Amanda Hansen, one of the new faces on Real Housewives of Vancouver, sports a silver skull ring, a black leather jacket and flashes a large wad of emerald green chewing gum like some kind of charming accessory.
She is one of six Season 2 cast members gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver in a frenzy of tafetta, feathers, stilettos, rhinestones, hair extensions, pillowy lips and glittery nails, all tended by a large crew of publicity assistants and makeup artists.
The divorced mother of three, a self-described sex addict and recovering alcoholic, has something that lip gloss and handlers can’t provide: a refreshing and thoughtful candour.
She leans in to explain her reasons for joining the show that last season played out like one of the city’s most dangerous intersections, in a series of collisions that brought public accusations of prostitution, harassment, abuse, infidelity, fraud, alcoholism and at least one lawsuit.
“I had some severe postpartum depression, and it opened the door to the drinking. I used alcohol to self medicate ... . It’s something that women are ashamed of, it’s embarrassing, it’s shameful. ‘Hi, I’m a housewife and I have postpartum depression and I want to dig a hole and dive into it.’ ”
Hansen hopes to share her journey with other women who are struggling with depression and addiction — and work on developing her own Kombucha tea business.
When asked whether, given her vulnerabilities, going on a show like this was a good idea, she tilts her head and demurs. “It’s been worrisome, it’s been challenging.” Blue taffeta and black tulle rustle around her thighs. She put on a dress for this party, but overtop she wears her leather jacket like a shield.
Two casualties of Season 1, Christina Kiesel and Reiko Mackenzie, did not return this year, but Ronnie Negus, Mary Zilba and Jody Claman are back, joined by Hansen, Ioulia Reynolds and Robin Reichman.
Claman, clad in twinkling crystal wedges, peach tulle and a cloud of ostrich, presides over the group like a fairy godmother, complete with signature tiara.
Claman confides that Season 1 was difficult, although she didn’t know how hard it would be for her friends and family to watch it. “I was made the villain, but that isn’t who I am in the real world,” Claman says. “But, I did say those things. They just didn’t show what was said to me first.”
The contract had made it clear she would have no control over how she was portrayed in a season that edited 3,000 hours of footage into 11 hours of television. “I knew when I signed that document, and it was an extensive document, they can do as they please, they can make you into a Jewish hooker. I was willing.”
Still, she admits she felt “tainted” and spent “many nights crying,” especially when Kiesel claimed on camera she had slept with Claman’s daughter, and Zilba suggested her boutique sold second-hand clothes.
“I think some people would have killed themselves, to be honest; it was brutal.”
Claman, however, is strong. She likes to work. “I’m a business person. I understood what we were doing. I was astounded about what went down, but it’s been a wonderful opportunity.”
Claman is opening a new fine food shop and developing Larry Lunchbucket, a feed-the-homeless charity, making appearances on Top Chef Canada and leveraging the platform the show has given her.
This season, says Claman, is more about humour.
“It’s been fun,” agrees Robin Reichman, a tanned Texan who drives a Hummer and lives in Southlands. Reichman bonded this season with Zilba, whose falling out with Negus was well-documented on the show.
“We are all women. Some get along, some do not, some more emotional than others. Some have more heartache and history than the others,” says Reichman diplomatically.
Zilba, a pop singer and former Miss Ohio, says she becomes more boisterous this season, but “I always think, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ I don’t want to lash out at someone with hurtful remarks.”
Zilba feels she was bullied on the show, and has connected with the anti-bullying movement in B.C., attending events to raise awareness.
“Today I was putting up with a lot of slander on Twitter that Ronnie was tweeting to her fans. This stuff is real. It’s really real.
“Our show in a way glorifies bullying and I want to be the one who stands up and says it’s not OK. It should not ever have gotten to this level.”
Zilba’s nemesis, Ronnie Negus, who donated last year’s paycheque to the BC Centre for Ability, says she brought a lot of the wealth viewers wanted to see, but being portrayed as a drunk was “painful.”
“It was very public,” Negus says. “I have struggled. The show made it look like I sit around drunk all the time.”
This year, she hopes to be seen in a “more honest” light. “I didn’t want to go out like that. Millions of people struggle with alcohol-related issues. But how many people have a camera on them filming their worst moments then have it aired on national TV?”
Negus says she had to take a look at herself, and quit drinking for five months.
“At the end of the day if what I went through can help anyone else that struggles realize they’re not alone, it’s worth it.”
Negus is still working through the trauma of witnessing her daughter Remy, who has special needs, nearly choke to death last year. Negus was unable to dislodge the food from her airway. “I saw her dead on the floor in front of me,” says Negus.
Remy was revived by paramedics and after an extensive hospital stay, she recovered.
“Life is fragile,” says Negus. “You never know when tomorrow might be your last day. It teaches you to appreciate every moment.”
This season Negus bonded with Ioulia Reynolds, an unabashedly flirtatious fur-clad Russian.
So how did everyone get along this year?
“There are going to be personalities that clash, you have to trust your instinct, and your heart. I gravitated towards Ronnie,” says Reynolds.
“I don’t thing anyone here is going to lose sleep if they don’t continue the friendship at this point,” says Reichman, not naming any names.
Negus cuts to the chase. “This season, true colours start to come out. Especially insidious people, people that lie, people that are crafty and try to turn things into their favour. When people do that, it’s transparent and people see it, and get tired of it.”
Negus says she runs her own race. “I’m not looking for somebody that is going to come in and save me, and be on my team ... .”
Zilba pipes up. “These are digs at me, by the way, all passive-aggressive digs at me.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” says Negus.
“It is, you know it is. I sit here and listen to this all the time”
The barbs continue until publicist Melissa Goveas steps in. “Guys, this is an interview ... I know you can all be professional, Ronnie that includes you too.”
Claman interjects. “The show is special this season, more special than last season ... it’s natural, it’s real.”
Zilba pulls the focus back to herself. “It gets malicious.”
“No,” protests Claman.
“It is malicious,” Zilba insists.
“You play a victim role, and you try to make a living off of being a victim,” says Negus.
“It’s called a target, not a victim,” Zilba snaps back.
Reynolds tries to make peace. “It’s a show at the end of the day.”
Goveas hovers anxiously.
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“I don’t think anyone purposely tries to be malicious or gang up on anyone,” says Reynolds.
“Oh, yes they do,” says Mary. “When you go out and purposely decimate someone’s character... .”
Negus chimes in. “This is the pot calling the kettle black. When you have someone spreading lies about their store, that’s their livelihood.”
“Oh, Ronnie you’re the one who said it,” Zilba shoots back.
Goveas is back in the ring. “OK guy, guys, I don’t want to have to treat you like children, but I will pull one of you out,” She points to Zilba, then to Ronnie.
“Well if people would let me answer the question,” Zilba mutters.
“That’s it. Stop,” commands Goveas.
Claman giggles, as if this eruption is all for show. “Aren’t we good!”
Zilba won’t let go. “There’s a couple of us with real stuff going on right now, there’s slander and there’s libel and there’s real anxiety,” she says.
Negus tries to get back on track. “There are a lot of really beautiful moments. It’s about forgiveness. I’m a very forgiving person.”
“Really?” Zilba asks.
“If you’re going to be professional, you have to be the change you want to see,” says Negus.
Finally, Claman, mother protectress, waves her magic wand. “It’s a journey. It’s real. If you really, genuinely, get to know yourself through this, you have an opportunity at the end to say, ‘I’ve learned from this, I don’t want to do something like that again, I wouldn’t say it like that again.’ It’s growth.”
Goveas signals that the interview is over. It’s time for touch-ups and photos. Everyone smiles. Season 2 is about to begin. Better buckle up.
Season 2 of The Real Housewives of Vancouver premieres Feb. 5, 10 p.m. on Slice.
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