The Real Housewives of Vancouver, special two-hour premiere Wednesday, April 4 at 9 p.m. on Slice. Info: www.slice.ca.
It was impossible to ignore.
Ronnie Seterdahl Negus was enjoying a typical morning with her family at their West Vancouver waterfront home with one exception: she also had a camera crew to contend with.
"It's awkward having breakfast with cameras watching you," she says, recalling one of the first days of filming for the much-anticipated The Real Housewives of Vancouver.
Soon after, she met up with longtime friend and cast-mate Mary Zilba. It proved to also be a surreal experience as the cameras were on hand yet again, interested in capturing their private conversation in explicit detail.
However, it didn't take Ronnie long to relax.
"You get used to it really fast and you just kind of forget the cameras are there," she says.
The Real Housewives reality franchise was launched in 2006 with The Real Housewives of Orange County, currently in its seventh season. It's grown to include series shot in New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Miami and Beverly Hills. Each season explores the lives of wealthy women at work and at play, and their interactions with their families and one another. Drama and catfights erupt, relationships are tested and bonds forged, and humour abounds.
Some housewives have earned spin-off shows - NYC's Bethenny Frankel (Bethenny Ever After) included. Others have been cast in separate television shows, for example Atlanta's NeNe Leakes was a contestant on The Apprentice and guests as a synchronized swimming coach on Glee. The ladies have also launched everything from margarita to makeup, jewelry and handbag lines.
The franchise has been parodied on numerous occasions, like Jimmy Fallon's Real Housewives of Late Night and, the women often make the gossip pages of magazines and websites, feeding fans' ravenous appetites for what goes on when the cameras aren't rolling.
Vancouver is the first Canadian city to be featured and the show stays true to the format, showcasing five well-to-do women as well as the city itself in gorgeous scenic interludes.
"I have a good feeling that we're right up there, if not one of the best shows that they've done," says Ronnie.
The Real Housewives of Vancouver, by Lark Productions (Gastown Gamble) is set to premiere April 4 on Slice. In addition to Ronnie and fellow West Vancouver resident Jody Claman, it features downtown dwellers Christina Kiesel, whose jet-setting lifestyle is the result of two divorces, and Zilba, a humanitarian, recording artist and entrepreneur. Shaughnessy's Reiko MacKenzie, a luxury car aficionado, rounds out the cast. With the exception of Christina, all the women have children.
The Vancouver ladies are in for a wild ride, one they say they're ready for.
"I've been in the public eye for many, many years and either you loathe me or you love me," says Jody. "And I could care less as long as you don't stop speaking and I mean that from the bottom of my heart because haters create a buzz and lovers create a buzz and everybody's entitled."
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"I always ask everybody, 'Is it too late to run?' Of course it's too late. . . .," says Ronnie. "I've never been one to sit on the sidelines. Jump in, get your feet wet and go get life. . . . This opportunity presented itself to me and I thought, 'Why not?"
Ronnie shares her thoughts on being a real housewife of Vancouver from the back of a car headed to the Los Angeles airport last Friday. She was heading home after a family vacation in Arizona and California.
"Apparently the plane we normally take was struck by lightning," she says.
Ronnie is a mother to five children, including one step-child, and married to Russell Negus, of Abacus Private Equity. She grew up living with both her mother in Seattle, Wash., and her father in LA's Hollywood Hills and came to Vancouver for "love," referring to one of her previous two husbands.
Ronnie and Russell recently bought a "neglected and unloved" 200-acre vineyard in Napa Valley, Calif., entitled Whisky River Ranch.
Ronnie sits on the board of directors for the B.C. Centre for Ability, an organization that has long supported her family. Her daughter Remington, now nine, was born three and a half months early, was on life support for 207 days and tube fed for four years.
"I call her our angel. She came into this world, her prognosis was bleak. . . . She defied all those odds and today she has a bit of a speech impediment and she has a tiny cerebral palsy that's kind of undetectable and slight brain damage, but she's just been the most amazing inspiration. She's humbled us and made us better people," she says.
Inspired by her daughter, Ronnie plans to take advantage of any opportunity the show brings her to raise awareness of the B.C. Centre for Ability, to which she plans to give 100 per cent of her earnings from the show, and send a message to parents facing similar challenges that they're not alone.
"You can have homes on the water, you can have private planes, you can have vineyards and everything else, but I'm real," says Ronnie. "I also have a child with special needs. . . . I'm just a normal person really."
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Jody is often asked whether the show is fake.
"'Hell no," she says, adamantly. "That is real. Those tears are not fake. That laughter is not fake. You can't create that drama."
Much of the success of the Real Housewives franchise is due to the strong personalities of the women featured and according to Jody and Ronnie, the Vancouver women do not disappoint.
Jody has both a soft and strong side and, "When people air their dirty laundry, I do have a voice," she says.
"There are situations where I said, 'No, I'm not doing that. No, I don't want to call her, no.' I stayed true to myself," she adds.
Jody is earning a reputation for her wit and her description of herself as, "Martha Stewart on acid" has already turned a few heads. She credits a North Shore News reporter with giving her the moniker some 20 years ago.
Ronnie has been described as the group's "alpha female."
"I can be very, very serious. I can be a lot of fun. You know what? I can throw a few back when Christina and I are together," she giggles.
She's proud of her efforts to act as mediator on the show.
"I tried to be the person that said, 'Let's all try to get along. Life's too short girls, let's get it together,'" she says. "I think ego drives insecurity and insecurity drives jealousy (and) one thing leads to the next. I wished everybody could have left a little more ego behind because there was a lot of turmoil in the show."
Ronnie often found herself in the middle of conflicts.
"I got along with all of the women actually, I did, and everyone else seemed to have fought at one time or another," she says. "My one girlfriend and I had a falling out, Mary, and we quickly made up. We've known each other for 18 years."
"I seemed to have got out OK, thank God," she adds.
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Jody's late father, Peter, has made a lasting impression on her life. Growing up on a ranch outside Merritt, he passed on countless lessons and values that continue to guide her today.
"He said money does not buy happiness. . . . He taught us to have hope and dreams and we worked the land and we knew the value of a dollar, and to be humble and to be respectful to all walks of life and it was a blessing," she says.
Jody is a mother to three children and is married for the second time.
A self-made businesswoman, she's the proprietor of Ambleside's Glass House, a boutique offering a range of low-cost to luxury items and is working with her daughter Mia on fashion line MIA (Missing in Action). She's the owner of Jody's Fine Foods, a high-end catering company she launched years ago as a single mom with $800, and plans to release a cookbook later this spring.
Jody also operates a charitable society, Larry Lunch Bucket, which feeds impoverished people twice a week in the Downtown Eastside's Oppenheimer Park.
"I live in one of the wealthiest postal codes in Canada and I feed the poorest. From the bottom of my heart it has stretched my soul," she says.
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Filming was a "gong show" at times, says Jody. She'd arrive home unable to sleep, some nights from excitement and others due to tears.
"My husband was like, 'Oh my God, you signed those papers.' But in the end I loved that I've done it and I have nothing to be embarrassed of," she says.
Ronnie, on the other hand, does have some regrets.
"You're out all of the time and every time you get into a limo and every function there's a lot of alcohol and I love wine so I think I probably drank a fair amount and I wish I wouldn't have maybe drank as much as I did," she says. "I would have been able to have done interviews better and enjoyed the show more. It's not fun when you're trying to film recovering from a hangover. Since then, I've actually stopped drinking."
Ronnie plans to review the show carefully, and see whether there's anything she could personally improve upon.
In terms of a second season, Ronnie is optimistic, while Jody is tight-lipped. On whether she'll return if it's announced, she gives a sly response. "We will see," she laughs.
Either way, season one is set to air and the ladies encourage viewers to join them for the ride.
"We've all cried, we've all laughed," says Ronnie. "We've done some really unique things. We've done some crazy things. We've celebrated milestones. It's five women with A-type personalities that were all thrown together that have to learn to get along. Some of us learned that and some of us didn't. If I weren't on the show, I'd be watching."
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