the footage to back it up? Where’s the authenticity? You absolutely have to have real stories.”
These “real stories, ” however, come with a cost. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to watch [episodes of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills]. I’ve watched quite a few episodes where I’ve thought, ‘How could they say that?’” But for Vanderpump, that’s part of the territory and learning curve—developing thicker skin over the course of six years on the show. All in all, the tough times and painful viewing moments are far outweighed by what the show has allotted her. “It’s afforded me a platform and an incredible opportunity to focus on what I love. The Real Housewives franchise allows you to use your voice and stand up for what you’re passionate about.”
With a trip to New York in three days and countless projects to juggle, we can’t help but wonder about the future of the Vanderpump empire: What will come in future seasons and how many more does she have left in her?
“I dunno, ” she says. “After season one of Real Housewives, I wasn’t sure if I could do it again. Now, after six years and four seasons of Vanderpump Rules, it’s been as much as I could expect. We don’t start talking about another season until later in the year. It’s been an incredible experience and I have to take it one day at a time from here.”
For now, Vanderpump sits at Villa Rosa watching nothing but CNN and Bravo (and The Affair on Showtime) and entertaining the menagerie that is her home—seven turtles, eight swans, eight dogs and two miniature horses. She leaves me with a parting notion, something the Beverly Hills Housewife imparts on all her viewers in every episode—something that makes her one of, if not the most, liked housewife in the franchise. “Comfort all your struggles with humor because without humor life is a dull place. Also, stand up for what’s right and what you believe and give back to your community.”
#PumpRules to live by.
P U M P /// Rules. We Sat Down With Lisa Vanderpump to Talk Reality TV, Restaurants, Philanthropy and Dogs!