Wannabe’s. Social climbers. Co-dependent. These are just some of the testy terms that have been used to describe Alex McCord and Simon van Kempen, the infamous couple of Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. Meet them in person, though, and they are at once articulate, funny and downright charming. Celebrity Parents caught up with the uber fabulous couple in their Cobble Hill home with their adorable sons François, 5 1/2, and Johan, 3 1/2, to discuss family, their intense love affair, and what’s truly real in reality television.
How did you meet?
Alex: I was working the graveyard shift at an investment bank, and the band of boys I was in charge of suggested I try out a match-making website. All of them were in successful relationships that grew from meeting people on this site, and I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship. I went on the site, thinking that I had dated everyone that I had wanted to date, (either that or they were gay!). I put a big disclaimer on my bio stating that I wasn’t looking for anything serious.
Simon: I was online on the same website, looking for a date. I traveled a lot for my work, and I was only in New York for 3 weeks. I wasn’t looking for the love of my life, but the great thing is that when you’re not looking for it—
Alex: It happens.
What was the first date like?
Simon: We walked around the West Village and wound up at the White Horse Tavern. There was a blow-up sheep at a table next to us.
A blow-up sheep?
Alex: The couple at the next table was having a groom/groom wedding.
Simon: It is the New Zealanders who like the sheep, not the Australians!
Alex: But the sheep broke the ice. There weren’t sparks, but there was a lot of intrigue. The five hours went by so quickly. We talked about politics. Two days later we met again and we walked all over the East Village. We went to Marion’s and had drinks. After awhile, we leapt across the table and made out with each other. We spent the weekend together.
Your proposal story is so funny.
Simon: We flew to China on a business trip and on the way stopped in London and Australia to meet my family. While in Australia we took a quick vacation up by the Great Barrier Reef. We scuba dived, and it was so relaxing. We were on the beach and I rolled over and said to Alex, “Nothing would make me happier than if you’d be my wife.”
Alex: I said, “That sounds good.” (laughs)
Simon: We decided to have a Kodak moment; we ran to the sea and then got clobbered by a wave! Thankfully that wasn’t a sign of what was to come.
When did you decide to have children?
Alex: We were living the life of no responsibility. We would fly overseas on a whim. I told my mom, “Don’t expect grandchildren.” I wasn’t anti-children; I just wanted to do my own thing and not have any ties. I had long-term boyfriends, but no one of substance. It’s like when you have a guy in your life, and this is him. There was never any happily-ever-after.
When Simon and I met, though, it was a sea change. I met someone I wanted to be with. And then I began noticing all these very fashionable women, or women with tattoos and piercings, who were also pushing baby carriages. I realized that becoming a mom didn’t mean wearing pastels and wearing a bag that read BABY. I didn’t have to sacrifice myself to become a parent.
Simon: Parenting is one of the most amazing things you can experience. The love you have for your child is different from any other kind of love. It’s something that a non-parent cannot understand. We used to hear the stories, but until you experience it you cannot comprehend the intense, raw emotion that comes with being a parent. It is truly the raw animal emotion of protecting your kin.
Alex: It’s the most primal, feral relationship we have. Once we decided to have children, we said, “Let’s do it and let’s get pregnant, NOW!” Within two months I was pregnant. And as soon as I was pregnant, we started planning the second child. We wanted two healthy babies. We knew we wanted children, and as close together as possible. We were lucky; I had two healthy, uncomplicated pregnancies. I didn’t use drugs, but we don’t cast aspersions on people who don’t go the natural route. This is what worked for me, but I also wanted to be able to say “Give me drugs!” if I needed them. We even had a code word for it.
What was the code word?
Alex: Tin can! (laughs)
How did you make the decision to move to Brooklyn?
Alex: Simon and I both grew up outdoors. I remember my stepbrothers would dive off the roof of the house and into the pool.
Simon: We didn’t want to leave the city area, but we wanted to have our own piece of dirt. We wanted to own our own house and form our own destiny.
Alex: We wanted to put a stamp on where we live. We like to buy fixer-uppers so we can renovate them to our preference. I don’t want to spend a dime on someone else’s vision.
The house is beautiful. It seems like you were renovating for much of Season 2.
Simon: Season 2 was filmed over 3 months, and there was so much that they filmed that didn’t make the final cut. We bought the house in June 2005 and began to work on the house in January 2007. Our plans changed a few times. I’m so glad we lived in it for awhile and thought about the plan.
How do you initially become involved with The Real Housewives of NYC?
Simon: It started in June 2006. At the time, the show was tentatively titled Manhattan Moms. They were looking for a young family in NYC about to go through the private school admissions process. We went for a screen test and then heard back from the producers immediately with follow-ups once a month or so. Twelve months later, they told us that they had a cast and the green light to begin filming. By then, Alex was working for Victoria’s Secret doing visual merchandising, so we, on the other hand, felt that the ship had already sailed, and weren’t interested in doing it. They really wanted us to be a part of the show, and we finally agreed.
Alex: We thought, “What do we have to lose?” (both laugh) Little did we know that we should have watched reality TV before getting involved in it.
Simon: Season 1 was a baptism of fire. We were invested in creating a good show. We pushed the envelope in the interest in making good television. We didn’t realize that putting this scene together with another scene creates a different persona.
Alex: Having been an actor for 10 years, I had zero expectation of what we were putting together to be actual reality. It’s representative reality.
Let’s discuss some of the more noteworthy elements of Season 1; for example, the social climbing theme.
Alex: At least we weren’t made out to be apologists for it. Now, is that necessarily who we are? No. But is there anything wrong with going out and trying to climb the social equivalent of Mount Kilimanjaro? Well, do what you want to do.
And now the infamous Burger Incident…
Simon: We were in a private room in the 21 Club. The cast was instructed to come with their children. We were the first ones to arrive on time, and we have the youngest children. What the viewer sees is François pushing a plastic kangaroo into Jason’s burger six times. However, it wasn’t six times; it was 3 cameras showing it happening twice.
Ramona asked me, “Oh, you let your child play with food?” I had literally arrived from Australia that morning, and was jet-lagged and exhausted. I sarcastically said, “Yes,” but the sarcasm fell flat on television, so it came across sounding like I do let my children play with their food.
Alex: There’s a difference between older children who are participating in a scene and know what is expected of them, and two young boys who don’t entirely understand what is going on. Our children are children; they’re not robots!
What do you think of your portrayal in Season 2?
Simon: Come Season 2, we had no where to go but up! Season 1 didn’t affect our relationships with our friends prior to the show. Season 2 was a lot more fun.
Alex: We resolutely decided that for Season 2, whatever they filmed was going to be representative of our lives. You lose tempers, you get distracted. This season has been us; it may have not all been great, but it was a better representation of us.
And now you are writing a book together.
Alex: We’re writing a book about being parents. It’s not a parenting book. I started writing down things when François was 4 months-old. I remember being so tired I wanted to cry, and looking around my house and thinking it was hell. The book will talk about what really happens when you are a parent; the honest, gritty stuff. This book is a collection of our experiences, of raising two very young children in one of the biggest cities in the world. It will explore how we have traveled with our boys and our own relationship as parents.
Your relationship is a topic that comes up often on the show.
Simon: It’s something that we consciously work at. Simply put, Alex and I love each other, and we value the fact that we were here first. We are so lucky that we are passionate about our lives, our careers, our boys, and the love that we have for each other. We just love being with each other.
Alex: People like to call us co-dependent. We like to say that we’re co-independent. There are so many people who have written to us to say our relationship is one they aspire to.
I think you have a beautiful love story.
Alex: We want to keep the wonderful bond that we have, and be here for our kids. This sounds like a cliché but 2 happy spouses make for happy parents, which makes for happy children.
Simon: Fate somehow conspired on a Sunday morning in 1999 to bring us together. I love being with my wife and my boys. Each phase has been fascinating; if you blink, you will miss it. We put our family first, but make sure that Alex and I look after each other, too. And so far, we do.