Though you may know her from “The Real Housewives of New York City,” Carole Radziwill is a woman who has lived a life off-screen that most of us can only imagine. Her small-town roots turned into big city dreams, and she married the love of her life (and into a royal family!) This fairytale was short lived as she lost her husband and best friends within a matter of weeks during the summer of 1999. Through it all, however, Carole has remained joyful, funny, and – a rocker at heart – she doesn’t miss a beat when sharing, her story with passion, humor and grace.
An accomplished author, Carole’s second book, The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating, will be in bookstores this February. While on hiatus from filming the popular reality series, this real-life princess sat down with BELLA and shared stories from her life journey – one that’s taken her around the globe and back, to the heart of New York City, where it all began.
How was life growing up in a small town in upstate New York?
I loved growing up in a small town. I think it’s a great place to start your life and then move on. I have been away for a long time and have made my life in various cities and other places. I love the pace of cities. But I do still have this fantasy about living in a small town, in a pretty little house with a yard, saying “Good Morning” to my neighbors each day before I drive to work in my Honda. It seems exotic.
After graduating college you got an unpaid internship at ABCNews 20/20. Was that a dream come true?
Yes. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. I couldn’t wait to move to the city. I lived on York Avenue in a 4th floor walk-up over the Raccoon Lodge, and waitressed at night and on the weekends at the Be Bop Café on 8th Street to pay the bills.
It doesn’t exactly sound like a dream.
Oh, it was. After eight months of answering phones, delivering coffee, ordering supplies, and transcribing audiotapes, I got a paying job with Peter Jennings’ documentary unit for $225 a week. And I knew this was exactly where I was meant to be.
Like many young women, were you thinking about marriage and children too?
Hell, no. I was in a five-year relationship with a really great guy when I started at ABC News and we immediately broke up. I was thrilled. All I was thinking about my next assignment!
You traveled around the world. Where was your favorite place?
My favorite place was my first place, I spent six weeks traveling in SE Asia working on a documentary about US foreign policy in Cambodia. I was 24 and had just started working for Peter Jennings. I just fell in love with the place and the chase of the story. I thought it would always be like that. For the most part it was. I travelled to so many interesting places.
But then you met an actual European Prince. You refer to Anthony [Radziwill] as the love of your life. How did you two meet?
We met where lots of young couples meet – at work. I know, how boring! Anthony was working for Diane Sawyer. By chance, we got assigned to the same story, and became friends. We shared a lot of the same interests, and we both traveled a lot. Our love was a slow and steady burn, and sometimes slow and steady wins the race. Because it was an office romance, we kept it under the radar that first year. Though I’m sure everyone knew! We date four years, then got married at his mom’s house in East Hampton.
For most women, marrying into a European royal family and the Kennedy family would be both exciting and overwhelming. Did you feel pressure to live up to that?
No. I never thought of it as marrying “into a family.” Anthony and I were peers and colleagues at work. And yes he has a great family with a long history in Europe and Poland but ultimately, I married the man I fell in love with. It wasn’t more complicated for me than that.
The summer of 1999 was such a tragic time in your life. Anthony and your two best friends (John and Carolyn Kennedy) died within three weeks of each other. From that experience you wrote your first book, What Remains. How did you get through such a painful time in your life?
I had the support of friends, and family and I wasn’t afraid of prescribed medication. When I started writing What Remains, three years after Anthony and his cousin John and Carolyn died, it helped me come to terms with what had happened. I moved to Oregon and it took a long time for me to get that story onto paper. I just started to write and at the time it was more about getting down memories of and trying to make sense of my life. I found that I enjoyed the process and found I was pretty good at it. By the time it was published I felt a sense of accomplishment and for the first time some closure.
Was there a point that you realized that you would be OK again?
Well, I always thought that I would be OK just because I am that type of person. At a certain point through all the heartache I found my sense of humor. You either can embrace the absurdity of life or you can choose to have a nervous breakdown. And having a breakdown was not in my constitution. Ultimately, we’re all searching for happiness because we think it’s going to change our lives so much. Sure, it makes the weekends less lonely, but when you go through something really traumatic, it changes you in a way that’s profound and important. So I took that lesson away.
Your mother in law, [Lee Radzwill], is the sister of the late Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Are you still close and what were her thoughts on the book?
Lee loved it and was happy it was so well received. She knows me well and understands that anything I do professionally is done with honesty and without judgment or agenda. She and I are still very close. I recently gave her a copy of my new novel, The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating and she just started reading it. She’s proud of who I became after Anthony’s death. She still introduces me as her daughter-in-law, 14 years later. She’s an amazing woman who has lived a lot and who has lost a lot. We will always have that connection.
Who or what has been the greatest influence on your life so far?
Professionally, it would be working for Peter Jennings. I learned so much from working with him. He had so much integrity, and curiosity about people and ideas. He made me want to be the best I could be. It’s important when you are young to have mentors and people to look up to, and emulate. I worked with Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters and they’re so intelligent and professional. I learned from the best.
Personally, I would say my husband because he was so amazing in so many different ways, even when he was ill. He always had a sense of humor; he never felt sorry for himself. And that left a big mark on me.
You have so many titles: best-selling author, journalist, princess and “Real Housewife of New York City.” Which one is the real Carole?
I don’t want to say journalist or author because that just defines me professionally. Princess isn’t something I identify with although some of my ex-boyfriends may disagree with that! I still think I am a girl from a small town with a big dream who moved to the city to try and make that happen. And that’s kind of the core of who I am and I feel very grounded in that story.
What was your inspiration for your new book The Widow’s Guide to Sex & Dating?
After I wrote my memoir I knew I wanted to try to write a novel. I had actually considered writing What Remains first as a novel but decided the story needed to be told as non-fiction. Most of my inspiration comes from my overactive imagination. But, like most writers, I rely on my own experiences also. I thought I had something to say about dating as a young widow, which I think is kind of different than if you’re a divorcee. There is a spirituality that goes with widowhood that’s not attached with divorced. It’s both a blessing and a burden.
Is there any part of the main character Claire that is based on you?
Sure, she tends to overanalyze things the way I do. But I think she is a little more naïve and sheltered than I ever was. I actually identify with Charlie, the husband, who is a sexologist and a writer and intellectual but also kind of perverted. That side of him sort of appeals to me! I suppose every man that I ever dated will think they are the love interest and some of them might be right. As Nora Ephron said, “Characters in novels are both real and imagined.”
Are there rules for sex and dating when you are a widow?
I’m an old-school Italian so the only rule, I think, is the one-year waiting period. I respected that mostly because it’s hard to think about having sex again with a new man. I write in Widows Guide that ‘widows are the new virgins’ because it is like losing your virginity all over again except worse because you’re older and more self-aware. Now I’d advise young widows to do it fast and get it over with!
BELLA’s tagline is “Beauty as defined by you.” How do you define beauty?
It’s kind of indefinable, isn’t it? When I was younger I defined it as a pretty hairstyle, symmetrical features, clear skin and wide set eyes. There was this one girl in high school who I thought, if I looked like her, my life would be perfect. I’d stare at the models in magazines and think, God, she’s so pretty! As I get older, I realize it has less to do with symmetrical features and more to do with ones confidence and aura….well, and photoshop. ☺
I was surprised when I heard you had signed on to star in the RHONY. What made you decide to do the show?
Andy Cohen told me Bravo was re-casting the New York show and wanted the cast to better represent women he knew in New York. He asked me if I’d consider doing it. I suppose he thought I’d make a good addition. He is extremely astute and has a sixth sense about what an audience will like and how to make a dynamic ensemble cast.
Are you glad you did?
Sure. I made a commitment to do it, and I’m not someone who second-guesses herself. Plus, it’s not like I was deciding to have a baby or anything else that would change my life in a real way! It’s definitely different than anything I’ve done before but I really believe that life is just one experience after another – both good and bad – and the more you have of both the more you’ve lived, and learned.
Who is your favorite RH from any city?
Oh, that seems like a trick question! Okay, I’ll answer it ☺ Yolanda Foster and I are old friends from well before television made us “Housewives”. We’ve spent weekends curled up in bed gossiping about life, love, and men. She is a straight talking, amazing woman. A real girls girl, and I love her. Although, I just watched an episode of “I Dream Of Nene” and she is hilarious. I’d like to be one of her bridesmaids. Nene?
Most memorable moment from season 2?
This season has so many ups and downs I don’t think I could really name one moment. Although, I made a huge star turn as a mermaid. Stay tuned….
One material thing you can’t be without?
What is your favorite food?
Who is your favorite designer?
What is your one “must-have” beauty product?
Kleenex to stuff my bra, when I wear one.
What is one of the craziest things to happen on “The Real Housewives of New York City”?
I became one with a bear.
What is your favorite holiday?
Besides “The Real Housewives of New York City” what is your favorite television show?
If you could trade places with someone for one day, who would it be?
Mindy Kaling’s best friend
What is the strangest date you have ever been on?
Who is your celebrity crush?
What do you view as your greatest accomplishment?
Surviving my teen years
How do you want the world to remember you?