Who wants to know more about the life and times of Luann de Lesseps? If you answered “yes”, then Bravo has a treat for you – an hour long look into what happens before you join the largest reality TV franchise in history. Dust off your book of etiquette and brush up on your française, because it’s time to chat with The Countess of Real Housewives of New York.
Here’s what I learned: Luann is a tough cookie, is super photogenic, knows how to sniff out a good man, and can rock a sequined red dress like nobody’s business. OK, there’s a bit more.
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In the early 90s, Luann lived in Milan and was a host for a show called Pressing, even though she didn’t really speak Italian. She’s busy living the high life, meeting royalty, and jetting off to Switzerland whenever she wants to spend time at the house, pardon me, chalet, of her much older and very rich boyfriend, Roberto. It’s at a dinner party in Gstaad (where the smoky eye was invented) that she meets Count Alexandre de Lesseps, a.k.a The Count, a.k.a. Alex.
While Roberto is away on business, Luann spends the next few days being romanced on the slopes by The Count. Six days later, she is accepting his proposal for marriage and leaving the still-traveling boyfriend of two years, Roberto, in the dust (or snow). Before Roberto even gets home, Luann has packed up all her stuff and peaced out, giving him the smallest of decencies by calling him and telling him it’s over.
But meeting The Count wasn’t all romance and lead to one of the worst betrayals in Luann’s life. Luann’s bestie at the time was an older woman named Honeychile, who used to be Bob Hope’s side kick back in the day. Honeychile became Luann’s side kick but dropped that act once she realized that Luann was moving on with The Count. Honeychile then backstabbed Luann by trying to tell The Count not to marry her. While it hurt Luann deeply, Honeychile’s diabolical little plan didn’t work, because The Count decided they should leave the negativity behind and go to New York to get married right away. Luann wrote a note to Honeychile saying “au revoir, I’m off to be rich and fabulous without you!” (OK, I added the last part).
Once they got to New York, Luann and Alex took the subway (which is only acceptable when you are two crazy rich kids in love) and hightailed it down to the diamond district, where they picked out a ring for Luann. Alex was looking for three carats but the jeweler, surely not motivated by a commission at all, took one look at Luann and proclaimed her a five carat kind of woman. Voila! A five carat pear shaped diamond and a trip to city hall and Luann becomes The Countess.
European royalty is a long way from where Luann came from, which is Berlin, Connecticut, to be exact. She is one of seven children and had a bunch of brothers, so she’s a self-described jock. Her parents are French Canadian and her Dad, a contractor, believed that the simple things in life are important. Luann takes us on a tour of the house she grew up in, which suffered a terrible fire when her brother tried to start a lawnmower that sparked and caught on some gasoline. The family made it outside and had to watch their house burn down, all while Luann’s mom ran in and out multiple times to save the photo albums of all of her kids.
As a young woman, Luann liked helping people so she decided to become a nurse, which didn’t seem to last too long once a friend suggested entering the Miss Connecticut contest. Luann decided it might be fun so she bought a glam eighties dress (bright red sequins) and threw her hat in the ring. She didn’t place but a modeling scout saw her and told her to come to a competition in New York, which she won, at the ripe old age of twenty-three.
After six months of commuting to the city for modeling jobs, Luann decides to move to the city and room with two other girls. It wasn’t the easy road she thought it would be and she was subjected to things like showroom modeling and handing out fliers (gasp!). Luann wanted more and more meant going to Europe. It wasn’t going to happen through modeling so Luann found a boyfriend named Don and he jetted her off to Milan.
Apparently, jetting off to glamorous Europe also comes with something a lot less glamorous: crab. Luann got them and it’s not totally clear how. From Don? From Europe in general? The Countess doesn’t explain but that’s quite OK by me – I don’t need more details on her crab epidemic.
Once Luann is in Europe, she’s not getting any modeling gigs and running out of money fast. Not sure where Don is at this point but Luann meets another man who she has a love affair with and also suggests she enter another beauty contest in Milan. She wins, gets a car, some cash, and tours Italy, meeting all kinds of interesting people. A chance meeting leads to a gig impersonating Sharon Stone at some big awards show in Italy and she (sort of) nails it. A few months later, she is cast as a host of the number one Sunday night show in Italy. Luann becomes a huge star and can get anything she wants, including men. And thus ends our walk down Luann’s early life.
Back to being married to The Count and living the high life as a Countess. After getting married, Luann jets off with Alex to travel the car racing circuit and everywhere else you can think of. Chalets in Switzerland, casas in Portugal, trips to Hong Kong, and dinner with the King of Greece – Luann did it all. Alex knows all the fancy royalty in Europe and while Luann is attending a baptism in Europe, the King of Greece insists on sitting next to Luann and introducing her to his sister, the Queen of Spain. Everyone is jealous and Luann realizes how far she has come in life.
Luann and The Count want to expand their family and do so quickly. First comes her daughter Victoria and twenty-one months later, her son Noel. Luann shows some pictures and she makes a stunning pregnant woman. Both kids were born in The Hamptons, where they would summer, and then immediately fly back to Europe to do European things.
Living in the Swiss Alps has its dangers though. When the kids are two and four, Luann is driving them home down a country road in Gstaad. She hits black ice and the car tumbles down the side of a mountain. Thankfully, everyone was OK. Luann rescues her kids from the back and trudges through the snow to a farmer’s house to call for help. The incident caused Luann to have anxiety and PTSD, which was isolating in the Swiss Alps. Valium wasn’t working and she was bored to tears with skiing and dinner parties. Eventually, this prompted Luann to pursue something for herself and get back into TV since she missed working. She admits that was the beginning of the end for her marriage.
Luann came back to NY and went to the local news station and asked if she could do a show, which apparently, is a perfectly normal request. In between a show that revolves around her reporting from T.J. Maxx, she runs into Jill Zarin at a party. They exchange niceties and one month later, Jill reaches out to Luann to do a show, which ends up being Real Housewives of New York.
Luann joins the cast and is appalled that she was forced to film things like a cooking party, since they don’t do that where she comes from. Outside of low class things like cooking parties, RHONY had some pretty exciting moments for Luann, like singing with Natalie King Cole and riding a camel in the desert. But it also caught the dissolution of her marriage. As Luann settled into filming, The Count started working and traveling much more. They tried to keep up but that wasn’t really happening. Her family knew what was going on but the Housewives didn’t and Luann wanted to keep it that way – she didn’t want it to be fodder for the show and desperately wanted to protect her family/image.
We all know what happens from there so let’s fast forward to present day. Luann has sniffed out another man, Tom D’Agostino Jr., and recently got engaged. She seems genuinely happy and wants people to know that she’s just like everyone else. Everyone else who jet sets through Europe and dines with Kings, that is.
TELL US – DID YOU ENJOY THE “BEFORE HOUSEWIVES” SPECIAL FEATURING LUANN? WHICH HOUSEWIFE DO YOU HOPE THEY DO NEXT?
Here’s a little more info on Luann that she shared in an interview with Vulture before the show aired last night.
Photo Credit: Bravo