By Deborah Wilker
City & Shore Magazine
In her very first movie role, Lisa Vanderpump didn’t just test the waters. She went big, going toe-to-toe with celebrated British actress Glenda Jackson in the 1973 comedy A Touch of Class. Playing the daughter in the film — which would ultimately earn Jackson her second Academy Award — Vanderpump remembers her time working on the acclaimed movie as “fun.”
“I was 12 years old. It was only a few days’ shoot with Glenda and George Segal, but I do remember George giving me piggyback rides around Hyde Park.”
The notion of “Pops” from The Goldbergs trotting through Hyde Park with Bravo’s most elegant Real Housewife on his back is just another scene from the improbable adventures of Lisa Vanderpump — former child actress, ’80s video vixen, London barkeep, Silk Stalkings bikini-babe, L.A. restaurateur, wife, mother, Congressional speaker — and of course headliner of the non-stop Bravo franchises The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules.
But if you ask her to detail how it all came about, she doesn’t have a pat answer, nor was there a grand plan. She describes the early part of her adult life in the hospitality business in London with her husband, Ken Todd, as “something that just evolved.”
Later, after the pair had built up and sold more than two dozen London restaurants and nightspots, there came new opportunities in television; but initially she wasn,t sure if it was the right path.
Calling from her vacation home in Montecito, Calif., where she said she was enjoying “my first days off since March,” Vanderpump, 56, explains that when she first considered reality TV she was seeking a measure of control. She wanted to ensure she was portrayed in a certain light.
“I must have been pretty naive at the time because I’ve learned of course you don’t have any control over how you are shown.”
But for a person with wide and roaming interests, the upsides beckoned.
“I became intrigued by it,” she says. “I thought, how interesting, that it could open up a plethora of opportunities. Within a year of joining Real Housewives I was providing commentary on The Royal Wedding. It isn’t just about reality TV. It’s the smorgasbord of wonderful things that came my way.”
She added United Nations speaker to her list of activities. Then the spring 2013 edition of Dancing With The Stars. So what if she was eliminated in the fourth round? She was thrilled to be there and considers her participation in the show to be an important accomplishment.
Her feelings about DWTS seem to mirror her overall approach to life: Think big, stay open to new people and opportunities, never box yourself in, and stay driven.
These watchwords, her rules, are the focus of her upbeat public appearances. She’ll speak to an audience that includes cancer survivors Oct. 27 at the W Hotel, Fort Lauderdale when she top-lines the Sun Sentinel/City & Shore Magazine’s annual Party in Pink.
She says she probably won’t do much preparation for the event in terms of writing out a specific script for herself.
“I prefer to speak from my heart. I like to talk about my experiences and passions. I’m risqué. I’m naughty.”
She also likes to advise her audiences a bit.
“I say look to the best! Yes, you can copy the best, but always bring your own flavor to it.
“In whatever you create, always create ambience — from the aroma to the lighting, make people feel like, ‘I want to be here.’ ”
This extemporaneous style of speaking suits her schedule, which is packed most days while she films for Bravo, runs three restaurants in Los Angeles and supervises various philanthropic organizations, including a new animal rescue center she is building.
She is also an active fundraiser for neurological disorders including ALS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, working closely with Keep Memory Alive, a charity which supports brain health research at the Cleveland Clinic.
And she advocates for LGBT causes, even officiating at same-sex weddings.
“I usually do get one day off [from filming] a week, but I also have 300 people working for me in other businesses.”
Her restaurants — Villa Blanca in Beverly Hills, Pump and SUR in West Hollywood, where Vanderpump Rules is shot — are all-consuming. Running SUR, while mothering the staff of neurotics who appear in the show, is particularly demanding.
“When you do a restaurant it’s about everything,” she says of the people and the details. “From the shirts that the servers wear to the menu covers. It’s choosing the dishes and hundreds of different tastings, the lighting, training the bar staff and banging down the doors at city hall trying to get your permits.”
She says she and her husband, Ken, still tend to do a lot of the day-to-day work themselves, a partnership that has worked well for the couple for 34 years. “People have seen me transform Pump from a car-park to a beautiful romantic space.”
He was 36 and she was 21 when they met and married in 1982.
Is 21 too young?
“For some, yes. Probably most. But that wasn’t the case for me. I met my soulmate, somebody I was going to grow up with and have fun with. I knew in six weeks — I didn’t want to live without him.”
If she has a favorite project or restaurant, she won’t say.
“I create always something that I love so I can never really say I have a favorite. Pump is my newest, with a Tuscan Garden and 100-year-old olive trees. SUR has that kind of energy that you see in the show. And Villa Blanca has that Beverly Hills feeling. It can be a zoo at lunch but it’s quieter, more elegant, not as funky as the others.”
Is there a secret to keeping the empire running smoothly?
“Yes. Always look on the funny side. Never lose your sense of humor.”
MEET Lisa Vanderpump
The Sun Sentinel/City & Shore Magazine’s Party in Pink, featuring Lisa Vanderpump, star of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules, begins at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at the W Hotel, Fort Lauderdale (VIP guests enter at 5:30 p.m.). Cocktails, hors-d’oeuvres. $75, general; $125, VIP, which includes reserved upfront seating and photo op. For tickets, please see Sunsentinel.com/pinktix