Here’s How Lisa Vanderpump Went From Restaurateur to Reality TV Tour de Force

The L.A. Real Housewives star is also a brand builder

Lisa Vanderpump isn’t what you’d call a typical housewife. More obvious descriptors would include businesswoman, style icon, activist and, of course, reality TV tour de force. But thanks to Bravo, it’s the title of housewife—or rather, Housewife—that’s made Vanderpump a brand name and national celebrity.

A decade has passed since America was introduced to the Housewife, capital “H.” Unlike the lowercase version, the Housewife wasn’t your average, stay-at-home mom—or even necessarily a wife—but a wealthy, sometimes nipped-and-tucked and often outburst-prone woman of a certain age who had agreed to let cameras invade her daily life.

Photo: Robert Ascroft

Since the March 2006 debut of the first installment, The Real Housewives of Orange County, there have been no fewer than 96 Housewives across nine cities. Only a handful of cast members has broken through the reality glass ceiling to earn true celebrity status—New York’s Bethenny Frankel (creator of the Skinnygirl empire), New Jersey’s Teresa Giudice (whose recent incarceration made her a tabloid staple), Atlanta’s NeNe Leakes (who parlayed her fame into an acting career).

And Vanderpump. The 56-year-old Brit has become the de facto star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and the force behind the spinoff Vanderpump Rules, which follows the exploits of the staff at SUR, one of three Los Angeles restaurants Vanderpump owns with her husband, Ken Todd. (There’s also the elegant Villa Blanca and Pump Lounge.) With her stream of witticisms, no-B.S. attitude and hyper-glamourous lifestyle worthy of a Jackie Collins novel, she has engendered a fierce loyalty among fans that hasn’t wavered in six seasons of often ruthless television.

Vanderpump has managed to parlay her popularity into numerous branded products, from a line of pet accessories (Vanderpump Pets) to liquor (LVP Sangria, Vanderpump Vodka). But she’s also an ardent activist, using her fame to bring awareness to causes including LGBT rights (she’s worked with organizations like Glaad and The Trevor Project), animal rescue (she’s currently owner of eight dogs, two swans and a pair of miniature ponies) and the fight against the Yulin dog-eating festival in China (for which she’s organized marches, the World Dog Day campaign, and even testified before Congress).

We sat down with Vanderpump—fresh off shooting her seventh season of the Real Housewives—at her picture-perfect Beverly Hills home to discuss her roles as TV star, businesswoman and advocate, as well as her surprising connection to the advertising industry.

 

Robert Ascroft

Adweek: We’ve gotten an inside look at your life over the past six years on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but let’s talk about your life before the show.
Lisa Vanderpump: I was a young actress. When I was 9 or 10 I think, the first thing I did was [the 1973 movie] A Touch of Class with George Segal and Glenda Jackson. When I met my husband, he had a wine bar, and after we were married, we went on to open wine bars, clubs, restaurants—I think we’ve had 32 in total. I’d always had a real affinity for design, so even now I design and create, with my husband, all the aesthetics and visuals for our restaurants. I’m passionate about things like that. I’ll go and do the flowers myself. I decorate my own houses. I just like to create, and that’s something that’s very near and dear to my heart.

Where did that passion for design come from?
Well, I’ve learned over the years that a lot of things you inherit, so to speak, and then other things you educate yourself about. My father was a creative director [in advertising], so I was brought up with quite a sense of style by somebody that was very interested in aesthetics.