RHONY’s Dorinda Medley: Housewives ‘Weren’t as Scary as I Expected’

The roster of media mavens, moguls and boldface names spotted today at Michael's.

DianeClehaneLunch_FeaturedAs someone who has watched most of Bravo’s various ‘Housewives’ sagas at one time or another, I was looking forward to today’s Lunch with The Real Housewives of New York City’s Dorinda Medley for a whole host of reasons. One, I always love a good dishy lunch (and as we all know those girls can dish). Two, last year, in her first season with the show, she distinguished herself  as the sanest  — and funniest — one of the New York tribe so I knew she’d have plenty to say. And finally, the moment I saw her on the show I thought she looked very familiar to me — I just couldn’t figure out why. Within two minutes of her arrival, I unraveled the mystery.

Dorinda Medley and Diane Clehane
Dorinda Medley and Diane Clehane

It turns out that Dorinda and I worked at Liz Claiborne at the same time back in the glory days of Seventh Avenue when Liz was the go-to designer for working women everywhere. (I’ll let you figure out exactly when that was, if you don’t mind.) We’d crossed paths in the showroom many times — Dorinda was a saleswoman and I headed up Liz’s public relations (A thankless task if there ever was one, but that’s another story entirely.)

After trading tales about our days dealing with the garmento culture of another era, Dorinda told me about her life after Liz and we discovered we have another connection — with none other than Princess Diana.

Shortly after her stint at Liz, Dorinda met and married her first husband and moved to London. She made friends with her neighbor Sophie Rhys-Jones who just happened to be dating Prince Edward at the time. Industrious Dorinda had just started her own line, DCL Cashmere, and Sophie told her she had ‘a friend’ who loved cashmere turtlenecks and asked if she could bring her over to see Dorinda’s line. They made an appointment and, remembered Dorinda, “None other than Princess Diana walked in.” The royal fashionista was her first client (who favored racer-back styles) and was photographed on more than one occasion wearing Dorinda’s designs.

Dorinda says the decade she spent living in London (during which she had her daughter Hannah and got divorced) more than prepared her to break in and hold her own with the take-no-prisoners gals on The Real Housewives of New York City. “Cracking the English is like peeling an onion,” said Dorinda between bites of her Dover sole. “These [RHONY] women were nothing compared to the English.” She had the entire table howling with laughter recounting how she had to brush up her British etiquette when socializing with “the lords and ladies” who sent handwritten, hand delivered invitations for the simplest lunch. “I’d get these invitations just to have lunch months in advance. I’d get out my fancy stationary and write back, ‘I’ve checked and why yes, I am available that day in May.”

No one has ever accused the RHONY crew of being too polite and being brought into a new social circle where women have hurled [artificial] body parts to get more camera time could be daunting for a lesser mortal. Dorinda told me that her longtime friend Ramona Singer had been after her for ages to try out for the show following the death of her second husband, financier Richard Medley, a former Washington power broker and respected speechwriter, whom she met and married in 2005. (Dorinda got a very warm welcome from the Michael’s staff today as she and her late husband were regulars for many years.)

Devastated by Richard’s death six years later, Dorinda said as a 48-year-old widow, she felt lost. “I thought to myself, I’m not old. I’m not young. What do I do? It was hard to be alone. I had shed the role of wife. At least when you get divorced, you can celebrate and talk about the bastard. When you’re a widow you get [sympathetic looks.]” Unsure about her future, she said, “I thought, do I go back to work? I actually fantasized about working as a receptionist for John Barrett two days a week.”

Last year, she finally agreed to test for RHONY and quickly found herself mixing it up with Bethenny Frankel and company. “I love it. It wasn’t as scary as I expected,” she told me. “I thought it would effect me more personally. In my real life I don’t get caught up with what people think of me.” Why did she do it? “What did I have to lose? I thought I’d do it for a year.” But she’s not going anywhere. “It’s giving me purpose.”

Dorinda’s down-to-earth, straight shooting (but never rude) personality and relatable “storyline” as a single (albeit glamorous) mom juggling her relationship with her college-age daughter and boyfriend has resonated with viewers amid the cast’s constant catfights. She told me she found the experience of doing the show “very therapeutic” despite the on-going storyline of her castmates being critical of her four-year relationship with John Mahdessian, owner of the legendary couture restoration house, Madame Paulette. “I don’t care who they date, so I don’t know why they care who I date.”

But the women certainly do care. “It’s a tough crowd. They make him a nervous,” said Dorinda of John’s jitters around the cast. “Bethenny [and the women] walk in [where John is] and they watch every move.” After one season under the microscope she’s “learned to manage it and I try not to have him around [during taping] if I don’t have to.”

From the sneak previews of the new season it appears Dorinda’s relationship with John is still grist for the mill. So let’s set the record straight: It was Dorinda’s late husband, an acquaintance of John’s, who first introduced him to her. Six months later, she was lunching at the Core Club and ran into John. “He asked me, ‘Where’s Richard, I’d love to see him.’ I told him I’d love to see him too, but he’s dead.” John asked Dorinda to lunch and their friendship developed from there. “People like to think we were in bed making passionate love. We were friends for six months. Then I got drunk and slept with him and that was it.”

In the new season (“It’s good!”) Dorinda’s castmates may not have as much time to devote to Dorinda’s lovelife now that her friend Julianne Wainstein has joined the cast. “Her claim to fame is she’s half Asian and half Jewish. She’s funny, kind and self-deprecating. She’s got a strong marriage and she doesn’t have to prove anything.” Uh-oh.

For those faithful fans who just can’t get enough of RHONY, Bravo has partnered with On Location Tours with bus tours of Housewives hot spots including Beautique where the ladies infamously asked John, “What are you doing here without Dorinda?” It all wraps up, of course, at 30 Rock, where fans can purchase RHONY merchandise.

After spending a little under two hours with Dorinda, it was very clear she hardly seems like someone who would be happy sitting home alone.  Not that she ever would. “I like a lot of people around me.” And the more outgoing the better, “You know the guy that’s the first one on the dance floor? That’s the guy for me. That’s the guy I want.”

The Real Housewives of New York City season premiere on Bravo is April 6. We’ll be watching.

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Graziano DeBoni and some well-dressed pals

2. Photographer Pamela Hanson

3. Andrew Stein

4. Jack Kliger and Peter Kreisky

5. Marc Rosen with, so we’re told, Felipe Sena

6. Dr. Gerald Imber, Jerry Della Femina, Andy Bergman, Michael Kramer and Jeff Greenfield

8. Ellen Delsener

11. Donna Soloway

12. Matt Higgins

14. Michael Kemper

16. Andy Morris

17. Hadley Mullin

18. Robert Zimmerman

20. Maureen Reidy

21. Olivia Flatto

23. Howard Rothman

26. Stephen Mullin

27. Dorinda Medley, Sandra Lajoie, Jennifer Geisser and yours truly

Faces in the crowd: A cameraman from Good Day New York was trolling around the dining room filming B roll for a segment on what Michael is serving up for St. Patrick’s Day (Jameson crème brûlée sounds yummy!) … Kira Semler and Vi Huse lunching at the bar … Producer Beverly Camhe making the rounds.

Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.